Review by Michael Goleniewski
The World Traders by Guy Adams
‘World Traders’ sees the Fourth Doctor and Leela having a quiet afternoon out in 21st century London before returning to their landing spot only to find the TARDIS impounded and stolen by a nearby company who are aware of the strange power readings coming off of it. They soon get stuck in the unique machinations of Amapan Investments, a private business that’s become powerful enough to be given more or less free rein and immunity by the British government to make up their own rules and laws. Extremely well connected and managed by an exceptionally mysterious Director, the TARDIS team along with a curious investigative reporter soon discover the extraterrestrial truth; an alien race with whom the Doctor and Leela are very familiar with has come to Earth with large-scales plans of their own and now they’ve acquired the TARDIS which is only going to make things more difficult…..
In many ways, this opening story is a typical Guy Adams script, bringing back a lesser-known Classic Who villain and getting complicated amazingly fast with multiple parties all established with their own agenda. There is also a darker edge hiding in the plot that makes what is going on feel a bit more important and offensive than it has any right to with the villainous company brainwashing people, forcing them into hard labour, and opening portals into other time periods for their own ends. But the direction by Nicholas Briggs and Jamie Robertson is appropriately quirky and modern despite the inherent dryer nature of the premise to where it’s a lot of fun to follow helped along by some fantastic bits of laugh-out-loud humour. Once again, the TARDIS team is separated and thrown into different story threads through time all of which connect back to Amapan itself and it allows for a ton of variety in the scenarios and settings that each character is thrown into. It is hard to say that the soundscapes are quite well-defined enough to be exemplary and the connecting plot starts off good but ends up dragging its feet through the middle half as it takes forever to see the results of what the company and the Usurians are actually planning. However, once things really get going in the final part, the premise succeeds in messing with the timelines and putting the entire Earth at stake in an absurd manner of which would put Douglas Adams and some of his more creative schemes to shame.
It helps that each member of the cast is clearly having a ball with the script and what they are given. Tom Baker is simply magical once again as the Fourth Doctor. Listening to him placed into a more administrative setting with just enough of an alien edge is a wonderful way to put his talents to good use and he is a fitting match against the more structured evil of the wealthier forces at hand. As for Leela, Louise Jameson’s unfamiliarity with some of the abstract business concepts serves as both a nice narrative device in explaining them to listeners who may be unfamiliar with them and the basis for some of the better moments of humour as she pulls no punches when it comes to the importance of money to her. Plus she gets to cultivate a lovely new friendship with a side character’s cat and she gets to ride a dinosaur which is definitely noteworthy and something that should’ve happened eons ago. The dialogue also does a great job in capturing both the strength and underlying humour of their friendship in the moments that they are together, and they’re pitted against a scintillating force to be reckoned with as Siân Phillips returns following her last Big Finish appearance (playing a Time Lord with Lisa Bowerman and David Warner) to play the scheming Director. Surprisingly, it’s Philips that ends up defining much of the climax as it’s her knowledge and sense of double-dealing that helps keep the planet in place while building her own portfolio in the process though it’s of course the TARDIS who come up with the massively clever final moments that put everything before it to shame and screw over Amapan and sends them into bankruptcy for good.
‘World Traders’ begins a new series of Fourth Doctor Adventures for 2021 on a clever and incredibly modern-feeling story that very successfully uses the Fourth Doctor’s more alien nature in a tediously bureaucratic sci-fi setting. The soundscape and direction are a bit on the bland side especially when the characters start jumping through all of time and it does use many usual Doctor Who tropes to relatively boring effect. But the Hitchhiker’s vibe to the whole premise is lovingly crafted with a lot to offer and recommend during its runtime and Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, and Siân Phillips are all strong performance-wise; handling Guy Adams’ script with the appropriate level of panache and energy. It is certainly a quite different start to the season than one would expect, and it owes a lot to its spiritual TV predecessor ‘Sun Makers’. But it is hard to be too harsh with it when its smaller moments and bigger ideas are this enjoyable and it is a good start to the Fourth Doctor’s year in audio form that will definitely find its place in the hearts of many a fan.
– 8 / 10
The Day Of The Comet by Jonathan Morris
The TARDIS lands in the foul-smelling ruins of a burnt-out world with an ominous fiery star hanging in the sky that the Fourth Doctor and Leela soon realise is actually an oncoming comet. Following a trail to a massive rocket silo where the world’s inhabitants are struggling to pay their way on board and save themselves and their families from destruction, the duo is immediately separated in the chaos of an acidic rainstorm and embark on their own journeys of discovery surrounding the dark truth of what’s actually going on surrounding this world’s last chance at life…..‘Day of the Comet’ as an adventure takes more than a little inspiration from New Who’s “Utopia” although the circumstances are less grand-standing in that it involves a sole world’s population and not the literal last vestiges of humanity. Jonathan Morris’s script follows many of the same plot points of said story such as how secrets are being kept from the populace, details well-established turning out to be less hopeful than what characters have been led to believe, and a general sense of doom and gloom pervading the atmosphere. There are some immensely dark twists hiding behind the scenes with a deep Time Lord conspiracy surrounding the people of the planet putting the Doctor in a particularly troublesome spot that prevents him from doing anything to help despite his good intentions. However, it’s not quite as dismally drawn as all of that would lead you to believe. Despite the bleak soundscape directed by Nicholas Briggs and backed by the gorgeous cover art, it never quite delves into the despair of something like “The Last” delivered, and the lighter moments of both humour and hope present in both the score and the character interactions do quite a bit to even things out. It helps the story feel like a well-balanced adventure rather than the dour and depressing survival story it could’ve easily turned into despite minor problems in the writing that splits the narrative into two noticeable halves like a normal double-billed FDA ‘Paradox Planet’ / ‘Legacy of Death‘ rather than the extended single story that it’s been released as.
The cast for this audio is also compelling overall. Tom Baker gives a strong and very nuanced performance compared to some of his usual over-the-top weirdness ranging in emotions from manic irreverence to resigned and furious conflict. His Doctor gets some very powerful dialogue that almost places him as the villain of the piece in some harsher moments against something that he sees as far out of his control. But once a big development proves his suspicions and fears to be correct, he quickly turns into the hero once again and everything around him in the narrative quickly follows suit. Louise Jameson is great as Leela serving in her usual role of Deus ex violence and a strong force for what she sees as morally right though she’s probably the least interesting part of the story this time around in that she doesn’t get a ton to do that’s not out of her usual scope and range. Jon Culshaw gets to play double duty as both a guard to the matron and a family man with a daughter struggling to survive, Joanna Hole’s matron Tynax serves as one of the story’s spoiler-free antagonists albeit with very understandable motivations, and Janet Henfrey’s Verkuvia is an intriguing character serving as an example of power fallen from grace in more ways than one but who has discovered far more than what the remaining government is telling them. As the pages of history stand, change, and work against each character during the plot, it all leads where you would expect with not too many surprises that aren’t easy to see coming after the big twist at the end of part 2. The climax, however, does not hold back on much of what the result ends up meaning and it leaves you with a sense of mystery and forlorn hope asking if all of it was worth it or if it was all for nothing.
‘Day of the Comet’ is an extremely well-told survival story that dwells just enough on both light and dark to be thought-provoking but also a hell of a lot of fun. The soundscape and direction are top-notch in bringing a desolate landscape to life, the writing by Jonathan Barnes is engaging even if some aspects of the plot feel a tad too conveniently written to feel truly justified in occurring, and each of the cast from Baker and Jameson’s TARDIS team to Hole and Henfrey’s planet inhabitants do a lot to sell you on the dire nature of the premise while still feeling like well-drawn and interesting characters. Far deeper than it has any right to be and with the usual exceptional standards of Big Finish backing it up, it’s another very strong FDA to add to the Fourth Doctor’s audio highlights for the company and an extremely worthy recommendation for your Tom Baker / Louise Jameson fix.
– 9 / 10