The Quest of the Engineer

Posted in Audio by - February 16, 2020
The Quest of the Engineer

Released February 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To close out the ninth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures as the Doctor and his companions continue their search for a CVE and an exit from E-space, Andrew Smith’s ‘The Quest of the Engineer’ brings the TARDIS to the ever-shifting surface of a strange planet. Soon encountering this world’s leader known only as the Engineer and discovering that his quest for illumination and to find a rumoured portal in space that leads to another reality aligns with their own, the stranded travelers must uncover their own truth about this man while determining if he can genuinely be trusted.

While the synopsis for this story may not quite paint the same vivid picture of its plot as the other serials of this series, ‘The Quest of the Engineer’ wastes little time in creating an evocative atmosphere that is bolstered by an incredible soundscape throughout to successfully bring its core mystery to life. Indeed, as the reality of this planet becomes known, the ongoing trickle of details makes its size, purpose, and inner workings all the more impressive as its narrative potential only continues to grow. While certain elements of the actual plot are familiar to those of many previous Fourth Doctor stories, this unique setting provides an auspicious air of freshness to a quest that is nowhere near as honourable as it first appears.

Fortunately, the performances throughout are all top-notch, and the story’s success is truly brought about by the immense characterisation of the Engineer and the brilliant presence of Nicholas Woodeson. While there is no denying that the man on display here is a traditional and unscrupulous madman the likes of who has been seen countless times before as he proves willing to sacrifice countless individuals to a horrific end in order to advance his search, the initial motivation driving this eventual descent into madness makes him a far more sympathetic character with moments of true humanity that continue to bleed through at necessary intervals to prevent him from becoming too one-dimensional even in his current state. With Romana receiving ample time alongside the Engineer to bring the true scope and terror of his plan to light through tense and emotional interactions between Lalla Ward and Woodeson, the Engineer with his true identity becomes a standout presence for this entire series. and Timothy Blore, Richard Hansell, George Layton, and Sarah Woodward all expertly combine in support.

Adric and K9 feature less prominently than in the previous stories, though both Matthew Waterhouse and John Leeson acquit themselves well in their respective roles when featured, but Tom Baker once more steals every scene he is in as he showcases an incredible range of emotion that even taps into an unbridled fury that the Fourth Doctor rarely lets loose so publicly. However, despite the strong performances and an engaging villain to anchor this ever-unfolding mystery behind this horror, ‘The Quest of the Engineer’ does at times lag in its pacing and becomes the first tale of this series to not fully capitalize on the extra time that four parts allows. The extras suggest that Baker and Leeson at the very least had a role in rewriting some of the characters’ dialogue and scenes to make K9’s vocal mannerisms more mechanically natural and to make Anla Jessik a more proactive and capable presence, and the positives that resulted suggest that a few more subtle changes could have resulted in an even more satisfying whole. Still, there’s an incredible amount to like about this closing serial with its immense ositive far outweighing a few quibbles, and the ninth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures as a whole represents a breath of fresh air within a classic context that proves just how much this range and this TARDIS team still have to offer.

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