The World Traders

Posted in Audio by - January 23, 2021
The World Traders

Released January 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To begin the tenth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures, the TARDIS is impounded when the Doctor and Leela decide to have a day out in twenty-first century London in ‘The World Traders’ by Guy Adams. Inadvertently becoming entangled with the affairs of the mysterious Amapan Investments that has quickly achieved an astounding level of success, the two travelers soon uncover a nefarious secret as they become reacquainted with the ruthless Usurians.

As a genre designed to explore the nuances, hopes, and fears of modern society through a variably angled lens, long-standing science fiction franchises must at times delve into the realm of bureaucracy to lend a further degree of verisimilitude and groundedness to their scale and scope. While this topic naturally has the potential to become more cumbersome and dragging, Doctor Who has quite adeptly managed to circumvent this trap in the past by bringing to the forefront intriguing settings, characters, and oftentimes humour, and ‘The World Traders’ thankfully follows the trend. Indeed, a company that has essentially been given the status of a self-ruling country with complete autonomy inherently brings with it a unique set of rules for the Doctor to- unintentionally or not- run afoul of, and the means by which forced labour is achieved serves as a suitable bit of window dressing for the darker secret behind the purpose of the time portals austensibly being used to maximize profit.

The Usurians from ‘The Sun Makers’ are certainly not amongst the most well-known alien races the Doctor has encountered, but this commerce-centric fungoid race that is unafraid to exploit and tax humans makes a natural return for the devious scheme in play here. However, despite the great comedic moments interspersed between some momentous exposition and a delightfully audacious final episode that raises the stakes immeasurably, it’s clear that there isn’t quite enough actual plot to sustain a steady pace throughout all four parts. The resulting development and resolution stemming from the final cliffhanger are wholly natural and satisfying, but the middle of the story does spend a bit too much time treading water before that turning point is reached. Fortunately, Siân Phillips gives an entirely engrossing performance as the scheming Director who is wholly knowledgeable and completely self-serving, and the genuine power and confidence she exudes at all points is a constant reminder of the very real threat to humanity at hand.

Bureaucracy by its very nature is incredibly structured and tedious, and Tom Baker is masterful as his more gregarious Fourth Doctor becomes increasingly entwined in Amapan’s affairs. From outlandish comedy to genuine pathos and anger, ‘The World Traders’ affords a wealth of material for this Doctor and the incredible range of emotions Baker can seemingly summon on demand. Likewise, Leela is given ample opportunity to shine as her warrior upbringings come to focus during her exploits stemming from so many unfamiliar business and monetary ideas. Louise Jameson is superb with and without Baker at her side, and this duo easily traverses the split narrative to effectively develop this Usurian plan on multiple levels. While the incredible performances don’t quite make up for the many recycled ideas that litter the script or the fact that the different settings the portals reveal don’t quite manage to differentiate themselves beyond what the dialogue says, the loving attention to characterization and the smaller details add an incredible amount of nuance to the much bigger narrative, making ‘The World Traders’ not a classic but nonetheless another truly successful look at the administrative tedium and secrecy that is so abundant in every facet of life.

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