Review: Doctor Who The Fourth Doctor Adventures – The Renaissance Man

renaissancemanthecover_cover_largeBlurb: To continue Leela’s education, the Doctor promises to take her to the famous Morovanian Museum. But the TARDIS lands instead in a quiet English village, where they meet the enigmatic collector Harcourt and his family.

When people start to die, reality doesn’t appear quite what it was. There’s something sinister going on within the walls of Harcourt’s manor, and the stakes are higher than they can imagine.

The Doctor is about to discover that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Review: One of the strengths that Big Finish has had in creating Doctor Who dramas for audio has been their ability to craft stories that work best in the audio medium: stories that use a lack of visual cues and a soundscape to craft an atmosphere and to tell stories that would have been impossible to tell or tedious on the television. The Renaissance Man is part of that camp. At the center of the story is a question about the difference between information and knowledge. You can access all the facts in the world but what use is it if you don’t have the proper context? How can you know when some of the facts aren’t correct? The story is finely crafted around this central pivot by long-time Doctor Who veteran writer Justin Richards. Richards understands “voice” better than just about any other Doctor Who writer and his stories always seem to get the correct feel for the character interactions. He writes the Doctor and Leela with deft skill, helping the listener to cast their minds back to a time when they were watching these stories on TV. He also makes sure to inject the story with a few twists and turns along the way. There’s more than enough to hold the listener’s attention during the 60 minute runtime.

Tom Baker seems a little tired in the first episode. He doesn’t have quite the energy that he’s had in the previous installments and it sounds like he may have been recording his lines separately from everyone else. Still, it’s not too big of a problem because his dialog is right and his repartee with Leela is always a joy. I like the subtlety of having Leela slightly mispronounce words that she isn’t familiar with. By episode two, Tom is back on his game. Ian McNeice also impresses as Harcourt. There’s a real menace to the man and once you discover his role in the proceedings you see how much of a brilliant stroke it was to place someone with such a nice audio presence in that role. The sound design is also top notch here. The era-appropriate sounds found in this story’s predecessor, Destination: Nerva, have been set aside to make way for orchestral tones that help to develop the soundscape of the world.

There are only some minor negatives with the story. Part of the issue stems from the fact that all of the Fourth Doctor Adventures line is comprised of two-part stories. As a result, Richards feels compelled to basically give away the mystery of what’s going on in the opening scene. This forces the listener to tediously wait for the Doctor and Leela to work things out. It would have been far more entertaining to allow the Doctor and Leela to discover what’s going on in the first part and to develop the danger over the following three. The breakneck speed doesn’t do the story any favors. Also, Harcourt and Jephson act way too over-the-top when they don their police personae. The Fourth Doctor works best when he’s acting insane but everyone else is deadly serious. Harcourt and Jephson say and do such ridiculous things that one has to conclude that they are either just joking around or are really very dim-witted. While the latter could give an explanation for why they’re doing what they’re doing there’s no evidence that that is the case in the story. That leaves joking around which really hurts any feelings of menace that they may have otherwise engendered. The ending is satisfying in the way that the Doctor triumphs over a villain who claims to be smarter than he is, but it is unsatisfying in the closing scene. It would have been nice to see the villain at the end bereft of any knowledge and in the same state that he’d left his victims. Instead with the way things are left we are forced to conclude that the Doctor didn’t care to check up on things and his assertion that everyone would be fine is just conjecture and apparently a false one. It would have been nice to see them all well at the end with the villain as indicated above. Still, these are minor quibbles. In some ways it is refreshing that sometimes the hero gets it wrong and things aren’t neatly wrapped up at the end.

Recommendation: An excellent entry into the Fourth Doctor Adventures, The Renaissance Man tells a story that likely would have been too conceptual for television but is a very interesting and exciting story in the Doctor Who universe. The Doctor is in fine form facing off against a villain who claims to be as smart as he is. Tom and Louise spark off each other wonderfully and it’s easy to believe that one is back experiencing the Tom Baker era for the first time again. I highly recommend this one.



Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Ken Bentley

Produced by David Richardson

Written by Justin Richards

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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