The Fourth Doctor Adventures #406 - The Cloisters of TerrorBookmark and Share

Monday, 29 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
The Cloisters of Terror (Credit: Big Finish) Written by Jonathan Morris
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
with Rowena Cooper, Richendra Carey, and Claudia Grant
Released June 2015

Set in the former convent school of St Matilda’s College in 1977, The Cloisters of Terror deals with the centuries-old phenomenon of young girls disappearing shortly after they see an apparition of three ghostly Nuns. Young Megan (Claudia Grant, of An Adventure in Space and Time fame) witnesses her friend Lynn (Allison McKenzie) fall under the thrall of the ghostly sisters, and the college’s Dean, politely blocked at every turn by the venerable Sister Frances Beckett (Richendra Carey), she has no other option than to get the police involved.

 

That Dean is none other than Dame Emily Shaw, (Rowena Cooper) mother of Liz, previously introduced by Big Finish in The Last Post. And Dame Emily finds a police box in her office, as the Doctor and Leela have intercepted her call and elected to investigate.

 

Dame Shaw quickly gets to know this incarnation of the Doctor, having previously met his ‘very odd’ predecessor - and their repartee is a joy. There’s a gentle nod to absent friends, as the Doctor asks after both Liz and the Brigadier. (Also, UNIT-dating fans - this is set in 1977, and the Brig is apparently in South America, presumably just about to pack it all in for teaching. Can we just say that Sarah Jane bumped her head before she mentioned being from 1980, or was just rounding up?)

 

Rowena Cooper plays Emily as a formidable but fun old battle-axe, and Tom Baker thrives with this kind of character to bounce off, giving us a slightly less irreverent but clearly grinning Doctor, a man who relishes a good mystery to solve. He’s also excellent when faced with the layered character played by Carey. Clearly all-female casts agree with Tom Baker, who's having fun but is also on his best Doctorial behaviour. He does manage to get a terrible pun about a wimple through, though.

 

Leela, meanwhile goes ghost-hunting with Megan, and it doesn’t take her long to get headhunted by the ghostly sisters. Everyone very soon gets locked in the crypt with the sisters by the duplicitous Sister Beckett, and it’s all very atmospheric, with reverse-reverbed ghostly voices and echoey cloisters. Perhaps the only criticism of this story is slightly blowing the whole story pretty much wide open a little too early, but Jonathan Morris’s clever script makes it all work. Bits of what could be quite clunky description and exposition are neatly handled by making the sisters only visible to young women, therefore Leela and Megan do a lot of the talking for them.

 

Classic Doctor Who largely stayed away from the sticky subject of religion. The BBC already had Mary Whitehouse to worry about, let alone complaints from the church - who were remarkably understanding about an alien mass-murderer posing as a vicar, then apparently raising the devil, culminating in an exploding church and a bit of gentle tea-time pagan ritual. The Daemons is a bit of an exception, and can’t be seen as a dig against religion. Bloodthirsty priests do get around a bit in classic Who, but only really in alien cultures or a distant, barbaric past. Nothing too close to the knuckle. Best not to push your luck, when depicting people of the cloth as monsters or villains.

 

The Cloisters of Terror seems to do just that, but manages to neatly subvert the notion of a sinister sisterhood in what turns out to be a meditation on self-sacrifice for the greater good. To say too much would be too much of a spoiler, even if the eventual resolution is signposted right from the episode one cliffhanger. Let’s just say that the obviously alien threat isn’t actually evil, this is more of a ‘stuck switch’ kind of story. 

 

This is a thoughtful minor tale, creepy and atmospheric, but somehow fairly cosy, with a touch of the BBC drama Ghost Stories at Christmas series to it. It’s perfect late-seventies contemporary-England Who. It’s not as original as Suburban Hell, but it’s very good indeed.

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures #405 - Suburban HellBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Suburban Hell (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Nicholas Briggs 
Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
with Annette Badland, Katy Wix, and Raymond Coulthard
Released May 2015

One of the joys of Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures is the licence to take familiar characters and throw them into new and interesting situations. Suburban Hell is one of those times, and it's a bit special. It's a Timey-Wimey tale that takes in a monstrous suburban housewife, a hen-pecked husband, a delightful old dear over the road that hunts witches, boorish party guests, eerie fog, and a coven of taloned blue creatures conducting a black mass - all of this set against a backdrop of horrid wallpaper, garish art, prawn cocktails, golf clubs, fondue forks, and Pong. 

 

At first glance, it's a riff on Abigail's Party, and writer Alan Barnes goes to town with a witty, clever script full of all the minuitae of the bad taste late 1970s, with the Doctor and Leela dropping in as unexpected dinner party guests when the TARDIS vanishes on them. The party is hosted by the quite ghastly Belinda (an excellent Katy Wix, clearly channelling Alison Steadman) and her luckless husband Ralph (Raymond Coulthard). It appears to be the late 1970s, decor, dress, and menu included - but all is not what it seems.

It's difficult to say too much more about this plot point without revealing all through spoilers, but the use of time travel here is some of the best in Doctor Who ever. Mundane elements (a prank phone call, Belinda asking Leela what she fancies to drink) become pivotal, penny-drop moments. The creepy reveal of the true nature of the 'prank' call is positively Moffatesque. This story may also finally explain all those strange, kitsch paintings of blue/green women from the 70s that crop up in charity shops.

 

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson have been on very good form this series, and continue to excel here. The Doctor is having a fine old time, with Baker clearly relishing Barnes' script. Leela gets plenty of good lines and jokes at the expense of just how ridiculous the 70s could be. Jameson is pitch-perfect as ever, and sells a small, hurt-sounding nod to her recent loss of Marshall in Death Match with quiet economy.

 

They're well matched against hostess-from-hell Belinda. Comic actress Katy Wix is inspired casting, delivering Belinda's acid-tongued dialogue with expert comic timing. The real highlight though, is Annette Badland as 'Thelma from over the road' - a fantastic character in the mould of Miss Hawthorne and Amelia Rumford, perfectly played by Badland as a terribly meek elderly lady who just happens to be a witchfinder with psionic powers. She's never quite fully explained, and Big Finish should bring her back for a rematch, her scenes with Baker are marvellous, and a lot of mileage could be had from Thelma and the Doctor meeting again.

 

Suburban Hell is another excellent entry in this very strong series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, it's very funny, very well-written, and full of memorable characters. Definitely a party worth attending. Just watch out for the fondue.