Blurb: The legend dates back to Roman times, at least: a great White Worm, as wide as a man, slithers out of the rocks of the Dark Peak Gap to take animals, sometimes even children, for its food.
When the Doctor and Leela arrive in the wilds of Derbyshire, only to get caught up in the hunt for a missing girl, they soon discover that the legend of the Worm is very much alive – even now, in 1979.
Worse still, it seems that the Doctor isn't the only renegade Time Lord on the trail of this deadly and mysterious Worm…
Format: Full-cast audio drama starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson published by Big Finish Productions and released May 2012.
Setting: Earth: Derbyshire, England in 1979.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Talons of Weng-Chiang and The Horror of Fang Rock and after the audio story Energy of the Daleks. The Doctor mentions that he was once imprisoned in the Tower of London (see The Sensorites). Leela mentions that she has met some romans (see The Wrath of the Iceni). The Doctor mentions Zygons (see Terror of the Zygons), Krynoids (see The Seeds of Doom), and Axons (see The Claws of Axos). The Doctor notes that the Master doesn't look quite as decayed as when they last met (see The Deadly Assassin).
Canonicity Quotient: The Master's appearance presents a slight continuity problem, since the Doctor questions the Master in Keeper of Traken as if they hadn't seen each other since The Deadly Assassin. It's written with enough of a loophole that if you squint your eyes you can get around it but it still doesn't seem to quite fit. Leela's character seems a bit off. She actually gives a Tarzan yell while swinging through some trees. She still refers to policemen as "blue guards" despite the fact that she's heard the term policemen in quite a few adventures now. The Leela of the TV series would have adopted the local term. 0.97
Discussion: The Trail of the White Worm begins the end of the first season of Fourth Doctor Adventures. Of greatest interest to me was the return of the Master. Geoffrey Beevers is the only person to have played the Master in the TV series who is still alive today. I was very excited for the opportunity to have these two face off against each other again. There was also some hope that this story and the next one would basically be a 4-part adventure as they were written and directed by the same person and both had the Master and I hoped that this would lead to a greater depth of storytelling than many of the 4DA's had been capable of providing.
Unfortunately I couldn't have been more wrong about that last thought. Despite the two stories sharing the same writer, director, and guest star, The Trail of the White Worm and The Oseidon Adventure are as linked as Frontier in Space and Planet of the Daleks were in the classic series. The Master barely appears in Trail of the White Worm and is mainly there just to telegraph that he'll be a major player in the next story. The characters and situations don't move from one story to the next even though the two stories are supposed to be located in the same geography. I get the impression that there was a gap in the schedule and someone asked Alan Barnes if he could beef up his 2-parter into a 4-parter and he created this wholly superfluous and tenuously connected plot to satisfy that need. One get the impression that this story could have been called Worm Cutaway or 2-part Master story with the amount of thought that was put into the actual story itself.
I really wish that I could say nicer things about this story. There's supposed to be a mystery about where the Worm is hiding but if you don't figure out where it is within the first five minutes or so you're not paying attention it is telegraphed that obviously first by stating that the locals believe that it can masquerade as a person and then Julie stating that Desmene has incredible strength. Let's not forget Demesne's suspicious behavior and her extensive knowledge of the Worm legend and the cave system. Gee, I wonder who the Worm could be...?
None of the other characters fare much better. We've got Julie who wants nothing to do with John and wants to run away to London who then suddenly decides that she's in love with John. We've got Col Spindleton as an insane big game hunter as you find in these sorts of stories. But, suddenly rather than just being a crazy hunter he starts spouting political rhetoric in episode 2 making him seem like a completely different man. It's almost as if someone suggested that he be merged with a character that would have featured in the next story as a military aide for the Master. Either way, Spindelton is the worst kind of caricature being so unbelievably stupid and over-the-top as to make his scenes annoying rather than fun because you know that he'll be so easily defeated and because he adds nothing to the narrative. Everyone raves about the performance of Rachael Stirling as Demesne because she's the daughter of Diana Rigg, but I found her performance fairly standard old-lady acting. I didn't note anything particularly interesting except it seemed like she threw herself into the Worm with some gusto but it's impossible to tell how much of that was her and how much was done with technology. I also had a bit of a hard time with the local dialog, which seemed like it came straight out of a western even though the accent was different. Is there really a place like that in England where people live as if it were the old west?
If it sounds like I'm harping on a lot of negative elements without getting to the plot that's because there is almost no plot. The entire plot is unraveling the location of the white worm. Most of the story just plays out as random events in a way that make you feel as if the script is just marking time for the next story when the plot actually begins. It can't be said enough that the conceit that the Master needs the Worm to bring his alien allies to Earth just smacks of writer's desperation. The Master does this kind of thing on his own all the time, so even the purpose of this story feels false. The Doctor also acts completely unphased when Leela mentions that the Master is on Earth as if he expected him to be there. For a story that was billed as an epic confrontation between these two adversaries it leaves a lot to be desired.
I will say Tom and Louise still give fantastic performances. They both try to elevate the material beyond what they've been given and they do their best at it. The sound design on this one is good as it has been on the entire season so far. Although ultimately this story may really not be worse than Destination: Nerva, it has the unfortunate circumstance of coming later in the season. I always give pilots a bit of a leeway and that story also benefited from my excitement for new stories with the Doctor and Leela. As a result I have to say that this is the worst story of the first season of Fourth Doctor adventures although there is hope on the horizon with a fairly decent cliffhanger at the end.
Final Rating: 5/10
Recommendation: Filler pure and simple. This story will have you watching the clock as you listen to the drawn out antics of characters that you don't care about. Tom and Louise do their best to save this one but it comes out as entirely mediocre. Unfortunately you have to listen to this one to get to the far better Oseidon Adventure, so I recommend it.