The sixth series of Fourth Doctor adventures concludes with a four-part story, straddled arcoss two months, from master storyteller Marc Platt.
Capable of weaving complex and intricate world, Platt has been writing Doctor Who since the original television series’ final run, where he created the glorious Ghost Light.
Subequently, as the author of countless audio plays for Big Finish, he has been responsible for their enduring cyber-genesis tale Spare Parts and, of late, has been teamed with celebrated ex-Who producer Phillip Hinchcliffe to bring further slices of the Fourth Doctor and Leela to life.
Set in Season 18, where Tom Baker’s Doctor travels with Romana (Lalla Ward), this story takes place on Funderell – a mysterious world with a gelatinous surface you can walk upon, but will sink into if you remain still. Funderell has but a single floating village full of superstitious folk (who seem to hail from Mummerset) and put their faith in prophecy, as related to them by their “skald” Blujaw, a seer who is literally chained to his ‘Book of Futures’.
On the eve of hunting season, where the village wavewalkers hunt eels known as sleeklings, Blujaw forsees a star falling from the sky, a lost girl and a Doctor with a box.
As well as the TARDIS, which promptly sinks below the surface, Funderell is also visited by the journalist Eamonn Orensky (Alan Cox), who is making a feature about the planet. However, it is his assistant who sparks the most interest; Sartia is a Time Lord, a contemporary of Romana’s from the Prydon Academy, ostensibly here on a research field trip, but clearly pursuing her own agenda.
Through a spirited performance by Johanna Tincey, Sartia offers us glimpses of Romana’s former life, before she was poached and partnered with the Doctor; she calls her “Mana” and teases her about her flawless academic record and her disappearance from Gallifrey. Smart, but without Romana’s experience, Sartia functions as a mirror for Romana and allows us to consider how far she as grown and changed under the Doctor’s influence.
With the story’s greater length, there is ample time for mysteries to be teased out and we enjoyed the slower place of this tale, under the direction of Ken Bentley. Of course, it is difficult to judge a story on its first part alone but suffice to say that there are plenty of intriguing questions to be resolved… What is Gallifrey’s connection to the planet and what will be the fate of Linnis, Blujaw’s son who has walked away from his role as the new skald?
So no rating this time, but a hearty recommendation as we look forward to the resolution in this month’s ‘The Thief Who Stole Time’.