William Egan continues his look back through the audio adventures of the Fourth Doctor.
In his previous audio installment, the Fourth Doctor took on the Daleks, and now he’s back fighting another of his greatest foes straight away, with the Master making an appearance. In this instance, the renegade Time Lord is played by Geoffrey Beevers, who previously made a short but memorable appearance as him in The Keeper of Traken.
Unlike some previous installments in the Fourth Doctor’s first audio stories this one feels like it’s straight out of Tom Baker’s television period. It leans more towards a Hinchcliffe era story with its Gothic house and ‘monster’ legends from the locals, although the story’s frequent use of humour is more typical of the Graham Williams period. It’s nice to see a story that uses aspects common across all of the Fourth Doctor’s era, however I’m afraid this didn’t make up for what is slightly lackluster storytelling in this audio.
Before I get onto the negatives, it’s fair to say there are a number of positives to Alan Barnes’ tale. It’s clear that Barnes knows how to write for The Fourth Doctor, and Tom is clearly having great fun reading out some frankly hilarious lines. (I’ve always wondered what it feels like to be eaten”.) It’s a long way from the poorly written Doctor who began the series. Guest start Rachael Stirling (who appeared on TV in The Crimson Horror) gives a nice performance as the upper class Demense Furze, with her and Tom playing off each other particularly well.
As mentioned above, one of the story’s main selling points was the return of the Mater but this is an area that just doesn’t come off. It’s no fault at all of Geoffrey Beevers who’s wonderful vocal tracts give a chilling performance as the Doctor’ nemesis. Unfortunately, the simple fact of the matter is that he’s disappointingly underused in this episode. He gets a couple of good moments towards the end of the episode but other than that is conspicuously absent with his reveal being a particularly underwhelming moment.
The other main adversary in this tale is Michael Cochrane as upper-class buffoon Colonel Spindleton. Cochrane is clearly adept at playing this sort of character, which makes him fun to listen to even if the character is very one-dimensional. Although I don’t mind Doctor Who being a bit silly, the overlong scenes of Leela being chased by a robot tank seemed rather stupid. In fact, the whole story isn’t a particularly good one for Leela who seems to do rather little, a bit like the plot in the first episode of this. The other supporting characters in the story are caught up in a rather pointless subplot over a girl named Julie leaving the boring Peak District to become a ‘punk’ in the big city. A nice little reference to the era the story is set in but one, which doesn’t particularly give anything for the story or actors to do.
It’s only during the last 10 minutes or so the story finally picks up to something worthy of being a series finale. Even then it’s patchy-the supposedly surprising identity of the worm is rather obvious and there’s an awful bit of exposition from the Doctor at one point. The cliffhanger itself is rather oddly places-it’ builds up to the reveal of the Master’s ‘helpers’ but cuts before there reveal despite them being plastered all over the next audios cover There are some good ideas in the story though-I particularly enjoyed the idea of a worm being used to create wormholes and some great visual images are conjured up in the electrical storm scenes.
It’s clear that Trail of the White Worm is a highly flawed audio. The dialogue and performances help elevate to it being a decent listen, with the rather lame storytelling being it’s major drawback. Despite criticisms of some previous Fourth Doctor Adventures being a bit short at an hour, this one feels too long with the entire first half spent going round in circles. It gets going a bit in the second half and sets up the next story pretty well but it feels like a long time to get there.
Is it worth buying? In all honesty, only if on offer. There are better stories in the Fourth Doctor Adventures that should be purchased before this one. The main selling point to Trail of the White Worm was the return of Geoffrey Beevers’ Master, but sadly even he fails to set this story alight.
The Renaissance Man
The Wrath of Iceni
Energy of the Daleks
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.