The Final Phase
Audio / January 31, 2017

Released July 2013 ‘The Final Phase’ carries with it a sense of finality in many ways, concluding events set out in ‘The Dalek Contract’ which hearken back to the earlier Laan stories, concluding the second run of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, and also concluding Mary Tamm’s direct contributions to the franchise as her final story recorded before her unfortunate passing. With Cuthbert’s plan for the Proxima system and his plan to control reality progressing to its final phase and with the Daleks beginning to reveal their true intentions while holding Romana and K9 prisoner as the opening of the Quantum Gateway begins, the scene is set for a bombastic finale after ‘The Dalek Contract’ played it rather safe. The premise for this story is a great one, and the thought of the Quantum Gateway being a tear in the fabric of space and time but requiring enough energy to destroy the universe to open it is chillingly visual and dramatic. At the same time, while it’s inevitable that the Daleks have a secret plan and are simply acting subservient to Cuthbert in order to achieve their own means, it’s quite intriguing that they have been punching holes through the Gateway,…

The Dalek Contract
Audio / January 31, 2017

Released June 2013 The second run of Big Finish’s The Fourth Doctor Adventures comes to a close with a two-part Dalek tale scripted by Nicholas Briggs that also serves as a sequel of sorts to the Cuthbert storyline introduced in the earlier Laan double release. ‘The Dalek Contract’ begins the finale as the Doctor, Romana, and K9 attempt to discover the truth behind Cuthbert and his infamous experiment as well as just how the Daleks fit into his conniving plans in the Proxima system. It’s apparent from the beginning, especially regarding the Daleks themselves, that this will be a fairly straightforward and traditional tale as many familiar plot points are recycled. As the Daleks stay more in the shadows to watch their secret plan unfold, a group of rebels on an oppressed world fight for their rights and freedom, and business and profits trump decency and the common good, there is little here that hasn’t been done elsewhere before. Instead, the intrigue stems from Cuthbert’s involvement with the denizens of Skaro as he plans to hire their services as a security force, a role which they clearly intend to use to their own advantage. Some nice set pieces result even…

The Leisure Hive
Episode / January 30, 2017

Aired 30 August – 20 September 1980 ‘The Leisure Hive’ represents a new beginning of sorts for Doctor Who, marking the beginning of Tom Baker’s final season in the titular role while also introducing John Nathan-Turner as producer. Nathan-Turner would, of course, go on to become the longest-serving producer of the classic series, holding the position through three lead actor changes and until the eventual cancellation in 1989. With a flashy new title sequence, ‘The Leisure Hive’ marks the start of a shift to grander science fiction tales more reliant on continuity, a shift that catered to the fans but perhaps not to the general public and a controversial choice in hindsight. Even if ‘The Leisure Hive’ isn’t quite the epic adventure intended to open Tom Baker’s send-off season and the addition of question marks to the Doctor’s ensemble seems somewhat ill-conceived and farcical, it’s clear that the general sort of campiness that dominated some of recent serials has been diminished so far as the budget would realistically allow. Indeed, there’s a sense that the Doctor knows his end is nearing from the start, and there’s a recurring theme of decay throughout the ups and downs of the season that…

Phantoms of the Deep
Audio / January 29, 2017

Released May 2013 While exploring the utmost depths of the Mariana Trench, the crew of the vessel Erebus is stunned to come across the shape of a blue police box on their journey as the Doctor, Romana, and K9 continue their attempts to elude the Black Guardian. As a long-lost vessel, its mysterious occupant, and stranger beings yet begin to quickly appear, the ocean has never seemed so dangerous and less familiar. The first half of ‘Phantoms of the Deep’ attempts to frighten much more than most modern Doctor Who stories do, and the well-paced structure that introduces and maintains both mystery and tension makes it incredibly successful in doing so. Only a handful of previous episodes have attempted to bring the vast and varied underwater environment to life, and budgetary constraints unquestionably played a factor in those attempts either not being wholly successful or else being limited to an interior location beneath the surface. As a result, writer Jonathan Morris still has a wealth of potential to explore, and he mines the claustrophobia and mystery of the unexplored aquatic depths of Earth to full effect while injecting several unique science fiction elements into the story. The humour of Tom…

The Highest Science
Audio / January 28, 2017

Released December 2014 Following the incredible reception of Big Finish’s adaptation of ‘Love and War’ from The New Adventures novel range to mark the twentieth anniversary of the character of Bernice Summerfield with, fittingly, her introductory story, a new range of novel adaptations is now underway to highlight more of the written but previously unheard stories of the Doctor. ‘The Highest Science’ novel marked the prolific Gareth Roberts’s first official tale in Doctor Who canon, and it captures the traditional essence of The New Adventures era perfectly. As the Seventh Doctor pursues a Fortean Flicker and the very heart of coincidence, Bernice and he land upon the planet Sakkrat, a legendary world once home to an advanced race that created the pinnacle of technology in The Highest Science before falling into oblivion. Of course, the two soon find themselves caught in much grander events than an isolated quest for this mythical technology as the notorious criminal Sheldukher mysteriously appears after centuries of travel with his telepathic brain being known as The Cell to find The Highest Science for himself. With the planet’s surface also littered with members of the militaristic if straightforward Chelonian race continuing their quest to eliminate any…

The Horns of Nimon
Episode / January 26, 2017

Aired 22 December 1979 – 12 January 1980 Season seventeen in general is a bit of a mixed one, its stories featuring incredible performances from the leads and plenty of imagination while at the same time requiring a greater suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience to look past budgetary and production constraints and sometimes-naff supporting performances. ‘The Horns of Nimon’ squarely fits into this mould as well, encapsulating the strengths and weaknesses of the time while becoming the de facto season finale with the intended ‘Shada’ left unfinished due to the BBC strike. Actually, the concepts behind the Nimon are quite clever, a race that feeds off of planets and demands human sacrifices providing quite dark and grand visuals as a basis. At the same time, the maze of the Nimon realm as well as the design of the creatures themselves pay tribute to the legend of the Minotaur and are wonderful plot devices, and there are brief moments throughout where the production values elevate beyond obvious studio work to bring these fantastic ideas to life quite well. Of course, the powerhouse pairing of Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and Lalla Ward’s Romana is again the main selling…

The Justice of Jalxar
Audio / January 26, 2017

Released March 2013 Following the incredible success and reception of ‘The Mahogany Murders’ in The Companion Chronicles range that re-introduced Doctor Who fans to Henry Gordon Jago and Professor George Litefoot from the Fourth Doctor tale ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang,’ the debonair double act now makes its presence known in The Fourth Doctor Adventures range. With a seeming supernatural vigilante known as The Pugilist stalking the Victorian London criminal underclass as a series of corpses is turning up around the city, the infernal investigators soon find themselves out of their depth. The central premise of the story is an oft-used but reliable one as an individual discovers and attempts to use alien technology only to soon lose control of the semblance of power attained. Indeed, the overcoat-clad steam-driven creation- as depicted audibly in the story and visually on the cover- is unquestionably one of Big Finish’s greater successes, and the mind-reading Justician upholding the laws of whichever planet it finds itself on, in the process putting all of Earth in jeopardy as it tries to decipher what constitutes a true crime, is fantastic. Although the concepts in play have been used before, the superb atmosphere and performances from all involved…

Nightmare of Eden
Episode / January 25, 2017

Aired 24 November – 15 December 1979 Like ‘The Creature from the Pit’ before it, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ has a mixed reputation among fans as it once more asks viewers to accept obvious shortcomings in the script and production as it attempts to get across its very worthy message at a time when drugs and addiction were at the forefront of the public consciousness. Beginning with the core mystery of who is behind the drug operation, ‘Nightmare of Eden’ makes no attempt to divert attention away from the obvious culprit being Tryst, a mad scientist that actor Lewis Fander sadly takes to near-pantomime extremes. The script actually does a good job in explaining the character’s weak motivations and pathetic justifications after an effective actual reveal, but the performance takes away any true emotional punch. Sadly the excise men, Fisk and Costa, fare little better with unfortunate dialogue and equally-pompous performances from Peter Craze and Geoffrey Hinsliff. Of course, some stories suffer from the realization of practical and special effects more than others, and ‘Nightmare of Eden’ certainly has issues on those fronts. The Mandrels, as is so often case, are a fearful menace in concept, and the deadly results of…

War Against the Laan
Audio / January 23, 2017

Released March 2013 The Doctor, Romana, and newly-elected Earth President Sheridan Moorkurk continue their investigation into and battle against business tycoon Cuthbert and his all-encompassing Conglomerate started in ‘The Sands of Life.’ However, with Cuthbert intent on seeking revenge against the Laan creatures he believes have personally attacked him and an interspecies war looming large, the stakes have never been higher as Earth finds itself hanging in the balance. The central conflict here is well-written and lends an air of gravity to the Laan that the introductory story didn’t quite manage to achieve because of its expository nature. With the Laan needing to use Earth to spawn in an act that will annihilate the human population, there’s an inherent moral question that needs to be asked regarding how aggressive humans have the right to be. Of course, Cuthbert believes that humans are in the right to take the fight to the Laan, but it’s the President who explains the morally-ambiguous nature of a potential attack best to fully flesh out the inherent drama that the situation poses. Fortunately, the Doctor is able to find an appealing alternative that both sides accept rather graciously, but the tension resulting from an impossible…

The Creature from the Pit
Episode / January 23, 2017

Aired 27 October – 17 November 1979 Depending on the perspective one goes into ‘The Creature from the Pit’ with, this story can either be deemed fairly enjoyable or a horrible disaster. On the one hand, there is an almost fairy tale quality to the forest setting and evil queen figure in Adrasta, and the atmosphere and morals discussed are quite commendable. However, the lack of depth, questionable direction, and ultimate failure to realistically realize the titular Erato are distinct shortcomings that cannot be ignored and keep the tale and its component parts from reaching their full potential. Of course, the constant saving grace no matter how poor an individual episode or story may be at this time is Tom Baker, and he is clearly content reveling in irreverence and adventure-seeking while casting aside the more serious side of the Fourth Doctor so prominent early in his tenure. While there is one dubious scene featuring an attempt at communication with the creature, Baker’s ability to sell these fantastic events as incredibly serious and to jump from frivolity to immense anger instantaneously are a true testament to the actor, and the Doctor’s willingness to give the creature the benefit of the…