The God of Phantoms presents a dark and ambitious drama that drips with atmosphere
Philip Hinchcliffe is back. The legendary Doctor Who producer who, along with script editor Robert Holmes, steered the Doctor’s fate from 1974 to 1974 has conceived a new tale for Big Finish. And The God of Phantoms is a worthy reward for everyone who’s waited for more. Smartly, there’s no fixed schedule for these stories recreating the atmosphere and themes of early Tom Baker episodes – they just wait for a call from the great man to let them know he’s had a new idea. And what a story he and co-conspirator Marc Platt have crafted this time. Without doubt The God of Phantoms is an absolute triumph.
In some ways this new six-parter is an oddity. It dispenses with a lot of the structure and rhythms of a 70s story, yet it delves deeper than before into the inspirations and tone of those so-called gothic years. In fact, it’s arguably more truly gothic in the traditional sense than the original era itself. After all, it features an isolated community haunted by a menace from the distant past. An ancient supernatural foe foolishly long forgotten under the mountain but now erupting as a horrible reality in the present. All the more so since the slumbering horror isn’t just a matter of plot mechanics, but something which strikes at the Doctor’s very sense of himself, and threatening to shred his sanity.
Hinchcliffe experts weaves some of the most powerful themes of his era into new strands to tell a compelling tale. And it’s one that strikes at the Doctor’s hearts
This is the far flung colony world into which the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela (Louise Jameson) arrive. It’s a society which touches on themes from Genesis of the Daleks and Leela’s own debut, The Face of Evil. The wider human race has abandoned this played out mining colony and over generations the settlers’ descendants have been reverting to lower levels of technology as the materials needed to maintain and create technology run out. And so this township among the snow covered forests of the mountains lives a life like 19th century frontiersmen. Give or take the odd laser cannon restored to working order by resident engineer Charles Hookham (Tim Faulkener). But what else has Hookham awoken with his tinkering? Why are he and the Doctor both struck down whenever they touch? with terrible visions of fire, pain, and the incessant beating of an anvil whenever they touch?
The path to the answers is dark, and features twists and turns too good to reveal here. Yet, Blogtor Who can say that the revelations sit neatly into the Hinchcliffe era’s Doctor and his irritable urge to be free of his own Time Lord past and just wander without responsibility.
The God of Phantoms homages the best of the Universal monster movies, while establishing a bleak and urgent mood
The God of Phantoms is fundamentally a mood piece, however. Its bleak – at times even oppressive – atmosphere wrapping around your ears like black velvet. The challenges of recording during this year’s pandemic actually enhance this aspect. The close miked performances, and often eerily quiet surroundings, lend an unnerving sense of the unreal. And with the Doctor himself disquieted and disturbed for much of the run time, it only emphasises his own internal fracturing. One of its great accomplishments is being able to maintain this across its truly epic runtime; just under three and a half hours.
It also helps evoke the classic tales of horror Robert Holmes adored. But while Holmes chiefly took inspiration from the original books, the soundscape here owes much to the Universal films of the 1930s and 40s. The music in particular, with organs trilling dramatically away, could sit happily on the soundtrack of The Bride of Frankenstein. In fact, if audio drama asks the listener to build worlds in their mind’s eye, then God of Phantoms invites you to set that stage in stark black and white, full of long shadows as characters descend steps into the underworld, or scour battlefields for the bodies of the dead to use in their secret experiments.
Bold, experimental, and dripping in atmosphere, The God of Phantoms sees Philip Hinchcliffe and Big Finish stepping outside of their comfort zone. And the result may be the best of the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents range yet.
Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents – The God of Phantoms
The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Leela to a colony world in the distant future. But they are not the only visitors to this place. The people of this planet are seeing the ghosts of their lost friends and relatives. And the ghosts are stealing people.
Trapped in the middle of an escalating conflict, the Doctor and Leela investigate the source of the spirits and find a diabolical machine, a terrible secret… and a foe long since forgotten.
Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents – The God of Phantoms is now available as a collector’s edition 3-CD box set (at £19.99) or digital download (at £16.99), exclusively from the Big Finish website.
Please note that Big Finish is currently operating a digital-first release schedule. Factors beyond Big Finish’s control may delay the mail-out of collector’s edition CDs. But all purchases of this release unlock a digital copy that listeners can immediately download or play on the Big Finish app from the release date.