The Foe from the Future

It is not wise to get into the time machines of strange men. I know what trouble it can cause…

Leela

Synopsis

The Grange is haunted, so they say. This stately home in the depths of Devon has been the site of many an apparition. And now people are turning up dead. The ghosts are wild in the forest. But the Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts.

The TARDIS follows a twist in the vortex to the village of Staffham in 1977 and discovers something is very wrong with time. But spectral highwaymen and cavaliers are the least of the Doctor’s worries.

For the Grange is owned by the sinister Jalnik, and Jalnik has a scheme two thousand years in the making. Only the Doctor and Leela stand between him and the destruction of history itself. It’s the biggest adventure of their lives – but do they have the time?

Review

The Foe from the Future really surprised me. Knowing the history of the story, that it was originally supposed to close Season 14 and that the ideas where ultimately taken and worked into The Talons of Weng-Chiang almost had me fearing that it would almost feel like an inferior story which struggles to convince that it was capable of being anything more than a couple of character names changed. There are elements that the story share in common, but this works really well in its own right.

You are scared. Do not be. I know what it is to fear death but there is no point being a slave to it. It will embrace us all eventually.

Leela

You can really tell the love that has gone into adapting this story and it is no surprise that it is John Dorney who has adapted it. Dorney is arguably the best writer working for Big Finish currently, and it is clear that he adores this era of Doctor Who. The changes that he has made to Robert Banks Stewart’s original work, such as creating the character of Charlotte and switching some roles to female ones, feel natural and there aren’t really moments that stand out as particularly glaringly obvious additions. Banks Stewart is one of the writers who I wish had come back and written more for Tom Baker’s Doctor, but perhaps after the effective firing of producer Philip Hinchcliffe and script editor Robert Holmes, it was not thought that it was the right environment to come back to. Robert Banks Stewart was not overly familiar with Doctor Who, something that could be seen in his previous televised scripts, Terror of the Zygons and The Seeds of Doom, but he was very good at telling a good story, and the bones of his story here really work well. We’ve got some of the gothic hallmarks of the era, and certainly the original setting of the supposedly haunted manor house, the Grange, feel at home amongst other stories in Tom Baker’s early run, along with the character of Jalnik and his mutation into the Pantophagen.

The science fiction elements work really well too, with the grandfather paradox central to the plot, and it almost feels like the most out-and-out science fiction he was capable of producing. This is, of course, because Jalnik is trying to save his people from the year 4,000 by bringing them back to 1977, an event which if allowed to continue would cause the end of the universe. I really enjoyed the mystery of the village and characters such as Charlotte forgetting the Doctor and Leela and things like the pub and the church falling to closure and decay without apparent explanation in the early parts. The mystery is nicely paced across the early parts of this six-part story, which rarely feels padded. When we get to the future, with the human race living in fear of the Pantophagen, there are some lovely moments of humour which alleviate what could be quite dry scenes of internal squabbling between humans. There are lovely moments where future humans are trying to learn how to live on 20th Century Earth alongside their descendants, and the image of the Doctor, Leela, Charlotte and Shibac in a Ford Cortina works really well.

What’s that when it’s at home?

What’s that when it’s at ho…What a pointless question! It’s exactly the same whether it’s at home or whether it’s anywhere else!

Charlotte and the Fourth Doctor

Part of the charm and what works well about this is down to the fact that it feels like a story that has been lifted from 1977, and part of that is down to the score which evokes the era really well. There’s also amazing effects work, from the sound of the Pantophagen to the sound of the bells in the church tower, which all works so well. Director Ken Bentley also does a great job, with Kostal’s death being a particularly gorey highlight of the story.

There are two standout guest performances here. The first is that of Paul Freeman, playing the central villain of Jalnik. The part of a future human who has mutated through experimentation into a part man, part grasshopper is one of those villain roles that could so easily be overplayed and end up being completely over the top but Freeman plays it so perfectly that you almost feel sorry for him, before he becomes a raving bad guy towards the end of the story. The second is Charlotte (‘from the village’) who Dorney created especially for the audio adaptation, played by Louise Brealey, who is a really endearing character and one who allows Leela to go and explore the story whilst also giving the Doctor someone to talk to.

He’s at the bottom of a church tower under an enormous bell – what do you think happened to him, bubonic plague?

The Fourth Doctor

It feels really unusual to have a story with the Fourth Doctor and Leela set on contemporary Earth, which also makes this story stand out and feel a bit more unusual. Added to this is the fact that both Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are on the top of their game, with Baker particularly feeling like he’s really firing on all cylinders. If you close your eyes and let the drama just play out, it ultimately feels like this really could be a lost television story from 1977, or even better, an audio drama that he and Jameson recorded in 1977 and has just sat in a vault somewhere. In some of his Big Finish stories, Tom Baker does occasionally sound every one of his years, which cannot be helped, or like he is delivering a rather heightened performance, but here he revels with a sense of unpredictability and menace. The menace certainly bleeds through in the Doctor’s scenes with Butler, whilst the unpredictability and humour is best demonstrated when the Doctor is confronted with the mutated Jalnik and provokes and jibes at him, and his delivery throughout is quick and ascerbic. The story benefits from the inclusion of a scene where both the Doctor and Leela believe the other to be dead, which plays a lot differently to how it would have played if televised, as the tensions between the Doctor and companion have eased significantly over time. Louise Jameson takes the experiences of playing Leela in various other ranges here, but still manages to make it feel like she’s not been travelling with the Doctor all that long. Leela has lovely scenes where she is delightfully unpleasant to the ‘blue guard’ Burrows, even after he meets his unfortunate demise, noting that he could have at least died closer to the door so that her escape could be easier.

Verdict: The Foe from the Future sits up there amongst the best Lost Stories that Big Finish have adapted, aided by great performances from Baker, Jameson and Paul Freeman as the central villain. 9/10

Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Paul Freeman (Jalnik), Louise Brealey (Charlotte Willis), John Green (Butler), Blake Ritson (Instructor Shibac), Mark Goldthorp (Constable Burrows), Philip Pope (Father Harpin), Jami Barbakoff (Supreme Councillor Geflo), Dan Starkey (Historiographer Osin) & Camilla Power (Councillor Kostal).

Writer: Robert Banks Stewart, adapted by John Dorney

Director: Ken Bentley

Producer: David Richardson

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was the originally intended finale of Season 14, however, due to Robert Banks Stewart being pulled away by Verity Lambert to help a troubled production at Thames TV, it was replaced by The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • Due to this, in adapting it, John Dorney made it explicitly clear that it was set just prior to The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
  • This was the first story from the 1970s to have its script adapted into a Big Finish audio play.
  • There were no female characters included in Robert Banks Stewart’s original outline. John Dorney made changes, such as changing Gelfo and Kostal to female characters and Charlotte was created specifically for the audio version.
  • With aspects such as the enemy from the far future deformed by a time machine and kidnapping humans to sustain itself, there are certainly similarities between this story and Weng-Chiang.

Cast Notes

  • John Green played Otwoe in Memories of a Tyrant.
  • Blake Ritson has played a number of characters in Big Finish plays, including Gods and Monsters, The Monster of Montmartre and Death and the Queen.
  • Mark Goldthorp played Androvax in the Sarah Jane Adventures episodes Prisoner of the Judoon and The Vault of Secrets, as well as appearing in The Justice of Jalxar.
  • Philip Pope played Jovians in The Jupiter Conjunction and John White/George Chapman in Voyage to the New World. He also played Templeton in the Counter-Measures spin-off.
  • Jaimi Barbakoff also played Lt Dervish in The Shadow Heart.
  • Dan Starkey is best known for playing Strax in both televised and audio Doctor Who. He regularly plays other Sontarans on television and audio, and has also written Terror of the Sontarans with John Dorney.
  • Camilla Power appeared in the Torchwood episode From Out of the Rain. She has also appeared in Big Finish audio plays including The Movellan Grave, Psychodrome and The Monster of Montmartre.

Best Quote

You’ll never be able to go under cover in 20th Century England if you don’t know how to make a cup of tea.

The Fourth Doctor

Previous Fourth Doctor review: The Talons of Weng-Chiang

Both The Foe from the Future and The Valley of Death are available to purchase as part of a boxset from the Big Finish website.

One thought on “The Foe from the Future

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