What are you looking for from your Big Finish audio drama experience? Tom Baker? Check! Humour? Tom Baker is involved, double check! Evil villain? Present! Marital challenges? Er… yeah, when it’s the Bell’s.
Considering the amount of Doctor Who stories, through different mediums, through the years and with no signs of stopping, it must be tough to make each story stand apart. Dialogue, at least in audio, seems to be the key to making otherwise standard stories shine and Subterranea is exactly that. Jonathan Morris has written some fantastically humorous dialogue which keeps one tuned in, if only to not miss a quick quip. Of course, good dialogue can fall flat if not well delivered but the entire cast is outstanding, giving performances that make the world fun and relatable.
Tom Baker, as we all know, is The Doctor. Age doesn’t hinder his performance, he is still fun, funny and can entertain without effort. Lala Ward, is Romana. If you’re a fan then you need look no further, if you’re not a Romana II fan, you’re still a Fourth Doctor fan and are reading this to be reassured it’s worth the purchase (quick cheat, it is). That said, there’s almost always a stand out performance, or two in each Big Finish audio and this month the star goes to Matthew Cottle, as Mr Maxwell Wilberforce Bell. A sincerely devoted husband and family man who loves his wife Lucretia Bell played by Abigail McKern, and is loved by her, even if she’s misguided in her aims. His performance is comical and tragic at the same time.
The Doctor and Romana find themselves underground in what’s called a drill town. Towns that are constantly in motion and churning through rock. It could almost, just as easily, be a space station in that it delivers a familiar claustrophobic atmosphere but it’s a creative take on being trapped underground. It’s also surprisingly airy. It never feels like one is trapped underground despite mechanical grinding in the background. The humour and tone keep it flowing and moving, perhaps like the digging towns themselves.
The Silex could be cousins of the Cybermen. They aren’t the most creative monster but they don’t need to be because we’re drawn in by The Doctor and the supporting cast. We’re also captivated by the sound design which, as mentioned earlier, isn’t as claustrophobic as being underground might be. What sound designer Jamie Robertson does, quite cleverly, is add the echo and reverberation to give space and depth, because these are towns large enough for people to live in but you feel the hardness with all the clanging and metal gears grind and turning. This helps set up the Silex, who are more mechanical in nature than the Cybermen. Robertson also does the music for this and perfectly encapsulates the era making you feel like this is audio to an already existing episode.
Director Nicholas Briggs again pulls together the best of the best to make, what could be an average story, fun and worthy of multiple listens. He knows Doctor Who and Big Finish listeners so well that it feels almost like cheating to turn out product this enjoyable.
If you’re looking for more of what Big Finish and the Fourth Doctor do, this is a great fix. It’s fun, it flows and you remain interested even though it’s purely comfort. It’s not the deepest plot, or the hardest hitting story but they can’t all be, nor should they aim to be. It’s enjoyable from start to finish and everyone involved did their part exceedingly well.
Blogtor Who Rating: 8/10
The TARDIS is going underground. When the Doctor and Romana find themselves buried beneath the surface of an alien world, they’re soon swallowed up by a giant burrowing machine. This is where the inhabitants of this planet live – in huge, constantly moving, Drill-towns, chewing up the fuel and resources of the planet in order to survive.
But something else lurks in the earth. Something that feeds on the Drill-towns. Something that is relentless and will not stop.
The Silex are hunting.
Written By: Jonathan Morris
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), Matthew Cottle (Mr Maxwell Wilberforce Bell), Abigail McKern (Mrs Lucretia Bell), Robbie Stevens (Mr Jelicho Wigg/ Mr Wilfer Wagstaff), Jane Slavin (Miss Arabella Wagstaff/ Mrs Betsy Wagstaff), John Banks (Silex/ Mr Stoker). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs