Many moons ago, but only recently discussed, Russell T Davies was in talks to bring back Doctor Who to television. Yes, you all know that, but not so many know about the plans that were put to him in the late 1990’s. When he had initially had his meetings regarding Doctor Who and bringing it back, Tom Baker’s name was suggested as the Doctor again. A nonsensical idea of course, but one that Davies entertained for the sake of a conversation with the BBC regarding Doctor Who’s future on television.
In some other universe where Bernard Cribbins was the Fourth Doctor, the Dark Dimension was made and the Ninth Doctor enjoyed a three series span, perhaps Baker did take the role on in an older form. If that were the case, then Phantoms of the Deep by Jonathan Morris would be a solid example of what later 90’s Doctor Who could have been.
Arriving on the submarine Erebus as it explores the deepest point of the Pacific Ocean, The Doctor, Romana and K-9 find themselves the most unlikely of passengers on the Erebus as it discovers the hidden wonders of the Mariana Trench. But this being Doctor Who, there’s absolutely no chance that this will merely be a straightforward exploration and before long it becomes clear that there’s something else in the darkest and deepest depths of the ocean, something that’s been waiting a very long time to get out.
If Doctor Who had achieved its television reinstatement for the BBC in the late 90’s or if the Paul McGann pilot had taken off and become an American series, Phantoms of the Deep would be a sterling example of what could have been achieved, imagine a cross between a base-under-siege Doctor Who story and an episode of Seaquest DSV and you can start to paint the picture. This is a tense, grating and well paced story that keeps the series regulars all incredibly busy whilst allowing suitable time for the guest stars of the adventure to flesh themselves out and breathe.
Baker, as ever, is a delight to listen to. His voice gets more excitable and more youthful with every new Fourth Doctor tale that he takes part in. Mary Tamm flexes her acting muscles with a very raw performance that ranges from dry wit to total fear. The real star of this tale however, is John Leeson as K-9. Not only is the little tin dog responsible for helping save many of the characters along the way, he’s also responsible for getting them into trouble due to the small problem of becoming possessed by the alien entity every now and then. This gives Leeson the opportunity to ‘strut his acting stuff’ by mixing up the good and bad sides of his mechanical nature, which is always fun to listen to.
Comparing Morris’ opening Fourth Doctor story, The Auntie Matter, to this darker and far more sombre story shows the fantastic range the writer has when it comes to scripting Doctor Who. He can offer a Williams era style script, a Hinchcliffe style script or, with the case of Phantoms of the Deep, give us something in-between and brand new.
Let’s hope he dives the depths of his mind again soon.
Phantoms of the Deep is available on CD or via download from www.bigfinish.com now.