When I heard that Tom Baker was recording a new series of Doctor Who CD releases for BBC Audiobooks, I almost fell over. I certainly had to sit down.
With Paul Magrs writing the script, a cast that co-stars Richard Franklin (a replacement for the originally intended Nicholas Courtney) as former UNIT captain Mike Yates and superb cover art (conceived by Anthony Dry and realised by Ben Wilsher), The Hornetâ€™s Nest series of audio adventures for the Fourth Doctor represent the first time since 1981 (Children in Need notwithstanding) that Tom Baker has reprised the role of the most memorable of all Doctors.
I approached reviewing the first part, The Stuff of Nightmares, with some trepidation â€“ Kasterborous Associate Editor Brian Terranova hadnâ€™t enjoyed it; our favourite news contributor Simon Mills thought it was wonderful. All of us fans of the Fourth Doctor, how would I find this unusual audio format?
Unlike a Big Finish audio or a BBC Audiobook narration, The Hornetâ€™s Nest series swerves between two-hander and small cast drama. Itâ€™s an unusual method of storytelling in which stories exist within stories yet no one impersonates another character; however it remained in mind that if anyone can pull this off Paul Magrs can.
Although a fascinating writer, Iâ€™ve found some of Magrs’ Doctor Who work from the old BBC Books days slightly tricky â€“ The Blue Angel and The Scarlett Empress in particular. Yet he has a marvellous approach to the craft, mixing extrapolate pop culture references with unusual fantastical situations and narrative forms, not to mention surprising revelations (such as the identity of the Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart we first meet in Verdigris).
There is little of this in The Stuff of Nightmares, but what there is must list as being among the best of Magrsâ€™ work. From conception to plot to what must be some of the best dialogue Tom Baker has delivered, this first instalment of the Hornetâ€™s Nest pentalogy has an intriguing opening that delivers the listener into a welcoming warm fuzzy feeling when the Fourth Doctor welcomes Mike Yates and we hear those deep, mahogany tones saying new lines for the first time in years.
Nostalgia might be big business, but thereâ€™s more to The Stuff of Nightmares than Tom baker trying to reclaim former glories. The actor has stayed fiercely away from Doctor Who for most of the intervening time since his incarnationâ€™s death at the foot of the Pharos Project in 1981, but heâ€™s returned here for the opportunity to do something different, work with the BBC again and have a bit of fun with Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart actor Nick Courtney. Sadly Courtney was sick when the stories were recorded earlier this year, so Richard Franklin was thrown into the breach â€“ and you wouldnâ€™t know, to be honest.
Daniel Hill â€“ a character actor whose recent TV appearances include Midsomer Murders â€“ appears as Percy Noggins, the man around whom the unusual danger in this adventure centres, while Susan Jameson appears briefly in this first part as Mrs Wibsey, the Doctorâ€™s housekeeper. Hill takes Noggins on an interesting journey, veering from a Harrison Chase-like conviction that his part in the plot is just to being revealed as being… we, that would be telling.
With an intriguing plot concerning cadaverous taxidermy subjects controlled by size-shifting hornets, The Stuff of Nightmares is a dramatic introduction to Paul Magrs series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor. There are questions raised throughout, leaving the listener querying for example the whereabouts of the TARDIS, and just how long has the Doctor been staying at his cottage?
All of which will no doubt have the majority of listeners getting hold of part 2 â€“ but if you remain unconvinced, here are a few dialogue triumphs from Hornetâ€™s Nest: The Stuff of Nightmares…
“…it struck me! I was under attack by the cast of a crazed version of The Wind in the Willows!”
“Marvellous isnâ€™t it? I find it’s the only way to be…”
Percy Noggins doesn’t know what to make of the Doctor
You cannot miss Hornet’s Nest: The Stuff of Nightmares, which is available now from Amazon for just Â£5.49!