Matryoshka

Posted in Audio by - June 14, 2024
Matryoshka

Released June 2024

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With ‘Matryoshka’ and a mysteriously powerful force dragging the TARDIS to Earth, Big Finish newcomer Aurora Fearnley kicks off the second box set of The Fourth Doctor Adventures series 13, Metamorphosis.

Right away, Fearnley proves adept at building an atmospheric and rich world filled with vibrant imagery and emotions, the story of a lonely and imaginative girl who has grown up with only her toymaker father who has developed all of his toys with her mind providing an incredibly powerful backdrop for the ensuing search when she goes missing. Robbie Stevens expertly conveys the desperation and endless hope of a dedicated father, knowing implicitly that he will find his daughter even as it becomes clear that an otherworldly and malevolent force is making the rules of his beloved games become all too real. In so doing, Lord Charles Pearson’s house almost becomes a character in its own right as the familiarity of hide and seeks turns into something far more unexpected, and though the result of this storyline is a less robust use of Harry and Naomi than is typical as Pearson takes charge, Christopher Naylor and Eleanor Crooks still give dynamic performances that again showcase their characters’ emotional depths and sharp incisiveness even when the world around them is anything but certain.

Given the setting, Lord Pearson’s decision to call upon a medium to try to make contact with his missing daughter makes sense, and Annette Badland’s decision to truly lean into the accented theatricality of Madame Bisset is likewise fitting and adds another layer of vibrancy to the subdued state of affairs in this home. That she is able to pick up on something different about the Doctor’s persona lends her character a certain credence even as the Doctor openly acknowledges that almost all mediums are phonies, making the Toymaker’s ability to use this woman as a voice while wielding tremendous influence around this home a logical fit for the script. Of course, Big Finish has already found success in conveying the Toymaker’s presence in various forms without the villain necessarily being directly present in previous stories, and Badland manages to capture the ethereal menace, ego, and playfulness of the Toymaker wonderfully with subtle changes to her vocal mannerisms. The unique aspect of the Toymaker’s body and mind being separate here does potentially open up some intriguing storylines for the future as well, but the increasing influence the villain has as the story progresses nonetheless provides a suitable hint at the true power of this entity. Admittedly, the Toymaker’s scheme here does initially seem relatively small in scale as the Doctor refuses to take part in what seem to be relatively straightforward asks, and though this initial part does resolve quite quickly with the Doctor victorious in a somewhat understated manner, Fearnley wisely and deftly elevates the script beyond this moment by showing that the Toymaker can look beyond pride to plan for the possibility of defeat at the hands of the Doctor and keep the games going on an altogether new level with even higher stakes.

While it does seem like a missed opportunity to introduce something that can apparently influence the probability of reality without truly showcasing its effects, the Toymaker’s ultimate plans for the Doctor are fitting for a villain of its scale and craete a rarefied peril that on its surface seems all but inescapable. Sadly, the script can’t quite manage to capitalize on that sense of danger since the Doctor calmly guides affairs and deflects from that danger in a manner that counteracts the very visceral changes overtaking him. Tom Baker is excellent in these scenes and wonderfully captures the power, severity, and levity of his Fourth Doctor throughout even if he does drop into a gravelly register a bit too often, but what should be one of the Doctor’s greatest dangers confronted comes off as little more than a distraction that the Doctor can easily work around to emerge victorious. Still, any visit from the Toymaker is cause for celebration and the end result is still a highly enjoyable story that hopefully results in this unique entity becoming a more frequent menace as the Doctor acknowledges that his victory may only offer the universe a brief reprieve.

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