Sadly the latest five offerings slowly began to wear me down and it took a long drive back to Scotland to get me to listen to them. First a little background...
Two years ago Tom Baker surprised everyone by getting out the right side of bed and deciding he wanted to play the Doctor before. This was after years of refusing Big Finish's offers to lure him back, including one alleged incident where he may have made disparaging remarks about the scripts belonging in the bin. Incidentally the scripts he is supposed to have been offered were reworked for other doctors and were in my opinion universally good. They are the Holy Terror (now a 6th Doctor audio), the Stones of Venice (which became an 8th Doctor audio - one I'm relatively cool on to be honest) and the Spectre of Lanyon Moor (a 6th Doctor and Brigadier adventure).
Unlike the other Doctors, the audios featuring Tom Baker were to be made by the BBC, not by Big Finish. Given Big Finish have to pay the BBC for the license to make classic Doctor Who audios I'd be a bit miffed if I were them. (I also live in fear the BBC will decide Doctor Who is so successful they will overprice the license or refuse them the license).
One of the reasons Tom said he wanted to do audios as the Doctor was he wanted to work with Nicholas Courtney - the Brigadier. Sadly before recording Nick had a stroke and was unable to do the audios. The audios were rewritten to feature Captain Yates - a companion who betrayed the 3rd Doctor and thus was last featured in Pertwee's swansong. This was less than ideal as he'd never met the 4th Doctor, though it was said early in the first Hornet's Nest he'd met the 4th Doctor at one of the Brig's UNIT Christmas parties.
The Hornet's Nest featured Yates meeting a pre-Romana Doctor in a cottage in 2010 Surrey he owns - called Nest Cottage. He also runs into the mysterious housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey. The baton of narration passes to the Doctor narrates four stories to Yates relating to his current predicament relating to a race of interstellar hornets, with the odd additional cast members interacting with Tom. In the fifth CD the Doctor, Wibbsey and Yates go off and finally deal with the Hornets.
It worked on some levels, but failed on others. I thought the acting was at time wooden (occasionally from Yates), and the idea of the Doctor telling us what he's thinking does away with the whole Who part of Doctor Who.
Tom Baker sounds in both series of audios like he is playing an old man. He portrays sherry and brandy swilling 4th Doctor sat by the fireside in a cottage, walking the dog and complaining about his old bones. Personally I always saw Tom Baker's doctor as an energetic (mostly) tea-totaller.
Anyroads here is a review of the latest series of audios.
Here Be Spoilers!
Turn back if ye be not wishing to be spoiled
The Relics of Time: The Doctor loses 4 bits of his TARDIS thanks to Mrs. Wibbsey and traces one to Roman Britain via some artifacts a stranger swapped Wibbsey for the TARDIS parts. He encounters a figure from history who has the missing TARDIS piece and narrowly avoids being taken off in his dematerialisation chamber. This is sadly starts a theme of a character being the titular demon in disguise, the Doctor narrowly avoiding being taken in his dematerialisation chamber and a TARDIS piece being found at the end of the first 4 audios.
The Demon of Paris: This is where my attention really nodded off. This is a 19th century mystery featuring the Doctor and Wibbsey around the Moulin Rouge. They meet the artist Toulouse-Lautrec, an absinthe-swilling artist who may be committing atrocious murders under the influence of absinthe and who painted the famous bohemian art piece that the 4th Doctor's look is said to be derived from. Given the remaining cast consists of his cemetery trudging concierge, La Charlotte - a slattern both of whom seem to appear and disappear whenever the plot requires it I worked out they were the baddies and were trying to get the Doctor into a dispersion chamber. It failed to grab me or be as charming as say City of Death.
The Shard of Ice: Probably the best part of the series this features the Doctor and Yates (who they've recruited as he decided to come to Nest Cottage for no apparent reason and features in the 3rd artifact). They are in the mountains of Germany with Albert Tiermann, a literally cold-hearted story teller who has sold his heart to a demon in order to gain the inspiration to write stories. The majority of the story is Albie trying to steal the Doctor's book of his future-stories that lured them to the area.
This turns out to be a red-herring, as it's part of the Demon's plan to lure the Doctor into his lair and dematerialisation chamber. He escapes, finding another bit of the TARDIS and releasing Tiermann from the demon's influence.
Starfall: Wibbsey, Doc and Yates turn up in New York, lured by a comic cover featuring them and a girl getting changed into a superheroine by a meteor. This happens, with the girl becoming Miss Starfall and flying around New York, while the Doc and Yates get arrested for murders the demon is committing when they find some bodies. Wibbsey hangs around with Starfall's employer, an actress called Mimsy.
The whole superheroine plotline turns out to be a rather daft red-herring, as it's part of the Demon's plan (who is Mimsy) to lure the Doctor into its rooms and the dematerialisation chamber. There's also a cult of people dressed like 4th Doctor doing a ritual that can somehow weaken the Doctor, like Kryptonite. This again doesn't really lead anywhere. We also learn the Demon is from a place called Sepulchre and that this is probably where the Demon keeps trying to take the Doctor. It does capture Wibbsey though.
The story is narrated by Ms. Starfall's Stan Lee-esque boyfriend, who has to preface a lot of his narration with "I did not see this part, but the Doctor then..."
1/5 (3/5 until the whole creation of the superheroine was revealed to be the Demon's plan to lure the Doctor into its clutches, considering she uses her powers to save him).
Sepulchre: The Doc and Yates go to rescue Wibbsey on Sepulchre. This kind of makes the whole collecting TARDIS bits a little redundant since this was where the Demon wanted to take the Doctor for the last 4 CDs.
Unable to escape as the TARDIS disappears (d'oh) the Doctor is captured and hooked up to a machine to make a star atlas. The Demon turns up to be working for... a single surviving hornet from the previous CD series. Also GASP! Wibbsey was possessed by the hornet which is why she gave away parts of the TARDIS. The Doctor outwits the hornet, the Demon escapes and everyone else escaped back to Nest Cottage, for another Christmas. But then Wibbsey is captured, meaning there'll be a 3rd series of these...
Overall Arc: 2/5 (sorry - it makes no sense).
As a whole the arc between the 5 CDs is like a dreadful RTD arc. Large portions of the individual stories are red-herrings (namely the appearance of Emperor Claudius in CD 1, the paintings of Latrec, the fairy-tales and demon's persona Snow Queen in CD 3 and the superheroine in CD 4).
The whole story arc could have been 1 CD long - in that Hornet-possessed Wibbsey could have hit the Doctor on the head in his cottage or put a reefer in his tea/scotch thus knocking him out, called the demon, taken him to Sepulchre and he would've had to escape. Or it could've made an army of superheroines that were actually loyal to itself. Or any one of a number of things.
Yates's involvement was pointless - seemingly included just because he was in the previous series of stories. I wish they'd brought the Brig back, but at 81 I suspect he should take it easy.
Big Finish are still rumoured to be making finally 4th Doctor audios starring Tom Baker. His reservations about the scripts seem ironic given the problems with these scripts. Unlike Hornet's Nest and Demon's Quest these will most likely be full cast audio without linking narration. I suspect they will replace the seasons of Eighth Doctor adventures that are sadly coming to an end, though we'll likely not see them until 2012. Big Finish have a habit of announcing products a year before they come out to court subscriptions to fund productions. Given we've heard nothing official I suspect there'll be a wait.
I don't want you to think I'm down on narration in audios. One of my favourite 8th Doctor audios - Season of Fear - features Paul McGann giving linking narration in the vein of his monologues in the TV Movie. Given this was a 4 part story set across over 4 time zones (ancient Rome, the time of Edward the Confessor, the 19th century and 1930s Singapore) one can forgive them for cutting the story down to ~100 mins with narration, most of which gets the Doctor back to the TARDIS and on with the quest.
If they do a third series of BBC audios (which apparently will not affect Big Finish's ability to produce their own 4th Doctor audios) I, in my armchair quarterback capacity, would suggest they avoid hornets and remove the "talking book" parts of the scripts. I love the Wibbsey character, but ditch Yates. They should also ditch the arcs and try some one-offs, perhaps also throwing in some traditional Doctor Who elements. I'm loathe to suggest Daleks or Cybermen but something like that might revitalize the series. Also - rather than having 1 script writer, Paul Magrs (who has written some good stuff in the past, but seems a bit stretched to write 5 1 CD adventures) perhaps they might want to try some other writers.
Sadly this is my least favourite Dr. Who audio series in a while. They were only £6 a CD I suppose, so I got what I paid for.