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 Baker is significantly toned down as he delivers an incredibly serious and poignant performance, and the gradual introduction of the missing submarine with its lone occupant before phantoms and their ability to possess others manifest works magnificently.
As fascinating as the explanations for the mysterious events are, however, the second episode inevitably can’t quite live up to the tense standards of the first and ends up feeling just a bit too rushed. With the phantoms illusions produced by a derelict alien spaceship, testing the psychic potential of the sentient life it comes across in order to increase mental capacities and create receptacles for the memories of a long-extinct race, the story of the hyper-intelligent squids, ghosts, and telekinetic Jack quickly comes together satisfyingly. The two-part nature undoubtedly helps with pacing and atmosphere in this very plot-heavy story, but it does conversely fail to fully allow the guest cast to fully develop as a result, and nobody truly stands out in any memorable sense.
‘Phantoms of the Deep’ does manage to give all three of its leads meaningful work to do, and it’s particularly pleasant to hear K9 so involved in events as his actions and motives are directly called into question. As mentioned before, Tom Baker proves superb at delivering an ominous and chilling performance while still able to inject his trademark wit as required, and Mary Tamm again does very well while balancing Romana’s own haughtiness with a sense of unease amidst moments of genuine peril. The enthusiasm all three bring to the release is infectious and proves to be yet another strong selling point for this tale that the sound design rounds out admirably. ‘Phantoms of the Deep’ may not be a story that could only happen with this particular group of actors, but it ends up being another incredibly enjoyable entry in The Fourth Doctor Adventures while highlighting the versatility of both the range and Jonathan Morris, also the writer of the opening story of this run, ‘The Auntie Matter.’