Plot wise though very little happens… the Doctor meets some warrior nuns and an apparent deux de machina is set up before a race through the TARDIS and the inevitable destination.
Again Richard Franklin is relegated to the odd “mmm” and “oh” and the Doctor reminds us who he is talking to with the occasional “as I mentioned, Mike”, but gloriously Tom Baker takes centre stage yet again, and revels in the Fourth Doctor with once again some fabulous language, some wonderful asides and razor sharp changes of direction.
Musically this time round though, for once, it seems slightly intrusive. Ramped up maybe to make up for the lack of plot, it seems a little cinematic and perhaps too frantic, and I’d argue with Tom’s acting, particularly near the end, it really isn’t needed to convey that sense of panic.
This is the least filled episode of the five, but it is also the most “Doctorish”, and as a result works, if you like the Fourth Doctor. There’s also a very neat little segue into the dilemmas facing the Doctor in Waters of Mars, with a similar conclusion. You just can’t beat Time.
Episode five – The Hive of Horror – brings events back up “to date” (but I have to say, rubbish cop out with the cliffhanger there! What a con!) – and as such allows Richard Franklin to return to narrating duties, as least for a while, as Mike Yates again tells a “someone else” what exactly is going on as he, the Doctor and the Doctor’s cantankerous and thoroughly unlikeable housekeeper Mrs Wimmsey take the Hornets on head on, confronting their sly Queen – in the form of a very vicious sounding Rula Lenska – and in their own backyard – the Hornet’s Hive itself!
How they get there will remind you of The Invisible Enemy – in fact, it reminds the Doctor of that too (something else the Fourth Doctor seems to be doing a lot of – reminiscing!) – And it’s an odd vista for the finale, but it makes perfect sense and anthropomorphizes the Hornets for the Doctor to take on head to head.
This episode finally allows Mike to take the lead, and his conversations with the Queen are very well written and acted by Rula and Richard. Mike himself has to confront his own demons for the big showdown, and it’s nice to see them be addressed again. Captain Yates was in danger of being a cipher, but at last gets to chomp his acting chops into something a little more meaty.
The finale is a little confusing though. It jumps from Mike’s to the Doctor’s narration from present to future, and, as always, narrating things which have happened kind of takes the immediate danger away from the characters, and, for me, Mrs Wimmsey is just a moany irritation throughout and not necessary. The actual denouement too, whilst not what you think it’s going to be – another sign post acknowledged by the Doctor – is a bit schizophrenic too – the Fourth Doctor verbalizing the Tenth’s moral outlook whilst going ahead with a nice simple solution.
However, the final words of the Fourth Doctor, by a Tom clearly beaming from ear to ear, is a wonderful, Christmassy, feel good thing worth the whole series, and, again, will echo with aficionados of days past.
All in all, this series has been a success, I think, and an experiment worth repeating. I’ve already told Tom I’d write a follow up for free! The Fourth Doctor does need another outing, and the lessons to be learned from Hornet’s Nest are few, but important. In my opinion, the narration detracts from the danger, we need more immediate action, and the Doctor has to feature more prominently. It’s important to, I believe, that even in narration, the characters speak like the characters, and not in the flowery prose of the earlier episodes.
I salivate at the thought of the Doctor returning for an adventure with Leela and K9!