WARNING: CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS!
When the Time Lords died, travel to parallel worlds became all the more difficult to do. But luckily, we’ve got Big Finish, who seem to be able to rip a whole in the Universe and transport us to any era of the Doctor’s life. To start off 2012, they’ve decided to go back to an alternative version of 1977 and have returned with two Fourth Doctor tales that never saw the light of day in our Universe.
Of course the reality of this is that these unmade Doctor Who stories came across several pitfalls that stopped them from being commissioned but now, finally, we can all enjoy two new Tom Baker adventures that have spent the last 35 years gathering dust and what a treat they are!
The Foe From The Future and The Valley of Death mark several milestones in the Big Finish range of Lost Stories, not only do they adapt two long talked of tales for Doctor Who fans to finally enjoy but they also see the long-awaited return of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor and Louise Jameson as Leela. To describe this box set as anything other than sublime would be doing it a disservice.
Originally outlined by Robert Banks Stewart and now adapted by John Dorney, The Foe From The Future finds the Doctor and Leela arriving in a quiet Devon village in 1977 where history is unravelling and the locals are behaving oddly. Sound familiar? It should do, the story fits into the 1977 era so well it’s rather like listening to a lost BBC soundtrack rather than a newly arranged play. The lead characters of Jalnik, Charlotte From The Village and Shibac are a delight to listen to as well as completely engaging, full of Baker era ticks that made the show so watchable back then.
The story is very much split into three acts (and also three CD’s which gives it a digestible charm) that vary it and keep the drama unfolding at a constant rate. Where the first act is entirely an old school affair, the second takes the Doctor and Leela more into Big Finish territory and the third and final act becoming a mix of the two. Writer Dorney talks in the box set’s extras regarding how the story starts off with input from Stewart’s original notes and ends up finishing with his scripts alone as Stewart left the piece incomplete. This gives the adventure a powerful update and brings it fully into the 21st century without a hiccup. Many of you may know that The Foe from the Future lent a lot to Robert Holmes when he created The Talons of Weng Chiang, spotting the stories similarities is not an easy task but is definitely a rewarding one. For example, the villain of the piece has fallen victim to a gruesome transformation due to the instability of his time travel experiments and now requires certain sustenance from his accomplices, while this is a very similar plot point for Magnus Greel it is changed enough in Foe for you to enjoy it all again but from a whole different perspective. Gone are the pitfalls of “evil for the sake of being evil” and welcomed in are more rounded and understandable explanations for motivation.
The last part of the story is a triumphant end to a thoroughly enjoyable tale and sees Baker at his natural best, not one for hugs and bestowing praise on human beings but more of a detached figure. Nevertheless he’s still the Doctor we love and know.
The Foe from the Future is an excellent addition to the Lost Stories Range and should be considered essential listening!
The second offering, The Valley of Death is a different story altogether which finds the Doctor and Leela joining an expedition to the Amazon to find a crashed UFO. From the start, events are already underway and the Doctor has been called in by UNIT to investigate. It’s lovely to hear them mentioned within this era after they had more or less been forgotten about since The Seeds of Doom. The first thing you will realise about Valley is that it was obviously to expensive a story to be made for the small screen, set pieces and action scenes that unfold would have shut the Doctor Who office down but with this version of the adventure you can finally listen to how events may have unfolded had there been the money. Think Doctor Who meets Lost and you have a vague idea.
Jungles have always been a speciality in classic stories but they sometimes lose a little bit of mystery on audio. However, with this strong a story and with rich and interesting characters, you can’t help but get lost in the Amazon with them. Valley makes the most of its surroundings and utilises them to create some very light-hearted scenes that will genuinely make you laugh.
Those worried about lengthy scenes set in the forest with lots of running about needn’t worry, the story’s second half dramatically shifts to London where a wonderful invasion starts to take place, echoing stories such as Shada, Terror of the Zygons, The Christmas Invasion and even the Virgin New Adventures novel The Dying Days. All this is played out as the Fourth Doctor investigates with gleeful swagger.
The Valley of Death comes across as slightly slow in its first half but this is all just intricate plotting and a well written build up by writer Jonathan Morris as he delivers the action and suspense on a frantic level in the last two episodes. This is an adventure to be truly explored.
Overall, these lost stories are simply amazing. Tom Baker is on fantastic form as is Louise Jameson and it’s a true delight to hear them working together again bringing to life this classic TARDIS team. What we’re presented with here is a fresh and playful approach to some classic scripts, enough for fans of this era to get lost in a wave of nostalgia and more than enough for new fans to get to grips with.
Big Finish has already outdone themselves with this release and you will not quite believe how much until you listen for yourself.
Doctor Who The Lost Stories: The Fourth Doctor Box Set is available this month on CD and download from www.bigfinish.com.