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29 February 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 29th February 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 29th February 2012

Knowledge is power. To know everything, every piece of knowledge that has ever existed is the desire of many but at what cost? Is knowledge detrimental to learning and understanding? You can list species of butterfly but do you know that they are beautiful?

This is the question that runs through the heart of this really enjoyable adventure for The Fourth Doctor.

The Doctor is determined to continue Leela’s education and decides that a trip to the universally famous Morovanian Museum is just what she needs. Upon arrival, things don’t go according to plan. First of all, why are they in an English village and just why are people dying around them, driven mad by the loss of something great?

The Doctor quickly begins to deduce that the mysterious Reginald Harcourt, resident of the local manor maybe the cause of the sinister goings on. Harcourt is the owner of The Collection, a place where everything, all knowledge and artefacts from everywhere are present. But as the Doctor points out, it is not fully complete and there is someone who will do just about anything to achieve its completion. Someone more than prepared to kill.

After the slightly underwhelming Destination: Nerva, The Renaissance Man is a much stronger entry in the new Fourth Doctor range.

Justin Richards' script is witty and clever. He captures the character of The Fourth Doctor and Leela very well, setting up the Pygmalion relationship that Big Finish is exploring with this series of adventures. Louise Jameson’s performance is very strong in this story despite the overuse of Leela’s mispronunciation of words, such as her repeated use of “runny science” for renaissance. Although Leela came from a primitive culture she is certainly not stupid. This however is a minor criticism of a well written and delivered portrayal. In fact, the relationship between The Doctor and Leela is much improved from that of their television appearances and this is definitely down to the way they are written. I hope that Big Finish continue to build upon this, as it is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctor and companion partnerships.

The supporting cast is good, particularly Laura Molyneaux in the dual role of Beryl and Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite but they are somewhat over-shadowed by guest star Ian McNeice as Harcourt. An intriguing villain, played excellently by the actor, especially when he and Baker get a verbal sparring, providing one of the highlights of the audio.

This brings us to the great man himself, Tom Baker. It has been a pleasure to listen to him return to the role of The Doctor, and he gives a brilliant performance here. In Destination: Nerva, The Doctor had to rely on luck and his wits, but here we see him relying on his keen intelligence, working things out way ahead of everyone else. He plays the fool and pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes before playing the detective with a great Christie-style revelation at the stories conclusion. Baker is witty, charming and brings out The Fourth Doctor’s moral centre beautifully, and the play is well worth your time based on his performance alone.

The main theme running through the story of knowledge versus experience is well realized. The darkest moment of the play, involving a character losing the knowledge which defines her, leading to a gruesome outcome, is rather powerful. This theme is explored very well and only seems to jar in the somewhat weaker epilogue.

Everything about The Renaissance Man is quintessential Doctor Who. It contains great ideas, two excellent lead performances and an intriguing story.

A highly recommended listen.

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