Starring: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, John Leeson,
Frazer Hines, Michael Cochrane, Bernard Holley,
Veronica Roberts, and Nicholas Briggs
Written And Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Producer David Richardson, Script Editor John Dorney, Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas BriggsReleased August 31st 2015, Big Finish Productions
Right on the heels of their last adventure, the Fourth Doctor and Leela are heading for the planet of Telos, but without the (often vital) support of the genius computer dog K9.
What new discoveries will feature when the Cybermen's base on Telos is distrubed, and how can the Doctor deal with a combined force of the imperious Cyber-Controller and crafty Cyber-Planner? What will happen when the Doctor is having to try and uncover the consequences of his actions when he first visited Telos with Jamie and Victoria in his Second incarnation? Will the spare parts obtained from Krelos be implemented into making a new Cyber-army?
The answers are immediately forthcoming, but not necessarily pleasing.
The big - and for many long-term fans huge - draw is the involvement of bothFrazer Hines andBernard Holley, who are part of a small group of people to still be with us from the main cast of the highly regarded The Tomb of the Cybermen. Hines reprises Jamie once again, and also provides the voice of the Second Doctor to a very convincing level. Holley is certainly convincing as the young man he played in the opening episodes of Tomb, but I do find this script simply repeats one of the Troughton story's flaws in not giving a strong actor enough to do. Also we do not actually get a proper crossover of the two TARDIS crews, which admittedly is owing to the plot and to the Cybermen needing to observe timelines carefully for their agenda to work. Given how the cast in the making of documentary even point out this 'missed opportunity' I just wonder if Nicholas Briggs was at one point thinking of revising his story to allow this, or just wanted to make a coherent plot and finale story his priority.
Also there is some clever use of what on TV were vibrant and memorable clothing props in the form of the Doctor's endless scarf and his former companion Jamie's kilt, and how they drive the story forward. Just as in The Fate of Krelos the use of a malignant K9 is very welcome as this plot device was rare and only used to any notable effect by creators Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Even though the Cybermen are meant to be one collective race, the sheer personality of K9 means that there appears to be more of a dynamic than one would expect, so I must praise John Leeson for some fine work there.
If the main objective was for the listener to be entertained then this two parter certainly meets that in workmanlike fashion. It has decent pace, clear enough sound effects, and not overly intrusive music. Louise Jameson is as accomplished as ever, really making you appreciate Leela's many natural gifts and her devotion to the Doctor even when he appears to feel helpless. Tom Baker is always very engaging owing to his huge reserves of charisma, but perhaps were one to see a story from Season 15 and then listen to this, there are some definite signs of this being an older and less bombastic Fourth Doctor. Furthermore I say that when I personally feel Tom's weakest season and set of performances were overseen by Graham Williams when he first took charge and had much less budget to work with.
But what matters is having a duo of heroes to care about, and the Tom/Louise team have certainly produced many a fine outing together both onscreen and via audio.
Of course knowing how the actors have become much more on friendly terms with each other through doing commentaries, conventions, and so on may be something Classic Who followers may take subconsciously into these original plays. But to my mind, one example of the brilliance of Tom Baker was that he was just as strong acting against those he agreed with as those he did not, and regardless could always convince as the main hero of the story - one who may have been unpredictable but always knew how to overcome opposition.
Nicholas Briggs of course is at hand to do the Cyber-voices and makes the silver giants as chillingly robotic and soulless as we have come to expect, over the years of Big Finish stories and obviously the revived TV series. The Cybermen are certainly not holding back and wish to leave their individuality-destroying-mark on a rather less malevolent civilisation. Without giving too much away, the legacy of their destructive ways was already shown in 'Krelos' and this story hinges on just how much the TARDIS crew can act to avert this - bearing in mind that K9 is still under Cyber control at the start of this season finale.
Other supporting cast is also more than up to the mark. Michael Cochrane has been a first-rate contributor to Doctor Who as evidenced in his two 1980s turns; one alongside Peter Davison, and one with Sylvester McCoy. Even when a script wobbles he is magnetic and memorable, and this again holds true for the 'multi-person' Geralk. Veronica Roberts' Relly is also more than serviceable, even if she is not given too many of the play's best lines of dialogue. We are invested in her fate and that makes the overall story work.
What prevents this play from being a real winner is the slightly muddled ending. It plays out compellingly enough but just veers on the wrong side of deus ex machina and seems to nullify some of the actions of characters that we really thought would matter more. I do like how the method used to achieve a good result has a major impact on what the Doctor and Leela will ultimately take away from their escapades. They show their resourcefulness under pressure but perhaps it is left to others to somehow appreciate that effort. There just seemed more potential from the various enticing components of the play for a really explosive finish. While an interesting approach to have two plays with lots of 'timey wimey' I did end up feeling a little more impressed with The Fate of Krelos (if ultimately it aspired for less grandiose effect) than I did this finale.
Apart from what I said earlier on about the casts' muted misgivings, the making of documentary is certainly worth a listen and will especially interest those who either know and love Tomb, or who still are keen to see it either on a stream or on one of the increasingly scarce Revisitation DVD box sets. Briggs was certainly as good in direction as ever, and the enthusiasm of the cast for their work together is as bright as the unrelenting sun that makes Telos an arid environment. That is until curiosity draws would-be-pioneering travellers down to the underground...