Retired Captain Mike Yates sees a classified ad which seems aimed directly at him. Responding to it, he finds himself in an over-stuffed country cottage where a certain Time Lord seems to be taking a sabbatical from his wanderings in Time and Space. Of course, trouble follows the Doctor around, and stuffed animals are coming alive, or, more precicely, being brought back to life, seemingly, by tiny little alien hornets…
Episode one is mainly the set up for what is to come, and is told in a first person first person, where Mike Yates takes the role of, essentially, Dr Watson, recounting his reassociation with the Doctor who, in return, recounts his own situation and the trouble which is builing around him. For this part, we rarely hear the characters “speak”, as it seems they are mostly writing down what has happened in the past.
The cast is universally superb at speaking aloud – and I know that this is an odd thing to say about an audio, but don’t be looking for a Big Finish “live action” play and consider this more like a Radio 4 talking book, as the style is morelike that of a Sherlock Holmes story than a Doctor Who one. The language is wonderfully colourful and flamboyant and Paul Magrs shows he is a craftsman with words, and these words fit the mouths of all the major characters very well. Every scene, every place, is described in vivid colour, and every situation described in clever, minute and crystal clear detail.
However, this is also quite frustrating as, although we hear Tom Baker’s voice, we rarely hear the Fourth Doctor. This is a story Mike Yates is retelling, and he’s clearly embellished the Fourth Doctor’s own account, with abverbs and adjectives and metaphors abound. Mike comes across as rather pompous, which is no surprise, and no criticism, he is a retired army officer of course, but the fact that it is him telling the story dilutes, for me, the impact of the Fourth Doctor’s return. Tom revels in the wonderful dialogue, it’s right up his street, but it comes across more of a Tom Baker character than a Fourth Doctor. Tom famously played the Doctor almost as himself for the seven years he held the part, and he does so here too, although thirty years have past and he’s a different person now, and so the Fourth Doctor seems just below the surface, scratching to get out.
Occasionally, when the Fourth Doctor speaks directly, we can see this is deliberate, and that Paul knows exactly how to write for the Fourth Doctor, with some wonderful dialogue that comes directly from Tom’s tenure. When someone states the Doctor is mad, a wonderful grin erupted on Tom’s face and he states. “I know! Marvellous, isn’t it?” And there he is, right there.
Musically, the score is dramatic but unintrusive, and the sound clear and crisp and very naturalistic. The supporting cast is also very good, everyone involved is a very good “reader”.
This isn’t Big Finish. Anyone desperate for the Fourth Doctor to be in that kind of adventure won’t get it. Although they won’t be disappointed. This is very much in the style of Holmes and Watson, and the writing and language is suitable to that genre. The flashes of Fourth Doctor are tantalising and exciting too, and I for one can’t wait until the next episode, as this story unfolds, to hear him again.