Released March 2017
Season eighteen of Doctor Who is remembered as one thematically full of entropy and decay, a somber precursor to Tom Baker’s regeneration after seven years as the Fourth Doctor. However, while these themes would come to predominate beginning with the Doctor’s accidental arrival in E-space, Big Finish has proven adept at filling in the spaces beforehand, allowing for a more optimistic return to this era. This trend continues with ‘The Silent Scream’ as the Doctor, Romana, and K9 arrive in 1920s Hollywood where silent film actors hoping to make a comeback are vanishing while strange creatures walk the streets.
Writer James Goss has crafted a love letter of sorts to Hollywood’s Golden Age, managing to walk precariously close to the fourth wall on several occasions without ever veering over that boundary or eliciting too much of a sense of campiness or self-indulgence. Indeed, it seems rather fitting that the bombastic Fourth Doctor would have such a soft spot for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s silent film era, and his infatuation with starlet Loretta Waldorf who quickly finds her voice stolen as cellulose shadows reveal themselves provides a natural entry point to the mystery for the audience and the TARDIS travelers alike.
As the Doctor splits up from Romana and K9 while they all try to get to the bottom of the mystery regarding the missing stars, events soon take a much darker and more personal turn as a collection of films is found to be missing from the vault of Hammerstein Pictures and Doctor Julius comes into focus. Having the boisterous Doctor’s voice also separated from his body as he succumbs to the consequences of his own whimsy and deviousness is used to tremendous effect, and this dovetails nicely with Romana’s own investigations into the murky motivations behind Julius’s actions. As a result of the Doctor’s forced silence, Lalla Ward is tasked with carrying a substantial portion of ‘The Silent Scream,’ and she proves more than capable while retaining her ever-present haughty charm, managing to humorously elucidate some of K9’s philosophical thoughts about actors from his perspective in the process.
It’s hard to imagine such a witty script that indirectly deals so much with the extreme variation of fandom ever making it to screen in the Tom Baker era, but credit must be given to Big Finish for continuing to branch out more frequently from the strict sense of traditionalism that pervaded The Fourth Doctor Adventures for so long. There are certainly elements of season eighteen stealthily incorporated that keep the story from totally betraying the tone of its surrounding serials, but ‘The Silent Scream’ wonderfully brightens up the darkest overall season of the Fourth Doctor’s run. Although this is perhaps not an incredibly deep or complex story that will challenge its listeners all too much, and although the resolution is a bit too rushed, the small cast and strong production values bring the story to life wonderfully. Tightly paced and always amusing, ‘The Silent Scream’- highlighted by a superb cover- is another strong addition to the most recent run of The Fourth Doctor Adventures.