The current series of Fourth Doctor audio dramas reaches its conclusion with this first half of an exciting two-part finale. In The Skin of The Sleek, the Doctor and Romana arrive on the planet Funderell, an oceanic world with water so dense you can walk on it (as long as you don’t stand still too long). But below the surface live schools of giant electric eels called Sleeks.
The best thing about this story is the highly-detailed, evocative setting. It’s not easy to come up with a fresh idea for a planet after a century of science fiction but writer Marc Platt pulls it off here with Funderell. It’s one of those ideas that is so visual that, paradoxically, it could only work on audio – as it would always look better in your imagination than whatever could be achieved on a TV budget.
The society of Funderell is also intriguing. The population, known as Wavewalkers, are deeply religious, believing in a prophetic holy text called The Book of Futures and worshipping a very real, very dangerous god. What’s more, their ancient history and belief system might just be tied in with the Time Lords. But what do the Doctor’s people have to do with this world? While we don’t get all the answers in this story, our interests are suitably piqued for the future.
In terms of performances, Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are naturally on fine form here. As tradition dictates, the Doctor and his companion quickly get separated – after a wonderfully nostalgic “oh, no, we’ve lost the TARDIS!” sequence – and each get a chance to lead their own halves of the narratives.
While Baker is just as commanding as ever, this is more Romana’s story, as the Time Lady encounters an old friend from the Gallifreyan Academy, Sartia (as played by Joannah Tinsley). Pairing the character – Mana, as Sartia calls her – with someone she knew on her home world is a terrific idea, as it shows just how much Romana has changed as a person since she first met the Doctor (not least because she has regenerated).
As is often the way with first halves of two-parters, The Skin of the Sleek doesn’t provide a lot of answers but instead it does a fantastic job of setting the stage for the big, dramatic finale to come – complete with a great twist cliffhanger. Most of all, it’s an example of some expert world-building. Roll on next month’s The Thief Who Stole Time.
DOCTOR WHO – THE SKIN OF THE SLEEK / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / WRITER: MARC PLATT / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, JOANNAH TINCEY, ALAN COX, KIERAN HODGSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW