a kind of Devonshire Rose Tyler

Audio After securing Tom Baker’s services and deciding to produce a series that recreates the feel of his 70s adventures, the next logical step for Big Finish is to turn a couple of unused story ideas from back then into full blown adventures for their Lost Stories line. The first in this new box set, The Foe from the Future was originally suggested by the legendary Roberts Banks Stewart (of The Seeds of Doom and Terror of the Zygons fame) for the slot in season fourteen eventually taken by The Talons of Weng-Chiang and has here been fleshed out by regular audio writer John Dorney. At six episodes, it’s one of the longest continuous stories Big Finish have produced and I’m pleased to say never drags. In fact, it’s positively bursting with adventures (and they can put that on the poster).

One of the tricks as Banks Stewart memorably employed in Seeds is to split the story into two rough sections. The first is a villiage mystery reminiscent of The Android Invasion or The Awakening. The Doctor and Leela investigate time trouble in the sleepy Devonshire village of Staffham in 1977 where Jalnik, the shadowy master of the local Grange is apparently conjuring ghosts. But when the geography of the village also begins to change before their eyes, they realise that something rather more powerful is at work which propels them along with a girl called Charlotte from the village into a far more futuristic setting where it becomes apparent the whole of galactic history is at stake. Big Finish’s own synopsis isn’t particularly specific on how that might be, so it would be unfair to reveal too much.

What I can say is that if this had been produced back then, like Banks Stewart’s other work we’d all be sitting around toasting its successes now and trying to decide if we should be buying the alternative cover with Jalnik of this month’s Doctor Who Magazine.  That said, apparently Dorney’s taken a few liberties in fleshing out the original outline, not least in expanding the story's gender horizons (or the “Pennant Roberts” approach as he calls it) because the original had men in all the senior roles.  All of these additions, particularly some venomous political shenanigans provide many of the highlights so Dorney should take as much of the credit.  Anyone who enjoyed the camper elements of V: The Series (as if there were any other kind) will be well served here.

In Jalnik, the authors have one of the series great villains of the kind nuWho would do well to have some more of. Intoned with guttural horror by Paul Freeman, best known as Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, his rich voice fighting tooth and nail with Tom’s in searching for the very lowest register, Jalnik is unusual in that he knows and says that it’s his completely lack of sanity which propels him forward. Unlike most Who villains who’re entirely convinced their path is righteous (see The Pirate Captain in The Pirate Planet), Jalnik has realised early on he’s wrong but doesn’t care, not really giving the Doctor many options in relation to trying to convince him down another course. Dorney says in DWM he was following his “collaborators” lead in making sure there are plenty of good deaths and many are at Jalnik’s hands.

The other banner casting is Sherlock’s Molly, Louise Brearly as Charlotte, a kind of Devonshire Rose Tyler complete with a fabulously broad accent and a very bravely selected name considering its Big Finish connections. Entirely created by Dorney to give characters like the Doctor someone to bounce images off, Charlotte quickly develops from simply a voice in the village to something akin to the one off companions beloved by nuWho (complete with her own romantic subplot) and to such an extent that at one point if we didn’t know any better we might assume she was being set up to replace Leela. With six episodes to play with, Dorney is able to produce some heady characterisation right down to a butler called Butler, a joke which never gets tired.

As ever Tom and Louise are in their element and it’s certainly refreshing to hear a new story on such epic scale in which some TARDIS regulars don’t emotionally have the weight of the universe on their shoulders, at least not to the point that it’s all about them. This is more of an ensemble story, but Dorney still gives Tom some excellent speeches and moments, not least at the close of episode five which has a cliffhanger just as devastatingly effective in its own way as The Pandorica Opens. Dorney’s Leela is vicious and she clearly relishes those moments when she’s not in the Doctor’s disapproving eye-line and able to show her warrior instinct. Once again, this is classic stuff, and actually there are moments when you might wonder if this could even have been done this well when it was originally planned.

Doctor Who: The Foe from the Future is part of Doctor Who: The Lost Stories - The Fourth Doctor CD Box Set available now from Big Finish.  Review copy supplied.

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