15 August 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris and John Dorney

RRP: £30.00 (CD) / £25.00 (Download)

Release Date: August 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 15th August 2014

Psychodrome

“Shortly after surviving the perils of Logopolis, Castrovalva and the machinations of the Master, the new Doctor and his new crew could be forgiven for wanting to take a breather from their tour of the galaxy. But when the TARDIS lands in a strange and unsettling environment, the urge to explore is irresistible... and trouble is only a few steps away. 

The world they have found themselves in is populated by a wide variety of the strangest people imaginable - a crashed spacecraft here, a monastery there, even a regal court. And not everyone they meet has their best interests at heart. 

With the TARDIS stolen, and the very environment itself out to get them, the travellers face an extremely personal threat. They'll have to work as a team if they want to get out alive... but can you really trust someone you barely know?”

Iterations of I

“The house on Fleming's Island had been left to rot. Ever since a strange and unexplained death soon after it was built, and plagued with troubling rumours about what lurked there, it remained empty and ignored for decades until the Cult moved in. As twenty people filled its many rooms, the eerie building seemed to be getting a new lease of life.

But now it is empty again. The cult found something in its corridors... and then vanished.

Trapped on the island one dark night, the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric look into the building's mysteries, its stories of madness and death. Their only chance is to understand what terrible thing has been disturbed here... before it consumes them utterly.”

***

It feels like it’s been a long time coming: the return of Davison’s original TARDIS crew.  We’ve had new companions come and go, extended time with Nyssa and Peri, and some solo jaunts for Doctor Number Five, but now we’re able to go right back to where it all started, and it really does feel like a pleasant trip down memory lane: Tegan! Nyssa! Adric! The roll call trips off the tongue and by the time the first episode has finished, you find yourself wondering if you haven’t actually heard this crew reunited on audio before, so familiar is the set-up and so at ease are the actors at slipping back into these roles.  It’s a real pleasure to have them back.

This box set comprises two four-part adventures, Psychodrome and the beautifully pretentious-sounding Iterations of I.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of my focus upon listening to the first play at least was on Matthew Waterhouse, reprising Adric for the first time for Big Finish.  I’m not going to retroactively lie here and pretend I think Waterhouse is the greatest actor the show ever saw (though he is far from the worst) and I have always maintained that as a character, Adric worked very well with the Fourth Doctor and not so well with the Fifth.  However, Psychodrome goes some way into readdressing both of these things for me.

Time has been very kind to Waterhouse and quite simply, the performance he gives here across these two plays is the best he’s ever given us as Adric.  He is undoubtedly helped by a script which plays to all of the individual characters’ strengths, but that aside, he carries a weight and depth to his role that he either did not get the chance to show us on screen, or perhaps could not due to age.  Whatever the case, he is fantastic across this box set, never more so though than in Psychodrome, where Adric lets his mask slip and shows us that he has a deep and desperate need to prove himself to everyone, hinting at his fate in but a few stories’ time.  Sometimes, knowledge of future stories can slightly harm the drama as we know that everything is going to be alright, but in this case, it is knowing the tragedy of Adric which brings things to life.  Quite simply put, we feel extraordinarily sorry for him.

Back to Psychodrome though.  This story is set just after Castrovalva, and much like Big Finish’s play The Elite did for us, it helps plug a gap we as fans had never realized required plugging.  Whereas there it addressed the end of Arc of Infinity and led us nicely into the team as we know them in Snakedance, here it addresses the fact that no-one really knows each other at this point in the TARDIS crew’s history, something never tackled on screen.  We have a Doctor who is getting to know himself and bond with his crew, an Adric who doesn’t know where he fits anymore, and then we have Tegan and Nyssa, cast away from their homes and with awful, painful losses behind them, still recent enough to sting afresh with each reminder.  Psychodrome throws us headfirst into adventure, of course, barely giving us time to pause for breath before the team are lost in caves which seem to shift and find themselves encountering monasteries for mathematicians, man-sized spiders who feed on blood, and explorers with no real sense of direction.

Jonathan Morris’s script is wonderful, letting the story breathe whilst never forgetting the time period in which it’s set continuity-wise and the privilege Big Finish affords both writers and actors, letting them develop characters in a manner never allowed on screen.  As is customary in these things, there is a twist of sorts, and I will confess that I has twigged it long before the characters in the script do, but none of that diminished the happy couple of hours I spent listening to this play.

Next up is the aforementioned Iterations of I by John Dorney, which I will state now was my favourite of the two plays.  Oozing with atmosphere and tension, Iterations gives us a spooky ghost story, set in Ireland during as raging storm where some mysterious thing is slowly killing people one by one.

Beautifully, the TARDIS crew are introduced here with a scene set inside the ship, with Nyssa and Adric trying to prove they can fly it and return Tegan to Heathrow.  It all feels so wonderfully normal, so in keeping with Season 19 and the tropes we associate with this team, and of course they land nowhere near Heathrow at all.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.  Before too long, the Doctor is right in the thick of it, learning about cults who believe God is a number, delving into the realm of higher mathematics, and casually batting away comedic barbs from Tegan.  Janet Fielding is on fire throughout this play, clearly relishing the script and oozing the material for every comedy beat she can, whilst Sarah Sutton is put in a rare position of fear and frailty, and as with the others has rarely been as good as she is here.  Again, it could be the fantastic script and Ken Bentley’s deft direction, or it could be the fact that the original TARDIS crew has been reunited: you certainly get an air of them enjoying being together and working with one another once again.  Whatever it is, I would say that this is the strongest Sutton has been since The Butcher of Brisbane and the story itself? It’s a masterclass in using the characters and their unique traits and working with that.

In fact, that goes for both stories.  They don’t forget that Adric is fantastic at maths, an outsider, and alien with the ability to heal quickly.  They remember that Nyssa has lost her whole planet and Tegan her aunt.  They tackle head on the breathless youth of the Fifth Doctor and how he’s finding his feet a bit.  And more than anything else, they do it with style and confidence.

When the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold, much was made by Big Finish about how they were trying to evoke the 1970s and that feel of watching the show on TV, and you know what? It didn’t work, because so often it felt like they were constrained by these boundaries and trying too hard to ape something that is long gone.  I should add, that doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed the Fourth Doctor Adventures, merely that I think they’re grown in strength as they have carried on, as they’ve gradually freed themselves from this idea that they have to be as they were and done their own thing instead.  Where this box set improves on things is that it doesn’t actively try to recreate the era and make a big fuss about it; it does so with ease and no fanfare at all.  It slots in perfectly whilst not trying to lavishly adhere to how things were and what would have been possible and shown.  It acknowledges how things were, it pays lip service to them, and then it tells brand new adventures that play with concepts and characters and set-ups.

So, there we are: the Doctor and Adric and Tegan and Nyssa once again, being their usual wonderful selves but perhaps even more so, perhaps even better than before.  It’s about as strong an introduction to a new/old set-up as we’ve ever been afforded and is an easy ten-out-of-ten affair for me.  Marvellous.

 

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