The Fourth Doctor is flying solo in his first release of 2022, set between The Deadly Assassin and The Face of Evil. In these two new audio adventures, he’ll encounter his oldest enemy, and a new friend in Margaret Hopwood. But is Solo worth picking up? Read on for our thoughts!
1. “Blood of the Time Lords” by Timothy X Atack
Looking into the mysterious book known as the Dischord Grimoire, the Doctor pays a visit to the Recusary: a moon of Gallifrey where elderly Time Lords come to spend their final years. There, he learns that there has been a recent spate of murders… and, shockingly, confesses to each and every one of them! What has happened to the Doctor? Who is really behind these strange goings-on? And just what is a Parenthesis Clock?
Blood of the Time Lords, written by Timothy X Atack is a gripping story from start to finish, with a plethora of twists and turns, as well as some glorious worldbuilding for the Time Lords and their society. A major strength is Atack’s decision to introduce new elements and characters in each of the four episodes, which makes sure that the story never gets stale, or drags. Set in an endless, candlelit library, the script has a gloriously Gothic atmosphere, fitting perfectly into the era in which it’s set, and is packed with so much evocative imagery it’s such a shame this story wasn’t filmed.
Nevertheless, sound designer Jamie Robertson does a fantastic job at bringing the world of script to life, and gives us a detailed explanation in the Behind the Scenes extras of how he manages to do so. Highlights include the fluttering wings of the villainous Mandelbrot and the fire sequence in episode one.
The guest cast for this story are all on top form, bringing Atack’s gorgeously literary dialogue to life with flair. Adrian Lukis and Emma Noakes impress as Ansillon and Elanora, who serve as the Doctor’s main allies for this adventure, but the standout performance is from Annette Badland as Sedanya, who is a top-notch villain.
My only gripe with this story is that there’s a little too much going on throughout. For example, there are about five different villains, all with different motivations, which means there’s a slight lack of focus to the narrative. It’s never difficult to follow, mind you, which is admirable given there are so many moving parts, but I think pruning things back a little would only have worked in Atack’s favour.
Overall, Blood of the Time Lords is an excellent story, full of fantastic worldbuilding, vivid imagery and well-drawn characters. If only there had been fewer elements at play, this episode would have absolutely received five stars.
2. “The Ravencliff Witch” by David Llewellyn
In this boxset’s second story, The Ravencliff Witch, the Doctor arrives in the coastal town of Ravencliff, and heard word of a terrifying spectral figure who has been glimpsed over the years ahead of terrible catastrophes. Joining with sculptor Margaret Hopwood, and some of the other locals, the Doctor sets his sights on Ravencliff Power Station, which he believes may be connected to the sightings. Who or what is the Ravencliff Witch? Why are there strange lights coming from underwater? And what part will Margaret play in the Doctor’s life going forward?
The Ravencliff Witch is a far more traditional tale than Blood of the Time Lords, taking us back to Earth, and giving us a story with more relatable characters and issues. David Llewellyn‘s script feels very much like a Pertwee-era episode, rooted in reality with a more minimal science fiction element, and dealing with pertinent topics relevant to the modern day. While this means it’s less complicated to listen to than its predecessor, it also means that it doesn’t have quite as many ‘out there’ ideas; where, in Blood of the Time Lords, we had new elements being introduced in every episode, with this story it’s much easier to predict where things are going from the start.
Despite this more pedestrian plot, there’s no denying that Llewellyn writes some excellent guest characters, with Deli Segal‘s plucky Amanda Keynes and Lucky Pickles‘ authoritative Celia Banks being particularly impressively written and performed. Oddly, however, I thought Nerys Hughes‘s Margaret Hopwood, who will join the Fourth Doctor as a full-time companion in next year’s Fourth Doctor Adventures boxsets, was the least interesting part of the story. While she’s undeniably well-performed by the inimitable Hughes, I didn’t think her character had much chemistry with the Doctor, nor did she contribute as much to the plot as, say, Amanda or Celia. I’m sure the character will grow on me as she makes more appearances in the future, but for now I’m feeling decidedly neutral about her.
Overall, The Ravencliff Witch isn’t quite as strong as Blood of the Time Lords, relying on more traditional story beats, but it’s still a great way to pass a couple of hours, and it’s fun to hear Tom Baker in the kind of story in which we might usually find his predecessor. Strong stuff.
Solo is one of the strongest Fourth Doctor Adventures releases in recent years, putting Tom Baker into two very different kinds of story, which, alongside his lack of companion, makes this boxset feel very fresh and new. While the first story is definitely stronger than the second, both are well written and performed which, alongside Jamie Robertson‘s stellar sound design and music, and Nicholas Briggs‘ excellent direction, makes Solo highly recommended.
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: Solo is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Blood of the Time Lords and The Ravencliff Witch are also available individually as downloads