Released May 2016
The current series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures has certainly set out to achieve a season seventeen feel, and it’s hard to deny that there has been quite a lot of successful overt and subtle humour worked into each of the scripts accordingly. However, balancing humour with drama is a fine line to straddle and missing the mark can easily send an otherwise decent story into farcical and superfluous territory, and that’s unfortunately where ‘Gallery of Ghouls’ ends up despite some strong performances and interesting concepts.
The story of ‘Gallery of Ghouls’ focuses on two rival waxworks companies, the titular Goole’s Gallery of Ghouls as well as that of one Madame Tissot, not to be confused with the famous Madame Tussaud. Evevnts are set in motion as Goole steals Tissot’s focal exhibit, the wax head of Marie Antoinette, just before a royal showing. The Doctor and Romana- still using the Randomizer to avoid the Black Guardian- unsurprisingly show up at precisely the wrong time and face accusations of theft, leading them to pursue the true thief and discover a quite alien presence.
The biggest fault of the script, though, is that the sense of peril and consequences never manages to reach a meaningful level. There are many secrets and deceptions alongside the alien plot, but nothing significantly momentous or emotional enough occurs at any point; that flatness then causes the comedy to have less impact since there is nothing for it to meaningfully contrast against. The plot and tone do not totally detract from the overall experience, but ‘Gallery of Ghouls’ certainly seems much more like a filler story than any of the previous installments in the series and is undoubtedly one to listen to simply for the one-more stellar Tom Baker and Lalla Ward rather than for the actual plot. To be fair, there is a small subplot about artistic appreciation that could merit some discussion after the closing theme plays, but it’s a bit of a stretch to imply that deeper level.
Fortunately, all of the performances are very strong. Celia Imrie is quite enjoyable as Madame Tissot who goes from jealous paranoia to sympathetic and pitiable figure as events progress, and Nickolas Grace somehow manages to afford a somewhat tempered and grounded air of realism to the alien Goole who could have so easily been taken to wholly ridiculous and ludicrous levels given the scripting and circumstances. Helen Goldwyn also appears in an uncredited but vital role in the story, and she presents a quite lively contrast to Tissot in what is seemingly scripted as a quite bland and featureless role. Truly, the performances help to elevate the script.
Without expectations for a truly momentous threat or villain, ‘Gallery of Ghouls’ is a perfectly adequate story, and the rather dark resolution to the alien menace and the strong performances throughout certainly help its overall status. Despite the continued presence of some well-scripted and well-delivered comedy, the lack of meaningful drama keeps the story from reaching the more memorable levels that previous tales in this run have attained.