Tom Baker faces Weeping Angels and demons from outside time across ten episodes leading to an emotional departure
Big Finish’s boxset model can sometimes make reviews challenging. Particularly with those sets containing a variety of unrelated stories, it can be hard to give them all their due. The latest Fourth Doctor Adventures set is a case in point. Four different Doctor Who stories play out across ten episodes, each distinct and special in their own way. But perhaps it’s based to start with what they do have in common. Angels and Demons is where we say goodbye to the Doctor’s most recent friend, Nerys Hughes’ Margaret Hopwood.
An awareness of that fact runs right through the set, to start off with among its hidden depths and then gradually rising to the surface by the set’s climax. The team haven’t always quite known what to do with the pensioner sculptor from Ravencliff. There have been stories that makes full use of what makes her unique among the roster of companions. But for each of those there’s been one that pushes her to the side or into a generic companion role. But her imminent departure creates a new focus; a new certainty of what they want to say about her.
The Wizard of Time provides the feel of a classic children’s serial in a dark and spooky fairytale
But it’s not all maudlin farewells. There’s plenty of thrills, danger and fun along the way too. It begins with Roy Gill’s The Wizard of Time, and its loving pastiche of classic children’s serials. If you spent your childhood watching the likes of Box of Delights, Under the Mountain, or Secret of the Stones, you’ll feel a familiar glow, with even the music effortlessly channelling the style. There’s plenty of that off kilter tone too, where things seems simultaneously cosy yet disturbing. There are stories within stories to be told too, as Jacob Harmer, celebrated author of the Dirk Forever fantasy series reveals the hidden inspiration for his novels. A lifetime of encounters with the Wizard of Time, his magic box, and his friends Margaret and Leela.
Three times Jacob meets the Doctor and three times interdimensional wolves are running again. Telling them from the writer’s point of view allows us to see a subtly different version of the Doctor, especially in a bittersweet third encounter. It also gives us one last chance to hear the late Ronald Pickup, providing masterful narration as the elderly Jacob. It’s appropriate that this final performance should see him very much not as a guest star but, for this one story, the central character.
As events catch up to the present day, the story folds itself away neatly in puzzle box fashion. The climax also provides an array of striking images, snagging at the mind’s edges like you’ve already dreamed them. The Wizard of Time is a story that suits Tom Baker’s alien magician perfectly, but it’s so elegant and atmospheric it feels ripe for a television transfer to unsettle a whole new generation of tots.
The Friendly Invasion places the Doctor behind the bar of a country pub… And at the heart of a highly original brand of evil
Chris Chapman provides second story The Friendly Invasion between bouts of delivery top tier documentaries for the Collection Blu-rays. On the trail of some dangerous temporal energy our trio arrive in the small village of Westbourne on the eve of D-Day. And the Old Boot pub is playing host to one last night in England for the men of Dainty Company. They’re a band of brothers history records as committing legendary deeds in the invasion. They’re the subjects of future books, documentaries and TV dramas. The Doctor doesn’t believe in coincidences and sets out to discover who is trying to change Dainty Company’s fate and why.
The neatly constructed story reveals its hand at exactly the right pace. It’s various mysteries help make it more than another time meddling tale. Indeed, once our true villain’s motivation reveals itself, it hits that sweet spot of being both shocking yet somehow inevitable. It’s also a key story for Margaret, who remembers World War II from her first time around, and the pain of the young love she lost in the war. It gives her an emotional stake in traditional Doctor Who moral questions of policing who is ‘supposed’ to die.
Stone Cold is the Lonely Assassins’ most ordinary outing so far, but still provides four atmospheric episodes of their greatest hits
Margaret’s tough times continue in the four part Stone Cold. The time has come for her to encounters one of the Whoniverse’s most terrifying denizens: a Weeping Angel. One of the reasons for the stone cold killers’ success has been successive writers’ refusal to simply reheat that one fantastic introduction in Blink. Each new story has added its own tweak on the idea or new revelations that change our understanding of them. Whether that be them converting a hotel into a battery farm in Angels Take Manhattan or preying on a blind species in Wink there’s always seemed more to do with them. In contrast, Stone Cold feels like a little bit of a greatest hits collection. It’s perfectly well crafted, but perhaps not the Angels’ most innovative outing.
The one new wrinkle in the formula this time out is the location. A luxury passenger liner has crash landed on a remote volcanic planet to find itself under siege by an unseen enemy. Classic movie Forbidden Planet, via its existing Who-mage Planet of Evil, is a clear influence. Much of the drama centres on keeping the force field generators running and whatever force is stalking the survivors out. There’s also a great deal of arguing and in-fighting between the group although, in all honesty, they’re generally so unlikeable it’s difficult to get too invested in the usual games of guessing who’ll die next. There’s also a reveal late in the play that’s unfortunately rather spoiled by the cover art, so not as shocking as it should be.
It is a treat, though to hear Leela meet the Angels. Naturally, rather than shrinking in terror, her thoughts immediately turn to strategies for killing them.
The Fourth Doctor’s companions have never gotten particularly satisfying send-offs, something The Ghost of Margaret is determined to correct
As a finale, Tim Foley’s The Ghost of Margaret creates an appropriate air of regret and loss. In a way Margaret is a character designed to leave. The answer to the question of what Tegan’s “It’s stopped being fun” might have looked like as a proper arc instead of squashed into the last five minutes of a story. On that score she and The Ghost of Margaret are a rousing success, a heartfelt and poignant creation exploring themes Doctor Who is usually only on nodding terms with.
Since she first joined the TARDIS, there’s been a dull ache of loss and loneliness in Margaret. One which the Doctor has sought to fill with adventure, excitement, and constant near death experiences. It’s the recipe that’s allowed him to arguably avoid facing his own problems for centuries, and in that alien way Tom Baker expresses so well, he’s a little surprised by the idea it’s not a one size fits all solution.
Leela too finds it hard to relate. For her, life and death and loss are simple things. Her father loved her. He died for her. And now she goes on in that life his sacrifice won for her. But she’s kind to Margaret, even as the Doctor, as is his style, runs away emotionally from having to deal with such feelings. In fact, in an unusually personal scene it’s hinted the loss the Doctor fears most is the TARDIS herself, and the ability to run away she represents.
Deeply satisfying, The Ghost of Margaret provides injects a departure story worthy of modern Who into the Fourth Doctor era. More than that, it asks just why the Doctor is so bad at goodbyes, with Leela’s insights into that question even making The Invasion of Time’s final scenes a little less absurd.
Angels and Demons provides the perfect hybrid of the Fourth Doctor’s gothic adventuring and modern Doctor Who’s emotional intelligence
Angels and Demons is one of Big Finish’s most consistent Fourth Doctor Adventures sets of recent years. Never less than engaging and brilliantly executed, it also contains some fiendishly clever ideas. More than that it has a rare emotional intelligence, delving deeper into the Fourth Doctor’s relationship to his companions than ever before.
Between a storybook atmosphere worthy of Steven Moffat for The Wizard of Time and as heartfelt a farewell for The Ghost of Margaret as any modern companion, the set provides a true hybrid of the best of recent Doctor Who and everything great about Baker’s original run.
Doctor Who: Angels and Demons
Doctor Who – The Fourth Doctor Adventures: Angels and Demons is now available to own for just £24.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download), £19.99 (digital download only), or together in a bundle with the previous box set, New Frontiers, from just £39.