Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures # 1.1
Written by: Nicholas Briggs
Directed by: Nicholas Briggs
Performed by: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Raquel Cassidy & Tim Bentinck
Duration: 60 mins approx
Chronology Placement: Set immediately after “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”
Synopsis: After saying their goodbyes to Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago, the Doctor and Leela respond to an alien distress call beamed direct from Victorian England. It is the beginning of a journey that will take them to the newly built Space Dock Nerva… where a long overdue homecoming is expected. A homecoming that could bring about the end of the human race.
Getting Tom Baker to reprise his role as the Fourth Doctor for Big Finish audios was a major coup for the company, as the actor initially appeared very reluctant to return to the character. After a box-set of Lost Stories that featured unproduced scripts, Big Finish launched The Fourth Doctor Adventures – a range that would contain brand-new adventures for the Fourth Doctor and his companion, Leela. Naturally, expectation was high for the series due to the high nostalgia factor of revisiting one of the many peaks in Doctor Who’s popularity, as Tom Baker says in promotional trailers, “It’s Saturday night tea time in 1977 all over again”.
Picking up immediately from the final scene in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”, Nicholas Briggs’ launches the Fourth Doctor and Leela into a brand-new adventure that revisits the iconic Doctor Who location: the Nerva Beacon. Briggs’ script absolutely nails the distinctive Gothic Horror tone of the Fourth Doctor era, with the “base-under-siege” format of the episode evoking strong memories of the “The Ark in Space”. Nerva really doesn’t have much luck when it comes to alien invasions, does it?! In fact, the villain of the piece, the organic hive-mind of the Epiderm, feels reminiscent of the Wirrn infestation as it spreads through the crew of the Nerva.
With his booming and evocative voice, Tom Baker springs back into the role of the Doctor with a vim and vigour that is as contagious as the Epiderm making its way through the Nerva space station. His joy at reprising the character and traversing through time and space comes through clearly in his performance, making this ‘homecoming’ all the more rewarding. Louise Jameson slips effortlessly back into the role of Leela, recreating the character’s unique blend of strength and naivety. She is a brilliant companion for Baker’s Doctor, and it is stunning how the pair can generate the same chemistry and camaraderie that was present all those years ago. They literally pick right up where they left off from in “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and never falter once.
Briggs’ script is fast-paced, and the juxtaposition of Victorian England and the 22nd century ensures the story is suitably epic in scale for a series-opener. As always, Big Finish boasts a sublime supporting cast with Raquel Cassidy and Tim Bentinck standing out as workers aboard the Nerva Dock. Cassidy puts in a solid, multi-layered performance as the station’s doctor, evoking memories of Lindsay Duncan’s role as Adelaide Brooks in “The Waters of Mars”. The soundscaping by Jamie Robertson is phenomenal, and is vital to establishing that “Saturday tea time” nostalgia is evident throughout the story – although the incidental music and sound effects in Big Finish productions are always flawless.
Brimming with energy and nostalgia in equal measure, “Destination: Nerva” is the perfect re-introduction to the Fourth Doctor, and it is no surprise that it is frequently cited as a “jumping-on point for newcomers” by Big Finish themselves. Slotting seamlessly into the existing continuity, there is a comfortable familiarity to this series that mirrors the Doctor’s own time-travel abilities and manages to transport me to an era – those Saturday tea-times in 1979 – which I was never part of, yet still feel utterly authentic. Fully deserving of its critical acclaim and popularity, I am already excited at the prospect of the multiple ‘seasons’ left in this range I have yet to work my way through.