The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 - Episode 6 - SubterraneaBookmark and Share

Thursday, 29 June 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Subterranea (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Jonathan Morris; Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
Matthew Cottle (Mr Maxwell Wilberforce Bell)
Abigail McKern (Mrs Lucretia Bell)
Robbie Stevens (Mr Jelicho Wigg/ Mr Wilfer Wagstaff)
Jane Slavin (Miss Arabella Wagstaff/ Mrs Betsy Wagstaff)
 John Banks (Silex/ Mr Stoker)

The TARDIS somehow manages to materialise INSIDE a planet, but before the Doctor and Romana have time to work out the hows and whys, they are swallowed by a giant burrowing machine. It turns out the inhabitants of this planet have been forced to live underground, in giant Drill Towns, which are essentially monstrous ships with drills at the bow in which they roam beneath the surface, burrowing for minerals and anything else of use.

Of course though, nothing is simple in the world of Doctor Who, there is also something else lurking beneath the planet's surface - and that is the Silex.......and they are hunting!

Let me start by saying I loved Subterranea. On paper it should be just a simple, straight forward Who story. The TARDIS arrives on a strange planet, there are new aliens. The Doctor and Romana are quickly split up, and must work locally with different factions to overthrow a massive threat. You get the idea.

Perhaps it's that very simplicity of the story that adds to it's appeal. That said, Jonathan Morris injects some fantastic twists into the narrative that lifts the events way above run of the mill, and truly makes them sparkle.

The inhabitants of this planet are mole like people, who to prove how industrious they are speak with northern accents (well, why not? - every planet has a north!). The tech is all very steam punk, evoking a very Victorian time period, and the characters are all very reminiscent of those to be found in a cracking Dickens novel (with names like Maxwell Wilberforce Bell and Jericho Wigg, this does get hammered home somewhat). BUT this world is so believable, which is simply down to top notch writing and a cast that seem to gel perfectly.

The only slight issue with the story is that the treat is very familiar. The Silex are a scavenger cyborg race, somewhat more reminiscent of Star Trek's The Borg, more than our very own Cybermen. The solution to defeating them is, to be honest, a bit mundane (imagine a hive mind running on....shortwave radio), but again, it's about the overall journey. Which is a true joy. For me, this story reminded me of The The Crimson Horror, crossed with The Robots of Death (there are some great sound effects used for the Drill Towns, that will instantly put the listener in mind of a sand miner in Robots of Death) all of that AND a smattering of a certain Jules Verne classic. In my book, not one of those influences is a bad thing at all.

As mentioned, the cast are stellar. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are effortless at evoking Tom's final season, and as always gel together perfectly. The stand out of the supporting cast has to be Matthew Cottle (probably best known for the '90s sitcom Game On) as Maxwell Wilberforce Bell, a jobs worth of a character, who is very proud of his Drill Town, and very much devoted to his wife. Bell's character also provides a fair bit of comic relief to the proceedings. Among the others we have stage and television character actress Abigail McKern, who gives a suitably duplicitous performance as Bell's wife Lucretia. We also have Big Finish stalwarts Robbie Stevens as Mr Jelicho Wigg, and Jane Slavin as the heroic Arabella Wagstaff.

 

Subterranea is available now as a digital download, or audio CD from Big Finish.