The Planet of Witches

Posted in Audio by - February 15, 2020
The Planet of Witches

Released February 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following last month’s successful and respectful reintroduction of Adric to the Fourth Doctor’s travels which began to further flesh out the character’s unique value and challenges in a way that his early serials on screen could only hint at, the second volume of The Fourth Doctor Series 9 looks to build on that momentum as the expanded TARDIS crew continues their search for a CVE and an exit from E-Space. Following the trail of a crashed spaceship that just might lead to such an escape in Alan Barnes’s ‘The Planet of Witches,’ the Doctor and his friends discover a number of escaping prisoners fleeing from someone called the Witchfinder, and the connection to home has never been quite so uniquely dangerous.  

Given the individual intellects of each of these travelers, this particular team has always been one of the most difficult to write for without relying on either momentary lapses in characterisation or else more obscure knowledge to form the foundation of a plot to reasonably allow necessary explanations to follow. However, by revealing an advanced civilisation searching for intellectually superior individuals, ‘The Planet of Witches’ expertly gives Adric an independent but vital role in events as he uses his quick wits and intellect both to stay alive and to uncover key information that sets into motion events that directly factor into the resolution. While portions of this plotline do play out quite similarly to those in ‘Purgatory 12’ from the first volume, it’s nonetheless refreshing to see how much Big Finish has already rehabilitated this much-maligned companion who never truly had a chance to develop much beyond his initial petulance on screen. Matthew Waterhouse injects the perfect amount of brashness and humility into his performance that highlights just how far Adric has come as a person since stowing away aboard the TARDIS and just how capably he can handle himself even when coming up against a presence from far beyond the realm of his own experiences.

Even if the story does go out of its way to ensure the Doctor cannot see the entire picture until the very end, its bold blending of horror and fantasy allows ‘The Planet of Witches’ to seamlessly slot between the televised E-space stories around it. At times there may be too much reliance on traditional witch vocal stereotypes which can grate, but the visuals pervading the serial from beginning to end are superb, and the mystery behind the Witchfinder, the witches, and Tiresias’s insatiable requirements that would drive natural selection itself is brilliantly paced and quite wonderfully provides a link to home that makes the threat all the more tangible and resonant. Doctor Who is no stranger to exploring how advanced technology can be seen as magic by those less advanced, and Barnes proves adept at enmeshing superstition and differing beliefs systems to make this entire setup feasible and even understandable on a personal level despite the overabundance of technobabble that supports its core. To this effect, Samuel Blenkin, Lauren Cornelius, Samuel Clemens, Abigail McKern, and Michael Simkins give strong performances to bring this world to life so vividly without ever easing up on the emotional investment as the more audacious individual components of this script could have resulted in with different actors or directors involved.

Of course, the performances of Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are engrossing as always, the former exemplifying the Doctor’s alien nature and both being allowed to engage in the more caring and warm aspects of their characters than were often seen at this point of their tenure together. Even more impressively, Tiresias’s abilities present K9 with a significant role to play in events as well, making the most of an immense cliffhanger at one point and showcasing an altogether more frightening aspect to Tiresias’s threat that John Leeson plays perfectly. With so many characters and plotlines handled so deftly and the mystery behind this world unfolding so naturally with clues early on paying off in spades as the plot develops, it hardly matters that the progression of events is at times fairly traditional; ‘The Planet of Witches’ is a fine addition to The Fourth Doctor Adventures that never fails to entertain.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.