And so the first “season” of Fourth Doctor adventures from Big Finish comes to a close with this “two part” adventure. In reality, each of these “parts” is made up of two episodes, and so this story is the only one from this run of stories which is actually the same length as most of the Fourth Doctor’s actual TV adventures.
Anyway, there’s a reason why Tom Baker is most people’s favorite Doctor from the classic series, and it’s because the guy is amazingly good in the role. He can be both light-hearted and deadly earnest in the same breath. He’s got the right amount of bluster to confront the sorts of ludicrous, grandiose situations that you get in Doctor Who, but the right amount of humility to keep the character from being annoying. This story was recorded over 30 years after he left the role on television, but in spite of his age the performance is rock solid.
He’s accompanied here by Louise Jameson as Leela, one of my favorite companions, and one of the best that have been featuring in these audio dramas. Again, the intervening years have not slowed her down, and it’s easy to imagine this is the same Leela that we saw on TV back in the late 1970’s.
In these two related stories, the main antagonist is the Master, as played by Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers was the Master only once on TV (in Keeper of Traken, starring Baker) but almost by default he’s been the go-to guy for this character for Big Finish. His voicework is also very strong, and it’d almost be easy to forget that this incarnation of the character is meant to be a dessiccated husk, rather than the goatee-stroking, suave lover-of-chaos that the character was usually shown to be.
These three performers are stuck into the middle of an adventure which is mostly pretty good, with clever dialogue, serviceable supporting characters, and a plot that almost holds up. So…kind of par for the course. The weak points are mainly problems endemic to the Master in general, namely overly complex and fiendishly eeeeevil schemes.
I’m about to share a bunch of spoilers so if you don’t want to hear them, then just know that the adventure (both parts) was good fun and a delight to listen, in spite of its flaws. Both scripts, by Alan Barnes, give both Baker and Jameson good material to work with, and the cast is good overall. The guest stars include Rachael Stirling (Diana Rigg’s daughter, who appeared with her mother in The Crimson Horror), Dan Starkey (Strax, and lots of other Sontarans over the last number of years) and Michael Cochrane (who appeared in classic episodes Black Orchid and Ghost-Light).
Anyway, in this case, the Master’s plan is to go to a spot in rural Englahd where an ancient wyrm (ie. dragon) has been living and surviving by only occasionally eating local tourists. He plans to manipulate it into opening a “wyrmhole” (?!) to another planet so that 1) the Kraals from The Android Invasion can invade again. The invasion is really one half of a diversion, so that UNIT’s headquarters will be mostly empty so the Master can steal a “Z-battery” that the Doctor left behind. It turns out that the “Z” radiation within the battery is harmless unless it’s mixed with “O” radiation on the Kraal’s home planet, when it will create the cleverly-named “ZO” radiation, and release a force of destruction that will travel through the open “wyrmhole” and allow the Master to regenerate without being destroyed.
Because all of that is a bit too straightforward for the Master, he creates an android duplicate of himself (using the Kraal’s technology) who thinks he’s the real deal and who takes the place of the chief Kraal scientist, and who creates another android duplicate of himself who also thinks he’s the real deal, who hides out on earth, where the real Master already is. Eventually, the Doctor creates his own duplicate of the Master, who manages to survive a trap set by the real Master and eventually turns on his progenitor and drags him away to get his comeuppance, in a plot twist that I can only hope gets followed on in the some future story….