Audio Review: Doctor Who – Serpent Crest 1: Tsar Wars


SOMETIMES you need to accept when enough is enough. Whether that time has been reached with AudioGo’s third series of fourth Doctor adventures remains to be seen.

Three years ago, to great fanfare and substantial media attention, Tom Baker announced he was returning to the role that made him famous, the scarf-wearing, boggle-eyed fourth incarnation of the Doctor, for a series of audio exclusive stories written by popular Who scribe Paul Magrs.

That inaugural run of linked adventures proved phenomenally successful, and prompted first one sequel, and now a second, with unfortunately diminishing returns in terms of originality.

Teaming the Doctor with either former UNIT captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) or his middle-aged housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson), the first two series centred around a gestalt swarm of alien wasps, and featured whimsical scripts full of bizarre characters and quirky dialogue, with Baker playing more of a pastiche of his own eccentric persona rather than an otherworldly Time Lord.

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Now they’re back for another quest through time, this time revolving around the enigmatic serpent’s crest, and even the most enthusiastic listener cannot help but feel they’ve heard it all before…

This time the Doctor and Mrs W are plucked from contemporary Earth by a mysterious wormhole and dumped in the midst of a futuristic civilisation ruled over by the Robotov dynasty. This family of cybernetic tsars are embroiled in a bitter conflict with human rebels who are fighting against an oppressive regime which keeps them toiling on satellite moons.

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The Doctor is swiftly mistaken for an old ally of the Tsarina, the manipulative Father Gregory, and the time travellers soon find themselves caught up in a civil war which threatens to tear the empire apart.

Neatly, the role of the Tsar is played by Michael Jayston, who had the title role in a production of Nicholas and Alexandra which saw Tom Baker as the mad monk Rasputin. With Jayston portraying a similar part here, and Baker playing both the Doctor and the Rasputin-alike Father Gregory, it’s a nice reunion for those in the know.

However, the idea of a Romanov Empire spanning the stars, with its robotic leaders ruling over their human slaves, is barely explored in any great detail, and the chance for political satire is pretty much lost apart from the odd throwaway line.

Unlike previous AudioGo series, this story replaces the earlier mix of narrative and dialogue with a full-cast drama, and is all the more welcome because of it. If anything, this saves this third run from being even more reminiscent of its predecessors, and at least allows for a degree of variation in the storytelling.

It’s a reasonable beginning, but nothing remarkable, and the old problem of having just one writer for all five instalments is sure to rear its ugly head once again, with a very real danger that both Baker and Magrs will end up going through the motions.

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