AUDIO REVIEW: The Fourth Doctor By Gareth Roberts, Vol . 1

The Fourth Doctor By Gareth Roberts, Vol . 1
Adapted by John Dorney

Starring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson
With Miranda Raison, Michael Troughton, Terrence Hardiman

Out Now

Review by Nick Fraser

The Romance of Crime
The Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive on the Rock of Judgement, the final place of justice of the Uva Beta Uva system, bluffing and improvising their way into the middle of an unexpected investigation. In quick order, the situation gets rapidly worse as the deaths begin, in particularly gruesome fashion, and a carefully plotted scheme begins to unfold. But who’s manipulating who?

The Rock is populated with a madly contrasting group of characters, some rather broadly portrayed but all adding colour and flavour to a splendidly romp-ish adventure. There are elements of horror too, particularly the visceral squishings visited upon the unfortunate victims of Xais, an executed mass murderer, suddenly very much back in the land of the living and apparently keen to make up for lost time.

Meanwhile, is there more to High Archon Pyerpoint, The Rock’s presiding judge than meets the eye? Is Execution Row artist Menlove Stokes really as self-obsessed and preening as he seems? And will Investigator Frank Spiggot discover what’s going on in spite, or because of, The Doctor and Romana’s help and all in time to get back to “Angie and the kids”?

This adventure doesn’t lack for intrigue and entertainment but then, upping the stakes further, along come the Nisbett Brothers and their hired goons…

…The Ogrons.

Mining the comedic potential of these grunting oafs, their contracts seemingly cancelled by their former Skaroine masters, there are some splendid laugh out loud moments at their expense.

With the reluctant help of Stokes, recoiling in extravagant horror at events around him and the contrasting “lone gun” approach of Frank Spiggot, The Doctor, Romana and K9 steer their way through a complex web of plot and counter-plot, to save the day.

Baker and Ward are as inventive and quick-witted as they ever were, clearly enjoying themselves sparking off against a strong supporting cast, including Graham Seed, Miranda Raison (Daleks In Manhattan) and Michael Troughton (Last Christmas).

The English Way of Death
The Doctor decides to return some library books. What could possibly go wrong? Whether it’s the TARDIS choosing to deliver her passengers to where they need to be, or the Time Lord, Romana and K9 finding themselves the victims of dumb luck, they’re quickly drawn into an involving tale of sentient miasma, earthquake-inducing machinery, a time-travelling retirement club.

And zombies.

Big Finish deliver another fantastic adventure from the pen of Gareth Roberts, adapted by John Dorney. Every element of this audio combines perfectly to craft a sublimely entertaining four episodes.

Again, full use of the audio medium is employed, with authentic sound effects transporting the listener to the early 1930s. As with the previous adventure, this tale boasts a large cast, which can be a challenge for the listener trying to discern what’s going on, but all involved take the opportunity to fully inhabit their characters.

At the heart of it all, the self-centred schemings of Zodaal, an alien inadvertently brought to Earth via the time tunnel used by a small group of time travellers, who’ve settled upon 1930s England as a rather splendiferous place within which to settle down. Inhabiting the body of Stackhouse, a biscuit magnate sadly not lacking in pomposity, he schemes (almost a year in advance of the arrival of the TARDIS) for ways of securing a more permanent body for himself, deciding that the only realistic way of doing so is to blow up the Earth in the consequence. I did say he was self-centred.

Terrence Hardiman (The Beast Below) is excellent as Stackhouse, sinister in all his repressed rage, enunciating his grand plans with relish.

The Doctor teams up with a motley gang to defeat his evil schemes, relying on the leader of the band of time travellers, one Percival Closed Esq, and author Mrs Felicia Chater. Meanwhile Romana, K9 and Colonel Radlett (retired) attempt to deal with the dangers of the time tunnel.

There’s a hefty dose of technobabble in episode three involving Romana, K9 and a trapped fragment of Zodaal’s persona (comprising his better nature) which almost lost me, but in no way detracted from my immense enjoyment of this rattlingly fine adventure.

Again a near faultless audio, and anticipation builds for more of the same.

In novelised form, these stories already enjoyed high approval ratings so it’s perhaps a stretch to suggest that Big Finish have unearthed these “Gareth’s Gems”, but like master jewellers they’ve certainly fashioned perfect housings within which they can shine. Adapted for audio, with excellent casting throughout, they’ve been lavished with the care and attention they deserve. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward together again are on sparkling form, communicating The Doctor and Romana’s zest in their randomised travels. John Leeson, ever-dependably, imparts just the right level of personality into “the tin dog”. Superb work all round.

Thanks to Big Finish

Review by Nick Fraser

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