Review copies sent by AudioGo.
Books Despite the casting notice on the inlay, neither the synopses or indeed the cover of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine are backwards in coming sideways on the casting coup at the heart of this final two part chunk of Doctor Who’s Serpent Crest, David Troughton putting in an appearance as Doctor 2 and lending his interpretation of his father’s performance previously heard in audio books. Sure enough, he’s uncanny, especially when articulating Second’s catchphrases, his "oh dears" or "giddy aunts" and for the most part entirely respectful to his father’s work and there are moments, especially with Mrs Wibbsey then Mike Yates narrating each episode, that we could be listening one of the missing episode releases (after Mark Ayres has pulled a few all nighters to remove the static and sound of someone having their dinner in the background).
But Tom Baker still stars as teeth and curls and this is the resolution of a five parter which bewilderingly had seemed like it was resolved after just three, with Alex returned to take up his princely place in the Robotov Empire and the Fourth Doctor heading back off into the time vortex. The Hexford Invasion picks up months later with Wibbs ensconced in village life, suspicious of the next door neighbour’s bee hives and nauseated by a novelist who’s moved into Hexford and become fast friends with everyone. This is Paul Magrys channelling Posy Simmons, employing Wibbs’s acerbic wit to comment on the boredom of life after the Doctor. But it’s not long before UNIT, led by a re-commissioned Mike and Doctor 2 roll into town, set up shop in Nest Cottage and the usual shenanigans ensue.
The Hexford Invasion then becomes a Pertweean village caper from the point of view of the citizens, their tranquil yet sinister life disrupted by these army men and their befuddled, hoboish friend. Wibbs doesn’t like or trust Doctor 2, he’s not her Doctor and seeing him through her eyes, neither do we. When Tom finally arrives, of course we look forward to how the two men connect (having missed each other in The Five Doctors) and sure enough there’s some magic, as the play becomes a kind of Time Lord Spy Vs. Spy, as they each attempt to discover the motives of the other, Fourth not remembering anything which is happening, no Time Crash informed bootstrap paradoxes here thanks to a veiled reference to Season 6b. I won’t spoil things, but it’s safe to say this isn’t a “you were my Doctor” weep fest.
It’s also barely a spoiler to say that the alien hoards massing above the village are the Skishtari seeking the egg which was buried at the close of Aladdin Night though to say much about their methodology would be, so I’d stop reading here if you don’t want to know the score.
Images of the formation of the Beyonder world in Marvel’s Secret Wars not to mention the hospital in Smith & Jones as the entire village of Hexford is scooped out of planet and dropped on some distant moon so that the egg can be search for in peace, inhabitants, buildings, the lot. The sense of scale is incredible and into the final part, Survivors in Space, Magrs captures the epic quality of the manoeuvre, of ordinary humans against the universe. As you might expect, there’s much tea drinking.
The story also sees the return of Nerys Hughes to the Whoniverse as Deidre, the Welsh immigrant into middle English life who becomes terribly enamoured with Mike and acts as one half of a Greek chorus with Joanna Tope's novelist Tish, offering outsider commentary on those events for which the regulars are already insiders. The performance of Cornelius Garrett (whose name already sounds like a Magrsian invention) as the Reverend is more Derek Nimmo than Tom Hollander (or Nicholas Parsons for that matter) but along with the rest of the ensemble find a tone that helps conjure the atmosphere of a village untouched by the shock of the new, more regressive than Moreton Harwood, Devil's End or even Leadworth.
Once again, the months of isolation and hopelessness are presented from the villager’s perspective, Yates, once so rebellious, now becoming the authority figure holding the community together even to the point of helping organise the traditional Hexford Christmas show, Doctor 2 his confident. The stakes are raised fairly quickly as strands from all of the previous adventures begin to wrap together, Fourth and Wibbs taking charge of their own story again, and although it’s the sober Hinchliffian Tom that asserts itself there’s enough bonkers energy brewing, not least in justifying the participation of Doctor 2 in the first place, for this to be ideal send off for Serpent Crest. It’s going to be quite strange come January to hear more audio Toms with a different authorial voice. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear from Paul Magrs. Or Mrs Wibbsey.
Doctor Who: Serpent Crest: The Hexford Invasion and Survivors in Space by Paul Magrs is out now from AudioGo.