When people (by which I mean Doctor Who fans) think of ‘lost stories’ and Colin Baker, they generally think of those stories from the original season 23, such as The Nightmare Fair and Mission Magnus, that got replaced with Trial of a Timelord thanks to Michael Grade and his ‘hiatus’.
However, those stories weren’t the only Colin Baker stories that fell by the wayside. Here we have Leviathan, a story written by the late veteran TV writer Brian Finch for season 22. Despite getting as far as a rehearsal script, the story never got made, probably because it would have been too damn expensive to make.
In the story, the Doctor and Peri land in a medieval forest near a castle. They come across some villagers who are being pursued by Herne the Hunter.
Cue the Celtic charms of Clannad and the theme to Robin of Sherwood? No, because this Herne is mean and he’s out for blood…
No one lives to old age in the village. When their Time is come, they are taken and never seen again. That is The Way. And, should anyone try to break with the established order of things, then the fury of Herne the Hunter is unleashed…
When the TARDIS materializes near a castle in this mediaeval society, the Doctor and Peri befriend Gurth, a terrified youth who is attempting to flee his fate. And Herne is closing in…
Why does the local baron impose the culling? What is the secret of Zeron? And who are the Sentinels of the New Dawn?
The answers lie within a cave…
Is it any good?
We have to distinguish here between the script and the production, since one is clearly superior to the other. The script itself is pretty good. It’s better than virtually all of season 22, with the exception of Mark of the Rani and Revelation of the Daleks. That’s not to say it’s brilliant in more modern terms – it’s a traditional Doctor Who story in which Doctor and companion turn up, find a scary beastie/baddie, foil the scary beastie/baddie, and change the entire political structure of a planet. The villain and situation are decent enough and are a good stab at hard sci-fi without the pointless jargon that afflicts New Adventures stories for example, and there’s a reasonable twist in the tale, albeit one you’ll see coming from the very first second of the story. But you won’t be looking to it for deep characterisation, clever plot devices or revolutionary ideas.
The script isn’t the original piece, since that was very visual; Finch’s son, Paul, has adapted it for audio. He’s done a good job of it, although sometimes it feels like he’s added too much of a 21st century tone to it: the Doctor talks of ‘special forces’ and Peri mentions ‘terrorist cells’, for example – certainly not the concerns of 1983/4 Doctor Who script-writing. The move to give Herne dialogue rather than be just a force of nature is unfortunate, since it would have been more frightening on-screen, but necessary given the switch in medium.
Characterisation also seems slightly off. Peri describes a bunch of 20-year-olds as ‘kids’, which given she’s supposed to be 19 seems a little unlikely (unless she’s in a “the kids are all right” mood), although at least she does get something to do, this play. The Doctor is also even more gung-ho than he is in season 22, getting people to take up their swords (“You use it by sticking it into people”) and saying he never backs away from a just fight.
Nevertheless, it’s a solid piece that while not being anything too extraordinary is a good yarn.
Where it all falls apart is the production. Colin Baker’s really hit his stride now, doing a completely accurate version of his on-screen self, right down to voice pitch, so it’s not his fault. Nicola Bryant’s fine, even if her Peri at the start of the play sounds like she’s on helium and by the end of the play is on 70 a day – she can still scream as well as she used to, mind.
No, it’s everything else that’s the problem. The supporting cast are just dreadful. Most of them are hammy, and there’s one actress who really does sound like she’s one of the Munchkins. In terms of accents, you’ll be minded of The Wurzels the whole time. The music’s naff and inappropriate. At no point will you be able to close your eyes and think, “Ooh, this could have been on TV,” since the sound engineering is all off, as well. Instead, you’ll close your eyes and think, “Any TV director would have slapped this lot into shape and it all would have looked and sounded better, too.”
So unfortunately, it feels like an am dram production down at your local youth theatre, rather than a lost classic. Skip it, if I were you.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Howard Gossington (Gurth)
John Banks (Herne the Hunter)
Beth Chalmers (Althya)
Jamie Parker (Wulfric)
Derek Carlyle (Siward)
Writers: Brian & Paul Finch
Director: Ken Bentley