❉ “Baker and Jameson are on absolutely scintillating form.” Philip Hinchcliffe, acclaimed producer of ‘Doctor Who’, returns to tell new stories for the Fourth Doctor and Leela.
And so, Philip Hinchcliffe returns, once more, to Doctor Who and Big Finish. And he’s in the illustrious company of Louise Jameson and the man, the enigma, the legend himself – Tom Baker. The producer who brought Doctor Who to its arguable greatest success, back with one of the best-loved companions, and the man who remains, to the majority of those who know the show, the Doctor. Philip provides the stories, some highly-talented writers turn out the final scripts, and a fine cast inhabits the roles. What could possibly go wrong?
Wait. That loaded question is unfair. Because this hasn’t gone wrong at all – but it has gone in a direction which many may find confusing and, initially, somewhat disappointing. The title promises so much. Hinchcliffe delving into the realm of genetics? Oh, the promise of body horror! The heady allure of possession by terrible biological forces! The anticipation of all of the under-the-skin grisliness and nausea that only Hinchcliffe’s vision of the show can deliver!
And it isn’t what we get.
No – what we are given is a story of overbearing government versus heroic rebels that seems much more suited to a Graham Williams or JN-T story. Although the resistance is presented in decidedly home-spun terms, we can all but see the one-piece orange jumpsuits and smell the immaculately-gelled hair. Even if author Marc Platt has the nous to let us see that maybe at least one of the rebels isn’t the straight-arrow hero that we expect to be rooting for.
A large part of Hinchcliffe’s plan for Jameson’s Leela is what the man himself saw as re-enacting Pygmalion/My Fair Lady in cosmic terms – the idea of gradually educating and humanising the alien savage, while crucially allowing her to retain her autonomy. This was usually presented on screen by Tom’s Doc delivering useful lectures on dimensional transcendentalism and encouraging her to think for herself, but this story focuses on the equally important matter of her emotional education, as Leela falls in love. This could so easily teeter into ‘what is kiss?’ cheese of the corniest Star Trek variety, but Hinchcliffe, Platt and Jameson are altogether more smart than that. Hinchcliffe’s TV version of Leela had shown us only the naïve but intelligent savage, handy with a fist, a knife, or a Janis thorn. This version finally shows us the gentler feelings within, and the development of the character is genuinely engaging.
In fact, the love story is the real heart of the matter here. Publicity material has described this tale as ‘dark’, and in its own way it is – but not in the way that we’d expect from a Hinchcliffe story. This is definitely not a tale of cosmic Gothic horror – on the contrary, the main adventure plot itself is solidly constructed and, dare I say it, mediocre. However, I use that word in a praising-with-faint-damnation sense. What we have here remains a well-crafted, well-acted, and well-realised Doctor Who tale, but one that we’re perhaps overly familiar with, treading dangerously close to the point where archetype topples unwelcomely into stereotype.
What we have here remains a well-crafted, well-acted, and well-realised Doctor Who tale, but one that we’re perhaps overly familiar with…
Of course, the real selling point here remains the reunion of Baker and Jameson. Both are on absolutely scintillating form. I’ve already heard some people saying that Tom is better here than he’s ever been in the role – I don’t agree, but he does slip as comfortably back into the part as throwing on a floppy, broad-brimmed hat and an incredibly long scarf. His voice is undeniably a little older and hoarser, but he re-inhabits the mercurial Time Lord to perfection.
Meanwhile, Jameson is an absolute revelation. Much as I loved her original TV performance, there was an undeniable awkward stiltedness to it at times, possibly a deliberate choice to render Leela a bit more unearthly and bizarre. Here, her delivery is naturalistic and convincing throughout. Leela moves, via her matured portrayal, from a mere teenage fantasy of an Amazonian jungle princess to a very real, believable character, and it’s an absolute joy. By all means, give Tom his due – he deserves it – but realise that Jameson gives the real star turn here.
Baker and Jameson are on absolutely scintillating form.
As you can probably tell, I don’t want to give away too much about the plot. For all that this is not a typical Hinchcliffe story – in face, perhaps because it isn’t – this emerges as a story that, for all of its formulaic trappings, stands up well as an enjoyable if largely unexceptional piece of Doctor Who. It’s the Big Finish equivalent of a holiday doorstop paperback potboiler – it won’t surprise you that much, but it provides good, sound entertainment. And it’s also a pleasure to hear Vernon Dobtcheff still giving strong character part performances for Doctor Who.
But, do you know what I’d really like from any future Hinchcliffe stories for Big Finish? I’d love to see him continue to bamboozle our expectations as he does here. I’d love to hear a hard SF tale written by him, an outright comedy piece, hell, I’d really love to hear a Hinchcliffe musical/panto of the kind that Big Finish have always done so well. I’d love it if he gets the opportunity to tell every kind of story that Doctor Who can tell, all with his own unique trappings and tastes.
Just so long as he gives us one more tale of full-on, unmitigated terror. Because I’m kind of old-school that way.
❉ ‘Philip Hinchcliffe Presents: The Genesis Chamber’ was released on 30 September 2016 by Big Finish Productions. It is exclusively available to buy on CD or download from the BF website until 30 October 2016, and on general sale after this date.
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