Tony feels like a frolic in a folly.
The idea of ‘the ordinary’ coming to life and being under a malign influence is a classic sci-fi and horror trope. In Who, it’s probably been best realised by everybody’s favourite Shop Dummied From Hell, the Autons, but it’s also been used effectively in New Who to turn the world we understand against us – Satanic satnavs in The Sontaran Stratagem, Something In The Wi-Fi in The Bells of St John, Walking Graffiti in Flatline. The idea remains incredibly potent: things, just things we know, understand and even disregard, being turned against us, are, as Jon Pertwee famously said, far more scary than Extermination-Monsters From Outer Space. Even the Dark Lord of Keeping The Light On himself, Stephen King, has used ‘ordinary objects with a malicious intent’ as the theme of some of his more notable stories – Christine, Maximum Overdrive etc.
Ferril’s Folly uses the principle of ‘the ordinary’ being bent to a malign will as its fundamental threat line, and then is very careful to make the rest of the story very much in keeping with the Key To Time season. By that, we mean that the wild wonders of time and space are conjured here in a small, BBC budget-appropriate Norfolk village, with a manor house, a folly (in this case an unlikely observatory), an incoming, unloved American lady of the manor (Madeleine Potter as Lady Millicent Ferril), darkly muttering yokels in the village pub, and experiments that are significantly out of place and time, meaning Bad Business Is Afoot, probably involving a disguised segment of the Key To Time.
The idea of an ‘additional’ Key To Time story is audacious in itself, and means you know at least some of what needs to happen before the end of the story, but Peter Anghelides writes Ferril’s Folly as though it’s bang on the money and of the moment, rather than coming decades later and with that hindsight – the only sensible option as it’s narrated as if the adventure’s just happened by the First Romana, the ever-glorious Mary Tamm.
Tamm, bless her, does not really have a serviceable Tom Baker impersonation in her repertoire, so the characterisation she gets into his lines is mostly notional, but that hardly matters here – the scope and scale, the slightly dismal parochial Seventies vibe that Anghelides bakes right into the story is more than enough to carry you through, and Tamm as the First Romana of course is note-perfect, able here to add some additional riffs of internal monologue that give insights into her character and her relationship with the Doctor, that would probably never have made it to the screen.
Madeleine Potter, for her money, is a great investment. As ‘Metal Millie’ Ferril (the nickname the yokels give her coming as the result of a pair of metal hands, and yes, her surname probably being a comic riff on the same idea), she brings a combination of American lilt and distinct steel as she goes about executing a plot that has more than a thread or two in common with The City of Death, but which, to be fair, is more straightforward and logical than anything old One-Eye Seaweed-Face Scaroth of the Jagaroth would later come up with. But world-leading scientist kept in confinement, working on an experiment that’s more or less beyond his ken? Check. Potter’s great value for money too, as Ferril’s Folly takes the unusual step of dividing the storytelling duties between the hero (Romana) and the villain (Ferril), so you get advancement from both sides of the moral divide – and what’s more, Potter’s Tom Baker is rather better, so the Doctor doesn’t feel entirely sidelined from the story.
Ferril, a former astronaut who married the local lord - who then popped his convenient clogs. Oh how the village tongues did wag… - has a date with destiny and a very disturbing superpower, which, in all fairness, would have looked thoroughly naff (and more or less entirely in place) were it ever filmed in the Key To Time season. Perversely, you could film Ferril’s particular skill in New Who, and somebody yet might find a way of using it, but the whole feel of the story is rooted very much in Season 16.
The pace of the story is kept brisk by the switching back and forth of the narration, which also allows for a surprisingly rounded take on the situation, and between them, Anghelides, Tamm, Potter and Lisa Bowerman on direction, deliver a story that leaves a bigger footprint than you’d imagine possible for a two-part audio story. It feels absolutely like a ‘missing’ Key To Time story, while fitting in well with the Big Finish Companion Chronicle ethos of showing us more about the companions and how they each particularly shine in stories with and without the Doctor at their side. Potter gives us a new take on a hallmark of the Key To Time sequence – the strong adversarial female – and more than earns her right to stand alongside the likes of Vivien Fay and Queen Xanxia.
Ferril’s Folly may perhaps not be anything brand spanking new. But if not, it’s a recombination of elements we know and understand to create something absolutely fitting to the period, while expanding what we know about one of the generally least explored companions. It gives us more Romana from Mary Tamm, and allows Madeleine Potter to add a new and intriguingly human villain to the Key To Time season, and in Anghelides’ solution, it allows the story to fit into that seemingly tightly-configured season without any problem whatsoever. That makes it well worth a listen any day of the week.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk