Doctor Who – “The Renaissance Man”

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures # 1.2
Written by: Justin Richards
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Performed by: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Gareth Armstrong, Anthony Howell & Ian McNeice
Duration: 60 mins approx
ISBN: 978-1-84435-613-3
Chronology Placement: Set after “Destination: Nerva

Synopsis: To continue Leela’s education, the Doctor promises to take her to the famous Morovanian Museum. But the TARDIS lands instead in a quiet English village, where they meet the enigmatic collector Harcourt and his family. When people start to die, reality doesn’t appear quite what it was. There’s something sinister going on within the walls of Harcourt’s manor, and the stakes are higher than they can imagine. The Doctor is about to discover that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

The closing moments of “Destination: Nerva” established a loose story-arc for the Fourth Doctor Adventures when Leela expressed an interest in receiving an education from the Doctor, addressing the character’s naivety and her thirst for knowledge. The first stop in the Doctor and Leela’s educational tour of the universe is the Morovanian Museum – a destination that prides itself on having “the greatest collection of Earth artefacts in the known universe”. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Doctor Who adventure if it were a simple trip to the museum and soon the pair find themselves in conflict with the sinister forces working behind the scenes.

There is a psychedelic feel to this adventure as the various locations and characters juxtapose with each other, creating a patchwork landscape that feels reminiscent of the Second Doctor’s adventures in the Land of Fiction during “The Mind Robber” and the Eleventh Doctor episode, “The God Complex”. It is a story type that Doctor Who does extremely well, and this adventure blends its genres and time-zones together to create an exotic cocktail, with a dash of Agatha Christie-influenced intrigue, a splash of World War Two action and some Medieval-based mischief. As with “Destination: Nerva” before it, “The Renaissance Man” revels in misleading the listener and playing upon expectations, only to subvert them later on in the story.

While the story itself has a distinctly Doctor Who flavour to it, it is with the dialogue that Justin Richards really captures the era of the Fourth Doctor. Each line uttered by Tom Baker in this story feels ripped from scripts written in the seventies, and delivered with a devilish glee. Baker seems to better inhabit the character of the Doctor in this adventure, revisiting his familiar audio tics and whispered asides as he jousts intellectually with his enemies. Utterly authentic down to each syllable, I found myself grinning as manically as the Fourth Doctor himself as he chewed the scenery within my mind’s eye. Much like with his appearance in “The Day of the Doctor”, Baker channels the quirkiness of the character as if he never left the role and while time has passed, his Fourth Doctor feels just as fresh and energetic as ever.

Louise Jameson continues to develop the character of Leela in the audio adventures in ways that she wasn’t able to in the televised serials. I love the focus on the character’s education, and how we are seeing her develop beyond the primitive warrior-woman and into a true companion. It is also interesting listening to the behind-the-scenes interviews and hearing Jameson reference the ATA Girls – which she would later develop into a Big Finish series six years later. In terms of the supporting cast, Ian McNeice uses his commanding presence to play the villain of the piece, rather than reprising his role as Winston Churchill – something he has done in the years since this release. His strong voice gives him some real gravitas, and Justin Richards plays with audience expectations here too resulting in a surprising eleventh-hour twist.

With its frequent twists and subversion of genres, “The Renaissance Man” has all the hallmarks of a classic Doctor Who story, and one that fits seamlessly into the continuity of the time. Big Finish productions are always rich with authenticity, able to transport listeners back to specific eras of Doctor Who’s history. It is great fun to hear Tom Baker reprise his role with such glee and energy, ably assisted by a strong supporting cast. Rather than pitting the Fourth Doctor against a physical threat, it is interesting to see his mind under attack and his most powerful weapon – his knowledge – used against him. Surprising, mysterious and ultimately satisfying, “The Renaissance Man” is another gripping release in the Fourth Doctor Adventures range, once again representing a Big Finish that is firing on all cylinders.

Score – ★★★★ ½

Doctor Who: The Renaissance Man is available from Big Finish on physical CD or digital download. It can also be found on Amazon UK in the physical format.

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