Teeth and Curls: The Doctor dares to suggest that his middle is prudence. What a nerve. Ironically, Tom Baker is at his most confident in the early stages of the story (and that is very confident indeed) until he walks into a catch-22 situation. His friends are a terrible nuisance and he likes to think that they take after him. There's a wonderful moment where the Doctor pretends to have something profound to say...just to give Leela enough to attack the focus of his attention.
Noble Savage: Leela flatters the Doctor by suggesting that when she first met him that she wanted to travel with him because he was a great and wise man...that frequently needed saving. Louise Jameson is precisely the actress you want to give a speech about the pointlessness of sacrificing yourself and she imbues her words with real emotion and desperation. The fact that she gets through to two people is the result of the earnestness of Leela's proclamation.
Standout Performance: A huge round of applause for the prolific Barnaby Edwards, who manages to take ahold of what could have been a thankless part (the autopilot of the ship) and twists it in the most sinister character in the story. And that is a story with a Death Cult and an insane cult leader. His impassive voice (loaded with sarcasm, at times) reminds me of the Robots of Death. He'll open an airlock and suck you into space but he'll be incredibly polite while he does so.
Great Ideas: Cruising the solar system at some point in the 26th Century, not even the Doctor could have perceived why this cruiser is sheltering in the shadow of the sun. He's convinced this is a place of drama, celebration and living it up...but not that they are have one last galactic knees up before burning to a crisp and ascending to a higher plane. Doctor Who tackling a suicide cult is not the sort of real life horror that Big Finish has the nuts to dive into these days and I admire the audacity of inserting the ebullient fourth Doctor into a story where the people he is trying to save don't want him to do that. There was a sick feeling in my gut early on when I realised that if even he does manage to save the day, he wasn't going to thanked for it. Does he have the right to involve himself in what is effectively a religious exercise where all the people involved are perfectly content to die? Leela is a great choice for this story too, because she is manipulated into a situation where she has to beg people to want to live (which isn't her usual style at all). The Helios Society believed that the Earth's nearest star contained a habitable paradise.
Standout Scene: In a gloriously unexpected moment, the Doctor declares that the ship is heading into the sun and that within the hour they will all be dead. When he makes melodramatic portents of doom like that he isn't usually greeted with utter indifference as he learns that everybody is very well aware of the fact, and they welcome it. His words are twisted from a warning into the portent of a glorious future. I loved the cliffhanger too; which is very much a take on the 'Dead men do not require oxygen' mould but it is still a glorious moment of jeopardy as Leela faces ejection for espousing anti-Heliotopian sentiments. Having to realise the moment when the disaster hits, with all the accompanying screaming and frying, isn't what I expected to be listening to on a pleasant Sunday afternoon.
What the Writer Said: My thinking behind writing SHADOW OF THE SUN was basically to comment on the whole 'my opinions are as good as your facts' thing. It was conceived post-Brexit and pre-Covid, and while you can read either situation into the story, initially my thinking was more along the lines of the Flat Earth movement (although Brexit does play into it with the character of disaster-profiteer, Hix). The members of the Helios Society have decided to test their belief that the Sun is a habitable paradise by flying a spaceship into it. In a religious context, what they'd be doing is testing God – and I understand gods frown on that – but in a secular sense it's simply madness, a disagreement with reality which they can only lose. And that's an interesting situation for the Doctor, Leela and K9 to wander into!
Result: Shadow of the Sun uses the one hour format of the fourth Doctor adventures to fantastic effect with the story effectively having four quarter hour segments that continually push the story along in a very engaging way. It opens with the Doctor and Leela visiting a spaceship and crashing a party and it looks as though this is going to go the way of an amiable Graeme Williams story before Robert Valentine hits with a dark twist that pivots the story off into much more insidious territory. Once the danger has been established, it is a race against to try and stop the catastrophe and when it is clear that that wont happen it is all about the Doctor and Leela salvaging as much from the situation as they can. The story stops to ponder on the very sinister idea of a Death Cult and the sort of faith you need to engage with to give up your life so freely and I really appreciated the thoughtful ending where there are no easy answers about the catastrophe that has occurred. Or even if those who did believe they were going to a better place were wrong. It's all tied up in a fine production with some terrific sound design and a score that veers between sombre and derring do depending on the tone of the scene. It's not many writers that would dare to let Tom Baker's Doctor exit the story feeling defeated by his perceived failure but it goes to show that there are still fresh avenues to take this incarnation down. If all this sounds dreadfully serious then I have misled you. It's a punchy, pacy hour with Tom at his height and more substance than I have come to expect from these two parters. Given this was the first story recorded remotely, it is a complete success story, and it paved the way for Big Finish to continue their work during a period where they couldn't get the actors to the studios. Pioneering: 8/10