Big Finish
The Fourth Doctor Adventures
Series 1

Released 2012

Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson

Synopsis: An overview of Tom Baker's first Big Finish run.


The Seventh Kraal Cavalry by Stephen Maslin 30/12/18

Doctor Who's relationship with anniversary celebrations has been patchy to say the least. These range from the somewhat half-arsed (The Three Doctors), to the conceptually over-ambitious (Zagreus), to mawkish and unfunny comedy (Time Crash), to just plain shite (Dimensions in Time). The Five Doctors, if only by virtue of the number of its Doctors, should have been the best of them, but instead it left a very distinctive bad taste in the mouth. Even the most generous critic would admit that it was not the celebration it could have been: over-crowded, episodic and, Shada clips notwithstanding, one Doctor short. Three of them had agreed to come back (and one had even come back from the dead!), but Uncle Tom had decided to stay in the pub. With a few decades' hindsight, one can only admire such single-mindedness. Yet, at the time, Doctor Who's twentieth anniversary came to centre around that huge, gaping absence. The conspicuous lack was neatly encapsulated by some embarrassing publicity photos that included a piss-poor Madame Tussaud's waxwork standing in for the absent Fourth Doctor. To many, it felt like a calculated insult. (Not least aesthetically: Madame Tussaud's creations never, ever looked anything like whom they were supposed to. See also the Prince Reinhart android double that gets skewered by Count Grendel in The Androids of Tara.)

Forward wind twenty years or so to the arrival in our ears of audio producers Big Finish. Of the then-five Doctors still with us in 1999, numbers 5, 6 and 7 had immediately jumped on board, soon joined (gloriously) by number 8. But Tom? Of course not. Better things to do with his time, no doubt, though one struggles to find much of import in his various post-millennium projects. (To be fair, he stole pretty well every scene in 'Monarch of the Glen' and in the duff remake of 'Randall and Hopkirk Deceased' before that, but a good deal of his energies were wasted on the terminally unfunny 'Little Britain'.) Had he perhaps coyly waited a couple of years, then donned the multi-hued scarf some time during the 40th anniversary year, it would have been front-page news. By the time he finally did rewind said scarf around his not inconsiderable shoulders (first for the truly dreadful Nest/Quest/Crest series and finally for Big Finish), it was much too late. (The passing away of Nicholas Courtney, Elizabeth Sladen and Mary Tamm - only one of whom got the brief chance for an audio reunion with the Fourth Doctor - gave this tardiness a tragic emphasis.)

All of which did not necessarily mean that Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures would be guaranteed as substandard...

The first series was to have six stories by four writers, and it should come as no surprise that executive producer Nicholas Briggs chose himself to write and direct the first installment. (Well, you would, wouldn't you?) We had been promised that the FDAs would be "authentic". A noble sentiment. Pity, then, that curtain raiser Destination Nerva is only authentic in so far as it is:

a) set partly on Nerva Beacon; and

b) contains a few scattered references to adventures past.

(So, not unlike Revenge of the Cybermen in fact.)

In almost every other respect, it is nowhere near. Here's why...

Ask yourself this question: how come so many people repeatedly watched Tom Baker-era Doctor Who TV stories long after the fact, over and over again. Was it because they were 'exciting'? Once upon a time, they certainly had been, but now we know and have known for decades that, for example, the Doctor will make his way out of the pit on Zeta Minor in one piece; that Sarah Jane will not be turned into a Krynoid; that Leela will not be steamed to death on the Planet Pluto; and that the Watcher was the Doctor all along. It is not the tension of such moments that endures but the 'tone of voice' of the show, the manner of its delivery. If you want to be 'authentic', then that is what one should be trying to recapture. Destination Nerva tries merely to excite us - it is crammed to bursting with people and stuff and events - but without giving us any of the other more durable virtues that the old TV show once had. It is, in a word, unquotable.

Destination Nerva 3/10

Renaissance Man is a little better, with a worthy protagonist in Ian McNiece but it doesn't sound much like Doctor Who at all. An outstanding premise never blossoms, and it's as if Tom is trying to sound as little like the Doctor as he possibly can. (He succeeds too.)

Renaissance Man 5/10

Wrath of the Iceni is clever, certainly, a proper 'historical' and well-written too. Worthy enough, then, but also rather drab: rain-soaked, mud-spattered and ultimately unmemorable. (The only thing that sticks in the mind is Ella Kenion, terribly miscast as Boudica.)

Wrath of the Iceni 3/10

Energy of the Daleks... been there, done that.

Energy of the Daleks 1/10

* * *

So far, so "no". Had these four stories happened ten years previously, all might have been forgiven as teething troubles, as was the case with the Eighth Doctor's 'Season 2001'. Yet having been kept waiting for so long, we were surely entitled to better reward for our patience than this. Finally time to put away childish things?

Not a bit of it, thanks to the two-disc finale Trail of the White Worm/The Oseidon Adventure. Without it, I for one would have had no reason to take the matter further. Taken together, they constitute a marvelously multi-layered piece, which not only ticks every conceivable fan-box but ticks them in spades. Tom and Louise really sound like the characters of old, in a way that they really didn't in the previous four stories (and seem to be enjoying each other's company immensely, good pals at last). The rest of the cast is magnificent too, with particular brownie points going to Rachel Stirling ("Demesne, please"), Michael Cochrane ("Bother!") and most of all Becci Gemmell and Mark Field; it is extremely rare for Big Finish's younger cast members to match the older hands stride for stride, but here they really do. The script is a joy, a delicious pastiche of a convoluted Terry Nation folly, with just the right amount of references to its television forebear: the retreading of the original Android Invasion's TARDIS arrival (but with a certain rural item standing in for the bramble); the Duke of Exeter (as opposed to the Duke of Marlborough); "Hello there!"; a dog chase that sounds uncannily like that featured in the TV original; "Tilly, it is you!"

There's some gentle self-mockery too ("they don't look like much: they're just men in space suits"), and, when needs must, the patchy 1976 TV story is quite rightly put in its place: when the Kraals arrive this time, they arrive en masse. The Kraals themselves are beautifully recreated (just like the originals but with their veneer of utter ludicrousness stripped away), and the period references are often exquisite. ("You come down out of that tree, Pan's People!")

It is absolutely no surprise that the matching period sound effects are spot on too: a Big Finish speciality. Above all, Trail/Adventure is funny; sometimes a little laboured, perhaps, but often genuinely hilarious. All in all, it restores one's faith in this small corner of the franchise being a going concern (and then some).

All right, it's not perfect. Yes, it does fall to bits as the end draws nigh (just like old times, really); the revelation as to the true nature of the horse ranks alongside the Fifth Doctor's causing the Great Fire of London for superlatively naff contrivance, and the sympathetic treatment of Spindleton does not sit well with his earlier unpleasantness. Yes, without prior knowledge of four episodes of television from 36 years previous, it would have been well nigh unintelligible. But who cares? We were promised something authentic, and finally we got it, warts and all.

Trail of the White Worm 9/10

The Oseidon Adventure 8/10