Audio Well, this is good fun. As the obituary come interview that fills the final track on the cd suggests (and try listening to it all of the way through without having a reason to rub your eyes, especially when Tom …), there’s no getting away from the slight air melancholy that pervades our listening of this second series of Fourth Doctor stories reuniting the character with the first Romana and sometimes K9 for the first time since their single year together in the seventies because with the loss of Mary Tamm it can be the only such reunion, at least in this format.
But what Jonathan Morris’s The Auntie Matter proves is that if the work is good, and this is oh so very good, it can stand, just like the posthumous final season of The Sarah Janes Adventures, as a testament to the personalities involved and become something to cherish. It goes without saying that Tamm is good, like Louise Jameson in the previous series finding again the younger, more naïve version of her character after playing an older, wiser iteration in the Gallifrey spin-off. But there are moments when you simply forget that this wasn’t recorded in the seventies.
Which is odd, because there are few things about this that really bespeak that period in the show’s history. Back then, the production team, Graham Williams at the helm, Anthony Read script editing, simply didn't seem interested in producing a 20s set Wodehousian run around about a maiden aunt in a country pile with a deadly secret, a thinly veiled homage to Jeeves and Wooster and the kind of farcical humour that wouldn’t really become a part of the show until the noughties. None of which is a criticism, because in this context, with these characters, it just works. A lot.
Much of that has to do with Jonathan Morris’s clever script which intricately undercuts the listener’s expectations so that whenever we think we have the measure of the action, we’re quickly sent off on a tangent along with the characters. So whilst it opens with what seems like an eye-rollingly clichéd Doctor Who trope, which despite being early in the play is shockingly horrific enough that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil here, Morris is quick to narratively indicate that it’s actually beside the point. The real point is to place this Romana in situations unaccustomed and have a jolly good time.
Which both Tom and Mary clearly are. By time of recording both had become pretty regular audio fixtures and so there is a slight shock of the new, but even on television, I don’t remember them having quite this much chemistry. In Tom’s performance then, it was always possible to detect a certain awe (because let’s face it, right through her life Mary Tamm was awesome). Now they bicker as equals and after hearing Night of the Stormcrow yesterday, it’s interesting to hear the subtle differences in Tom’s performance between companions and actresses.
Not that Romana’s his only companion here. Circumstances force the Doctor ask the assistance of his housemaid, Mabel, a much younger girl from Mrs Wibbsey (played with good humour by Robin Hood’s Lucy Griffiths) (or is that True Blood’s Lucy Griffiths now?) because he needs someone to ask questions. Yes, amid everything Morris even takes time to give this Doctor some self-awareness of what he really requires from a companion, someone who will treat him with a certain amount of awe (perhaps a sly dig at Baker’s own attitude to such things in the 70s).
As ever with these things, Big Finish has attracted a really strong cast. Julia McKenzie gives the eponymous matriarch the full Crowdon, a magnificently huge performance which in any other context would be ludicrous but seems like fair game against Tom’s eccentric might. She’s joined by RSC and televisual character actor Robert Portal, hilarious as Reggie, her featherbrained nephew and Alan Cox as the butler, whose familiar voice I’ve just reminded myself seemed so familiar because I last heard him on this Shakespeare compilation.
As I sat listening to the second episode in Starbucks on Bold Street earlier supping a Gingerbread Latte (still loads of the stuff left apparently) hooting away, I don’t think I’ve been happier, this week at least, especially after a brief existential crisis this morning (don’t ask) (no, really, don’t). Yesterday, I talked about comfort Who, and this is another example, Morris once again delivering a little marvel designed, amongst other things to showcase a voice which will be much missed. If the rest of the new series is this funny and this clever, I’ll be very, very pleased.
Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter from Big Finish is out now. Review copy supplied.