Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Fourth Doctor - The Syndicate Masterplan: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard,
Paul Morris, Guy Adams. Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Neilson), Glynis Barber (Kathy Blake), Ewan Bailey (Hugo Blake), Nicholas Khan (Jimmy Lynch), Leon Williams (Tony Reynolds), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland), Finty Williams (Ada Lovelace), Andrew Havill (Colonel Wildman), Eve Webster (Hettie / Lady Cleverley), Barnaby Edwards (Mr Hobhouse), Glen McCready (Edvard Scheutz / Lord Byron / Harry), John Shrapnel (Nigel Colloon), Anna Acton (Brox), Blake Ritson (Elmore), Roger May(Mac Foley), Tracy Wiles (Drones).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson 
Script Editor John Dorney 
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The Sinestran Kill by Andrew Smith

 

"Oh...I see...you're THAT Doctor..."

 

When the Doctor decides to trace an anomalous energy signature on twentieth century Earth, he stumbles into an assassination attempt.

Gangland thugs are trying to murder a seemingly innocent shopkeeper, and it’s only the intervention of the Doctor and Ann Kelso – a WPC who happens to be on the scene – that prevents a tragedy. 

But why do the gangsters want the shopkeeper dead? And what does this have to do with alien technology?

The first stages of a grand conspiracy are about to be revealed. And finding the answers will take Ann Kelso on a journey like no other.

 

This new box set could almost be described as Series 15A. We find the Doctor travelling alone after leaving Leela on Galifrey. K9 Mark II isn't (quite) unpacked yet, and we are introduced to a brand new companion, WPC Ann Kelso, played by Jane Slavin. An actress  who is no stranger to Big Finish.

This first story is set in 1970's London, and written by Andrew Smith. After penning the classic episode Full Circle, Smith joined the police, and it is here that this knowledge is utilised well, as the Met feature heavily in what is essentially a plot about an interstellar, shapeshifting hit mob trying to kill a witness who has taken refuge on Earth. The action ends up as a wonderfully staged siege in New Scotland Yard.

Amongst the guest cast are Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Nelson), who is wary of the Doctor as in a previous role, the character had links with UNIT, and Glynis Barber who plays a classic East End gangsters moll.

The Sinestran Kill is a very strong opener, which ably introduces Ann Kelso as a new companion. The Alien threat is believable, and seemingly quite unstoppable. The mash up between classic East End villains and a professional alien hit squad is genius.

Andrew Smith has crafted a rather brilliant story, that positively romps along. Jane Slavin is great as the new companion, but the stand out performance for me was Frank Skinner as the world-weary DCI, who is surprised by nothing that might have the Doctor involved.

 

Planet of the Drashigs by Phil Mulryne

 

"Welcome's to Drashig World."

 

When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray.  Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld - a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests.

And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure.

It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.

 

Ah! The Drashigs! Those memorable chompers from 1973's Carnival of Monsters - who would have thought they would ever get a whole story dedicated to them? 

Having just assembled the new K9, The Doctor and Liz land on a strange, marshy world. They soon find a Drashig on their tails and manage to escape via teleport to safety, only to find that they are in a theme park full of Drashigs, and the natives are getting VERY restless.

Planet of the Drashigs does fall in on itself a little by trying to be a bit too clever with its own theme. It is obviously a take on Michael Crichton's  Jurassic Park (the Doctor even stumbles across a pile of goat bones). Different breeds of Drashigs are in various enclosures for the amusement of the paying public. Oh - and of course there is the Emerald Drashig (read Tyrannosaurus Rex) which is extra fierce and intelligent. When these escape and run riot across the compound all hell really does breaks loose. 

The story should be so by the numbers, but it really is quite enjoyable. I loved it that the new K9 needs an overnight charge before proper use (his batteries kept failing because he only had a partial charge). There are some great set pieces, especially the Aliens homage where our heroes are trapped in a ventilation tunnels, being hunted down by ferocious Emerald Drashigs, all the while with K9 acting as a motion sensor in the dark.

The story is written by Phil Mulryne, who is obviously having a whale of the time with the source material. Vocal talent includes Fenella Woolgar (Call the Midwife), Jeremy Clyde and Lizzie Roper.

 

The Enchantress of Numbers by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

 

"We’ll just have to make-do with my unerring sense of direction!"

 

The TARDIS lands in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, in 1850. Mistaken for a medic and his maid, the Doctor and Ann are brought to meet Ada Lovelace - the mother of computing and daughter of Lord Byron - who has recently fallen ill. 

But the travellers are not here by chance. Something odd is happening on Earth, and they’ve determined that this place is the centre of it. 

Strange figures are walking the land. Strange figures wearing bird-like masks. What do they want with Ada? And how will it change the future of humanity?

 

I felt that The Enchantress of Numbers was the weakest story of this volume. It tries very hard, but I just didn’t find the story that involving. The whole idea of Bryon’s ghost, tied in with Block Transfer Computation, Ada Lovelace and mysterious figures shrouded in fog should really have been a perfect recipe for a Who story from this era. It just didn’t grab me, and felt rather run of the mill. I also felt that because of Lovelace’s larger than life characterisation (played with gusto by Finty Williams), it left Slavin’s Ann Kelso somewhat out in the cold.

 

The False Guardian by Guy Adams

 

"Maybe I left the HADS on!?"

 

Ann Kelso doesn’t like mysteries. Keen to investigate the trail of the Sinestrans, she sets the TARDIS on a new course... but flies into danger.

Arriving on a desolate world that the Doctor finds somehow familiar, the TARDIS crew discover that something is wrong with time. The inhabitants of an unusual complex are experimenting at the command of their enigmatic director... somebody who has quite a strong grudge against the Doctor.

Facing an old foe who was presumed dead, the travellers are soon trapped in a diabolical scheme. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?

 

Varga plants, HADS, Mavic Chen, Zephon, Kemble - The False Guardian is heavily steeped in Doctor Who history, and may at first seem like quite a daunting listen - but don’t worry - it isn’t. Guy Adams has crafted a fine story, dropping a few red herrings along the way that might just lead the listener to believe the story is heading one way, before it takes a sudden left turn in another direction. The cliff hanger at the end of part one of this story is brilliant, and so simply wrapped up at the start of part two…..and then there is the cliff hanger at the end of part two….

The False Guardian is of course essentially a means to set up parts three and four (which are coming in the next box set folks!), but is still an enjoyable ride, with a very rich guest cast, and brilliant sound design. Voice actors include John Shrapnel and Anna Acton.

I will never tire of Tom Baker in this role, and here we delve into a rather interesting, and so far unexplored time in the show’s history, that opens up new possibilities for this Big Finish range. I’m rather looking forward to volume two!

Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1 is available from Big Finish HERE.