The Fourth Doctor Adventures continue! Picking up exactly where The False Guardian left off, Time’s Assassin somehow succeeds in escalating the madness in an adventure peppered with wonderfully niche in-jokes.

The Fourth Doctor Adventures smashes back into our lives with Time’s Assassin just where the first box set left off. The Doctor, Ann and K9 have found himself on Kembel, one time headquarters of the Daleks’ master plan. It’s since been converted, improbably, into an exclusive health spa. One where the great and powerful of the universe recuperate from the stresses of life, but which hides dangerous secrets. Blake Ritson’s Elmore is in the basement turning the clients into inhuman monsters. There’s a forest of angry Varga plants outside the fence. And, at last month’s climax, we discover the true identity of the sinister Director behind it all… Zephon, son of Zephon!

That audacious reveal was the high point of the brilliant insanity that was The False Guardian. As the concluding half, Time’s Assassin carries on in the same vein. Zephon as used here is a wonderful creation and easily the best thing in the story. Terry Nation, infamously, could get a little confused in his terminology. The exact distinction between solar systems, galaxies and universes seemed to escape him, for instance. (Something which Time’s Assassin gleefully replicates as it happens). In The Daleks’ Master Plan ‘Zephon’ is the name of both the individual alien and his home galaxy.

Writer Guy Adams now mischievously reveals that the Zephon race is so self-obsessed that they name everything after themselves. So our villain here is unveiled as Zephon, son of Zephon, of the House of Zephon on Planet Zephon, whose life fell apart following the collapse of the Dalek master plan when Vice President Zephon threw the Zephon family under the, well, Zephon. So it’s entirely natural that the ancient Zephons looked into the starry sky and christened the whole lot ‘Zephon’.

Zephon's father, Zephon, Master of Zephon, as he appeared in 1965's The Nightmare Begins (c) BBC Studios
Zephon’s father, Zephon, Master of Zephon, as he appeared in 1965’s The Nightmare Begins (c) BBC Studios

Tom Baker’s Doctor is neatly subverted by placing him in a world so eccentric he appears positively mundane by comparison.

Jon Culshaw’s highly strung and not overly competent Zephon also exemplifies Time’s Assassin’s most satirical and witty idea. This is a story where the gap between self image and reality defines everyone except the Doctor himself. The staff on Kembel mock the clients for thinking they’re mighty masters of destiny, when they’re actually “black sheep”. No-hopers sent there by their own governments and corporations to be quietly forgotten about. But the staff themselves are as much victims of the gulf between their self image and reality as anyone. After all, patient Nigel Colloon may think he’s Mavic Chen, Guardian of the Solar System, but he’s only slightly more delusional than those holding him.

Because it’s not just that Elmore is a mad doctor chopping victims up to push the fringes of science. It’s that he’s not even a mad doctor chopping victims up to push the fringes of science. He’s more of an enthusiastic hobbyist with no qualifications. Indeed, the Doctor’s almost as offended by Elmore’s slapdash skills as by his perverse results. Meanwhile, despite the entire purpose of the TARDIS’ visit to Kembel being to track down the connection between the planet and the Syndicate, it turns out Zephon isn’t so much a member as a fan.

Time’s Assassin pulls off one of the biggest and most unexpected twists in Doctor Who history – one sure to have consequences down the line.

The only problem with Time’s Assassin is that The False Guardian has robbed it slightly of its ability to surprise. Last month, the unexpectedly whimsical and fun climax of Volume One couldn’t help but disarm listeners. But we start off this direct sequel already expecting such madness. Guy Adams‘ script does its best by stepping things up a notch or two, or even six. But the resulting hour of near constant escalation of the insanity becomes a little exhausting by the end.

That said, the story has one big surprise left up its sleeve and it’s a doozy. The revelation of just who the eponymous Time’s Assassin may well leave you rewinding the scene two or three times to confirm you’ve heard it right. It’s a genuine jaw dropper that suggests that this glorious riot is a final rest stop for such whimsy. The Syndicate Master Plan looks set to take the Doctor and Ann down some very dark paths indeed.

It’s a testament to just what an eccentric ride through wonderland Time’s Assassin is that the Fourth Doctor is cast as the reassuringly sane figure at its centre. Tom Baker does a fine job pitching a performance that could be described as slowly backing away from the rest of the cast while grasping behind him for the door handle. Bonkers and brilliant, this entry in The Fourth Doctor Adventures doesn’t so much embrace the madness that’s never far away in Doctor Who as go down on one knee and propose marriage. And it’s all the better for it!

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures 8.5: Time's Assassin. Cover by Anthony Lamb (c) Big Finish
Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures 8.5: Time’s Assassin. Cover by Anthony Lamb (c) Big Finish

Synopsis

The true identity of the Director has been revealed and he wants vengeance upon the Doctor for past crimes…
But the Director is not the only danger to the crew of the TARDIS. Deadly experiments are coming to a head, and everyone’s life is at risk.
However, the greatest threat is yet to come. The Syndicate’s plans are in motion… and no one is safe from them.
Written By: Guy Adams.
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs.

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (WPC Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9),  John Shrapnel (Nigel Colloon), Jon Culshaw (Director/ Syndicate Agent/ Wave Front 3), Anna Acton (Brox), Blake Ritson (Elmore), Roger May (Mac Foley/ Duke), Tracy Wiles (Drones/ Wave Front 1)

Doctor Who: Time’s Assassin is available both as an individual release and as part of the boxset The Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 8 Volume 2: The Syndicate Master Plan. Both are available from Big Finish now. You can also read Blogtor Who’s reviews of the stories in Volume 1; The Sinestran Kill, Planet of the Drashigs, The Enchantress of Numbers and The False Guardian.

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