Released October 2011
Tom Baker’s Big Finish debut in The Fourth Doctor Box Set comes to a close with ‘The Valley of Death,’ a story from the mind of Philip Hinchcliffe that was originally intended to air during the season after his departure from the franchise. As the Doctor and Leela join Edward Perkins on his expedition into the Amazon rainforest to find the truth behind his great-grandfather’s disappearance a century earlier, they soon find something sinister lurking within the city of the lost Maygor tribe as Godrin and the Lurons finally make their offer to humanity.
‘The Valley of Death’ is very nearly two tales of two parts each given how disparate the two halves are, the first featuring the search in the Amazon for the missing expedition and fabled golden city and the second featuring an alien invasion in London. This sort of dichotomy has been used to great effect in Doctor Who before, but the two stories are so distinct here that nothing from the first except for the introduction of Godrin and his ability to warp the speed of time carries through to the conclusion. Thus, the immensely visual buildup of the Amazonian environment with its natives, giant frogs, crashed aircraft, and precariously-perched spacecraft comes to be more or less meaningless once the Luron plot is fully revealed. And even if the reveal that the Lurons are hiding a more threatening plan beneath their promise to share their technology with Earth in exchange for being allowed to inhabit the unusable regions of Earth is predictable, the irony of Godrin being poisoned by the sun he has been manipulating for his nefarious schemes is incredibly strong and closes out the rather late-blooming duplicate storyline admirably.
As with ‘The Foe from the Future,’ Tom Baker is absolutely sparkling in ‘The Valley of Death,’ imbuing a subtle humour to events that perfectly offsets his character’s sometimes indignant anger. The Doctor brings logic to a tale full of whimsy and danger, and it contrasts perfectly with Leela’s bravery and fierce intelligence that shine through no matter how strange the narrative and shifting surroundings around her get. She has come to realize that intellect can be a powerful weapon in its own right, and her absolute faith in the Doctor is inspiring and speaks volumes as to how deep the relationship between the two characters is at this point in their time togeteher. At the same time, Nigel Carrington is absolutely fantastic as the campy deity Goldrin, reveling in his character’s evil turns but absolutely able to charm and smarm as needed to advance Goldrin’s plans. Anthony Howell’s fearful Edward Perkins and Jane Slavin’s journalistic Valerie Carlton don’t end up being the most well-rounded of characters, but they are more than capable of carrying the dramatic weight of any scene and serve their purpose as de facto supplementary companions quite well.
In the end, ‘The Valley of Death’ is very much a loving homage to all of the greatest hits of the Hinchcliffe era, borrowing elements from nearly all of the most popular stories produced under his watch. Nonetheless, with a highly visual script bolstered by superb dialogue, strong sound design and direction, and even stronger performances from all involved, this is another rousing success to herald the arrival of the Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor to the Big Finish family.