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.