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Audio Drama Review


Doctor Who
The Renaissance Man


Starring: Tom Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £10.99 (CD), £8.99 (download)
ISBN: 978 1 84435 613 3
Available 29 February 2012

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...

It might have been a good idea for Big Finish to reserve this tale until later in the season, for a number of reasons. Firstly, four out of the six stories in this Fourth Doctor / Leela arc feature familiar foes or locations, and this adventure could have broken up a run of three old enemies in a row at the end of the season.

Secondly, in terms of tone, Justin Richards’s script takes a witty, intellectual approach that has more in common with the undergraduate humour of Tom Baker’s fourth, fifth and sixth seasons produced by Graham Williams than the more overtly serious and physically horrific approach taken by Philip Hinchcliffe during Baker’s first three years in the role. As these audio productions take place between those two eras, it would have made sense to place this story towards the end of the run. The reality-bending, knowledge-thieving antics the Doctor encounters here remind me of Douglas Adams’s City of Death and Shada, and a scene towards the end of the play is markedly similar to a certain artistic discussion in City of Death.

The bizarre scenario of The Renaissance Man also has much in common with the eccentric approach taken by Paul Magrs for the Fourth Doctor adventures he wrote for AudioGO. Accordingly, Baker’s performance veers back towards his lighter AudioGO style. No disrespect to Magrs and AudioGO, whose efforts, I believe, were instrumental in luring Baker back into the world of full-cast Doctor Who, but I would have thought that Big Finish would wish to distance itself from that range at this point in time.

Perhaps I am being unfair to criticise this story as being “out of season”. The Doctor entered a similarly surreal landscape in the Hinchcliffe-produced The Deadly Assassin and, when one takes into account Doctor Who as a whole, Richards’s idea also bears comparison to The Celestial Toymaker and The Mind Robber, so it’s not just a later Baker type of tale.

The writer also has fun with the character of Leela (Louise Jameson), who keeps mispronouncing “renaissance man” as “runny science man” and is at one point delighted when she thinks that at last the Doctor has given her permission to use her knife on someone.

Continuing a trend for hiring guest actors from recent television stories (following Raquel Cassidy as Dr Alison Foster in Destination: Nerva), this two-part tale features Ian McNeice, who played Winston Churchill in four Matt Smith episodes. He is less friendly here as the mysterious collector Harcourt, who proves to be a match for the Doctor in terms of verbal sparring.

Unlike many reviewers, I actually preferred Destination: Nerva. Nevertheless, this adventure continues to prove that Tom Baker is the real renaissance man.


Richard McGinlay

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