What’s it about: The Grange is haunted, so they say. This stately home in the depths of Devon has been the site of many an apparition. And now people are turning up dead. The ghosts are wild in the forest. But the Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts. The TARDIS follows a twist in the vortex to the village of Staffham in 1977 and discovers something is very wrong with time. But spectral highwaymen and cavaliers are the least of the Doctor’s worries. For the Grange is owned by the sinister Jalnik, and Jalnik has a scheme two thousand years in the making. Only the Doctor and Leela stand between him and the destruction of history itself. It’s the biggest adventure of their lives – but do they have the time?
Teeth and Curls: ‘Hello, I’m the Doctor and this is Charlotte from the village!’ I have complained in the past that the Tom Baker of the Fourth Doctor Adventures sounds far less like the Doctor as he was on telly and far more like the actor who appears at conventions; loud, gregarious, dotty and a wee bit full of himself. So how comes the Tom Baker of The Foe from the Future sounds exactly like the Doctor of 1977; slightly moody with joyous twang, condescending Leela whilst admitting her and revelling in the thrill of another adventure. What happened between this story and Destination Nerva? He has no foul spirits on his person (although I bet Baker could have obliged at the time this would have been made) and instead offers wine gums. The Doctor is extremely genial until pushed and then he really shows his teeth, telling Butler not to try his patience and sounding like he means it. He can be quite hard when he wants to, forgetting about the niceties and delivering the news that somebody’s family might be wiped off the face of the Earth with as much emotion as you would asking for the Sunday paper. He’s so riddled with artron energy he can absorb the effects of most time disturbances. When faced with the interminably serious Jalnik, the Doctor cannot help but mock his cumbersome appearance just to get on his nerves. He has his own inimical sense of style and doesn’t see what is so incongruous about wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt (the Doctor and JNT would get on famously) and considers himself a citizen of eternity. Somebody tried to kill the Doctor within a minute of his arrival and that is quick by anyone’s standards. The Doctor, Leela and Charlotte make for a highly engaging threesome, listen out for the moment where they approach the facility in a Ford Cortina and whoop with joy as they make it through the defences. He has to remind himself that the whole of creation is at stake in order for him to pull his finger out. There is a palpable sense of friendship between the Doctor and Leela when they are reunited, both thinking that the other might be dead. It wasn’t always there on screen (especially in season fifteen when Tom Baker grew weary of this noble savage as a companion) but it positively screams from this audio that Tom Baker and Louise Jameson get on like a house on fire. Does the Doctor make up scientific phrases to disguise the fact that he does not know what he is talking about? Very probably.
Noble Savage: ‘It is not wise to get into the time machines of strange men. I know what trouble it can cause…’ Louise Jameson proves once again (and by that I mean as another feather in her bow after spearheading the Gallifrey series for so many years) why she is one of the best actresses to play a companion in Doctor Who’s long history. She embodies the part of Leela wholly, thinking all the time about interesting ways to interpret her actions, even on audio. I adore her on screen and I adore her behind a microphone and so to have the chance to listen to her shrug off the innovations of the Gallifrey series and bring her original interpretation of the character back to life gave me a genuine buzz. Leela considers ‘to be or not to be…’ a stupid question, antithetical to the education that the Doctor is trying to give her. She has no grasp of sarcasm and so accepts the Doctor’s praise when he actually meant quite the reverse. A lovely mention of Xoanon, Leela linking every disembodied voice to her ex-deity. If she thinks she is being mocked then she will get nasty, otherwise she is willing to work with anybody as long as they face their fears. How funny is the relationship between Leela and the Blue Guard (sorry, Constable Burrows)? She is so rude to him! When he dies she displays what can only be a vein of black humour (‘I wish you had died closer to the door…’) and promises to avenge him. Leela recognises sadism and knows when somebody wants her to experience fear before she dies, and denies them the pleasure. When things get hairy Leela is in her element, embracing her role as a hunted individual and outthinking her opponents. She’s intelligent enough to understand a Grandfather paradox and to recognise that the notion makes her head hurt. When Leela informs Geflow to close down the evacuation and she isn’t being listened to, she repeats her instructions as though she is going rip the flesh off her bones if she delays a second further. As much as the last episode is a furious slaughterhouse of hybrids tearing through humanity, I found just as much enjoyment in the struggle between Leela and Butler, a fight to the death which was always going to end with the latters violent demise. Her method, shooting at a church bell which crashes down and crushes him (‘I have not yet met and insect that can survive being stamped upon’) is glorious.
Standout Performance: Of course it is a delight to listen to Tom Baker and Louise Jameson reprise their roles as the Doctor and Leela but my plaudits are heading for Paul Freeman in The Foe from the Future. A dazzling villainous turn, he understands perfectly how to capture the essence of a great Doctor Who bad guy without ever going seriously over the top. He’s playing the part of a man who was insane before he took a trip through time and melted his face clean off, who sings in the wake of total devastation and who proudly declares his madness to all and sundry…and Freeman still manages to give the man a thread of dignity so he remains believable.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The Midnight Goblins of Shepton Mallet!’ – let’s have a sequel!
‘What’s that when it’s at home? What a pointless question! It’s exactly the same whether it’s at home or whether it’s anywhere else!’
‘Are you mocking me, Doctor?’ ‘Yes, I am. I’m so glad you noticed.’
‘And the current Prime Minister of Britain is…Bruce Forsyth?’
‘On the contrary, some of my best friends have been swallowed! I remember saying to this chap, Jonah…’
‘What’s that noise?’ ‘It sounds like a Ford Cortina!’
‘You’ll never be able to go undercover in 20th Century England if you don’t know how to make a cup of tea.’
‘Anyone who decides not to kill me is alright in my book.’
‘You haven’t asked what I’m eating…’ – a brilliantly grotesque line.
‘Perhaps it will be a marriage made in Devon!’
Great Ideas: A young couple walking along a country lane talking about ghosts and ghouls and being besieged by something unearthly…does it get more Doctor Who than that? A strange eccentric rich bloke at the Grange only aiding by a handful of sinister staff. Locals informing the Doctor of the situation. It’s like a delirious hybrid of The Seeds of Doom and Image of the Fendhal, perfectly capturing the mixture of domestic and other worldliness from both stories. Can you imagine how horrendous chronological displacement would be? Experiencing an entire life simultaneously? Birth, life, death…all in a moment. The feeding sequence where Jalnik tears through two chickens and then devours his butler when that isn’t enough is quite grotesque, recalling some of the grislier moments of the Hinchcliffe era. Somebody has accelerated the deterioration of the tear to part temporal energies and use the rupture to their own ends. Jalnik had been studying the Pantofagan for years, trying to find a way to defeat them. In doing so he was careless and a trace of their DNA found its way into his blood stream and when his atoms were rearranged during transportation through time the machines wasn’t able to isolate the two species. He was merged through unshielded time travel and now he is a terrifying hybrid of man and beast, overwhelmed with gnawing hunger. A training camp in the future, learning how to go undercover on other worlds and times. The Doctor has been to the year 4000 before and it isn’t anything like the version that he is visiting here. You’ve got to makes some leeway for cultural errors in the future but I haven’t heard this many since Russell T Davies’ Voyage of the Damned and Jac Rayner’s Earthworld! Brilliantly, Charlotte is the perfect individual to infiltrate the camp because she is the real thing when it comes to a 20th Century local. Jalnik is hardly a great advertisement for the transportation process, his face mangled by his trip through time. The Doctor is appalled at the idea of vast swathes of the human race heading backwards in time and interacting with their own ancestors. It could cause catastrophic changes to the timeline. Suppose just one person decided that they didn’t want to have to be in the position to go back in time to escape their hell in the future and chose to change things. It would created a paradox of destructive proportions. Suppose two did. Or three. Or all of them. The Pantofagan are creatures from the time vortex, having broken into the future because of the time experiments. The Jalnik/Kostal relationship is fascinating because where there may have been some affection between them once, his trip through time and subsequent disfigurement has put paid to all that. Kostal’s vanity is her undoing in the end, having to chose between death or disfigurement as Jalnik makes her pay for her infidelity and arrogance. Jalnik is such a vengeful nutter he poisons the water supply with Pantofagan DNA, effectively turning the human race into hybrids like himself. In a moment of jet black humour, Jalnik informs the Councillor that his neck appears to be detached from his neck and when he asks the villain what he means…well you can guess, right?
Audio Landscape: I love the TARDIS being described as sounding like an elephant in a shed – I never get tired of people thinking up new and unusual ways of describing the materialisation of the craft. Owls hooting, a squeaky bicycle, shock in the pub, a monk chanting, church bells ringing, walking through a lovely, leafy forest, knocking, a screeching dog, screams, the pulsing time equipment, stepping out onto a blustery wasteland, the screaming Pantofagan, guards opening fire, screaming, begging crowds, exploding time travel device, countdown and a bally big explosion!
Musical Cues: Howard Carter does a brilliant job of emulating the melodramatic style and flair of Dudley Simpson’s work without ever feeling as though it is a direct rip off. It is a world away from his usual stylish oeuvre but it fits in perfectly with the era that the story is trying to convince the audience that it is hailing from.
Isn’t it Odd: You can definitely read the influences on Talons of Weng-Chiang in some of the imagery and plot points of this story. Whilst tonally they are very different certain scenes (such as Jalnik and his disfigured face after stepping through time) are identical.
Standout Scene: Kostal’s death is really horrible. Not just because she is eaten alive by a slavering bunch of hybrid humans but in the way that it is executed so boldly by director Ken Bentley. I was quite put off my breakfast.
Result: Hugely enjoyable and perhaps a victim of its own success, The Foe From the Future captures the era it is set in so well and received such rave reviews that it is almost squarely responsible for the two, ultra traditional and often mundane, seasons of 4DAs that followed. I realise it is unfair to start a review of a story this enjoyable by casting aspersions on it’s accomplishment, but the truth is this is the template for what follows but nothing can quite match it’s piquancy. John Dorney is one of Big Finish’s star writers and rarely puts a foot wrong and when it comes to authentically capturing a era this could be his greatest achievement to date. There is a giddy thrill at the very idea of bringing Tom Baker and Louise Jameson back together that imbues this entire production with a touch of magic and coupled with Dorney’s witty, adventurous script it is enough to leave you beaming like a madman. This comes in at almost three hours worth of listening but it passes by like a dream, Banks-Stewart has penned a story that consistently innovates and surprises and Dorney ensures that the interaction between all the characters is witty and wonderful. Because I enjoy more complicated, radical stories this isn’t the sort of nostalgic tale I would want to hear week in, week out but as a one-off kiss to the past there really is no finer example. What delights especially is how you can see precisely how this could have been filmed had it been made back in 1977, there are no concessions made to the fact that this is an audio rather than a television production and it exchanges budget for imagination and humour to intoxicating effect. Had I listened to The Foe from the Future first instead of Destination Nerva I think my approach to the Tom Baker released might have been very different indeed. The Foe from the Future is a rare thing indeed, one of those much vaunted stories that deserves all the plaudits that are thrown at it. Stop what you are doing, stick it on and get whisked back to a time when Doctor Who was the most glorious television on the box: 10/10