The Fourth Doctor and Romana really liked their European holidays. In City of Death, one of the most renowned and classic Who stories, they ran around Paris gleefully taking in its architecture and culture, occasionally stopping to foil an alien plot. The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, the latest Fourth Doctor audio from Big Finish, takes a lot of inspiration from that serial – this time, the pair take a trip to Budapest, 1980, where a vampire is on the prowl.
From the opening scenes, the City of Death influence is clear. Our two Gallifreyans jog around the city, with the Doctor gushing about how wonderful it all is and Romana being pedantic about his musical quotes. Eddie Robson, one of Big Finish’s best writers when it comes to comedy, provides a lightness and wit reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ writing for the show – well, it’s not quite as hilarious as an Adams script, but then again, what is? Tom Baker, needless to say, is on fine form with his sardonic charm – “I do enjoy meeting tiresome men, I get so few opportunities to be properly disdainful these days".
The threat they encounter is less typically alien and more horror-inflected, for a vampire resides in the labyrinth underneath Buda Castle. Mark Bonnar, who recently appeared as unhinged Time Lord the Eleven in Doom Coalition, is quickly becoming Big Finish’s go-to villain; here, he puts in a very different but equally sinister performance. Even when Zoltán Frid seems to be human, he’s deeply unsettling, as we first meet him when he rudely insists on dining with Romana in a cafe; his aggressive misogyny is never forgotten throughout his supernatural killing spree. The Doctor Who franchise has done vampires many times before, but Robson and Bonnar’s take on the mythos is as original as it is spine chilling.
The other memorable supporting character is Celia Soames, an enthusiastic vampire hunter on the trail of Frid, whom she believes to be Dracula himself. Having a British detective in the second companion role is a deliberate allusion to City of Death’s Duggan, and yet the secret Celia hides sets her apart as a truly fascinating character, as does the great performance from Being Human’s Kate Bracken. The downside, perhaps, is that we don’t get to spend a lot of time with characters native to Budapest; similarly, by focusing on the labyrinth and a few other not-too-distinctive settings, this audio never captures the spirit of the city the same way City of Death captured Paris.
Nevertheless, The Labyrinth of Buda Castle is a fast-paced adventure that carefully balances its witty charm with its genuinely spooky take on the vampire. Fans of Tom Baker’s Doctor Who won’t be disappointed by this release.
THE FOURTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES 5.2: THE LABYRINTH OF BUDA CASTLE (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: EDDIE ROBSON / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, KATE BRACKEN, MARK BONNAR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW