Released October 2011
After years of declining to reprise his iconic Fourth Doctor role in the audio medium, Tom Baker finally joins the Big Finish family with The Fourth Doctor Box Set in its The Lost Stories range, a collection of two tales stemming from the immensely popular Philip Hinchcliffe era. The opening instalment, Robert Banks Stewart’s ‘The Foe from the Future,’ was originally intended to serve as a finale for the incomparable season fourteen and shares at least some similarities with the story that would go on to replace it, ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang.’ As the TARDIS follows a twist in the time vortex to the village of Staffham in 1977 where apparitions and dead bodies turn up in equal measure, the Doctor and Leela soon find themselves embroiled in a plan two thousand years in the making that threatens history itself.
As far as debut stories go, ‘The Foe from the Future’ is an incredibly strong one for Tom Baker that emphasizes the versatility and range that he brings to the role of the Doctor. There is a moodiness underlying the Fourth Doctor here as he effortlessly switches from morose seriousness to jovial frivolity, and his famed grin is certainly present when not caustically going after those in the wrong. At the same time, Louise Jameson excels as she is allowed the opportunity to dynamically re-explore her original portrayal of Leela after refining a more mature take in Big Finish’s Gallifrey series, and her character’s innocence, bravery, and intelligence are all on fine display here. The two leads share a truly fantastic camaraderie in this story, firmly recapturing the spirit of their early televised stories together in a story which meshes humour and horror wonderfully.
‘The Foe from the Future’ perfectly juxtaposes a sense of the unearthly with the foundation of the commonplace, and the notion of chronological displacement in which an individual experiences an entire lifetime in an instant is a suitably horrendous visual upon which to open the mystery. With the deterioration of the vortex being accelerated for nefarious means, the story of Jalnik’s studies and mistakes with the trans-dimensional Pantofagan bring some truly strong horror sequences that ably stand beside some of the most iconic of the Hinchcliffe era. The Doctor is appalled at the idea of the last vestiges of humanity surviving by heading back in time from a version of the year 4,000 that should not exist, and Paul Freeman excels as the villainous Jalnik, squeezing the most out of every word and adding a sense of menace to each of his actions driven by insanity without ever going over the top or becoming grating.
The sound design may not be completely representative of the Hinchcliffe era, but it is eerily effective and combines well with Ken Bentley’s direction to keep this six-part adventure rolling fluidly from beginning to end. Along with the afore-mentioned leading performances, superb supporting turns from Louise Brealey as pseudo companion Charlotte, John Green as the entrancing Butler, and Camilla Power as the vein Kostal allow each written word and scene to seamlessly transfer to audio with the requisite gravitas and emotion needed to keep the narrative together. ‘The Foe from the Future’ and adapter John Dorney rightfully deserve all of the praise they have received, spectacularly recapturing the core essence of season fourteen without sacrificing one bit in its transfer to audio. Whether a debut story or not, this is the epitome of the Tom Baker era and bodes well for his future with Big Finish as a new era of the classic series can now be revisited in full.