Released September 2014
The second story in the Philip Hinchliffe Presents set, ‘The Devil’s Armada,’ returns to the more familiar four-episode format, this time utilizing the classic episode ‘The Masque of Mandragora’ as an outline on which to base new events. Offering another angle on the origins of the devil, a concept that has been visited several times in the franchise’s long history, ‘The Devil’s Armada’ is another pseudo-historical adventure that is ultimately a bit uneven but still another worthy addition to the Fourth Doctor era.
The Vituperon played by Philip Bretherton is the devilish creature introduced here, built up to be a very worthy and menacing foe who could destroy all of humanity worldwide, and he certainly sounds the part. However, actions speak louder than words; despite plenty of frightening bravado, the Vituperon in actuality doesn’t do much himself to add to that perceived menace. He simply locks the Doctor up when he has the Doctor completely at his mercy within his own dimension, and he sends out imps who can apparently mentally manipulate specific individuals to do his bidding. The reason why myths about this specific creature is limited to European tales when the threat is so global is never really touched upon either, something that a throwaway line could have managed quite easily.
The character of William Redcliffe is a fascinating character, albeit an unevenly written one as well, and Jamie Newall plays him admirably. A tough intimidator who in unafraid to use his powerful status to his own advantage, Redcliffe clearly relishes any opportunity he gets to exert his crueller and more unpleasant intentions and in a certain sense becomes a more dangerous foe than even the mighty Vituperon. The plot goes to great lengths to portray him as a completely self-centred man trying to gain more power for himself by capitalizing on the threat of impending war, but he very quickly repents for his actions and sacrifices himself at story’s end to ensure that both the Doctor and Leela can escape. While there are also some lingering questions as to why Sir Robert so strongly demanded that the Doctor should be present anyway, Redcliffe’s sudden change of heart simply doesn’t have enough buildup to ring completely true.
Like with ‘The Ghosts of Gralstead,’ however, the performances and production values unquestionably overcome some of the unanswered questions of the plot. Tom Baker and Louise Jameson once more give absolutely enthralling performances as the Doctor and Leela, respectively, both commanding attention in each of their scenes. This script, in particular, plays to the comedic and flippant aspects of the Fourth Doctor with lines and tones that sound completely natural coming from Tom Baker. This offhanded frivolity does perhaps take away some of the drama of the situation, but the easy charm of the character makes it difficult to hold against the script and is perfectly in line with the era of the programme for which this is intended. To adequately round out the cast, Tim Bentnick, Beth Chalmers, Alix Dunmore, and Ben Porter all give the requisite emotions to their varied roles.
In the end, ‘The Devil’s Armada’ is a slightly unbalanced story, one that features great performances and fantastic sound design but one which is lightly let down by its familiar core concept and a plot that is sadly missing a few key lines to explain certain aspects in a more cohesive manner. ‘The Devil’s Armada’ may fail to live up its predecessor within this set, but it’s still an enjoyable enough romp that again showcases the talents of and chemistry between its two engaging leads.