…well. In the case of Fourth Doctor Adventure #1.5 Trail of the White Worm, they saved the best for next to last.
Next to last? What are you talking about?? The adventure prior to this featured the Dalek! How can you possibly top that??? These are the things you might very well be asking yourself as you read this blog.
And I shall answer that with two words: The Master!
And I’m not spoiling anything dear readers since he’s right there on the cover.
Geoffrey Beevers reprises the role of the Doctor’s best enemy, the Master, which he appeared as alongside Baker in the television episode The Keeper of Traken. Which was Tom Baker’s penultimate story in his time as the Doctor. Beevers had taken over the role of from opera singer Peter Pratt who appeared alongside Baker in The Deadly Assassin.
The Master we see in those stories has entered his final regeneration and has been reduced to a decaying husk who is desperately trying to find a way to restore himself to full life.
And this is the Master we see… or rather hear… in this adventure.
This is not Beevers first appearance as the Master. He had appeared previously alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in two audio plays. Which I thought Big Finish explained very well how the Master regressed from Anthony Ainley back to Geoffrey Beevers. Ainley sadly passed away in 2004. So we never got a chance to hear him reprise the role in a Big Finish Production.
As much as I love the Fourth Doctor era on television, I always felt there was something missing with the Master not being as prominent as he had in the Jon Pertwee era. And hearing both Tom Baker and Geoffrey Beevers react to one another in this story makes me wish the two of them had appeared in more episodes together as the Doctor and Master.
I find I prefer Geoffrey Beevers over his predecessor Peter Pratt. His interpretation is quieter and more subtle evil. I don’t dare say as smooth as Roger Delgado, but despite his decaying and skeletal form, there is still this element of the character in his performance that seems as smooth as velvet.
The story itself is very enjoyable. I’ve always enjoyed the Doctor Who stories which start off right away with the Doctor and his companion showing up on the scene rather than the ones which have a mini-prologue of what’s going on prior to their arrival. While still having a touch of the atmosphere inspired by Hammer Films at that point of time in the Fourth Doctor’s era, there are certain elements of Douglas Adams in some of the incidental characters. In particular Michael Cochrane’s Colonel Spindleton who give John Cleese’s Major Giles Flack in Privates on Parade a run for his money in the knuckle-headed department.
I also thought there were shades of Frank Herbert’s Dune as the Doctor and the Master find themselves on Earth in 1979 in a race to find the legendary White Worm. A creature that had ingrained itself into the planet’s mythology.
When it comes to the medium of audio, the best type of the stories are the ones that are the most straightforward while still allowing the listener to create images in their head. Which can be a tricky thing. You can be too vague in descriptions and completely lose the listener. Or you can be too descriptive and bore the listener.
Alan Barnes’s story does neither. I find myself visualizing The Fourth Doctor and Leela mucking through an opened field in a good pair of gumboots somewhere in the English countryside, Leela getting the best of Colonal Spindleton’s tank or the Doctor getting swallowed up by this sentient worm in one big gallump.
The format of the radio play has become a lost art form. Especially in the United States. It feels as though people are becoming too impatient and their attention span is far too short to sit back and enjoy something set in the theatre of the mind.
Tom Baker has already proven his Doctor to be ideal for the audio medium first in BBC Audio’s Nest Cottage series written by Paul Magrs and now with Big Finish’s own Fourth Doctor adventures. He and Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor’s voices seem to work the best in this format. Not to say anything bad about the other men who have portrayed their respective Doctors for Big Finish. But the Two Bakers seem to work the best.
What listeners will be rewarded with is a really great adventure, starring a marvelous supporting cast and a cliffhanger worthy of the Fourth Doctor Era. But that’s where we leave off, dear readers. What the Master intends for the White Worm and who he has allied himself with must remain to be found out in the next story: The Oseidon Adventure!!
Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester just restocked its shelf with fresh copies of Trail of the White Worm. So come on down and get your copy today before they sell out!! You will not be disappointed!!