Justin Richards’s The Renaissance Man

Audio Having established the loose linking element for this series of Fourth Doctor audios, Big Finish now confront the tutelage of Leela head-on with a story about the nature of knowledge, except ironically, it’s important to begin listening without much in the way of fore-knowledge. This will be one of those reviews which is thin on detail. There’ll be little talk about the story and only vague references to the themes. In fact, and I used the word “fact” advisedly, you might even want to skip this altogether and just take my usual recommendation and listen for yourself.

What can be said? Well, for one thing at least, this is another month, another mysterious manor. Justin Richards’s The Renaissance Man has the TARDIS pitch up in a woodland area in a quiet village were reality isn’t all its cracked up to be and indeed cracking into splinters. Like Lost Story, The Foe from the Future, the manor is owned by an inexplicable aristocrat and before long characters who are becoming fast friends suddenly seem to lose all memory of the Fourth Doctor and Leela, who then have to make their acquaintance again.

As Richards’s script explains internally, it’s all about context and in both cases the clue is in the title. Where Foe brought mayhem from the future, this is a much less pacey, more character driven study on the nature of knowledge, if it’s possible like those polymaths of the medieval period onwards to know everything. Is that too much? Not sure. Let’s move on.  No can’t talk about that. No can’t talk about that either. No wonder Doctor Who Magazine waits a month or so before printing their reviews. But in this case a bit of knowledge does go a bit too long a way.

I will say that it’s a very clever spin on a well loved 60s tv story, but I can’t in all conscience tell you which one I have in mind. It’s also clearly inspired by a real life discussion of a portion of online culture but again, well, I’m tying myself in knots aren’t I? It’s a surprise that the two concepts haven’t been brought together. Not that you’ll know which two until you listen. If you don’t mind being spoiled, you could always email me. I’m available at the usual address. I wonder if this conundrum is what Justin Richards wanted.

I think I’m on safe ground with the music, in which Jamie Robertson gives us a brilliant full on Dudley Simpson pastiche, and the performances. Tom and Louise are well into their stride now, the former offering some manic brilliance in a bit with a dog, the latter taking great pleasure in having to repeat that she’s a “warrior of the Sevateem” as though it’s her surname, including one occasion when it might as well be. Having been writing Doctor Who stories since the mid-90s, Richards gives both some tonally perfect material to work from.

The Renaissance Man also has a solid guest cast top-lined by Ian “Churchill” McNeice. Anyone who’s seen his early work on the film Voice Over will recognise some of 'Fats' Bannerman’s melodrama in his turn as Harcourt the apparent owner of the manor. He’s joined by Foyle’s War’s Anthony Howell in the significant role of Edward who with the rest of the cast … no I can’t talk about that either, except to say it makes a specific virtue of one of the limitations of Big Finish’s smaller casting requirements.  Whatever that could mean.

All up to the usual standards then, with director Ken Bentley and Robertson making some interesting choices with the sound design, the nature of which, well you get the idea, even if you can’t because you don’t know anything. If I’ve a quibble it might be that there’s not quite enough story to go round which is odd for an hour’s worth of drama, but it’s perhaps in period for a 70s pastiche that there should be some running around, some slapstick and especially some room for Tom to make a few good speeches. 

Well, that was a waste of time wasn’t it?

Doctor Who: The Renaissance from Big Finish is released 29th February 2012. Review copy supplied.

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