Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures # 1.5
Written by: Alan Barnes
Directed by: Ken Bentley
Performed by: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Rachael Stirling, Michael Cochrane & Geoffrey Beevers
Duration: 60 mins approx
Chronology Placement: Set after “Energy of the Daleks”
Synopsis: The legend dates back to Roman times, at least: a great White Worm, as wide as a man, slithers out of the rocks of the Dark Peak Gap to take animals, sometimes even children, for its food. When the Doctor and Leela arrive in the wilds of Derbyshire, only to get caught up in the hunt for a missing girl, they soon discover that the legend of the Worm is very much alive – even now, in 1979. Worse still, it seems that the Doctor isn’t the only renegade Time Lord on the trail of this deadly and mysterious Worm…
The first half of the two-part season finale, “The Trail of the White Worm” takes the Fourth Doctor and Leela to the Dark Peak in the midst of a hunt for the titular creature and a missing girl. From the outset, this audio adventure captures the feel of the Fourth Doctor’s era through its Peak District setting, evoking memories of other countryside-focused adventures from that time such as, The Android Invasion, Image of the Fendahl and Terror of the Zygons. The sound design by Andy Hardwick is incredible, and really helps convey a sense of location to the listener alongside the accents of the local villagers, who reminded me of Ed and Emma Grundy from The Archers.
Alan Barnes’ script is chock-ful of witty one-liners and asides that Tom Baker delivers perfectly, and even Louise Jameson’s Leela gets some cracking lines too. There’s a real sense of pantomime glee about this installment with the over-the-top machinations of Geoffrey Beever’s decaying Master, and the colonial self-importance of Michael Cochrane’s Colonel Hugh Spindleton. All of the supporting cast really give it their all, and even the minor characters such as Mr. Carswell, John and Julie are given a chance to shine. Without delving into spoilers, the wonderfully-named Demesne Furze is another highlight of the episode, played to perfection by Rachael Stirling and adding some depth to a surprising role.
Tom Baker continues to reprise his role as the Fourth Doctor impeccably, and one of my guilty pleasures is listening to the behind-the-scenes interviews to hear how much he loves his co-stars and the writing – it sounds like he is having a wonderful time working on these audios and it shines through in his performance. His character sparks off against the villains of this piece, and I love how the relationship between him and Leela has developed over this series and how much of a great team they make. Louise Jameson does a tremendous job at showing how Leela has evolved since her initial appearances, and the strengthened bond between her and the Doctor. Separated from him for the majority of this adventure, Leela demonstrates her own ingenuity and problem-solving skills multiple times – even if the Doctor has the annoying habit of knowing everything before she can tell him.
As a two-part adventure, the story ends on a cliffhanger with the introduction of another mysterious threat – although the identity of these alien reinforcements can be discerned by looking at the cover for the next release, “The Oseidon Adventure”. Despite ending on a cliffhanger, “Trail of the White Worm” is relatively self-contained and it feels like most of the plot threads, aside from the immediate ending are resolved, and that the adventure is about to divert into a completely different direction. I am keen to see where the story goes next, but the cliffhanger lacked the same dramatic “oomph” as the break between Parts 1 & 2, when the Master attempted to feed Leela to the Worm.
Overall, “Trail of the White Worm” is a fantastic adventure, very much in the vein of the Fourth Doctor’s era. With a script that keeps you guessing throughout, and a stellar performance from every single cast-member, it will keep you entertained from start-to-finish. In fact, I still find myself repeating the name, “Demesne Furze” to myself, days after listening to it.