Blurb: As a new day breaks over Nest Cottage, the Doctor and Mike know they have to face their enemy for a final confrontation. Reduced to miniature size, and with Mrs Wibbsey along as an unwilling adventurer, they venture inside the hornets’ nest itself. The Queen lies in wait for the enemy which she and her brood have faced so many times over the millennia. If she is to guarantee the survival of her alien hornet race for another thousand years, this is a battle she must win!
The loyalty of the Doctor’s friends will be tested to the limit. And perhaps, at last, they will all understand why Mike Yates is so important…
Format: Multi-voice audio drama starring Tom Baker and Richard Franklin published by BBC Audio and released December 2009.
Setting: Nest Cottage, Sussex, UK on the planet Earth in 2009.
Continuity: This story takes place between The Invasion of Time and The Ribos Operation and immediately after the audio story A Sting in the Tale. The Doctor mentions that he already has a dog (see The Invasion of Time). The Doctor talks about the time that he was shrunk down and examined the inside of his own brain (see The Invisible Enemy but also see the Canonicity Quotient). The Hornet Queen and Mike talk about his being taken over by an AI (see The Green Death) and they refer to the details around Operation Golden Age and his getting discharged from UNIT (see Invasion of the Dinosaurs). Mike mentions that he's studied under many different mystics to prevent his mind from being controlled again (see Planet of Spiders). The Hornets are still controlling the stuffed animals (see The Stuff of Nightmares). The Doctor can use Francesca's ballet slippers in combination with his sonic screwdriver to reduce things in size (see The Dead Shoes). The Doctor still has the aniseed balls that he picked up in Blandford (see The Circus of Doom). Mike and the Doctor remember that the Hornets don't like alcohol (see A Sting in the Tale).
Canonicity Quotient: This story inherits the issue with its predecessors and adds a few. The Doctor refers to the Wrath Warriors, something from the comic and something that the Doctor only encountered after he was with Romana. This is at odds with previous statements that he'd just had adventures with Leela and also creates further problems by trying to reconcile the comic strips with the series. The best possible explanation is that the Doctor has encountered the Wrath Warriors in a previously unknown tale. Mike says that he got a hip flask from the Brigadier when he was discharged from UNIT, something that seems very out of character given how and why Mike was discharged from UNIT. The Doctor says that he remembers walking around in his own mind but it was a clone that did that, not the Doctor. The clone disintegrated, so this Doctor can't be the clone. 0.50
Discussion: I actually had a lot of good expectations going into this story. Although I wasn't the biggest fan of A Sting in the Tale, I did really enjoy the cliffhanger. The idea of Mrs Wibbsey becoming truly sinister was interesting and hinted at some possible character drama. I also really liked that the Doctor and Mike were thrown into immediate peril and couldn't wait to find out how the situation had resolved itself. Even better, the primary narration was over. The Doctor was done spinning his tales about what he'd been doing before Mike arrived. Now it was time for Mike to finish his story to the audience. A Sting in the Tale also hinted at something more going on with Mike's being brought to Nest Cottage and I was very interested to see how that played out as well.
One of the initial problems with this story is that it really doesn't pay off any of that cliffhanger at all. A cynic might point out that classic Who did that from time-to-time as well. However, I find that kind of attitude lazy in the extreme. While I like the continuing adaptations of Doctor Who to feel like the classic series, I don't think that gives a writer an excuse to copy the mistakes of the series because it makes writing easier. So instead of coming back to the Doctor and Mike fighting for their lives as Mrs Wibbsey has lured them into a trap we have the Doctor and Mike sedate and talking about "well it's a good thing we sorted all those animals" and then wondering if Mrs Wibbsey is really all that bad. So we get no action and somehow seem to have forgotten Mrs Wibbsey's actions in the previous story so that she can be shown to be completely innocent in this one. It was...bizarre to say the least.
The format still doesn't do many favors. While this story is more engrossing than many of the tales narrated by Tom it does lose a little something every time that Richard Franklin pulls the listener outside of the narrative to tell them about some detail that was going on at the time. Still, at least this time the narration is far more brief and more of the action happens as part of the story, so it is easier to follow along with what's happening. It is odd to imagine some parts though as the Doctor shrinks he and his friends and they are on the head of a stuffed zebra. Were they standing on its head before they shrunk or did they somehow shrink and then float over to the zebra's head? Neither one really makes much sense and it's completely glossed over in the actual story.
The plot is really simplistic. The Doctor and Mike decide to take on the queen of the hive and they take Mrs Wibbsey with them while they go. As they progress, various items from the previous stories allow them to continue and eventually defeat the queen. Yet, this story really isn't about the plot. It's about the characters. This is about Mike Yates being offered another chance to betray his friend and about his own internal struggle with it. It's actually really neat to see him tempted in a way that actually makes sense for his character and explains why he was brought to the house at this point in time and why he would make a good target for the Hornets to corrupt. It's lovely development for the character and even if the Hornets are fairly easily defeated and even though it doesn't make sense that the queen can't return herself to normal size since the Hornets can change size at will I like the fact that the emotional interaction between Mike, the Doctor, Mrs Wibbsey, and the Queen was true focal point of the story. He even sees Wibbsey as the traitor, ascribing his failings to her and saying a lot more about his own character than I think that he intended. It's wonderful stuff.
As before the cast is really good in this. Susan Jameson gets a deliciously large role and Mrs Wibbsey gets to give her withering comments and complete disdain to everyone around. Tom Baker is still playing a slightly odd Doctor. He doesn't narrate anywhere near as much this time but what he does is still done with that perfect reading voice. Rula Lenska is perfect as the Hornet Queen. She exudes charisma and sounds creepy. Richard Franklin steals the show, though. His more thoughtful, older Mike Yates is a real pleasure to listen to and it's great to hear his real dilemma thinking through the Hornets' offer. The rest of the production is sparse, harkening back to the style of The Stuff of Nightmares. There's some music when the Hornet Queen appears and there are a few odd sounds beyond the Hornet's buzzing but for some reason Mike's narrative is distinguished from the Doctor's by a lack of music and sound. I didn't notice it anywhere near as much this time, though, so the story must have been fairly engrossing.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: It all finally ends not with a bang but with a drama about the heart of one m an. Hive of Horror works for the same reason that The Circus of Doom does. It's about people rather than creatures. That makes all the difference in making this an interesting story and a fitting end to the series. While I can't recommend getting into this series because it has far to many misses instead of hits, if you've already made it to A Sting in the Tale you should really enjoy this conclusion.