It’s natural that Matthew Waterhouse’s return to Doctor Who, in his first Big Finish drama, should be under the scripting auspices of the young man who wrote his first television story, Andrew Smith. It’s equally natural that Adric’s return should be in an ostensibly Season 19 story, as it’s difficult to imagine the character holding his own against Tom Baker and Lalla Ward on audio. There’s considerably less of the bickering that marked the directionless 1982 season in The Star Men, but otherwise Smith’s story is a remarkably good fit, with nods – intentional and otherwise – to most of the serials in which the four appeared that year. The plot itself resembles an early Quatermass serial by way of The Horns of Nimon.
It’s slightly further into the future than the Doctor thinks it is, as he takes his three companions sightseeing on the very edge of the Milky Way. There they visit the planetary research centre Gallius Ultra, just as a lost mission is about to return, its crew feared dead. But all is not as it would appear…
Smith dispenses with the suspicions of the natives quickly enough, to great relief all around – in one of a number of similarities with the modern incarnation of Doctor Who. The biggest of which is Autumn Tace, daughter of head researcher Kala Tace (a very dry Sue Holderness, from Only Fools and Horses), and who – being something of a prodigy herself, albeit astronomically rather than mathematically – immediately falls in crush with the young Alzarian. There’s only one way this relationship can go, and Smith cleverly pre-empts Adric’s end in a manner that now makes it feel considerably less desultory. Bravo to that.
Elsewhere it’s all trans-dimensional portals and possessed cadavers, and while that’s great fun and a tremendous fit for the era, the story suffers just a touch thanks to the lack of visuals. There are only so many ways a character can explain to the person standing next to them exactly what they’re looking at, unfortunately! Conversely, Smith takes what might have been a confusing melange of ingredients and strips away enough of what’s unnecessary to make the complex plot straightforward enough to easily follow, as well as including plenty of elliptical moments in the final episode. Nothing is included by accident.
As for Waterhouse, if you liked him on TV you’ll love him here, but he hasn’t developed any sudden depth as an actor nor is he being used in innovative or unexpected ways – save perhaps a couple of examples of bravery entirely consistent with the character’s motivations and circumstance. It is, however, a real treat to have him back and to hear the full Season 19 crew together again.
DOCTOR WHO: THE STAR MEN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: BARNABY EDWARDS / WRITTEN BY: ANDREW SMITH / STARRING: PETER DAVISON, MATTHEW WATERHOUSE, JANET FIELDING, SARAH SUTTON, SUE HOLDERNESS, SOPHIE WU / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW FROM BIG FINISH, ON GENERAL SALE FROM 1ST MARCH