The Shadow of London

Posted in Audio by - May 27, 2018
The Shadow of London

Released May 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The second half of the seventh series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures begins with ‘The Shadow of London’ by Justin Richards as the TARDIS materialises in the backstreets of 1940s London. With few people and no cars in the silent streets over which even Big Ben does not toll, nothing is quite as it seems while cameras feeding into a secret control room monitor everything.

It mmust be stated upfront that the core ideas behind this story are ones that have been used even by Big Finish before, but Richards is still able to put enough of a unique spin on them to prevent them from feeling completely hackneyed even if there isn’t a wholly surprising revelation awaiting at the end. Instead, it’s the journey to the truth that takes precedence as the Doctor and Leela try to discover just why these streets are so deserted and why the individuals they come upon are such distinct caricatures of British stereotypes. As murders begin to mount, little time passes before a brutal monster begins pursuing them through the streets and the two leads become separated in traditional Doctor Who fashion.

Strangely, the production mines almost no tension from the monster when it appears and continues its pursuit of the Doctor after the pair discovers that this city is a distinctly non-British façade with definite edges to its boundaries. The music accompanying its first appearance is almost bouncy and not evocative of the terror needed, and later Leela actually has to forcefully stop Maddox and Hemmings from an extended personal conversation to remind them that the monster is on the loose pursuing her friend to kick the narrative back into motion. This scene actually comes to be one of the most crucial as Hemmings becomes more and more crucial to the plot, but it grinds the momentum to a standstill and so seems oddly placed despite its importance.

Still, ‘The Shadow of London’ does make the most of its World War II setting and uses its events to showcase just how far humans in war are willing to go to emerge victorious. Indeed, the changed morality within war when killing and other horrors are deemed to be acceptable becomes the story’s strongest aspect as it reaches its conclusion, and that along with the truth behind the purpose of this city as well as the reason for this monster’s being would normally be enough to create a satisfying experience even with the occasional niggle. Unfortunately, in a rarity for a Big Finish production, the supporting performances don’t sparkle and come to life as dynamically as possible alongside the superb Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. One could make an excuse for this given the characters’ actual identities within this wartime setting once all pretenses are dropped and given the fact that they all know more than the leads, but the majority of the production feels monotone and flat, leaving the audience to create any emotional investment without help from the supporting performers. It’s hard to explain exactly why this is so because Darren Boyd, Timothy Speyer, and Catherine Bailey are all immensely talented, but the deliveries as a whole are simply too flat regardless of the reason as the Doctor and Leela slowly come to discover the truths that the others already know to varying extents.

The Fourth Doctor Adventures has really hits its stride over the past few years, but every strong run will have the occasional slip-up, and ‘The Shadow of London’ is that despite strong- if not entirely original- central ideas and incredible lead performances. It’s simply too disjointed with its pacing, and the supporting performances and score do nothing to accentuate the moral horror so intrinsic to the central plot before a fairly simple resolution prevents events from spiraling out of control and further deaths from mounting.

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