July 17th, 2014

Leela toys

Doctor Who: The Fourth Doctor Adventures 1.02 - The Renaissance Man

Blurb: To continue Leela’s education, the Doctor promises to take her to the famous Morovanian Museum. But the TARDIS lands instead in a quiet English village, where they meet the enigmatic collector Harcourt and his family.

When people start to die, reality doesn’t appear quite what it was. There’s something sinister going on within the walls of Harcourt’s manor, and the stakes are higher than they can imagine.

The Doctor is about to discover that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released February 2012.

Setting: The Moravanian Museum, Moravania Minor sometime in the far future.

Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story Foe from the Future. Leela references the cameras that Xoanon used to monitor the Tesh on her world (see The Face of Evil). Leela refers to policemen as "blue guards" and that she once fired a revolver at a dragon (see The Talons of Weng-Chiang).

Canonicity Quotient: The Doctor and Leela act out of character at the beginning of the story but otherwise this fits in very well with the existing Doctor Who canon. 0.99

Discussion: After the less than stellar beginning with Destination: Nerva, I was a little hesitant with this next installment in the Fourth Doctor Adventures. My only consolation was that the next book was by Justin Richards. For those who haven't experienced him, Richards may not be the most popular writer, but he has a talent that is often overlooked. He can find the voice for an era. Any Doctor or time period that he writes for, he tries to recreate the tone of the characters and the storyline, so that his story feels like it fits seamlessly into the era. He also appreciates the different media that he works with and writes stories that take advantage of unique attributes that each media provides. Whispers of Terror was an early story that he did for Big Finish, which told a story that would only really work well on audio. I've never been disappointed by Richards, so I was hopeful stepping into Renaissance Man.

Richards doesn't disappoint. The Renaissance Man is a neat dissection of the realization that knowledge and information are not the same thing. It's again one of the stories that probably wouldn't have worked as well on TV as it's highly conceptual although they could have made much of the different locations within the museum. The two-part format suited this story as well. A few things breeze along a little to quickly - to me it was made far to obvious what the shape of the story would be with the opening sequence. With a four parter we may have taken a little more time to understand exactly what the danger was and perhaps had it become a surprise rather than have us wait for the Doctor and Leela to realize. I also really like that the villain doesn't have to drain the information out of someone's brain and could just copy it. He drains it because it makes the knowledge more valuable. It's a nice distinction because the acquisition of information is something that many of us could sympathize with as a goal. Making the man a sadist with delusions of grandeur helps to place him in a category where we won't sympathize with him. Even if the quality of what is taken is slightly better it's absurd to feel that in some way justifies what they're doing. I also really like the reveal at the end of the story. I had no idea that that was coming.

I had a feeling that I knew what the Doctor would do to tear this reality down and I was right although I was surprised because I thought that the art details and the "cow parsley" were all part of it. I had no idea that those things were real. Still, in the end the Doctor employs exactly the method that I thought would work and it's a very satisfying ending in a way that Destination: Nerva was not. The only thing that I would have preferred is for the Doctor to have shown just a little compassion in the end. I get that the fourth Doctor could be cold at times but usually that was when a job needed to get done. The Doctor seems convinced that those who were converted into data gatherers would be just fine in the end but doesn't stay to check on that. Instead it seems that the whole simulation within the musuem was deleted along with the people inside, which does make it just a little unsatisfactory. I think that I'd have preferred it if the end had the delegates find the empty room but with the staff restored with no memory of the event but with the villain holding his head and moaning how he'd lost it all. It seems more of a just ending with some symmetry. I think that I would have preferred that.

From a character standpoint, the story opens a little strangely. Neither the Doctor nor Leela seems entirely in character. There's a scene where Leela has to say "good, good, good" when she hears that there are weapons as if she's an animal entranced by a pretty bauble. While Leela may be interested in any armaments present at the museum the reaction just seemed really off for her. The Doctor also seems really low energy this time and it made me wonder if he'd recorded his lines separately from everyone else. Then in part 2 everything comes together and the Doctor and Leela are back in fine form. Harcourt makes a great villain but I wasn't very happy with the bits where he and Jephson play the police. The fourth Doctor works best when he's being silly and everyone else is taking everything deadly seriously. The dialog between Jephson and Harcourt is so absurd that it forces you to realize that these guys are just making fun of the whole situation. There's no way that anyone could be so thick as to believe half of the things that they say. There's also the strangeness of their thinking that a dog can make a phone call. It makes you wonder if the reason why they feel that they need the acquisition of knowledge is because they have some form of learning disability. That may have given some nuance and reason for why they're doing what they're doing, but with the short runtime even if that was originally part of the story it was dropped. The rest of the cast put in a fine performance in many cases having to double up as they have duplicates in each of the many of the locations of the museum who each act appropriate to their period. Still, no one is really a standout in this part.

The production here is really well done. The Dudley Simpsonesque music of Destination: Nerva has been abandoned in favor of a more full orchestra. In some ways its a shame because I'd welcome any attempt to more completely recreate the era but I also understand why they'd want a bit more variety in the series. I really loved the scale that the soundscape conveyed. We had everything from World War 1 to Medieval Times to a a modern hospital to Victorian Times. Big Finish has done everything it can to ensure that the Fourth Doctor Adventures feel epic even when they're limited to only two episodes and this one is no exception.

Final Rating: 8/10

Recommendation: A thought provoking tale as only Justin Richards can tell them. The Fourth Doctor Adventures kick it up a notch with a story about the difference between knowledge and information pitting the Doctor against a foe that thinks that he's smarter than he is. There are a number of twists to keep up the interest and the end scene is particularly well done. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to give The Fourth Doctor Adventures a chance.