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12 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th January 2012

The wait is over. This is the moment many Doctor Who fans have longed for: Tom Baker’s first Big Finish Doctor Who audio adventure. The weight of expectation for this release is enormous and it shows just how important Tom Baker is in the history of Doctor Who and to its many fans.

After years of resisting, and with a little encouraging from Nicholas Briggs, Louise Jameson, and even DWO itself, Tom Baker finally came round to working with Big Finish - and not just for a one off. Destination: Nerva marks the first in many more adventures to come and from the evidence of this release; it is a rather jolly good start.

After the defeat of Magnus Greel (in the televised story; The Talons of Weng-Chiang), The Doctor intends to further Leela’s education, but is interrupted when the TARDIS receives a mysterious signal. Leading them to a Victorian mansion owned by the mysterious Lord Jack, they discover a massacre inside the house; Soldiers and Alien beings lie dead at each other’s hands. The words of the last dying creature, a Drelleran, spur the Doctor and Leela on the trail of a stolen spaceship, little knowning the chase will bring the Doctor back to a familiar place from his past.

The newly built Nerva space dock is undergoing constant repairs and as a maintenance ship arrives to sort out the problems, a mysterious pod arrives carrying with it something so deadly that it could destroy the whole human race. As the threat consumes Nerva, The Doctor must try to figure out how the evils of the past may have a dangerous impact on the future of mankind.

Now it must be said, as delighted as fans were that Baker was to make his Big Finish debut, there were one or two concerns from others. How would Baker be in the productions? Would he ham it up and not take it seriously? Would he sound bored and unmoved by what he was performing?

Fortunately all would prove unfounded, as Baker’s performance is fantastic! He slips back into the role of the Fourth Doctor with such ease it's almost as if he never stopped playing the part. He is funny, moody, mad and just as heroic as you remember him. It is quite clear from listening to him here that Baker is having the time of his life in the part once again. It is this enthusiasm for the role that reignites his excellent chemistry with Louise Jameson as Leela, and the two of them carry the play beautifully. Despite the passage of time, they sound almost exactly as they did back in 1977, and you cannot help but be captivated by their performances. The benefit of audio has allowed The Doctor and Leela’s relationship to deepen, and if this develops throughout the rest of the series, they are going to make an excellent TARDIS team once again.

As for the supporting cast, many of whom are in roles that are seemingly more to serve the progression of the story than anything else; all do well, with special mention going to Raquel Cassidy. As Dr Alison Foster, Cassidy puts in a lovely, subtle and moving performance which is a perfect counterbalance to the big personality of Tom Baker’s Doctor. But this is Baker and Jameson’s show, and every time they are not present in the story, you are yearning for their immediate return.

Writer and director Nicholas Briggs, knows that this story has to lay down a mission statement for the Fourth Doctor adventures as a series. Destination: Nerva is not always successful in its approach but it is still highly entertaining. The opening sequence in the mansion is very effective and engrossing and the sudden jump to Nerva is at first a little jarring. The play then takes a while for the pace to pick back up, as it carefully sets up the events that are to play out in the second episode. But by the action-packed and rather gruesome episode two, the story finds itself back on track.

Briggs has recreated an authentic atmosphere of the latter part of the Hinchcliffe era and there is also a whiff of The Ark in Space. This is not just with the inclusion of Nerva, but the rather horrible moments of body horror as, without giving too much away, human beings are consumed by a biological threat.

The ultimate revelation of the enemy’s identity is not too surprising but Brigg’s idea of what would happen if the jingoistic policies of the British Empire went to space is highly intriguing. It is not explored as much as you would like, given the two episode format, but Briggs gives us just enough to turn what could have been another base under siege story into something more thoughtful.

Everything about the production seems keen to recreate the feel of the Tom Baker era, right down to the old Radiophonic Workshop sound effects and Jamie Robertson’s Dudley Simpson-esque musical score. Technically, the production is flawless, and if you were a viewer back in the seventies, it is indeed like Saturday Night Teatime all over again.

Destination: Nerva, is a story which has a bit of the old and a bit of the new, and while not everything about the story works perfectly, it is still very good fun and a fantastic debut for Tom Baker at Big Finish.

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