Dragon, the magazine about roleplaying games had a long article about converting scenarios from one system to another. Their vivid introduction suggested a game in which Indiana Jones having fought his way into an ancient citadel is confronted with a factory manufacturing thousands of Daleks. What would a player do? Not having enough interested friends, I was never able to experiment or attempt any role playing outside Fighting Fantasy books but the illustrations always stuck with me, the iconic hat and whip silhouetted against a menace which can often barely be defeated with even greater props.
The other story in Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor Lost Stories boxset, The Valley of Death is very much in that vein, with the Doctor and Leela having been tasked by UNIT to accompany the explorer Edward Perkins deep into the jungle on the trail of the mysteries of his grandfather’s diary which mentions a crashed spaceship just before it ends. But as you might expect, this isn’t just some simple archaeological scavenging hunt, as the group are confronted with lost tribes, giant animals and an angry God, Godrin, who offers untold riches who suggests will benefit the whole of the human race, providing we can set aside the fact that he’s such a curious little alien.
In other words if it had originally gone into production, this would have been Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a few decades early, but as original writer Philip Hinchcliffe suggests in this month’s party newsletter, the sheer scale of the thing, with its Close Encounters of the Third Kind ambitions, would have precluded that. But adapter Jonathan Morris takes full advantage of the ideas to create a piece with ambitious scale, especially in its closing two episodes which and I’m trying to be careful here, what initially seems like a story with Conan Doyle ambitions takes a turn into Russell T Davies territory, in those moments when he has a finale to write against a deadline.
But is it any good? Well, it certainly doesn’t nuke the fridge (sorry). That’s because Morris sets aside any pretensions towards realism and embraces the comic book tone, with massive action sequences, larger than life characterisation and some fabulously corny dialogue straight out of the thirties adventure films Spielberg was also aping. The other member of the group, Valerie Charlton, a gosh-golly US photojournalist played with laborious zeal by Jane Slavin, exemplifies Morris’s attention to detail as she wants to photograph everything, even if her life might be in danger in just that slightly annoying way such characters did in serials of the period.
One of the problems with that attention to detail is it also means the Doctor has to act somewhat out of character in places for narrative reasons, or at least not be on top of things in a way Fourth usually is. Some of his actions seem a bit inconsistent with his usual approach and in a way which isn’t always explained properly in the exposition, especially in his treatment of Leela. They’re most likely a result of adhering to whatever the original material called for, and might have been one of the other reasons that material didn’t blossom into a full story, but it is a bit jarring given how sympathetic the other new Fourth Doctor material has been.
None of which stops Tom and Louise being on their usual top form, especially in the closing stages when both really enjoy being appropriately heroic on a scale their original appearances rarely allowed, the latter making the most of a line with is pure nuWho and had me applauding (no really I did, and in an empty room). Big Finish regular Anthony Howell gives Perkins just the right nervy but brave tone. This is an impeccable cast indistinguishable across their multiple roles. For all my reservations, this is still fabulously entertaining, making the Fourth Doctor Lost Stories boxset an essential purchase if you have enough pennies.
Doctor Who: The Valley of Death is part of Doctor Who: The Lost Stories - The Fourth Doctor CD Box Set available now from Big Finish. Review copy supplied.