AUDIO REVIEW: FOURTH DOCTOR BY GARETH ROBERTS, VOLUME 1 / AUTHOR: GARETH ROBERTS, JOHN DORNEY / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, JOHN LEESON, MIRANDA RAISON, PHIL MULRYNE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Two Gareth Roberts Doctor Who books have been adapted by John Dorney for audio, and given this is Volume 1, we can expect plenty more (there are still seven other books available). The two books chosen for this set are The Romance of Crime and The English Way of Death and feature Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Lalla Ward as Romana II and John Leeson as K9. If nothing else this set is notable as the first time Tom and Lalla have appeared together in role since the television series.
The Romance of Crime sets the action on a prison asteroid called the Rock of Judgement. The Rock is a single-shop justice centre offering trial and execution in one secure location. The TARDIS arrives in time to get involved with the moderately inept security services and a murderous mystery. In the mix is a set of villains who have (almost) stepped out of a '60s London gangster movie.
The second story, The English Way of Death, is set in 1930s London and has a whole range of stereotypes most of which are more interesting below the surface. The plot involves a range of challenges, including a murderous green mist, zombies and more time travellers than you can shake a sonic disruptor at. All three main characters have plenty to do and the story romps along well.
Both stories entertain, and English Way of Death is the stronger of the two. Gareth Roberts has written a lot of Doctor Who (including four and a bit episodes of modern Who). That pedigree aside, the Fourth Doctor here is rather too knowing and the plot is too self-aware in places. There are too many sequences where the Doctor congratulates himself on his own genius or saving the day. There are even secondary characters complaining about technobabble just before the Doctor or Romana launch into a piece of waffle to move the plot along. The stories would be stronger if they didn’t try to amuse via the fourth wall.
Nick Briggs directs with gusto and the sound-scape is rich and thorough, as we expect. There is a lot of energy in the performances and the skilled cast show their enjoyment through their performances.
While it’s great to hear Tom and Lalla back together, this particular pair of adaptations may not be everybody’s cup of tea. They are worth a listen and if you are a fan of these particular stories you will almost certainly love these.
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