Philip Hinchcliffe Presents, volume 1

I’ve always considered the Philip Hinchcliffe/Robert Holmes era of Doctor Who as being one of consistently high quality.  There isn’t really a bad story there. Its strength and its weakness is of drawing on genres that were exploited by the likes of Hammer Horror around the same time.  Some might say that makes them derivatives, but it could be said that they took the best elements and put them into a melting pot to come up with exciting Doctor Who adventures.

How does this classic era translate to the audio medium in the 21st Century?  We no longer have Robert Holmes and his remarkable talent for drawing out colourful characters in any scenario.  Others have tried to copy his “double act” characters that proved so successful in his stories, with little success.  And one of the key strengths of that TV era was the evocative sets and a production of such high visual quality that belied the TV series’ meagre budget.


These stories are the first of Big Finish‘s range of Philip Hinchcliffe Presents and are described as “Written by Philip Hinchcliffe, adapter by Marc Platt”.  The behind-the-scenes documentary gives further insight in that Hinchcliffe came up with the ideas and the characters based on memories of things that were doing the rounds in the 70s (including a script that was rejected by incoming script editor Douglas Adams), and then Marc Platt wrote them up, moulded the characters, and did most of the leg work.

What we end up with is two stories in the same vein.  One is set around Victorian London, some 40 years before the Doctor and Leela met with Jago & Litefoot in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, that involves body snatchers, ghosts, and alien creatures from a world accessed by a space portal intent on dominating everything.  The second is set in the 16th Century, and involves alien creatures from a dimension accessed by a space portal and intent on dominating the Earth.

So what we have are plots and characters that are largely the same.  Fortunately, there is enough to differentiate the two.  The Ghost of Gralstead is set against a backdrop of freak sideshows, medical experiments, resurrection devices, and explorers (complete with a trip to Africa for a challenge between tribal kings).  The Devil’s Armada is set against a backdrop of witches, religious persecution, and sea battles between the English and the Spanish armadas.

Whether it was because I listened to these stories whilst on my runs recently or not, I couldn’t say for sure, but I found it difficult to become absorbed in the plots and the atmosphere.  The audio consists of a seemingly inordinate amount of shouting and screaming, and characters who talk much but say little.  The ten episodes lack much in the in the way of depth.

For the two lead characters, it’s a matter of captivating exuberance that makes Tom Baker irresistible to the listener’s ears but, here, his 4th Doctor exists on one level all the way through.  There are several depths to the Fourth Doctor but the only one present here is the detached and slightly-arrogant one, such that it doesn’t feel like he’s ever really involved in the adventures or with the characters.

Louise Jameson has recaptured the voice of Leela from the 70s to perfection but, sadly, the character of Leela spends the ten episodes as a repeated meme. She’s either “I’m the brave warrior, stay behind me and I’ll protect you” at which point she’s defeated very quickly and, thus, captured like any other non-warrior companion, or she’s saying “I can handle anything” before then saying “we must tell the Doctor, he’ll know what to do”.  In short, this Leela is as shallow as any other character here.

And I think this is the problem.  The elements are all there, but thestory and characters fail to capture you.  They’re not engrossing.  Yes, having the Doctor and Leela in historical adventures in the Victorian and Elizabethan era is fantastic but, without the visuals of television, they may as well be anywhere.  The occasional use of an archaic word that we don’t use these days really doesn’t fool anyone.

I could have expected more from a 10-episode set headlined by Philip Hinchcliffe but, either there was far more input into his era by the much missed Robert Holmes than we previously thought, or adapting those stories for the modern audio medium doesn’t really work.

The other Fourth Doctor Adventures I’ve listened to are usually 50-60 minutes in total duration.  It’s easier to forgive shallow plots and characters without depth in a story that short, but in a six-parter or four-parter they become far more noticeable.

Sadly, for the current price of £55 +p&p for CD / £45 for download, I really cannot bring myself to recommend Philip Hinchcliffe Presents, volume 1 and this is something that both shocks and saddens me.  To not recommend something with Philip Hinchcliffe’s name on it scarcely bares thinking about.  I was fortunate enough to be able to buy the set for £24.50 a year or so ago and, at that price, it’s easier to recommend them.

The adventures are complemented by a the usual behind-the-scenes interviews at the end in which the actors, writer, producer, etc, all say how wonderful everything is and how fantastic everyone else is but, having listened to the stories beforehand, these accolades come across more as platitudes than as having any real sense of compliment.