There was much joy when it was announced that Tom Baker would return to the role of the Fourth Doctor in new audio dramas, followed by immediate consternation when it became clear that instead of recording with Big Finish (who, since their first unofficial incarnation as Audio Visuals, have been creating highly regarded Who audio drama since 1984) these drama would be released by the BBC.
From this point on these dramas – Hornets’ Nest, Demon Quest and now Serpent Crest – have continued to baffle. Written by Paul Magrs, all are five-part plays with standalone episodes that don’t stand alone, feature long periods of narration, feature the Doctor living in a cottage with his housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson), affectionately known as Wibs, have occasional appearances by Richard Franklin as Third Doctor cohort Mike Yates and are occasionally downright odd.
Tsar Wars kicks off in grand fashion, with the Doctor and Wibs pulled into the final gambit of a revolutionary war between humans and robots due to the Doctor’s amazing visual (and, helpfully, auditory) similarity to Father Gregory, a pivotal figure in the dispute, leading to Baker getting the chance to ham it up a bit with a crazy accent.
Of all the BBC audios, this is the only one that’s a straight audio drama. It uses its time well and the approaching explosions of the war in space create a sense of dread. Sadly, from this point it all goes a bit strange. The Broken Crown tells a story that could be covered in a fraction of the time and contains fairytale elements that feel out of place on anything calling itself Doctor Who, while continuing the main story of a cyborg child and his favourite item, a mysterious egg from which a vicious alien monster will emerge.
If The Broken Crown felt a bit far-fetched, then Aladdin Time is a pure magic fantasy with the unreliable narrator able to create genuinely magic circumstances such as giving life to a famous scarf. Luckily, the last two segments The Hexford Invasion and Survivors in Space pick up considerably not least due to the presence of David Troughton playing a character who may, or may not, be the Second Doctor, and the whole thing wraps up more neatly than either of the previous Magrs series.
These three series have been an interesting if not entirely successful experiment and even if his voice is no longer as it once was, it’s lovely to hear Tom as the Doctor again and – now that he actually has signed a contract with Big Finish – it’s gratifying to know that he’s not done with the role just yet.
Out now from AudioGo.
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