The God of Phantoms

Posted in Audio by - August 25, 2021
The God of Phantoms

Released August 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With the last release in 2017, it seemed as though Philip Hinchcliffe Presents which brought into the Big Finish fold the acclaimed producer who oversaw some of the most vivid and fondly remembered years of the franchise had run is course following four dynamic titles. However, in a script adapted by Marc Platt, the Fourth Doctor and Leela as envisioned by Hinchcliffe are brought to life once more in ‘The God of Phantoms’ as the duo arrives on a colony world in the distant future where the people are seeing the ghosts of their lost friends and relatives, ghosts that seem to be stealing other people.

‘The God of Phantoms’ is a story brimming with incredible ideas, and the very backdrop of ghosts and disappearing individuals perfectly fits with the tonality and visuals of the beloved Hinchcliffe era. However, as the Doctor and Leela continue to investigate the source of the spirits and uncover a fiendish machine and an even more diabolical scheme to siphon life, the story blends in more modern elements of Doctor Who storytelling as a Gallifreyan origin is revealed and an even more personal connection to the Doctor is uncovered. Indeed, the Doctor on television and in Big Finish audios is quite frequently forced to forget specific events for any variety of reasons, but it’s rare that the Doctor has to once more delve squarely into the same conflict with no memory of his previous involvement. Yes, the furtive involvement of the Time Lords is somewhat superfluous except to set up the conflict, but Leela being told of the Doctor’s previous involvement and knowing that he cannot survive if she tells him is a brilliant plot development that puts the very open and honest fibre of Leela’s core in conflict with herself.

Unfortunately, the overall execution of the plot is something of a jumbled mess that never comes close to fully realizing its potential, a fact made all the stranger given the typically strong performances from Tom Baker and Louise Jameson who are normally able to elevate any script before them. Part of this is simply from the pacing issues that often plague six-part adventures, and here far too much time is delegated to covering variations of the same information to set up the mystery at the core of this village. However, the buildup of any story is only as good as its payoff, and Flindor ultimately comes off as one of the cheesiest and most underwhelming villains that Doctor Who has seen in some time. This villain is performed squarely as pantomime, and while there are intriguing elements of revenge and history that only he recalls that could have served the plot well if played up more earnestly, the overacting and Flindor’s constant proclamations of his name and might make him a tiring presence that accomplishes nothing but to ultimately detract from the plot and scheme to which he is so integral. Baker and Jameson do their very best to sell the power that this being possesses, but no performance could make Flindor as presented into a truly credible threat whose actions and power could match the boisterous boasting of his words.

Big Finish has proven remarkably adept at bringing out the best in its performers no matter the recording situation and distance between actors throughout the pandemic, but for some reason the emotions of the supporting cast don’t quite meet the levels that the script dictates. There is obviously an incredible amount of turmoil on both intimate and grandiose scales throughout this story, but the relative flatness of many crucial lines too often belies the situations at hand. With the Doctor not gravely serious but also not leaning into humour while remaining a step behind the listeners and with Leela written more as her Gallifrey persona than as her Doctor Who companion one, everything is just a little off and means that the overall experience that is filled with great ideas, a strong setting, and a couple of stellar cliffhangers cannot overcome pacing concerns, somewhat uninspired supporting performances, and an egregiously farcical enemy. This is an unfortunate misstep for a range that has to this point fulfilled its remit admirably, but hopefully it’s not the end for an era with Hinchcliffe directly involved given the indelible mark he has left on the franchise.

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