St Matilda’s College, Oxford, 1977 – strange ghostly nuns have been sighted stalking the corridors of the former convent, and young girls have been going missing in the dead of night. The Fourth Doctor and Leela are assisted on their quest to lift the veil on an ancient mystery by the Dean of the college, Dame Emily, who just so happens to be the mother of former Third Doctor companion Elizabeth Shaw…
The Doctor: “I’m sorry if I’ve caused offence. It’s a by-product of an enquiring mind.”
This is a seraphic script from Jonathan Morris – a spooky self-contained saga that’s seemingly sent straight from ’77. While the current run of 60 minute adventures can, at times, seem a less gratifying home for The Fourth Doctor than his natural habitat of the four-parter, The Cloisters of Terror makes excellent use of this briefer format and delivers a solid and satisfying ghost story that doesn’t feel rushed or reduced.
The sanctified scenery of a former convent – all chapels and crypts and unquiet cloisters – is a perfect fit for this era of Doctor Who, and provides a canvas on which Morris can paint his picture with gothic glee. (Probably in blood.) It’s a tale that touches on issues of faith and belief, and has a moral complexity that makes it hard to determine who the villain of the piece is – if anyone at all. There’s a scene towards the climax where The Doctor is held at gunpoint, but for the very best of reasons…
The Doctor: “Sometimes it’s better to let people believe what they like –
stops them asking a lot of awkward questions.”
Leela: “That is not science.
You have always told me that science is all about asking awkward questions.”
Tom Baker and Louise Jameson make time-travel sound easy – both of them recapturing perfectly their voices from the television show, with Jameson in particular sounding as if she’s been frozen in time for the nearly 40 years since Leela left our screens. There’s a strong guest cast, with Richenda Carey ably bringing churchly chills as the imperious Sister Beckett, and Claudia Grant (who played original TARDIS companion Carole Ann Ford in An Adventure in Space and Time) and Alison McKenzie both masterfully displaying divine delivery as terrified college students Megan and Lynne.
Of particular interest is Rowena Cooper as Emily Shaw, making a return appearance here after her debut in Companion Chronicle The Last Post. It’s an absolute pleasure to have Liz Shaw’s mum back – of all the companion’s parents that we’ve met, the wise and robust Emily comes across as the most capable of taking up a permanent position in the TARDIS. A ‘mother superior’, if you will.
A great release in a very enjoyable series, and a satisfying fix for those of us with a Big Finish habit. We dare you to listen to it alone in an empty church or chapel, as a storm whips us outside…