Audio Review: Doctor Who: Hornet’s Nest Box Set (AudioGo)

HE’S back! After more than 25 years, the Fourth Doctor returns… Persuading Tom Baker to once again take on the role which made him famous was a massive coup, and the only question was whether he could successfully pull it off.

HE’S back! After more than 25 years, the Fourth Doctor returns… Persuading Tom Baker to once again take on the role which made him famous was a massive coup, and the only question was whether he could successfully pull it off.

Thankfully any concerns of this nature were unjustified, as Baker steps effortlessly back into the persona of the Time Lord, and it’s as if the years have rolled back to the 1970s. The audio format allows the audience to imagine him in his prime, all teeth, curly hair and scarf, and writer Paul Magrs captures the character’s eccentricities admirably in a series of thoroughly entertaining tales. Originally mooted as guest-starring Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, availability conflicts resulted in Richard Franklin stepping in as Captain Mike Yates (Retired), working alongside the Fourth Doctor for the first time.

Set-up story The Stuff of Nightmares is suitably madcap, involving stuffed animals being brought back to life and infused with murderous intent, and although much of the action is reported as part of a narrative by the Doctor, it still succeeds in drawing in the listener thanks to Baker’s velvety tones and Magrs’ engaging script. As you might expect, Baker gets away with a great deal of improvisation which although never sways from his portrayal of the Doctor, draws on influences from his recent performances in the likes of Little Britain, but then that’s undoubtedly part of the great man’s charm.

The second instalment of the series, The Dead Shoes, is more of a trip down memory lane, with the Doctor reminiscing to Mike about a visit to Cromer in 1932, and what happened when he investigated the Palace of Curios… Despite being a standalone story in its own right, it also continues the ongoing plot, and offers a lively mix of humour and horror as you might expect to find in any Fourth Doctor story.

By the time we reach The Circus of Doom, things are really beginning to take shape for the overall arc, as the Doctor arrives in 1832 Blandford to find twisted ringmaster Antonio exerting a strange influence over the townsfolk, forcing the Time Lord to step into the ring and take on Antonio face to face, a confrontation he may not survive…

Penultimate story Sting In The Tale fills in some more of the back story behind the ongoing narrative, but Magrs doesn’t fail to include the rich and quirky use of the English language which has characterised the rest of the run, and keeps the pace building towards the inevitable conclusion. It finds the Doctor arriving in 11th century Northumbria, a bleak midwinter where ferocious wild dogs besiege the local abbey nightly. Given shelter by the sisters of the abbey, the Time Lord eventually gains access to the Mother Superior, only to discover she’s far from what he expected. With the feral hounds gaining access to the abbey, and the extraterrestrial hornets behind his recent adventures inside the TARDIS itself, the Doctor finds himself caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse…

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Out of all the stories, the final volume, Hive of Horrors, highlights the fact that Mike Yates is a necessary yet clumsy replacement for original series guest star the Brigadier, as the reasoning behind his involvement in the Doctor’s latest exploits doesn’t really make much sense. However, slight continuity details aside, this is a rip-roaring conclusion to the overall arc, with a gripping confrontation between the Doctor and his nemesis the Hornet Queen (Rula Lenska) that more than satisfactorily wraps up the storyline.

Reduced to miniature size, the Doctor, Mike and housekeeper Mrs Wibbsey (Susan Jameson) invade the hornets’ nest, located inside the head of a stuffed zebra in the study of the Doctor’s Sussex Cottage, and wage a final, desperate battle for survival.

Retaining the flavour of classic Who, albeit with Magrs’ fantastic flair for British eccentricity, the entire run has proved a worthy success for writer and star alike, and has already resulted in a new series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor in the form of Demon’s Quest.

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