I don’t seem to have any way around this – after three efforts (see also here and here), I’m not really enjoying these Colin Baker / Nicola Bryant headlined Lost Stories of Doctor Who. Again, for the uninitiated, the lost stories are considered “lost” simply because they were never produced. They aren’t, of course, the series’ true lost episodes, which are the ones that the BBC erased from their archives and have never been recovered. These are stories which for one reason or another were abandoned when they were still at the script stage. In the case of The Hollows of Time (and the others I’ve commented on), it’s because of the original plans for Season 23 of the classic series being scrapped when the series was put onto hiatus, with all in-development stories being put aside in favor of the odd experiment that was The Trial of a Time-Lord.
If it had been made, maybe The Hollows of Time would have been a good television story. The sets and locale (an English village fair and a lot of church basements) sound good and the supporting characters are limited but clearly defined. But probably it would have depended on how well they had pulled off the visual effects, particularly the temporal corridor they start running through a lot toward the end as well as the bit where the Doctor is floating through space hanging out the door of a car.
But as an audio, it doesn’t hold up very well, at least not for me. A lot of what’s going on does seem highly visual so the script has got to find ways to describe that. As a result we get a somewhat clunky framing sequence of the Doctor and Peri reflecting on what’s been going on, as they seem to be suffering from generally unexplained confusion in their memories. And the bits that don’t have that suffer from clunky exposition (eg “Look, we’re back in the cellar,” / “Yeah, but we’re inside the circle this time,” / etc.) The Tractators are potentially interesting returning monsters but don’t have a strong audio presence either.
(As an aside, so far, the “Lost Stories” audios that I have listened to have featured a lot of returning villains / monsters. I skipped over Leviathan for the moment, but in three stories, we’ve had Sil, the Ice Warriors, the Celestial Toymaker, the Tractators, and, essentially, the Master [see below]).
Susan Sheridan (who was the original Trillian in the radio version of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) has a huge role as a child named Simon, and in the bonus features they talk about how well she, a grown woman, plays a small child. And it’s true, she does do a good job—but the character has such a large role and is constantly and obliviously wandering into danger, that it’s hard not to be irritated by his presence.
And the villain of the story is obviously set up to be the Master, complete with a 1980’s anagram-name (Professor Stream), but for whatever reason the rights to the Master were not available. So the identity of this mysterious time traveler with links to the Doctor’s past who has some form of mind control powers who knows how to fly the Tardis and who is obviously disguised as a frail old man and who has developed an extremely convoluted plan to both destroy the Doctor and take over the universe is left vague and unconfirmed. This might have been interesting if the show had taken the opportunity to really introduce a new character, but as it is it just feels like we’re left with only half an idea.
(Although to be fair, there’s no reason to think that the Master dramatically revealing himself and shrugging off questions about his surviving his last-scene near-death predicament with an off-the-cuff, “Eh, whatever, I survived,” would have been any better).
The story was written, both originally and in this new version, by Christopher H. Bidmead, who was one of my favorite writers from the 1980’s era of the show (Keeper of Traken, Logopolis, Frontios, and script editor for the overall high quality Season 18), and makes use of both “his” Master as well as his creation, the Tractators. But this story is not translated to audio very effectively and continues to highlight why this particular era of the program is not really anyone’s favorite.