THE renaissance of AudioGo’s series of Fourth Doctor stories is complete with this two-part finale, wrapping up the ongoing plot strands from throughout the Serpent Crest arc, and setting this boggled-eyed, scarf-clad incarnation of the Time Lord off on new adventures at its conclusion.

After Hornets’ Nest and Demon’s Quest, writer Paul Magrs’ previous series of interlinked stories featuring Tom Baker in the role that made him famous, it looked like being more of the same with this third run. Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor would be closer to his own personae than anything seen on screen, there would be lots of hunting around for artefacts lost in different time zones, and a liberal use of quirky words and expressions to keep the listener entertained. All very nice, but hardly original after a while.

It was therefore with much relief and excitement that the first instalment of Serpent Crest, Tsar Wars, proved to be a complete change of pace for Magrs’ writing and Baker’s performance.

Here at last was the Fourth Doctor in all his mercurial glory, switching from nutty professor to brooding alien at the drop of a floppy felt hat, supported by a script which twisted and weaved with every new instalment.

From a futuristic version of the Romanov empire through the Arabian Nights and horror in an English village, there was nothing at all predictable about this story, but unlike previous arcs the overall plot was never forgotten and propelled the narrative throughout each separate episode.

The epic conclusion to the story could not be contained in one single release, as the Doctor’s possession of the all-powerful and very deadly Skishtari Egg has terrible consequences for the village of Hexford.

Housekeeper and reluctant time traveller Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson) has not seen the Time Lord for nine months, and spends her time tending to her duties at Nest Cottage and gossiping with the neighbours. But then Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) returns with his former employees UNIT, an advanced guard in preparation for an imminent invasion by the Skishtari.

And to make things even more confusing, Mike is accompanied by a mop-topped and impish man who claims to be the Doctor’s earlier second, but seems to have an agenda of his own.

The arrival of the Fourth Doctor leads to the entire village of Hexford being sucked down a wormhole and dumped on a barren moon in a strange galaxy, as events conspire to orchestrate a final confrontation between the Time Lord, the Skishtari and the Robotovs…

The unexpected pleasure of David Troughton stepping into his father’s shoes in the role of the Second Doctor is a sheer delight, with David capturing this incarnation’s quirks and mannerisms while never bordering on pastiche, and still managing to instil the part with his own particular style. Kudos to AudioGo for keeping his casting quiet for as long as they did.

If this is the last of AudioGo’s series of original stories featuring the Fourth Doctor, and Tom Baker’s commitment to portraying the role in adventures released by rival company Big Finish may prove that is the case, then they have definitely gone out on a high. But if not, and we are due a return to Nest Cottage next year, then this latest series should be seen as a template for stories to come. Highly recommended.