A century after his Great-Grandfather Cornelius vanished in the Amazon rainforest, Edward Perkins is journeying to the depths of the jungle to find out what became of his ancestor’s lost expedition. Intrigued by what appears to be a description of a crashed spacecraft in the diaries of that first voyage, the Doctor and Leela join him on his quest. But when their plane runs into trouble and ends up crash landing, everyone gets more than they bargained for.
The jungle is filled with giant creatures and angry tribesmen, all ready to attack. But in the famed lost city of the Maygor tribe, something far, far worse is lurking. Something with an offer to make to mankind. Who are the Lurons and can they be trusted? Will the Doctor defeat the plans of the malevolent Godrin or will he become just another victim of the legendary Valley of Death?
On the face of it, The Valley of Death doesn’t really have any right to be as good as it is. As the brainchild of Philip Hinchcliffe, producer of Doctor Who in its height in the 1970s, it is a story that no other writer really wanted to take up. Hinchcliffe himself is not a writer, so approaching this almost filled me with a feeling of dread as I was almost expecting this to be rather a disappointment. Whilst this story is not as strong as the other story in this boxset, The Foe from the Future, The Valley of Death only starts to fall down about halfway through.
As mentioned before, I really like the opening half of this story, and it gets off to a really good start with the narration from Corneliius Perkins, bleeding into a talk being delivered by his great grandson Edward. Given that the first part of this story focuses on the Amazon rainforest, it is possible to see why this story idea didn’t get very far, as the budget involved in creating a decent jungle set would have had a serious impact on the rest of the story. You’d really need a set closer to Planet of Evil than Planet of the Daleks to really take the rainforest seriously, so the translation to audio really helps this location work and the listener’s imagination can do the heavy lifting. There are a lot of interesting ideas in the first two parts, like the time barrier, meaning that time passes much more slowly in the time barrier than outside it as Godrin waits for human development to advance to a point when it is strategically valuable for the Lurons to come and invade. The effects that the time barrier and his experimentation has conducted on the wildlife of the Amazon almost gives enough material to cover an entire story. The time barrier does, to its credit, return later on, however, the larger than usual animals and the tribes in the Amazon scarcely get a mention after this.
However, presumably because this is how Philip Hinchcliffe had plotted this out, the story gets less interesting at the end of Part 2, when the Doctor attempts to bring Godrin back to London. At this stage, the story reverts into a much more generic Doctor Who story. Even at its best, The Valley of Death feels as though it is a greatest hits package of Philip Hinchcliffe’s era on Doctor Who. We get a story featuring a jungle, like Planet of Evil and The Face of Evil, we’ve got an alien plot involving duplicates like Terror of the Zygons and The Android Invasion and a being masquerading as a God like in The Face of Evil. It’s such a Hinchcliffe era story that we can’t even get the Brigadier to show up (although, it’s because Courtney had probably passed away by the time this story was in production. It surely can’t be too long before we get a Big Finish story with the Fourth Doctor and Jon Culshaw playing the Brigadier. That being said, this story also makes reference to The Wizard of Oz, just like the other story in this set, The Foe from the Future. Whilst similarities to other Doctor Who stories may not immediately strike you, it is when the plot becomes more generic that it strikes you how derivative it feels. If this was supposed to take place after Horror of Fang Rock – which from Leela’s comment about losing her vision, it probably is – then it would have made an effective swansong for the era. As it is, Big Finish do their best and the sound work does really well at creating effective soundscapes, especially in the jungle and the busy and bustling UNIT HQ.
Doctor, the…the altimeter, we’re dropping! Fast
Yes, I was aware of that fact. Be sure to tell me if we hit the ground, I’d hate not to notice.Edward Perkins and the Fourth Doctor
Like with The Foe from the Future and in fact, when Big Finish got John Hurt to return to the role of the War Doctor, they surround the leads with actors that they have worked with on numerous occasions previously, and it doesn’t go unnoticed here. Godrin is another villain who could be horrendously over the top, but in the hands of Nigel Carrington, he feels like as good a villain as any. His performance does chew the scenery a bit, but a character like Godrin needs some of that. Equally good are the performances of Jane Slavin and Anthony Howell as Valerie and Edward respectively.
This is your chance for the scoop of a lifetime. A face to face interview with God himself!The Fourth Doctor
This is Tom Baker at the top of his game and he puts in a really good performance as the Doctor, thanks to a script that allows him to show off the various facets of his Doctor. The scene where he gets angry at Godrin about the value he places on life is superb and an angry Tom Baker comes across so well on audio. He gets a chance to be funny, witty and charming too, and manages to recapture the energy he had when this story would have been made, which cannot be easy over 30 years later. Louise Jameson continues to shine on as Leela on audio, and I particularly like how literally she takes things – like when the Doctor tells her that she can say something again later on in the story.
Verdict: The Valley of Death is not as strong a story as the other one in this boxset, but it is still a good story. Good performances and strong audio design really help out here, as the story starts strongly but becomes more generic. 7/10
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Nigel Carrington (Emissary Godrin/Dr. Summersby/Announcer), Delia Lindsay (Overlord Saldor/Newsreader), Jane Slavin (Valerie Carlton), Anthony Howell (Edward Perkins), David Killick (Professor Cornelius Perkins) & Richard Bremmer (General Hemmings/Valcon/Taxi Driver).
Writer: Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Jonathan Morris
Director: Ken Bentley
Producer: David Richardson
Behind the Scenes
- This was a story idea that Philip Hinchcliffe had whilst producing the show in the 1970s. He mentioned it to several writers, including Robert Holmes, but none of them were particularly enamoured of it and it was quietly dropped.
- Nigel Carrington has appeared in a number of Big Finish audio plays, including Mistfall, and The Devil’s Armada, and has played Sir Peter Latcham in UNIT: The New Series.
- Jane Slavin went on to play an audio companion to the Fourth Doctor, Ann Kelso, actually Anya Kingdom and also appeared in the Dalek Universe series of audios opposite Tenth Doctor David Tennant.
- Anthony Howell has also appeared in a number of Big Finish audio dramas, including The Tivolian Who Knew Too Much (Classic Doctors, New Monsters), The End of the Line (The Final Adventure) and The First Sontarans.
- Richard Bremmer voiced Beowulf in Black and White.
All the deaths that have resulted from your actions – do they mean nothing to you?
You must understand Doctor, I am the sole survivor of a dead race. You could forgive me for being a little…cautious of strangers.
Forgive you? You expect me to forgive you?!? You should be grateful Godrin that I don’t share your low opinion of the value of life because if I did, I can assure you wouldn’t still be standing here breathing now.The Fourth Doctor and Godrin
Previous Fourth Doctor review: The Foe from the Future
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.