William Egan looks back at the first story in the first series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.
The announcement that Tom Baker would be reprising his role as the Fourth Doctor in the Big Finish audio stories was understandably met with much excitement. For many years unwilling to return to his famous character, Baker reprised the role in 2009 with much fanfare as part of the Hornets nest audios, produced by the BBC’s own AudioGo. The return to Big Finish was met with even more excitement - he was the only surviving classic Doctor yet to appear in the series, their general story quality had been excellent and he would be reunited with Louise Jameson as Leela for the first time in 35 years! Oh and his first episode would take him to a classic location for his incarnation with memories of Wirrn and Cybermen being stirred…
It’s therefore sad to say that Destination Nerva is a big disappointment. While I didn’t listen to the episode on its original release, but on the recent rerun of the first series worth of 4DAs on Radio 4 extra I was still struck by what a complete…non-event this was. The Doctor in one scene references the location of Nerva as being familiar but as this episode takes place before the two televised episodes set on the space station and all other references are lost. The choice of location/title does seem to smack of being a bit of a shameless piece of marketing by Nick Briggs who does seem to love putting ‘classic monsters’/locations into story titles without actually integrating them into the plot properly.
One of the big problems with Destination Nerva is somewhat surprisingly the leading man himself. Now I am a huge fan of Tom’s portrayal of the Doctor but it’s blatantly clear in this episode that he just doesn’t care for the source material. It’s a problem that crops up in his performance during the latter stages of his television career, but for it to occur in the first of a new range is worrying. His performance is quite frankly pretty limp, and there are points in the second episode where his performance turns hammy, when it appears that Tom is playing ‘himself’. As much as I love the man, Tom does need a director’s hand to rein him in sometimes.
Compared to the uneven Baker, Louise Jameson is a breath of fresh air playing Leela as wonderfully as ever. Louise is one of the most underrated actors from Doctor Who, with her stellar work in other Big Finish productions such as Survivors showing her superb talents. Louise is one of the few bright spots in Nerva putting in an excellent performance of a Leela who is still questioning just who the Doctor is and his ‘magic box’. There should have been a little bit more Doctor and Leela ‘banter’ with a great little scene at the end, showing us exactly what was missing from the story as a whole.
The overall plot for Destination Nerva seems lacking for what should have been a ‘major event’ story. As mentioned before the ‘return’ to Nerva seems wasted while the story itself falls pretty flat. There are some good ideas in the possession and transformation parts of the plot, with some surprisingly nasty sound effects for the transforming scenes. It just all becomes buried beneath the whole cast shouting a lot in part two, while the idea of a member of the Victorian gentry attempting to control space as well with the British Empire just seems a bit silly. The supporting cast is quite frankly forgettable. Raquel Cassidy gives a decent performance as Dr Foster, but her backstory, which does have some interest, is sadly underdeveloped. Tim Treolar –the new Third Doctor- is Jack Corrigan, but the character seems very one-dimensional. As for the rest of the guest cast, I genuinely forgot all about them as soon as the audio finished.
The main question is if Destination Nerva is worth buying. As you may tell from the review, the audio is not up to the usual high standards of Big Finish’s output and a bit of a damp squib to the start of Tom Baker’s audio series. There are a few bright spots - Louise Jameson especially - but in the end it’s only worth buying on offer in all honesty.
Studies archaeology by day, frees the universe of evil, injustice and
cold tea by night. William walks in an eternity of cult BBC science fiction
series and Big Finish. Follow him on twitter.