What’s it about: The search for the fourth segment of the Key to Time brings the Doctor and Romana back to Earth in the present day. In a small village in Norfolk, former astronaut Lady Millicent Ferril has established an observatory, tracking a meteorite from the Cronquist System. It is a meteorite that almost killed her years before – and perhaps left her not entirely human. As Ferril’s power grows, so does her influence. She can control metal. And anything metal – from a suit of armour to a bicycle – is now lethal…
Snooty Fox: There is something brilliant, dangerous and otherworldly about Romana. That description comes around 24 minutes into the play but before then we learn nothing new about her – she could have been any generic companion for all the impression her personality makes on the story. Oddly she is supposed to be one of the cleverest minds on Gallifrey but Romana can’t get her head around what a barman is. I desperately want somebody to write a companion chronicle that allows either Romana to shine through (Jonny Morris’ Beautiful People comes the closest but that was more because it captured the tone of season 17 so brilliantly) but in the hands of writers like Anghelides she is relegated to making some very pitiful, plain observations. I fail to comprehend how the Gallifrey series can utilise the character so successfully in a way that this range completely fails to do. Is it because in the Gallifreyan environment Romana thrives on the political atmosphere with the chance to be theatrical and verbose which both Tamm and Ward thrive at? Maybe Romana simply isn’t the sort of character to be looking back at her time with the Doctor because it hardly ever seems to be relayed with much fondness (compare and contrast with, say, Jo Grant, who recalls her adventures with nostalgic, giddy delight). All I know is the Romana companion chronicles are much like the character – cold as ice and at times unlikable.
Teeth and Curls: As usual the Doctor is giving his advice in the most arrogant of fashion and then changing his mind when things don’t quite go as he planned! He thinks Romana always has the tracer (not true) and hilariously peers up her dress to see if she is lying to him! I enjoyed the Doctor’s attempts to rescue a damsel in distress with the Historical Re-enactment Society because I could really imagine Tom Baker marching through a village with a bunch of old cronies in period dress!
Standout Performance: Much like the story itself there is something remarkably off kilter about Madeline Porter’s performance that really got on my nerves. Its almost as if the characters that she is playing knows they are taking part in a Doctor Who story and play up the melodramatic dialogue to the nth degree. When compared to Mary Tamm’s calmer, more relaxed handling of the script it seems even more over the top and the scenes where we cut from one to the other suggests we are moving from two very different kinds of story. The resulting effect is extremely discordant and I’m not sure there has ever been a pair of actors in a companion chronicle least suited to each other than Tamm and Porter, the switches in mood are extraordinarily distracting. And oddly the script seems to favour Porter rather than Tamm.
Great Ideas: Millicent was devastated by the end of her NASA career, a meteorite striking the shuttle she was manning forcing her to endure a replacement metal limb. Instead of travelling the solar system she endeavoured to travel the world. The meteoroid changed course and struck the shuttle deliberately. The observatory is pointing towards the Cronquist System, a brutal race that are powerfully psychokinetic.
Audio Landscape: What a shame that Lisa Bowerman didn’t used Yason and Fox for this story because if there was ever a story that needed some stylish gift wrapping it is Ferril’s Folly but the events take place with quiet, almost shy sound effects. Listen to the sound effects for the suits of armour dragging Romana along. It should have been a clipped, bold metallic march but instead it sounds more like somebody dragging a sack full of cans along a stone path. The climax seems to consist of a recording of a construction site!
Musical Cues: The first episode gives Brett very little to work with but the action packed conclusion provides some moments to add an exciting jingle to events.
Isn’t it Odd: I think I know the reason this story was postponed for so long…it really isn’t very good. The first ten minutes struggle to generate any interest, coming across as a much blander version of a Pertwee Earthbound adventure with a little bit of The Stones of Blood thrown in for good measure. Knights in armour and statues? It feels like a mishmash of various random elements from other, better Doctor Who stories cobbled together with very little sparkle. I really missed the framing device. Whilst they don’t always live up to their potential of saying something new about the companion, having the narrator tell the story from some future date does at least give the story a sense of importance. By opening on a regular Doctor Who story there is little that is special about this. Its just another Doctor Who adventure with nothing to distinguish it. Millicent’s ‘I have a will of iron too’ made me groan out loud – people really don’t talk like that unless they are the Master. There’s a quick trip down the pub for a chat with some country bumpkins to add some local colour – more dull stereotypes. Even the cliffhanger is a completely random moment of jeopardy that happens simply because they needed a break in the action because the format demands it rather than a moment that arises naturally out of the story. The idea of meat cleavers and brass trays coming to life and attacking people is a fun one but it is a distinctly visual one and there isn’t quite the same joy in listening to somebody going ‘ouch’ over and over as they are assailed by household items as there would be watching it. Audio should encourage the exploration of ideas, not just wind up sounding like an audio recording of a story that would have looked far better than it sounds. It’s the same with the bike that turns on its owner, handlebars curling around his arms, etc. It could have looked awesome but on audio its just somebody screaming in pain which doesn’t quite have the same effect. ‘I think the Cronquist are using Lady Ferril to get to Earth!’ – of course they bloody are because it is just about the most obvious, stereotypical approach the story could have taken. An invasion of Earth. There isn’t a single original idea in this tale. Not one. In the second episode K.9 is an important element in the story’s conclusion and yet the script seems to shy away from naming him. The Cronquist are such a dreary menace we don’t even get to meet any of them! Can you imagine a more featureless Doctor Who monster than one that promises to appear but fails to do so?
Standout Scene: Standout suggests something unique in the story. Get outta here.
Result: I’ve heard of formulaic storytelling but this is ridiculous! Ferril’s Folly leaps into its tale with little of the confidence of the season it is supposed to be taking place in and introduces plot elements and characters in blandly scripted conversations that stack up awkwardly against each other. There is no sparkle or wit to the proceedings, just one very boring chat after another between characters without quirks or eccentricities to make them definable. The second episode lurches into an all action conclusion with metallic nasties coming to life and attacking all and sundry but this is another fail because the sound effects and music lacked conviction and I was growing increasingly frustrated that I could see what was going on. Audio really should encourage the strengths of its medium rather than constantly remind us of the senses we are lacking. However the most annoying aspect of Ferril’s Folly is that it fails to do a single original thing – the characters, the plot, the dangers can all be found in other, better Doctor Who stories. This feels like a hastily tapped off fanfic rushed to fill a hole in the schedules rather than a story that has been gestating for the past couple of years. Considering this is another Romana CC that fails to distinguish her character whatsoever it is a strong contender for the worst companion chronicle yet in what has been the most inconsistent season yet: 2/10