Howdy-doo everybody, and welcome to Big Finishing Move. This is my own little slice of One of Us where they let me review the releases of big deal audio drama studio, Big Finish and let you know if they are worth your money or not. Today, we’re looking at one of the biggest and most hyped releases in Big Finish’s calendar, the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Box Set.
Hinchcliffe produced the first couple seasons of the Fourth Doctor era, an era considered by many to be the best in Tom Baker’s run as well all of Who in general. The Hinchcliffe era was one of gothic horror. The old castles, haunted halls, and remote outposts were littered throughout all of time and space. Perversions of science and unspeakable monsters became the norm for the show and the audience ate it up. This set sees two never before seen tales by Hinchcliffe adapted for audio by Big Finish staple and classic Who writer in his own right, Marc Platt. Is the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Box Set a return to this grand era or does it fall as flat as a drunken vampire bat, let us take a look at these two terrifying tales and find out!
TARDIS Team: Fourth Doctor and Leela
While there does appear to be a clear chronological order to these tales they are very much stand alone affairs and as such I will be looking at each story individually and then the set as a whole.
The Ghosts of Gralstead:
The Doctor and Leela decide to drop by Victorian London again, only this time they’re hitting up the upper class and are arriving a full 40 some years before the events of the classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Taking in the local color, they decide to attend a local freak show, but one of the acts proves to be real as a man is able to cure people. Before the Doctor can investigate further, a young black man is attacked by hunters with Leela jumping to the man’s aid with the Doctor in tow. To keep their new friend from getting into trouble with his master given the hour and being slightly beat up, the Doctor and Leela choose to accompany the young man home to corroborate his story. Once arriving at Gralstead manor, the Doctor is pulled into a twisted tale of powerful creatures vying for ultimate power that stretches across time, a family, and all the way from the streets of London to the jungles of Africa.
If ever there was a story in need of a mighty editor, it is this one. This sucker is bloated out to six parts, large sections of which could hit the cutting room floor with little to no change to the overall story. Even worse is once they receive an item able to restore people back from the dead, all of a sudden it seems like every character is busy doing their best Lazarus impression. When death has no meaning, it also loses any dramatic effect. The story is full of resurrections that are meant to delight an dazzle, but instead only get in the way of moving the plot forward.
Now I’m a big fan of voice acting, it is more complex and challenging then a majority of people think it is. I also understand that no matter how talented an actor is, they only have finite number of voices they can do. I’m usually the first to forgive any doubling up that may occur, but this story would have benefited from having a few more actors on board to keep some of the smaller roles more distinct.
On the plus side, the story does hit perfectly upon the vibe of Hinchcliffe era Who. The setting, the story, and the characters all fit perfectly, so it is a shame they couldn’t figure out a better way to spin this yarn. The workings of a great Who episode are woven in here, but on its own, The Ghosts of Gralstead simply isn’t worth your money.
The Devil’s Armada:
Traveling to Sixteenth Century England, the TARDIS lands the Doctor and Leela smack dab into a web of religious persecution of Catholics, witch hunts, other worldly devil creatures trying to conquer the world, and just for additional laughs, the Spanish navy is on its way seeking to invade. Can the Doctor juggle all this nonsense and still manage to stop the Vituperon from creating a literal hell on earth?
One thing I really like about this story is although a great deal about this story is dealing with religion, the story never makes the mistake of promoting the religion instead of the characters. Sir Robert Harney and his family may be practicing Catholics, but the story never rewards them for it. This is a story about how persecution and looking down on those different from you is wrong not about which position is correct.
The story moves along at a nice clip with only one head scratching moment. Early on the Doctor decides to stay behind in one of the villains’ torture chamber because he wishes to confront this person about his abominable practices. The listener is led to believe some sort of epic confrontation is nigh. Instead, the Doctor is quickly captured and stretched upon a rack. This does lead the Doctor to finally come in contact with the true villain behind the scenes and one could believe that the Doctor’s actions were intentional so that he could force the big baddie to show his face, but this point is never made clear.
While everyone does a fine job in this, I’d be lying if I said Tom Baker didn’t run away with the show. The story focuses on the two things Tom does best: hamming it up and thundering away with a voice that could move mountains. You can tell that Baker is having a ball with this one, and his enjoyment as always, is infectious.
This is a fun story that knows how to get in and out perfectly. The story is engaging and has more depth then it lets on which may inspire multiple listens.
The Final Breakdown:
With a hefty price tag of $45 for the download version alone and despite a second story I really enjoy, I can’t in good conscience recommend the Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Box Set by itself. However, right now the set is bundled with the upcoming season of the Fourth Doctor Adventures for $100, a deal that saves you about $20 off what it would cost to buy the box set and each of the episodes separately. I bought the bundle and suggest anyone looking to pick this up do the same as I don’t feel the box set has enough value on its own to justify what Big Finish is asking for it.
Purchase Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Box Set Here:
May I also note, distinguished readers, we here at One of Us have our own audio drama series which goes by the name of Infinite Variations as well as being home to Jason Neulander’s new spin-off series from The Intergalactic Nemesis entitled Salt!
Big Finishing Move will be shifting down a gear for the remainder of the year. I’ve been giving you guys two full reviews a month since just before the end of last year and while I have enjoyed every second of it, for personal and professional reasons I need to slow down a bit. Let’s be clear here though, this is just a breather. Come the new year, Big Finishing Move will be back in full swing and I will be still be writing regularly here at One Of Us, so there will be no shortage of output out of me. Hell, I might sneak an installment of Big Finishing Move into the mix during the break, but only if I have the time to do it right and I have something to say.
Next month marks the one year anniversary for both Big Finishing Move and being picked up to write for One Of Us and I just would like to take a moment to say thank you to some people. Thanks to Brian and Chris for giving me the gig, promoting me where and when they could, and just being generally cool dudes. Thanks to my editors, Chris Harrison and Dimitry Pompee, who have the unenviable task of turning my ramblings into something readable. They have both saved articles I thought had no chance of salvaging and for that, I am eternally grateful. To any and all who have read my stuff and passed it along, especially Jordan Cobb, who has been a huge supporter and friend all through this crazy ride I’ve been on. I owe you a beer sir. Finally, to my family for always supporting me and never once making me feel shame for the things I love. Without their love and understanding, I never would have been able to achieve any of this.
So until it is that magic time again, happy listening!
Check out my previous reviews: