Review: The Fourth Doctor Adventures – The Nine

Review by Jacob Licklider

The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Nine has a weird title. Originally announced years back as simply The Fourth Doctor Adventures: Series 11: Volume 2 following the naming scheme of Series 7-10, but with the transition of the greater Big Finish output going to box set releases with their own individual subtitles is given the title The Nine because the character of the Nine appears in the first story, The Dreams of Avarice, alone. The other two stories, Shellshock and Peake Season, are completely unrelated adventures for the Fourth Doctor, Peake Season not even meant to be released in this series as it was added later and recorded in 2020 and not in 2017-2018. A more fitting subtitle would have been Solo Volume 2 since this is a set which contains three stories where the Fourth Doctor is travelling alone after The Deadly Assassin and a friend of mine suggested on Twitter that this series was similar to the run of Virgin New Adventures which in the span of four books would pitch a potential companion, with Bernice Summerfield being the companion chosen. For this series it would be Margaret in the winning role but The Dreams of Avarice, Shellshock, and Peake Season have characters who feel as if they are meant to be companion candidates which would have enhanced the set had this been called Solo Volume 2.

Guy Adams’ The Dreams of Avarice opens the set and gives the set its name. As the title implies, it’s a story all about greed and the Nine attempting to steal several items from the planet Luxuriana, continually attempting to one-up himself at the heists he wishes to pull off. This is simply because he likes doing it and he seems to have a psychological drive to do so. It’s interesting to see him in this setting under Adams’ writing, due to his previous appearances in Doom Coalition and The Legacy of Time, neither of which really focused enough on him as a character, just as an earlier version of the Eleven, though Doom Coalition got close by having him imitate the Doctor. This story, on the other hand, really allows John Heffernan to shine through the insanity of the character as the script pulls off a heist style narrative really well with each episode focusing on a different aspect or location involved in the heist. Heffernan especially excels in the final episode of the story where the action is moved inside the Nine’s body a la The Invisible Enemy, and the tone takes on more of a Graham Williams-esque style which really works. The story also ends really well with a lighter note. Structurally it makes the story feel fresh with each episode basically telling a new story all wrapped up in one single story. Tom Baker also had a lot of very nice things to say about working with John Heffernan as the Nine in interviews from the time since this story was recorded and while the characters don’t have much interaction, when they do there is this genuine spark between them that makes it feel like the Nine could face the Fourth Doctor again.

And Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor is on top form here, especially in the first episode where the inciting incident is the Doctor being arrested and interrogated by Detective Inspector Alan Probert played by Richard Dixon. These scenes are also a highlight with the Doctor almost immediately slipping the handcuffs but still staying in the interrogation room and glibly commenting to the inspectors his innocence and running circles around them. It’s something that really only the Fourth Doctor can do and one of those scenes you don’t actually get all that often in Big Finish because it only came up a few times in Seasons 13 and 14, The Android Invasion, The Brain of Morbius, and The Seeds of Doom are what comes to mind for me. Baker and Dixon also have this chemistry with Dixon’s character drawing on quite a few sources of stock detectives that fit very nicely in the Doctor Who universe. It’s kind of a shame he wasn’t introduced as a potential companion as there aren’t very many male TARDIS teams and it could have been something new to explore with a detective companion as it’s a delightThere are also some new music cues from Jamie Robertson in this story specifically that work as nice twists on his other music for the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Honestly The Dreams of Avarice works on having dreams in its title as this is a story all about a madman attempting to achieve his insane dreams and how that falls down around them and it is wonderful. 8/10.

Shellshock is the other four part serial included in this set from the writing team of Simon Barnard and Paul Morris and it takes a very different approach and tone than the other two stories in this set. Instead of doing an outright science fiction story, Barnard and Morris go for a more introspective pseudo-historical set during World War I. It takes about two episodes before the science fiction aspects become apparent and get an explanation as the first half of Shellshock is more historical than anything else with a deconstruction of post traumatic stress disorder as it presents itself on the World War I battlefield. In fact, it takes a while for the Doctor to even appear in the story, though it is revealed he’s been there the entire time, just in another hospital bed as he was found in No Man’s Land. There’s also some psychological deconstruction before the action moves to the battlefield where mysterious new tanks have appeared on both fronts, the Doctor realising that there is something alien going on as the tank shouldn’t have been implemented in war yet and the tanks themselves are of course more advanced than World War I era tanks.

Barnard and Morris also take an interesting approach into examining World War I, with the Christopher Naylor in the supporting cast playing both German and English counterparts with the idea that this was a war where both sides were not so different. This serves to give Shellshock an anti-war message and a call for peace, one that feels a bit rocky as all simplistic anti-war stories of this nature do (not examining what causes wars in the first place), but it at least works as this is a World War I story and not say a World War II set story. Naylor’s performance should receive the most praise and attention since he is the only cast member playing several characters, supporting characters sure, but he is very distinct in pitching his voice with the accent he is using.

Alicia Ambrose-Bayly plays Hanna Schumann, a German nurse serving in the hospital who looks over the Doctor and plays the role of a companion. Barnard and Morris make great efforts to distinguish her from another companion who was a World War I nurse, and Ambrose-Bayly gives a great performance as a character with a German upbringing, not feeling like a British character with a German accent. There are cultural differences and some paranoia as there is a real chance the Doctor is a British spy. This is also turned on its head when the English army accuse the Doctor and Hanna of being German spies. Nicholas Asbury is also here playing Doctor Sturm, the German doctor looking over the other patients on the ward and the one responsible for treating the shellshock. The behind the scenes interviews included mention Quatermass and the Pit as an inspiration for the story and while I am not the most familiar with the Quatermass serials and films, I can see the influence of Nigel Kneale in the type of science fiction story that Shellshock is. It would be the highlight of the set, if it wasn’t for the bonus serial that was included. 9/10.

Peake Season is a story with a brilliant pun and the bonus story included here from Lizbeth Myles. Mervyn Peake is a British writer with whom I am unfamiliar outside of three comedy skits by Eleanor Morton where he is used as a punchline and the fact that he was an inspiration for Marc Platt when writing Cat’s Cradle: Time’s Cruicible and Lungbarrow. This is something that Myles actually lampshades in story, with the Doctor parking the TARDIS in the academic’s office and immediately praising the man for his creative genius and advancements in fantasy and literature, before revealing that this is not J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, the Doctor isn’t as poorly read as I am and has actually read Peake’s work, but the joke is great. As such, I cannot really judge how well Myles represents Peake’s novels here, but Peake Season is a story that has a setting similar to the way the Gormenghast trilogy describes its setting and Myles puts a focus on Peake more as an illustrator and his creativity than this as a Doctor Who story where a famous figure’s work is inspired by an adventure with the Doctor (think The Silver Turk and Timelash). It’s more The Unquiet Dead where the adventure conforms to an author’s imagination through sheer coincidence. Peake as played by David Holt is actually the straight man in a fantastical story as the Doctor takes him on a trip in the TARDIS to a fantastical land that is in the middle of a succession crisis. Every other character is over the top with Jules de Jongh’s Lady Honor Valspierre is the highlight of these characters while Ava Merson-O’Brien’s Queen Alexandria is close behind but doesn’t quite get there as she isn’t the villain. Despite being only an hour long, Myles’ story is honestly perfect for its length as it stuffs the runtime with brilliant imagery, some cracking dialogue, and a very nice palate cleanser after two very big stories. 10/10.

The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Nine may not be tied together by a story arc or even really a single theme outside of having the Doctor travelling alone, it does shine as a contender for some of Big Finish’s best releases of 2022 and comes recommended. 9/10.

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Review: The Fourth Doctor Adventures – Solo

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