Review: Doctor Who The Lost Stories – The Fourth Doctor Box Set

Fourth_doctor_box_setThe Doctor Who Lost Stories line takes rejected script or story outlines from the past of Doctor Who and fleshes them out into a full audio drama. The Fourth Doctor Box Set is a bit of a special treat as it not only takes two stories from what is considered by many to be the greatest period in the show’s history – the Philip Hinchcliffe years – but also sees the return of Tom Baker to the role that he made famous. It contains two stories. The first, The Foe from the Future, is a six-part adventure. It’s the story that originally had the slot for the story, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. The second, The Valley of Death, is a four-part story that was never formally developed but was an outline that Hinchcliffe created while he was producer but they could never find the right writer to flesh it out. There’s also a CD of extras with interviews with the cast and crew on the making of both of these stories.

From here each story will be examined on its own and an overall rating for the entire box will be given below.

The Foe from the Future

foefromthefuture-01-forwebBlurb: The Grange is haunted, so they say. This stately home in the depths of Devon has been the site of many an apparition. And now people are turning up dead. The ghosts are wild in the forest. But the Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts.

The TARDIS follows a twist in the vortex to the village of Staffham in 1977 and discovers something is very wrong with time. But spectral highwaymen and cavaliers are the least of the Doctor’s worries.

For the Grange is owned by the sinister Jalnik, and Jalnik has a scheme two thousand years in the making. Only the Doctor and Leela stand between him and the destruction of history itself. It’s the biggest adventure of their lives – but do they have the time?

Review: The Foe from the Future is a very strong first entry for the fourth Doctor’s audio adventures. Fan wisdom always held that this story was simply the outline for what we got as Talons of Weng-Chiang but actually there’s very little that is similar between the two stories. Only the fact that they both deal with someone from the future who has been disfigured by the time travel process and requires sustenance from living beings to survive. Beyond that the stories couldn’t be more different. In fact, Foe takes place in both the present and the future world. There is also a weakness in Foe in that it seems to ape so many of the other popular stories from the Hinchcliffe era. Many of the plot elements of the story feel like they come from The Ark in Space, Genesis of the Daleks, The Brain of Morbius, and The Seeds of Doom. It seems likely that the story required rework simply because the production team noticed those elements in the story outline and realized that the story would feel as if it were stitched together from a bunch of old plots unless it was reworked. However, listened to 40 years later there’s a comforting aspect to having so many familiar plot devices placed together in a new way.

Some other elements just don’t seem like they would have worked. Jalnik is a suitably scary villain, able to exude cultured charm but belied by a horrific physical transformation as well as having been driven insane. Yet the story requires him to feed upon people. Even in the Hinchcliffe era when the bounds of what could be done on television were being pushed it doesn’t seem that they would be able to get away with the visceral horror of having one character feed upon another. On audio, though, it works perfectly well and the sound effects are suitably grizzly and nasty.

foefromthefuture-02-forwebJohn Dorney is the wordsmith who brought Robert Banks Stewart’s story to life as an audio drama. In the extras he mentions some of his changes. One major one was to add three female leads. The original storyline had no women other than Leela in it at all. Dorney changed two male characters, Geflo and Kostal, to women and invented the character of Charlotte. Charlotte gives the Doctor a “companion” to talk to in scenes where he’s by himself, which in audio doesn’t work very well. Even in that era having an all-male cast would have been a bit behind-the-times, so this change updates the story but not so much that it feels like it’s inappropriate for the period in which it’s set. It also helps to give Jalnik a further motivation, so that he goes beyond a simple one-dimensional mustache-twirling villain. Dorney also manages to keep the pace up on a six-part story, which is no easy feat. Most six-parters flag in the middle but this story holds your interest throughout and feels like it requires the six parts to tell the story that needs to be told. I also like how Jalnik is set up as being a character whose mind is being taken over by his alien half, which is such a Doctor Who style plot element that the audience wouldn’t even question it only to find out that Jalnik is mad. The voices that he hears are purely in his own mind. It’s a wonderful twist and really helps to distinguish this story from a run-of-the-mill Doctor Who yarn.

Dorney does have to invent episode six from scratch as the original outline ended with episode five. In many ways, episode six does feel a bit like a cheat. Dorney makes sure that the plot works and he’s sewed the earlier episodes with enough details that nothing feels like it “comes out of nowhere” but the sixth episode feels rushed. The plots are tied up in neat ways that have a certain logic but don’t seem to hold up under closer inspection. There are also several important details left hanging that the Doctor seems to have no desire to make certain of and as a listener you are just supposed to accept the word of someone who very likely had incomplete information. Also the early part of the story makes much ado about the fact that the villagers memories seem to change. The reasoning given is that evidently it’s the result of the time rift changing history. Yet some people remember the old version and some remember the new version. If history changed everyone should remember the changed version. This is never explained and it’s completely dropped after episode 2. Yet, it’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the performances that these inconsistencies only amount to a minor quibble and don’t ruin the enjoyment of the story.

foefromthefuture-03-forwebTom and Louise are both on fire in this story. Tom definitely sounds older and this may take a bit of getting used to. However, what he says and how he says it is so spot-on. After getting used to the change in his voice it becomes so easy to sit back and imagine this playing out on-screen. Louise does a bit better at pitching herself up so that she recaptures her voice from when she was on the show. She feels exactly like the Leela of the TV series, wary of the “blue guards” that keep the peace in England and trying to learn whatever the Doctor will teach her. Here she’s trying to learn Shakespeare but doesn’t understand the words nor why anyone would ever want to shake a spear, Throwspear being a better name in her mind. All the best elements of Leela are on display and it culminates in a wonderful character moment in episode six where you find out just how formidable this “savage” can be and why you should never count her out.

The overall production is very well done. Paul Freeman is wonderful as Jalnik. He goes from playing cultured to manic to insane with an ease that makes for a good villain. Similarly, John Green is excellent as Butler playing the servant that likes working for his master because he indulges his sadistic tendencies. The voice acting quality is universally good in this even if none of the others are true standouts. If there’s something to complain about with regard to the voice acting it is that the voice actresses for Geflo and Kostal sound similar enough that in a few scenes it’s hard to tell which one is speaking until you have some broader context. The sound effects are also excellent. The skittering sound for the hybrids is creepy and the roaring sound for the Pantophagen is really scary. It can literally make the hairs on the back of one’s neck stand up! The music is not quite Dudley Simpsonesque but it’s close enough to evoke the era. Overall, the high production values on this one really help to make it feel like a truly epic production.

The Valley of Death

valleyofdeath-01-forwebBlurb: A century after his Great-Grandfather Cornelius vanished in the Amazon rainforest, Edward Perkins is journeying to the depths of the jungle to find out what became of his ancestor’s lost expedition. Intrigued by what appears to be a description of a crashed spacecraft in the diaries of that first voyage, the Doctor and Leela join him on his quest. But when their plane runs into trouble and ends up crash landing, everyone gets more than they bargained for.

The jungle is filled with giant creatures and angry tribesmen, all ready to attack. But in the famed lost city of the Maygor tribe, something far, far worse is lurking. Something with an offer to make to mankind. Who are the Lurons and can they be trusted? Will the Doctor defeat the plans of the malevolent Godrin or will he become just another victim of the legendary Valley of Death?

Review: The Valley of Death has a very strong central premise. The Doctor and Leela take part in an expedition to find the lost city of the Maygor and look into what happened to a Victorian expedition one hundred years previously that had tried to do the same thing. The journal of the original expedition’s leader indicates that they may have found a crashed alien spaceship. The setup is provided for an Indiana Jones style romp in ancient temples but with an alien twist at the end. Unfortunately, The Valley of Death is a somewhat confused mess and never really quite delivers on its promise.

Fan lore holds that Philip Hinchcliffe was greatly inspired by the Hartnell story, The Keys of Marinus even going to the point of novelizing the story for Target. Some of that inspiration seems to have seeped into The Valley of Death. The story keeps the pace up by constantly shifting the location. The problem is that this seems to be for the simple fact that the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, so keeping it moving is the best way to keep the listener from cluing into that fact. It also means that the lost city in the jungle setup is never given the time that it needs to develop. It’s abandoned halfway through the story as the characters jaunt back to London. There’s also not a lot that is really original on offer here. The story borrows heavily from Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion. Even the Doctor mentions that there have been android duplicates made of him before. It’s nice to see UNIT turn up, but they’re very under-utilized and they could have easily been any public officials that the Doctor could work with.

valleyofdeath-02-forwebThe characters get a bit of a mixed bag this time. Dictatorially someone seems to have let the leash off of Tom. Gone is any of the restraint of performance that he showed in The Foe from the Future. This story features a raw, unrestrained Tom more reminiscent of his performance in season 17 than season 15. Everything is fodder for jokes no matter how macabre or disturbing. The line that he gives about “meeting god” is probably one of the most embarrassingly bad performances that I’ve heard anywhere and I honestly can’t believe that anyone let it through. Leela on the other hand, benefits greatly from this story. She’s in her element in the jungle and it’s great to see her easily able to put things into terms that she understands and her bravery in the face of certain death is so reminiscent of her first story. She also demonstrates her loyalty to the Doctor several times in the second half, going into danger when it means almost certain death. It also shows how far her character has developed when she’s able to impersonate her own robot duplicate and then that final scene where she realizes that the sonic screwdriver is the greatest weapon because it’s a tool of knowledge makes you want to cheer. It’s so very well done. The guest cast puts in a mostly competent performance. David Killick is the real standout as Professor Cornelius Perkins. He does a fantastic job as the Victorian explorer. Nigel Carrington is suitably sinister as Godrin. The only really awful performance is Jane Slavin as Valerie Cartwright. Most American listeners probably won’t realize that it is even supposed to be an American accent that she’s doing, but a throwaway line about interviewing members of Congress seems to establish her credentials as an American journalist. It’s painful to listen to her attempts at the accent though and it seems almost beyond belief that anyone would have thought that it would pass for American.

Musically the story seems completely on the wrong footing. There’s a vast, orchestral theme that implies stark, vast open desert. It’s the kind of theme that wouldn’t be out-of-place in any story about archaeology in the Middle East. Unfortunately, this story is set in South America and the music seems completely wrong for treks through a steaming jungle with native tribesman baying for blood. Otherwise, the production values hold up adequately. The sound effects are all well done and there’s a nice, rich soundscape to give this story the epic scope that it requires.

Recommendation: Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are back and it’s like they never left these roles. The Foe from the Future is a fantastic story that will remind you of everything that you liked about the Tom Baker era or is a great jumping on point for people who are unfamiliar with the classic series. The Valley of Death doesn’t hold up as well but it does have a lot of energy and a frantic pace that may help to keep the interest of those who may be bored by other audios. Leela gets a lot of great moments and it’s a fun story for those who are familiar with that time in the series. I definitely recommend The Fourth Doctor Box Set.

9/10

2011

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Ken Bentley

Produced by David Richardson

Written by John Dorney and Jonathan Morris from story outlines by Robert Banks Stewart and Philip Hinchcliffe

Runtime Approx 5 Hrs.

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