William Egan continues his journey through the first series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish.
my review of Destination Nerva made clear, it was sadly far from the standard expected for the opening of the Fourth Doctor’s Big Finish adventures. A quite frankly dull story, an indifferent performance from the leading man and a strange obsession with pointless ‘classic Who’ settings badly let down Tom’s first foray into Big Finish. Thankfully, the second story in the run is up to the usual standard of Big Finish’s consistently excellent output.
One of the main reasons for the success of The Renaissance Man, is that it’s clear that Tom was engaging with the material here. A lot of this is down to Justin Richards, who clearly knows how to write for the Fourth Doctor, giving him a large number of genuinely funny lines. The dialogue feels like it’s come from some of the better efforts of the Graham Williams era (one line seems straight out of City of Death), and it's a joy listening to Tom having great fun with this script. Unlike Destination Nerva, you suddenly remember why there was so much hype over him joining the Big Finish ‘family.’ Richards has a good sense of humor, with the early scenes of the Doctor trying to converse with Scruffy the Dog (“he might be the dominant life form here!”) being a particular joy.
Also a great improvement over the previous entry is that The Renaissance Man uses a lot more ‘Doctor/ Leela’ banter, which was surprisingly sparse in Destination Nerva. Setting this story between season 15 and 16 gives us a Leela who has only just started her ‘education’ with the Doctor - the plot even hinges on the Doctor visiting the Morovanian Museum to continue her ‘civilizing’. It’s good fun that despite the Doctor’s efforts Leela gets her highest levels of excitement when visiting the armory and meeting a fellow hunter! The relationship between the Doctor and Leela looks like set to be the strongest area of these Big Finish adventures, thanks in part to another excellent performance from Louise Jameson. The Renaissance Man showcases the duo’s roles as an almost ‘comedy double’, something which came sparsely on television but clearly works well.
The plot itself is a delight, perhaps not the greatest of Big Finish’s output but still a highly enjoyable adventure. The audio landscape is simply lovely, successfully creating the charming ‘chocolate English village’ which is far more than that under the surface (a nice throwback to earlier Fourth Doctor adventures). It’s filled with a wonderful bunch of eccentric guest characters, with the actors managing to get the balance right so none go too ‘over the top’. The pick of the bunch is probably Ian McNeice as Harcourt, mainly thanks to his wonderful audio voice and ability to play his characters numerous variations well. He’s a long way from his Winston Churchill of modern Doctor Who, showing his range as an actor.
If I had to criticize one thing about this audio is that at an hour it feels slightly too short, with some of the guest characters not getting masses to do. However, what they do get to do is interesting, with most being an integral part of the plot. It’s difficult to go into further detail without spoiling too much, but what I will say is that at the crux of the plot is an intelligent and original idea, and there's a nice little moral message in there too. It’s also testament to Richards that despite the vast majority of the script being ‘comedic’ there are still some shocking moments, such as the Doctor pulling a mask from one of the characters revealing nothing underneath. The shock of the moment is almost enhanced by the juxtaposition.
As always, the real question it is worth buying? The simple answer is - yes! Vastly superior to the predecessor, this is a clever but fun story with some wonderful dialogue, and a brilliant performance from Tom itself. This is definitely worth adding to your Big Finish collection, if only for the cracking cover and The Doctor talking to a dog.
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.