Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Thief Who Stole Time
September sees the final installment in the sixth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures with The Thief Who Stole Time, the concluding part of the story begun in last month's The Skin of the Sleek. And with Tom Baker's Doctor teaming up with Louise Jameson's Leela for the seventh series next year, it's the last story to feature Lalla Ward's Romana II for now.
Written by Marc Platt and directed by Ken Bentley, The Thief Who Stole Time has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 31st October. Here's the synopsis...
A god has died. A crime has been committed. And an even greater threat lies beneath the surface.
On the ocean world of Funderell, Romana has been reunited with her old friend from Gallifrey, Sartia, and the Doctor is investigating the history and religion of this strange world. But events have quickly spiralled out of control.
Why is this planet of such interest to the Time Lords? What lurks in the depths?
The life of more than one world is at stake. But time is running out.
Once again, I'll be joined by my 11-year old son Ben, one of the biggest Doctor Who fans this side of Gallifrey. Spoilers as always if you haven't yet listened to the audio...
Baz Greenland (aged 36)
There is a lot to enjoy in the final story of the sixth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, as writer Marc Platt explores the mysteries of Funderell in a richly gothic, poetic narrative. Joannah Tincey's Sartia continues her descent into becoming Romana's own version of the Master and the wildly imaginative setting with its walkable oceans create a memorable set piece for the end of the series.
But for me, there was something a little flat about the story too; perhaps it didn't feel special enough for a finale or perhaps there was too much set up for Sartia that will be unlikely to be explored any time soon, given that this is Lalla Ward's last regular recording with Tom Baker for a while. It may have worked much more effectively as a two-part series opener, allowing the finale to explore what is perhaps the most interesting aspect of The Skin of the Sleek and The Thief Who Stole Time; the tumultuous relationship between Romana and Sartia.
There's also an interesting duality between the TV series and audio too; without the limitations of budget, Ward could create this world that unlike anything seen before - and it is a truly magnificent idea - but I also would love to see Funderell on screen; a big part of this story being centred on this richly visually, stunning world. The idea of the village breaking up and sailing in search of new gods and the limitless Sleek as time unravels create an epic sweeping narrative that help to elevate the finale. Des McAleer's booming voice and Dylan Thomas-style dialogue as he narrates the story is a delight from beginning to end too.
The reveal that Funderell is the captured essence of time itself, something Sartia manipulates and attempts to control, it's a fascinating exploration of Time Lord invention at its very best and certainly raises the stake for a big, ballsy final act as Romana plays the hero in defeating her frenemy in true Doctor / Master fashion. Yes it gives Tom Baker a little less to do, but he'll be back once again in 2018, while this gives Romana something big to get her teeth into and stand out as more than just a companion (though she never really was just that).
Despite those positives, I still find myself a little underwhelmed. There were other stories in this series like The Haunting of Malkin Place that I enjoyed more. Or perhaps it's just that my expectations for Tom Baker's stories are always so high (and usually deservedly so). The Thief Who Stole Time is still very good, even if it would have been better served to set up a Romana / Sartia arc, rather than end it here...
Ben Greenland (aged 11)
This story holds up a little bit more than The Skin of the Sleek, but it is still the worst finale ever. Sartia is like the Master to Romana's Doctor, which made it more interesting, but Tom Baker is by no means the best Doctor in Big Finish. (I enjoy a lot of Colin Baker / Sylvester McCoy stories more).
Also, the Time Lords cordoned off Funderell, so why didn't they make an appearance? I honestly do not have much to say. But what I can take from The Thief Who Stole Time, is that I would love Sartia to return, perhaps on TV, with the second or third Romana in tow?
No trailer this time, as that's it for The Fourth Doctor Adventures until next year, but we get a decent bunch of interviews as the cast and crew discuss the creation of the story. And as always, it's good to hear Tom Baker just being Tom Baker.