Released June 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
The TARDIS materializes deep beneath the surface of an alien world, one in which the inhabitants live aboard giant burrowing Drill-Town machines while endlessly hunting for fuel and resources to survive. But as a Drill-Town engulfs the TARDIS with the Doctor and Romana aboard, they soon find that even the largest of machines can become prey to the Silex.
As with the best two-part stories, writer Jonathan Morris expertly fleshes out the history of this world and the war of attrition against the relentless Silex that together form the crux of ‘Subterranea.’ With an initial premise that evokes elements of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Morris probably wisely instead chooses to go down a slightly more whimsical route with its sometimes larger-than-life cast of characters and the steampunk cybernetic Silex seeking to assimilate those who run afoul of them. At the same time, though, the Silex become one of the most distracting elements of the story, and that is simply down to just how very reminiscent of the Cybermen they are. The backstory of the foes is incredibly powerful and certainly helps to imbue them with a heightened sense of menace, but while it’s possible and even probable that different species on different worlds could take on a type of convergence, this one brief story doesn’t do quite enough to add a truly unique layer to the unquestionable might of the Silex force.
Even with this season of The Fourth Doctor Adventures supposedly being more in line with the more morose season eighteen on television, its performances and stylings hearken back quite overtly to the more ostentatious season seventeen, and that slight narrative shift in tone likely enhances what is otherwise a very traditional story by allowing each of its characters to come to the forefront as needed. Matthew Cottle and Abigail McKern are superb as the married couple of Maxwell Wilberforce and Lucretia Bell, and Cottle in particularly manages to suggest a genuine sense of underlying compassion for his wife despite the madness and twisting complexity of the life before him. Robbie Stevens’s Jelicho Wigg likewise provides another memorable presence and helps to balance the two strands of plot that weave past and present together nicely once the Doctor and Romana are inevitably separated.
By itself, ‘Subterranea’ has all of the elements of a memorable Doctor Who story, and the very visual descriptions make it incredibly easy to imagine this ambitious story being brought to life on screen even with the questionable effects and props often employed during its intended era. However, despite some truly standout supporting performances and the typical excellence from both Tom Baker and Lalla Ward alongside strong direction and sound design, ‘Subterranea’ is also unquestionably the most traditional story in this run of The Fourth Doctor Adventures. In that sense, this story is a purist’s delight, but the incredibly described world brimming with history and the menace of the incessant and remorseless Silex cannot completely overcome the otherwise straightforward plot and a foe who borrows a bit too heavily from the Cybermen. ‘Subterranea’ is perfectly entertaining, but it still feels like a very safe release after Big Finish has just started to more readily experiment beyond the constrictions of traditionalism with this range.