Doctor Who
Seasons of Fear

Starring: Paul McGann
Big Finish Productions
RRP 13.99
ISBN 1 903654 59 9, BFPDWCD8H

Bringing Charley to Singapore at last, the Doctor makes the acquaintance of Sebastian Grayle, a ruthless, obsessed immortal who claims to know the Time Lord of old, although the Doctor has never met him before. The TARDIS travellers must embark upon a journey through history to reverse the damage Grayle has done to the timeline...

This adventure marks the return of a format that has not been used in Doctor Who since the Hartnell years: that of the "road" story. Like The Keys of Marinus, The Chase and The Daleks' Master Plan, each episode of this tale takes our heroes to a radically different setting.

Moving the story forward involves a fair few unlikely plot contrivances, though. For example, we are told that the atmosphere of the TARDIS console room contains healing nanites, which motivates our heroes to return there at a particular point in the adventure. A DNA sampler, a similar device to the one that the Third Doctor used to locate an alien planet in The Paradise of Death, enables the time machine to trace Grayle's bloodline back through Earth's history.

There are also some notable similarities to the plot of Jon Pertwee's other radio serial, The Ghosts of N-Space. I was a little concerned about this at first, considering the rather hackneyed nature of the plot being emulated! The concept of a long-lived villain being visited by the Doctor at crucial points in his history owes a significant debt to N-Space. And like the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane before them, the Eighth Doctor and Charley (India Fisher) alter history, although this time the Doctor claims that they have a "licence to meddle", since they are actually undoing the damage that Grayle (Stephen Perring) has done.

It rapidly becomes clear that this frequently silly plot should not be taken too seriously. Paul Cornell and Caroline Symcox's script is liberally seasoned with witty dialogue, which is expertly delivered by McGann, Fisher and the members of the guest cast. McGann delivers a particularly enthusiastic performance, at times attaining "Tom Baker" levels of eccentricity. Cornell and Symcox also give McGann the opportunity to employ his considerable skills as a narrator, which he previously demonstrated in the 1996 TV movie.

As the Doctor's nemesis, Stephen Perring succeeds in portraying several clearly distinguishable versions of Sebastian Grayle through the ages.

Despite its overtly comical moments, the story ends on a serious note, with a dramatic development (one that is unfortunately similar to something that happened to the BBC Books companion, Sam) that will presumably be dealt with in a forthcoming adventure. An incident earlier in the play provides a prelude to another imminent release - this bizarre scene also managed to completely mislead me regarding the monsters of the piece.

Seasons of Fear is a frivolous and uneven adventure, but is entertaining enough.

Richard McGinlay