As the third series of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Adventures comes to a close this month with the brilliant Zygon Hunt I thought it was probably time to take a look at the second half of the series.
5. Last of the Colophon by Jonathan Morris
Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde, Dracula, The Mummy. What do they all have in common? Well, the Tom Baker era plundered their respective source materials quite liberally in the mid to late 70s. Jonathan Morris harks back to this era with a wonderfully claustrophobic tale tinged with a dash of the Invisible Man.
The Doctor and Leela (and another in a long line of ill fated survey teams) answer a call from within the ruins of the long dead world Colophos. Morax, the last of the Colophon is imprisoned there, attended to by a sadistic nurse. Can the Doctor help him escape? More importantly, SHOULD he?
Gareth Thomas (Blake and the Doctor together at last, sort of) is fantastic as Morax, a performance that brings to mind Michael Wisher’s Davros. An invisible antagonist, essentially a disembodied voice, works incredibly well on audio and he’s the stand out character here. The confrontation scenes between him and the Doctor are utterly fantastic, absolutely nailing the era it’s trying to replicate. Louise Jameson too, gets some great material, the great savage huntress stalking an enemy she cannot see but using all her available senses. The only criticism, I suppose, is that amongst the big, strong characters of the Doctor, Leela, Morax and Nurse Torvik the survey team are reduced to cannon fodder to up the stakes. Regardless, Last of the Colophon is a hugely enjoyable, delightfully (to use a reductive term) old-school piece of Doctor Who.
6. Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs
The Infinite Warriors are Big Finish’s big new creation, currently a big player in the ongoing Dark Eyes saga. In a typically wibbly, wobbly, timey wimey fashion we’re yet to hear the Doctor’s first encounter with the gaseous entity known as the Eminence and his Inifinite Warriors. UNTIL NOW.
The Doctor and Leela land on Delafoss, a planet strangled by pollution and industrialisation, the perfect planet for the Infinite Warriors to carry out their devastating plan.
Destroy the Infinite rattles along at a fair old pace, giving the listener some very exciting space battles (the sound design on this one is a particular highlight) that the series at the time couldn’t in its wildest dreams realise. There is a depth to the story beyond the dog fights and laser guns, giving Leela and the resistance a difficult moral choice to make in their attempt to defeat the Eminence. It’s interesting that this is the second story (King of Sontar being the other) which has dealt with shades of grey, as if Genesis of the Daleks was the rule rather than the exception in 1970s Doctor Who.
Another criticism is that the jeopardy never really feels like it’s there. Because this is taking place within established continuity, you can take very few risks with the character of the Doctor. Having him influenced by the Eminence has a nice shade of the seminal Star Trek: The Next Generation story Best of Both Worlds but you never feel that he’s in direct danger. It’s perhaps churlish to pick this up as a criticism when putting the Doctor in direct danger every week is the series’ stock and trade, but there’s more at stake here, suggesting the Doctor is changed in some way by his experiences, changes which are obviously never displayed in the TV series.
Terrence Dicks has often said that the actors should act and the writers should write. I wouldn’t dare be as mean as suggest that Louise Jameson proves him right with The Abandoned. It’s flawed, certainly, but not in the way the Doctor and Leela are written, Jameson clearly has a great understanding of how these characters work and it’s reflected in the script.
The story itself is a mix of slightly impenetrable mathematics and fantasy as the Doctor and Leela are pitted against the TARDIS’ original owner and the imaginary friends that we all grow out of. Including the Doctor’s own. Your opinion of the story depends on how interested you are in the back story of the Doctor, of the history of the TARDIS. Personally, my favourite Doctor Who stories are ones in which the Doctor and his companion land and have an incredibly exciting adventure. I couldn’t care less about his childhood on Gallifrey or who operated the TARDIS before he knicked it way back when. With these being two key points of the story I did start to zone out a little bit, and along with some, quite frankly, insufferably irritating voice acting from one of the imaginary friends I found it a bit of a struggle to listen to. But these are all personal, subjective criticisms and I would say that I listened to this on the walk into work and it’s certainly a story that requires your full attention so I’m perhaps being unfairly harsh on it. It’s an incredibly strong production with good writing and fantastic performances from both leads and Stephanie Cole as the original owner of the TARDIS, but in the end it left me a bit cold. A bit….abandoned. (I’m sorry, I’m so sorry)
8. Zygon Hunt by Nicholas Briggs
Let’s face facts, the Zygons are the greatest and cruelly underused of all Doctor Who monsters. After one appearance in 1975, which caught the imagination of many fans (including David Tennant) it would be another 38 years before we saw them again.
They’ve not even been that well represented on audio (The fantastic Zygon That Fell to Earth being, I think, the only release) so it’s great to hear the 4th Doctor face off against them once more. The story focuses on the Solar Knights (Protectors of our solar system) taking some shore leave hunting for big game on the planet Garros. VERY big game. And man, is it a lot of fun, with some lovely nods to Terror of the Zygons throughout. Much like Last of the Colophon, the hunters aren’t particularly interesting or well drawn which is a slight problem given that the head of the group; Saraton holds the key to the Zygons’ plan. Not only that, but in calling the play Zygon Hunt you spend a lot of the opening episode waiting for them to reveal yourself. There was a preview in a recent DWM where it stated “Noone is quite who they seem” I disagree, the Zygon imposter is VERY obvious right from the start.
But they’re minor criticisms, Zygon Hunt does similar things to Day of the Doctor and Zygon That Fell to Earth in how a Zygon deals with pretending to be someone for such a long time. It also has, once again, a strong moral dilemma at the heart of it about hunting, brutality and whether or not we have a right to live on planet Earth.
Overall, this has been a strong series, bridging the gap between the Doctor’s unease with Leela in Season 14 and the slightly more jovial, friendlier relationship they enjoy at the start of Season 15.
There’s a speech that sums up the Doctor and Leela’s relationship, and the life they live, right at the end of Zygon Hunt that had me grinning like….well, like Tom Baker. Can’t wait to see where they end up next…