Released May 2015
The Fourth Doctor Adventures continues its run of experimentation with distinctly non-traditional ideas and settings in ‘Suburban Hell,’ a story which finds the Doctor and Leela trapped in a suburb of North London as temporal ruckage has taken the TARDIS to another time zone. Yet as they prepare to endure an evening and dinner with Belinda and Ralph, a strange fog rolls in holding blue-skinned creatures with dinner plans of their own.
Doctor Who has, of course, attempted a few stories with a more domestic aspect to them over the years, and the familiar surroundings often allow the characters to truly come into focus as well-rounded individuals. However, ‘Suburban Hell’ works more with generalities and broad strokes than intimacy, the guest characters written in such a way that any sort of positive attributes are hidden beneath arrogance, cowardice, or spite. The culture of the 1970s dinner party is a perfect backdrop for a science fiction story, but the interpersonal relationships here are difficult to fully invest in when there is so little to actually like about the people involved. This seems to have purposefully been the point for Belinda as the belligerent wife, in particular, but it nonetheless makes for a bit of a trying experience. At the same time, it seems like an odd omission that Leela’s manners and customs are not brought up as she tries to engage in social niceties and etiquette.
Still, the core concept behind ‘Suburban Hell’ is a suitably engaging one and allows the house to really take on a personality of its own. With Thelma the witchfinder general from over the road becoming involved, the story of the blue woman in the painting and her irresistible glamour develops quite well. Having used her intrinsic abilities to control the minds of every being in her constellation while alive, she has survived in a portrait taken to Earth, waiting for the proper host to come along for her to continue her nefarious ways once more. The resultant tale involving two time zones while the Doctor explores the cause and Leela the effect as they determine who the intended vessel will be is quite enjoyable, tense, and well-paced, though ultimately rather straightforward in its execution.
At times, ‘Suburban Hell’ feels like it wants to be a piece of biting satire or even just a solid piece of comedy, but the writing and tone don’t quite allow it to achieve this, creating a strange sense of unevenness as events progress. Unfortunately, with the bickering couple taking precedence and little opportunity taken to explore the Doctor and Leela as people within this dinner party context, ‘Suburban Hell’ feels like a missed opportunity given the excellent premise of the setting and core concept. Full credit must be given to those involved with the range for continuing to push the boundaries and offering something different than what would have been televised at the time, but ‘Suburban Hell’ as a full production doesn’t quite manage to live up to its potential even with Tom Baker and Louise Jameson on top form as expected.