Doctor Who: Big Finish - THE FOURTH DOCTOR By Gareth Roberts (Vol 1) Review

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Tom Baker? Lalla Ward? In the same room together??????? Oh yes! Chris Swanson reviews volume 1 of the recently released Big Finish box set reuniting the Fourth Doctor and Romana (II).


Synopsis
The Romance of Crime
The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Romana and K9 to the Rock of Judgement; a court, prison and place of execution built into a rocket-powered asteroid. When involved in an investigation by the system's finest lawman, they find they must seek answers to some disturbing questions.

The English Way of Death
The Doctor, Romana and K9 arrive in 1930s London to return some overdue library books. They plan to take a rest after their recent adventures, but Romana detects a distress signal from the future and the Doctor is attacked by a suffocating green mist.
During the so-called “Wilderness Years” there were many Doctor Who novels written. Some of these were kind of glorious and became part of the official cannon (Human Nature, for example). Some aimed high but didn’t quite make it. I’ll be kind and not provide any examples. But the great thing about them is that, good or bad, they kept the series alive.

Likewise, Big Finish helped to keep the series alive during the Wilderness Years, so it is perhaps fitting that they’ve now begun adapting various novels for their audio format. It started with the first Bernice Summerfield novel, Love and War, followed by The Highest Science, and continues with this set, based on two stories by Gareth Roberts.

I was very much looking forward to this release. Not only are the novels reasonably well-regarded by the fan community, but it was the first chance since 1981 to have Tom Baker and Lalla Ward working together as the Doctor and Romana. That alone was enough to put a happy smile on my face. And I am pleased to report that overall, their chemistry is still there. Yes, the years have gone by and their voices aren’t quite what they were thirty-plus years ago, but Baker and Ward sound good enough, and more to the point, they sound like they can stand to be in the same room again.

But enough about that. What about the stories? Oh, they’re quite good. They very much live up to their potential.


Of the two, I liked The Romance of Crime better. It’s got a nice, tight feel to it, and features some wonderful guest acting by the entire supporting cast, most notably Michael Troughton. The story itself is nicely atmospheric, and wouldn’t have felt out of place during the latter years of the Tom Baker era. The only complaint that I have, and it carries over to the other title as well, is that K-9 sounded a little off in several of the scenes. I’m not sure why.

Otherwise, this story easily ranks as my favorite of the novel adaptations thus far (a line which has, admittedly, only yielded four stories to date). I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Tom Baker years.


As for The English Way of Death, well…I liked it, don’t get me wrong. The two past-Earth settings that seem to most suit this Doctor are Victorian England (when with Leela), and 1920s England when (with either Romana). This story is set in the 1920s and features Romana, so that’s good. But toward the end, especially in the last part, the story just stopped holding my attention, and I really just sort of zoned out. I think the story got kind of bogged down, it just seemed entirely too busy, with a plot involving time travelers and some would-be dictator type. It’s a shame, because for the first two parts it did hold my attention quite easily.

That said, the acting is still all quite top-notch, if a bit over-the-top in some places. But, well, what’s Doctor Who without at least some over-the-top acting?

Overall, I’d give this set a solid B+. The Romance of Crime is a wonderful, high-thrills, well-written, very entertaining story. The English Way of Death is…not quite as good. But it is still worth listening to at least once.

Now I can look forward to the next of the novel releases, including an adaptation of the Fourth Doctor novel The Well-Mannered War, and, importantly, an adaptation of the Seventh Doctor novel The Dying Days, written by none other than Russell T. Davies. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what will!

Chris is a writer and blogger from Phoenix, Arizona. Read more from Chris on his blog, and follow him on Twitter.
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