Tom Baker is playing the Doctor again!!!
Do I need to write anything else? My favorite Doctor has always been the Fourth, and the one thing missing from some otherwise excellent Big Finish output was new stories featuring Tom Baker. That wasn’t their fault of course. For years he wasn’t interested, but then for whatever reason he recently changed his mind, and I’m delighted that he did. Sadly, there’s no chance of hearing him with Elizabeth Sladen, and probably not Matthew Waterhouse or Lalla Ward either, for obvious reasons. That limits companion possibilities to Mary Tamm’s Romana, John Leeson as K9 and Louise Jameson as Leela. Its Leela the Doctor is accompanied by in “Destination Nerva” as they leave London following the events of “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and immediately begin another adventure involving a spaceship and a battle between humans and aliens called Drellorans in the year 1895 on Earth.
There’s no getting around the fact that both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson sound older. That’s fair enough since they were playing the Doctor and Leela over thirty years ago! That aside, it’s great to hear both of them again, and they do sound good even if their voices and dialogue don’t quite match up with the old episodes that I remember so well. I don’t really mind, and I’m happy to suspend disbelief and pretend that this story takes place immediately after “The Talons of Weng-Chiang”.
That aside, how is the story? It’s here that things fall down a bit, at least for me. The plot itself isn’t bad. An alien expedition lands on Earth in the 1895. The local military capture the ship and learn to use it, returning to the aliens’ homeworld where they essentially take over the planet. The aliens themselves finally rebel, infect the humans with a nasty disease and send them back to Earth to inflict the disease on humanity. It’s an anti-colonial plotline. If this were Star Trek, it might be a story about the Prime Directive, and how human interference in other cultures can be a bad thing. And indeed there are some remarks by the Doctor that could have come from Captain Picard himself, where the progress and growth of humanity since 1895 is discussed by the Doctor and the Drellorans. That’s all well and good, and certainly appropriate for the outsiders to discuss humanity and their experiences with it. The story also reflects some of the “losing one’s humanity” themes that Hinchcliffe and Holmes so often included in their stories, though “Destination Nerva” feels like a modern production and doesn’t really feel like it would fit squarely in that era.
The Doctor and Leela witness the beginning and end of this sequence of events, and basically end up along for the ride. They ultimately do very little to save lives or solve the problem, unless their pleas to the aliens at the end of the story do indeed motivate the aliens to relent and cure everyone. We don’t really know whether that’s the case or not, as the Doctor points out to Leela. That’s fine; they don’t have to be the prime movers behind every plot, though I’d prefer them to be more influential than they are here. But my main question is this: why Nerva? What does setting the events on Nerva Station add to the story, other than painting a visual image for listeners familiar with the location? I expected more, some tie to either “Revenge of the Cybermen” or “The Ark in Space”, but there’s nothing of the sort, and there should have been. Revisiting the station is certainly harmless, but it just seems a little arbitrary.
The length of the story is a little surprising. I haven’t bought any recent Big Finish, so perhaps all of their stories are shorter now. Two episodes barely give us enough time to get the plot off the ground before it’s time to wrap it up. Though I suppose the new series does that all the time with their 45 minute episodes, so I should be used to shorter, faster-paced Doctor Who by now. I’m still associating the old series actors with four-part serials, so I’m clearly behind the times!
Overall: It’s wonderful to hear a new Fourth Doctor story, and the plot hangs together for the most part even if the location of Nerva isn’t as well-utilized as I’d like. If we’re going to make a return visit to a location from the television series then it should be significant rather than incidental. But you know what? Who cares about the flaws? It’s Tom Baker playing the Doctor again, and that makes up for a lot. I’m delighted to listen to him, I’m glad I bought the story, and it won’t be the last one I listen to.