Blurb: The Doctor arrives in a bleak English midwinter of long ago. Plunging into the snowy landscape of the Dark Ages, he learns that wild dogs besiege the local Tilling Abbey every night. When he is given shelter by the sisters of the abbey, the Doctor begs an audience with the Mother Superior they fiercely protect. Something unearthly has already happened here – and if the Doctor is right, it’s connected to his recent encounters with an ancient enemy.
As night falls again, the dogs can be held off no longer – and the sisters’ secret is about to be revealed. Forced to draw his enemy off into the depths of the TARDIS, the Doctor finds himself in a nightmarish chase through his own ship – but is he the pursuer, or the pursued? As they fight him on his own ground, the hornets are determined to possess his mind…
Review: The saga of the Hornets’ Nest continues into a fourth installment. Once again the Doctor regales Mike Yates with another tale of a time when he confronted the creatures. It’s the last story that he has to tell and his most recent adventure although from the Hornets’ perspective it is the first time that they encountered the Doctor. There’s a little more involvement from the present day Nest Cottage characters as Mike Yates, and to a lesser extent Mrs. Wibbsey, begin interacting with the narrative again. It all culminates in the only truly suspenseful cliffhanger that this series has had up to this point and sets the stage for the conclusion where the Doctor will face his titular foes.
The real issue with this story is that it’s like watching paint dry. While having the Doctor meet the Hornets in reverse order from their point of view is a a fun way of varying up the normal Doctor Who alien invasion plot, it does have its drawbacks. One of those is that The Circus of Doom already explained that it was the TARDIS that brought the Hornets to Venice in 1768. From there it’s not hard to figure out what must happen here as the Doctor struggles against the Hornets and seems to lose until he is able to expel them from the ship in the proper place and time to meet their destiny. There is more ambiguity over the early part of the story but there’s little interest there. It’s the story of some nuns protecting a pig that they believe to be divine and therefore have made their Mother Superior. What made The Circus of Doom so great was that it tried to show the human tragedy of these bizarre events. This story brings things back into the bizarre to such a degree that it’s almost impossible to empathize with these characters. There are also some witty lines throughout the story, but when the plot is this unengaging there’s only so much that the dialog can do to save it. It doesn’t help that the story also relies on a Doctor possession plot. That’s hard to pull off under the best of circumstances but with the fourth Doctor it’s almost impossible to believe that anything can control such a mercurial character. It’s hard to suspend disbelief enough for that to really have the dramatic impact that it deserves, especially when one knows that the Hornets still hunger for the Doctor’s mind in the future and the audience has already been told that the Hornets will get expelled from the TARDIS.
While this episode is pretty light on plot and drama there is some good material here. The previous stories that the Doctor has narrated tell about how he obtained various odd items in his house such as the ballet slippers and the garden gnome. Here he obtains his faithful dog, Captain, who was one of the wolfhounds possessed by the Hornets and who became a far more docile creature after they left it. There’s also an explanation for why the Hornets have chosen the hosts that they have. It’s an interesting revelation and one that was seamlessly worked into the previous installments without seeming to be out of place. The best part, though, is when the Doctor and Mike begin discussing why Mike was brought there in the first place. It’s something that most of the audience who knows anything about classic Who will wonder as well. The Doctor has plenty of allies in the early 21st century, so why call on Mike Yates? The answer isn’t one that most will suspect and that revelation does help to set the stage for some very interesting developments down the line.
The production itself is very well made. Tom Baker continues to narrate these stories with the right mixture of brooding darkness and sparkling charm. Richard Franklin is once again able to impress as an older Mike Yates. His reactions to the Doctor’s revelations about the advertisement in the paper that brought him to Nest Cottage seemed very real and Franklin seems excited to inject a new life back into the Yates character. Susan Jameson doesn’t get much to do with Mrs. Wibbsey but her lines where she asks the Doctor and Mike to come up for breakfast balance so well on the fine line between sinister and genuine. It’s almost impossible to get a reading on her and after throwing suspicion that the Hornets’ possession may be impossible to shake off that also leads to some interesting possibilities for the final act. Rula Lenska does a fantastic job as the Hornet Queen. BBC Audio have already done a fantastic job with the Hornet buzzing but Lenska’s voice becomes very creepy and sinister when treated to the Hornet effect. It’s a well done effort by the BBC Audio technicians. Clare Corbett doesn’t really stand out much as the nuns. She has to play several different nuns and some of those sound a bit off; her main nun sounds fine, but isn’t really given any material that requires a lot of effort and therefore doesn’t really make much of an impression. The music continues to develop, adding dramatic tension to the scenes of the siege of the abbey and a creepy surreal element to the Doctor’s possession. The soundscape is much richer than previous with a lot of sounds of winter winds, logs crackling on a fire, waterfalls, and clocks among other things. It all gives the impression that BBC Audio took many of the comments on the previous installments on board and have tried to really make this feel like a larger production in the Big Finish tradition.
Recommendation: A Sting in the Tale proves that the story of the Hornets’ Nest could have been told in four installments instead of five. There’s very little that’s new here and combined with the weak plot of The Dead Shoes it seems as if this story could have been told in less time. There’s a lot of padding and what is here only seems to tie up the last few plot threads and inject a few new elements of interest to get prepared for the final story. There’s some witty dialog and fine performances on the way, but if you haven’t been impressed by Hornets’ Nest so far then I recommend skipping it.
Directed by Kate Thomas
Produced by Michael Stevens
Written by Paul Magrs
Runtime Approx 70 min.