13 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Robert Banks Stewart, adapted by John Dorney & Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Jonathan Morris

RRP: £55.00

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th January 2012

Tom Baker’s first Big Finish audio adventure is finally here and what better way to celebrate than with the simultaneous release of The Fourth Doctor Lost Stories Box-set.

Just as Destination: Nerva set out to celebrate one of the most iconic settings of the early Tom Baker era, this box-set unearths the lost contributions of two giants of that part of the show’s history.

Robert Banks Stewart was the man behind two classic Tom Baker stories; Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom. To see an unfinished story of his brought to completion is, for me, one of the great selling points of this set. If that wasn’t enough, the latter story was conceived by none other than Philip Hinchcliffe, one of the most celebrated of Doctor Who’s producers, and the man heavily associated with the success of the Tom Baker period of the show.

The Foe from the Future

By Robert Stewart Banks (adapted by John Dorney)

The TARDIS lands in the village of Staffham in 1977 and it isn’t long before the Doctor and Leela are caught up in strange goings on. The Grange, a stately home in the forest outside the village has long believed to be haunted and recently frightening visions of Highwaymen and Cavaliers are appearing at an alarming rate. The Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts, but when a man turns up dead, his curiosity is piqued.

What do these haunting have to do with the rather mysterious owner of the Grange, Lord Jalnik, and what precisely is he up to? The Doctor soon uncovers a plot that spans across two thousand years, and if it succeeds, history will cease to exist.

The Foe from the Future was the story that was replaced by The Talons of Weng-Chiang and it is easy to see why as the scope of this tale would’ve stretched even the most generous BBC budget. It dashes backwards and forwards through time, has a rather large supporting cast and a creature whose impact may have suffered at the limitations of the decade’s special effects. But thank goodness Big Finish have brought it back to life as The Foe from the Future turns out to be one of the most enjoyable plays the company has produced.

Everything about this production is first rate. Tom Baker is quite simply brilliant and you can hear he is having a jolly good time with how mad the play gets. Louise Jameson is superb too, and both the leads are complimented by a fine supporting cast, the most notable member being Paul Freeman as Jalnik. Freeman is a joy to listen to in his portrayal of a rather unhinged and pathetic shadow of man, bringing easily to mind the more complex villains of this era of Doctor Who. Special mention must go to Lousie Brealey, who wonderfully plays the affectionately named “Charlotte from the Village”.

John Dorney is to be commended for his sterling adaptation of this story, as it is filled with action, mystery and a surprising but not unwelcome ghoulish sense of humour.

A six part story must have been a mammoth undertaking for Big Finish, but not one episode is dull or unnecessary. It is a remarkable achievement and it has already become a favourite of this reviewer. 

The Valley of Death

By Philip Hinchcliffe (adapted by Jonathan Morris)

The Victorian explorer, Cornelius Perkins, mysteriously vanished in the jungle whilst searching for the lost city of the Maygor Tribe. His diary however was recovered and fell into the hands of his Great Grandson Edward. Edward is now planning a new expedition to pick up the trail from where his ancestor left off, the entirety of which to be covered by photo journalist Valerie Carlton. The diary's descriptions of what appears to be a crashed spaceship alert UNIT who send along their scientific advisor and his savage companion to join Perkins in his quest.

When their plane crash lands in the middle of the jungle, things begin to go from bad to worse. Amongst the thickness of the trees and vines, strange creatures are waiting and tribesmen are watching, as the Doctor, Edward, Valerie and Leela step ever closer towards the fabled Valley of Death. What they find there, will be far more deadly than mere legend.

The Valley of Death is great fun, particularly the opening two episodes. They have the feel of a Boys’ Own adventure with some dashes of Indiana Jones and a deliciously science fiction twist. The cast are quite clearly enjoying themselves throughout and Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are building an incredibly strong partnership in these plays already. The genuine affection and mutual respect the Doctor and Leela afford to one another is played beautifully and I really hope these Lost Stories and the first Series of Fourth Doctor adventures will not be the last we see of them.

The best performance of the play is by far Nigel Carrington as the central antagonist of the piece Emissary Godrin. He is a wonderfully fiendish creation; a warped genius with a cruel sense of humour, which makes him an excellent opponent for the Fourth Doctor.

A story of two halves, the first two episodes of The Valley of Death are based exclusively in the jungle and the play shifts not only location but tone for the last two episodes. There could have been a danger in losing the momentum and atmosphere created by the opening episodes but this change only serves to enrich the adventure.

Although is not as strong as The Foe from the Future, The Valley of Death is a highly enjoyable adventure and a great closing story for the box-set.

If you have never listened to any of the Lost Stories or even bought any of Big Finish’s box sets, this is would be the place to start for any true fan as it is a brilliant recreation of classic era Doctor Who.

Despite some minor niggles here and there this box set it is as close to perfection as you can get with well deserved full marks. 

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