Full Circle
Episode / February 7, 2017

Aired 25 October – 15 November 1980 Following the successful- if ultimately underutilized- theme of collecting the segments of the Key to Time to link the episodes of season sixteen, ‘Full Circle’ opens up a trilogy of adventures set within E-space, a small and green-tinted universe comprised of negative spatial coordinates. And although it may seem a bit strange to insert a series of stories in an entirely new universe into the farewell season of Tom Baker, ‘Full Circle’ and those stories following continue to build up and expand upon the themes of entropy and decay within the confines of its unobtrusive linking device, hinting at Romana’s future departure while also introducing newcomer Adric to the TARDIS. ‘Full Circle’ is perhaps so successful because it offers a rather higher-concept brand of science fiction than is usual for Doctor Who, the marshmen filling the traditional role of menace but the true threat being the repressive system of rule present on Alzarius. While the Doctor is undeniably a force for good wherever he lands, it’s immensely rewarding to see him take on the very human failings of those in power putting their own community above everything else and putting in place procedure…

The King of Sontar
Audio / February 5, 2017

Released January 2014 The third run of Big Finish’s The Fourth Doctor Adventures once more reunites Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson’s Leela, at least temporarily taking a step away from the series’s penchant for nostalgia and opening with a bombastic and very serious tale featuring the oft-mocked Sontarans. As the Third Elite Sontaran Assassination Squad as well as the Doctor and Leela- the latter due to the manipulation of the Time Lords- approach Dowcra Base, the invincible Strang reveals the true might of the Sontaran threat. Without a doubt, the character of Strang is instantly intriguing, raising questions of just what he could have done as a Sontaran to merit such life-threatening animosity of others of his race. Fortunately, the explanation is just as fascinating as he is revealed to be the result of a sort of ghost in the machine, an error in the Sontaran cloning process that condensed an entire platoon into one being and thus created a super-being that is stronger, faster, and smarter than any single individual should be. Equipped with the ability to clone himself as well as to transport matter to any point in the universe, he represents one of the most…

Meglos
Episode / February 3, 2017

Aired 27 September – 18 October 1980 ‘Meglos’ has something of a mixed reputation among fans. Aside from taking an obvious detour from the underlying arc of entropy and decay and featuring a somewhat more upbeat tone than other stories of the season, there is an open question regarding whether or not ‘Meglos’ was intended to be an homage of sorts to what has come before as it takes clichés and familiar concepts to more absurd extremes than is usual. Even with a dubious-looking megalomaniacal plantlike villain, itself an oft-used plot device, ‘Meglos’ manages to capture the spirit of Doctor Who effortlessly without ever trying to truly do anything new. At the core of ‘Meglos’ is a debate between science and religion as Tigella’s rival factions of the scientific Savants and the religious Deons dispute the truth of the Dodecahedron, the former viewing it as an immensely powerful source of energy and the latter viewing it as something much more spiritual and directly related to their god, Ti. Although the confrontations do sometimes turn into scenes full of far too much bellowing and far too little substance, the acting on both sides is sufficient enough to overcome some clunky dialogue…

The Romance of Crime
Audio / February 1, 2017

Released January 2015 Following the adaptation of the well-received but oft-forgotten The New Adventures novel ‘The Highest Science,’ Big Finish turns its sights to Virgin’s The Missing Adventures range to bring the genuine classic ‘The Romance of Crime’ to the audio medium. As the Fourth Doctor, Romana, and K9 land on Uva Beta Uva system’s court and prison asteroid The Rock of Judgment, they quickly become entangled in a maverick lawman’s plans as a deadly secret that asks some very uncomfortable questions begins to reveal itself. ‘The Romance of Crime’ does not shy away from the intrinsic comedy of the era it is set in, but it offers a decidedly darker hue thanks to the incredibly grim atmosphere of the prison surrounded by the vacuum of space. Yet it’s also full of wonderful characters and ideas, the artist Stokes dedicating himself to capturing the souls of condemned prisoners in his works a macabre example. Unfortunately, his Helicon casting of the face of war criminal Xais- a genius who destroyed 2,000 people in two years with a penchant for crushing individuals where they stand- has given her a second lease on life and once more puts the universe under threat. The…

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…