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Monday, 26 January 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
The Romance of Crime
Starring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson, Michael Troughton, Miranda Raison
Written by Gareth Roberts
Adapted by John Dorney
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released January 2015
Big Finish have done a sterling job of recreating and complementing eras of classic Doctor Who over the years, be it new full cast adventures for classic TARDIS teams or the more stripped back Companion Chronicles and Lost Stories, often using the medium of audio to expand the scope and defeat the on-screen budget issues of the TV series. Often these tales are respectful riffs on a bygone era that go off in different directions, or shade in character development of the type that you’d see in the modern series. Perhaps it's the version of Classic Who you think you remember.

The Romance of Crime is different. Skilfully adapted by John Dorney from Gareth Roberts’ classic Missing Adventures novel (Scarily, twenty years old this month, where does the time go?), and reuniting the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9 for the first time since 1980, it goes one better. It's not just a strong evocation, or a clever riff on an old idea. It is Classic Doctor Who. It’s as if someone taped Doctor Who on Betamax in 1979 but the picture on the ancient tape was lost to drop-out, leaving the soundtrack intact. Roberts has a particularly strong affinity for this era - this story forms part of a box set with Dorney's dramatisation of another of his classic novels, The English Way of Death.

The story itself could be a period script by Douglas Adams or David Fisher, directed by Michael Hayes. It has an artfully Dudley Simpson-esque score from Howard Carter, a strong cast of supervillains, ne'er do-wells, preening artists, and inept detectives. The dialogue both zings and sings. Basically, The Romance of Crime would be on to a winner even if presented as a more modest audiobook. However, Tom BakerLalla Ward, and John Leeson, with solid support from Michael Troughton and Miranda Raison make this something extra special. 

This particular TARDIS crew has never reconvened before for TV or audio, for perhaps obvious reasons considering Baker and Ward were once married - but here they are, exuberant as ever, and sounding like they've stepped straight out of Season Seventeen. That spirit of '79 chemistry is still there, and Roberts' story both captures them to a tee and gives them all good material to get stuck into. Tom, in particular sounds like he's having an absolute blast. Any script that can pull off a scene where the villain captures the Doctor and tortures him whilst explaining the entire plot is doing something right.

The plot deals with shady goings on at the Rock of Judgement, an asteroid-based prison. The TARDIS arrives just as vengeful super-being Xais is resurrected and all hell breaks loose, with cockney gangsters and dim Ogrons thrown into the mix. Miranda Raison is excellent in the dual roles of Xais and Margo, the unfortunate officer on the Rock that Xais possesses. Xais is a well-drawn villain, played by Raison with strong hints of Eldrad from The Hand of Fear. She's psychotic, with the rather nasty power to crush people to death with telekinesis, but is given a tragic backstory and a good reason to hate 'normals'. Elsewhere, Michael Troughton as cowardly artist Menlove Stokes comes very close to stealing the show in his scenes with Romana. The strong cast is rounded out by Marcus Garvey as hopeless, yet totally self-absorbed gumshoe Frank Spiggot, Graham Seed as the scheming Pyerpoint - and writer John Dorney, doubling up here as an Ogron and one of the Kray-esque Nisbett brothers.

Crime of the century. Go get it.