Audio Review: Doctor Who: Demon Quest Complete Series

(AudioGo, �50)

IN late 2009, legendary Time Lord Tom Baker returned to the role that made him famous, reprising his eccentric interpretation of the Doctor for a series of five interlinked audio adventures under the umbrella title of Hornet’s Nest.

The success of these stories prompted a further collection of stories, again from the pen of Paul Magrs, and once again reuniting the fourth Doctor with his former UNIT comrade Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) and recently-acquired housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson).

The entire series of five CDs which make up the Demon Quest narrative has now been released as one box set, allowing the listener to enjoy the story as the sum of its parts, rather than in bite-sized monthly chunks.

We start off with The Relics of Time, which sees the Doctor return to his former cottage in the Sussex countryside to question Mrs W about the disappearance of five vital segments of the TARDIS, only to discover they have been sold at a bring-and-buy sale.


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But clues to their whereabouts are unearthed in a mysterious box of ancient documents, each revealing images of the Doctor in places he has yet to travel, including an image of a mosaic from Celtic Britain.

With the game afoot, the companions set off in search of answers to each of these riddles, the beginning of a quest through time in search of the missing components.

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The concept behind the series thereby established, we can plunge headfirst into the first adventure, which features warring tribes, a wizard and an elephant in the midst of the second Roman invasion of Britain…

Baker once again takes to the role of the Doctor with gusto, clearly relishing Magrs’ thoroughly entertaining lines of dialogue, and succeeding in capturing the spirit, if not the exact interpretation, of his particular incarnation of the Time Lord. Pairing him with the unlikely Mrs Wibbsey allows for a different Doctor-companion dynamic, but one which does eventually start to wear the listener.

The next instalment, The Demons of Paris, is prompted by the discovery of the Time Lord’s likeness painted into a famous poster by French artist and raconteur Henri Toulouse-Lautrec…

Travelling back in time to Paris of the 1890s, the Doctor and Wibbsey discover a murderer is at large, killing the muses who inspire the city’s artists, and Lautrec is under suspicion for the homicidal crimes. With women vanishing from the streets, the time travellers become immersed in the delights of the Moulin Rouge and the shadows of Montmartre Cemetery, only to discover they have been expected…

Breaking from the style of previous instalments in this series and its predecessor Hornet’s Nest, the narration here is not by the Doctor, but Mrs Wibbsey, who offers her own insights into proceedings, although unfortunately through the perspective of an unwilling companion who fails to appreciate the honour of accompanying the Doctor in his adventures.

Some of the French accents here are plucked straight from ‘Allo ‘Allo, although the sound effects and music admirably capture the atmosphere of 18th century Paris.

The next story, A Shard of Ice, takes inspiration from Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, playing up on the children’s storybook nature of the Doctor’s travels to new extremes, and sees the return of Mike Yates as a main character.

Storyteller to the king Albert Tiermann narrates his encounter with the Doctor and Mike, stranded in a remote hotel in the icy wastes of the Murgin Pass. A grisly murder is somehow linked to a book of fairy tales which prophesises the time-travellers’ encounter with a chilling Ice Queen, and a strangely familiar foe is also lurking on the snowy mountainside…

As we reach the half-way point for the overall story arc, there is a growing argument for future series to offer stand-alone adventures rather than labouring to tie everything up under a single umbrella.

Writer Paul Magrs seems ever more focused on crafting tales which suit Tom Baker the actor, rather than his version of the Time Lord, and as such it’s growing harder to reconcile this interpretation of the Doctor with the TV hero of 25 years ago.

However, the use of language and strong characterisation which has become such an important part of these audios continues here, with a growing sense of menace developed nicely through the use of music and sound effects.

The fourth story, Starfall, the Doctor, Wibbsey and Mike continue their search for vital TARDIS components which have been scattered throughout time, arriving in Central Park, New York, in 1976, in the wake of a fireball from outer space which brings with it a remarkable new identity for literary secretary Alice Trefusis…

Each of the various Demon Quest episodes have been designed to represent a particular theme, and this fourth volume admirably captures the bombastic drama of 1970s American comic books – in particular the work of Marvel supremo Stan Lee - while also moving the ongoing story arc towards its inevitable conclusion.

Like all good quests, it’s not the destination which is important, but how you get there, and in that respect DQ follows that tradition perfectly, with each adventure being largely a framing device to celebrate Baker’s Doctor and Magrs’ remarkable use of the English language.

But all things must come to an end, and Starfall sets things up ready for the big finale in the next episode, Sepulchre, as the Doctor’s desperate quest through time and space in search of missing TARDIS parts takes the time-tossed friends to the eponymous planet, and an old dark house which will be the setting for a terrible plan from which he might never escape…

Defeated and despondent, the Doctor and Mike have been summonsed by the captured Mrs Wibbsey for a showdown with the mercenary Demon and his secret paymasters, an old foe of the Doctor in search of revenge.

As the conclusion of a five-part series of interrelated adventures, there are a lot of references to previous instalments, and this often results in a heavy use of exposition dialogue at the expense of progressive action. But this was always the way at the end of the Doctor’s TV adventures, and if anything it’s reassuring to hear the villain reveal their elaborate masterplan in such intricate detail.

This is also a chillingly atmospheric story which benefits from its small cast and tight focus, with Baker in particular finally playing up to his strengths as an actor rather than just portraying the Doctor as a larger than life extension of his own personality. Franklin and Jameson also deliver outstanding performances, and prove how comfortable they have become in their roles.

A strong conclusion to the series encourages the listener to forgive some of the shortcomings of individual instalments, and although there is still the overall sense that having Magrs as sole writer for the run restricts the creative process somewhat, it does mean every loose end is neatly tied up at the conclusion.

The cliffhanger in the last few minutes will lead into further stories in the company of the Fourth Doctor, Mike and Mrs W this year, and if these adventures keep improving exponentially as they have done to date, we’re going to be in for a real treat.

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