‘The Fourth Wall’
Written by John Dorney, directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released February 2012
“Kill without conscience, without pity… without motive.”
For one of the briefest of incarnations on screen, the Sixth Doctor has an exceptionally large retinue of traveling companions from Peri and Mel on screen to Frobisher, Charley Pollard, Evelyn Smythe, Jamie McCrimmon, Jago & Litefoot and now Philipa Jackson in audio format.
An abrasive yet brilliant and confident personality, the Sixth Doctor is a divisive incarnation of the Doctor, but in my opinion one of the better ones because he is so very different. Colin Baker infused a unique alien quality to his performance along with an unpredictability when the character had become so familiar and somewhat pedestrian. Say what you will about him, but there’s no other version of the Doctor like the Sixth. Baker himself points out that he is the ‘middle Doctor’ and that may contribute to his peculiarity. In audio format, Colin Baker’s Doctor has matured into a lovable if egotistic and brash hero possessing a keen wit and sharp analytic mind. It is the Sixth Doctor’s inspired intelligence that always made him stand out to me, and also made him so difficult to write for, I imagine. For that reason, the Fourth Wall could only be his sort of adventure.
Flip had met the Doctor during the story ‘The Crimes of Thomas Brewster’ and was later reunited with the colorful champion in the Curse of Davros. I had to admit that neither of those instances filled me with much admiration, but finally in The Fourth Wall Flip shines as one of the great companions.
While using the time-space visualizer (waaaaay back from the Hartnell story, The Chase) to watch a cricket match, the Doctor notices a warp in space and time. The fabric of reality has been damaged, pulling Flip into another dimension where her only way of communicating is through the visualizer. Meanwhile on the asteroid called Transmission, a desperate business man Augustus Scullop attempts to wrestle his fortune from oblivion with a ground-breaking form of entertainment where the characters are real. Unfortunately, Flip has found herself wedged into this fictional world and the Doctor soon discovers that there is more at play here than just bad television.
When the device malfunctions, the Doctor realizes that the fictional reality is overlapping the real one and threatening all of creation. When Flip realizes that she is living in some awful camp adventure program ‘Jack Laser,’ she challenges it and pays the ultimate price. Up until that point, the story was very weird and silly, but after the real danger becomes apparent, the bar is raised. Added to this is a group of Porcions, a bumbling race of also-ran alien conquerors. The Doctor is wary of the Porcions, but not because of their desire to conquer, rather the fact that they are so rubbish at it.
When Jack Laser’s poorly conceived villain (the production team admit that they never got around to finishing his back story) Lord Krarn escapes his limited reality, he has an existential dilemma. Why is he so bent on evil? Why does he kill? Meeting his creator hardly helps as Lord Krarn explodes at Augustus Scullop that he has a responsibility as a creator to his ‘children’ rather than just making them suffer for no other reason than a limited imagination (writers take note!). It’s a very moving scene when Krarn realizes that despite the fact that his wife was murdered by Jack Laser, he is the villain. Why?
Full to the brim with absolutely ingenious notions, the Fourth Wall is a wealth of mind-blowing ideas (actors are scanned into the alternate reality, but their performances take on a life of their own) and side-holding hilarity (an audible cue accompanies every entrance from the villains or any threat… something that Flip finds exceedingly annoying and reminds me far too much of Murray Gold’s work).
The young Lisa Greenwood (even Colin Baker is reluctant to address her age, yet in the extra material she shows how charming and intelligent she is) is scintillating as the spunky and forthright Flip. Refusing to give in to bullies or monsters, Flip had already gone toe-to-toe with Davros so anything after that is gravy! Playing opposite Colin Baker, she brings out his more affectionate personality traits. I understand that she has a single adventure after this one (to date, anyway), and I already miss her.
One of the most entertaining audios from Big Finish to date, The Fourth Wall can be ordered from The Book Depository with free shipping worldwide by clicking on the link below: