Maybe I was a bit hasty in my declaration last review that the Companion Chronicles might be a better range than the Doctor Who range. For one thing, I keep forgetting about the fourth Doctor stories.
The Stealers from Saiph is by Nigel Robinson, one time doyen of the 80s Who books, but who hasn't touched Who in over a decade. This is his first audio play, and it features Mary Tamm – by herself, rather than with another actor, in a break with Companion Chronicles tradition.
Tamm, of course, plays Romana I – not the alternative version from the Big Finish Gallifrey series but the Romana of the Key To Time season. This is the first problem: what happens if you're going to try to write authentically to a particular time period of the show and you find yourself picking a sh*t one? Do you have to write badly, too?
The second is that Robinson has written the whole thing as a novella. In other words, Tamm is reading it out to us.
Drama? Who needs it?
A new adventure with the Fourth Doctor as told by his companion, Romana.
It's 1929, and the TARDIS crew is holidaying in Antibes. While the Doctor practises his painting, Romana attempts to fend off the playful advances of young Tommy Creighton. All is peaceful and idyllic except for the portentous warning of astrologer Madame Arcana, and the fact that personal items are being stolen from the hotel's guests.
What is the secret of the cave on the beach? And why do some of Romana's new acquaintances suddenly behave so strangely? As her newfound socialite existence suddenly takes a turn into danger, Romana finds that the whole planet Earth is faced with a deadly threat...
Is it any good?
There is, of course, nothing wrong with an audiobook. There are some mighty fine audiobooks out there. But this story needed something more.
As a story, in fact, it's not bad. It's a bit Image of the Fendahl but that's a good story, so in no way a drawback. In fact, as a book, it would probably be fine, although there's almost nothing you'd probably remember about the story after a few days.
Tamm's fine, too. She has range, she's clearly light years ahead of Lalla Ward as a performer, and she's clearly enjoying being back playing Romana I.
It's just when these elements are combined we're left with something that falls a bit flat. Certainly part one left me on the verge of a coma that only a shot of atropine to my heart was able to prevent.
I think the problem is, in part, down to Tamm not having anyone to interact with. While director Lisa Bowerman clearly enjoys that aspect of it (in part, because it's a lot less complicated to manage and they all get to finish early, it seems), it does make it awful bland.
The fact that it's a series of "she said", "he revealed", etc, means the story also loses any sense of immediacy that something properly enacted, even as a monologue (eg The Magician's Oath), would have. We're not sure why Romana's telling the story: she's just recounting it as a matter of history rather than because it has any relevance to a particular situation. And since there's nothing that remarkable about the story itself, we're just left with something more than slightly soporific.
Nice to hear Tamm in action, but she needs something more engrossing to work with.
Summary: An average story that isn't brought to life by an average narration.
Mary Tamm (Romana)
Writer: Nigel Robinson
Director: Lisa Bowerman