In The Movellan Grave, writer Andrew Smith makes light work of fitting an entire four-part 1970s style story into a single disc release for the Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures range. Starring Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor, and Lalla Ward as the second Romana, this time our heroes are up against the Movellans. If you need a reminder, the Movellans first appeared in Lalla Ward’s first story as Romana, the 1979 adventure Destiny of the Daleks. More astute fans will have also seen them in the brief Dalek segment in the recent twelfth Doctor story The Pilot.
Emotionless robots locked in a perpetual war with the Daleks, Andrew Smith takes us to early 1980s England, and an archaeological dig where the mystery of a Movellan power pack in an Iron Age grave. Before too long we learn of an entire spaceship buried beneath the Downs, and in this ship is a secret weapon, designed to end the Dalek – Movellan war once and for all!
This story works as it is sharply focussed in the Doctor and Romana, but also the lead archaeologist Carrie Pierce (the excellent Camilla Power), her assistant Robin Lyon (the equally excellent John Banks) and Movellan Commander Narina (the also excellent Polly Walker). Into this mix add Chris Jarman’s Chenek and under Nick Brigg’s crisp direction the action moves along at pace. The sound work from Jamie Robertson adds to the authenticity. Tom is treated to several good passages, including proposing the idea of aliens in the Iron Age to a sceptical archaeologist, and explaining to a rational robot just why their logical plan can’t work.
At every point, this feels like just another story from the time, and the plot feels fresh, despite elements of the traditional base under siege and even a drop of Quatermass lurking in the background.
The story is over all too quickly, a good trick given how much happens, and listeners should come away wondering just why the Movellans haven’t been back before, either on our screens or on audio. We suspect it will be far fewer than nearly forty years before we hear from them again.