‘The Foe From the Future’
The Doctor and Leela have arrived on Earth in what appears to be a sleepy English village, but all is not what it seems. Ghosts stalk the land, a haunted mansion draws attention to itself like a lightning rod and time has become broken, events erratically re-arranging themselves around the time travelers who seem immune to the alterations, but not the consequences.
Just who lives in the haunted Grange and what kind of threat does he pose to humanity? The truth is mind-staggering in its scope and stretches into a future on the brink of collapse just as the present teeters on the brink of destruction.
The arrival of Tom Baker in Big Finish audio productions is cause for celebration to be sure. I do appreciate the AudioGo series, but it is so very bizarre and outlandish that is clearly its own animal and not even close to ‘traditional’ Doctor Who. I appreciate that we have both, but I have been greatly anticipating what Tom Baker could accomplish with the full facilities of Big Finish at his side. Even moreso, what would an un-produced story from the 14th season even be like? Apparently it would have more in common with the following year under Graham Williams than the story that was screened, The Talons of Weng Chiang.
Graham Williams was clearly at the apex of an era of wit and madcap humor in his Key to Time series, but is first year is no less remarkable, if only a trifle uneven. It seems that the program was struggling to find its footing and still reeling from the departure of producer Philip Hinchcliff. Neither wholeheartedly mad and not entirely free of the Gothic horror that had preceded it, Williams’ first series ended awkwardly with a low budget space opera on Gallifrey called the Invasion of Time. I posit that Foe From the Future fits more comfortably in the place of tinsel alien invaders and clumsy Sontarans than the evil Magnus Greel slaughtering the innocents of Victorian London.
For some time the myth surrounding The Foe From the Future has been that it was provided by Robert Banks Stewart unfinished and hastily rewritten by Robert Holmes into The Talons of Weng Chiang. Listening to the audio, that is clearly not the case. John Dorney has taken the copious notes and partial script for five out of the six parts and woven together a wonderful adventure that is exciting, strange and full of whimsical notions that has me craving an on-screen depiction. Of course, there are several moments that would have been laughably executed with the shoe-string BBC budget, but this is so perfectly classic Doctor Who that it is painful to not have the opportunity to view it with a friend, pints in hand.
The plot starts off simply with a mystery surrounding the Grange and a temporal anomaly that the Doctor cannot pin down. Teaming up with ‘Charlotte from the village’ as the Doctor insists on calling her, the trio soon discover that it is not just the Grange itself that is haunted by ghosts out of time. The village as a whole is being torn apart at the seams, citizens and places winking out of existence randomly, which makes the Doctor and Leela look particularly peculiar as they are the only individuals who notice. Sitting in the center of the Grange like a great big spider is Jalnik, a devious and dastardly deformed scientist from the far future, transformed into a carnivorous half man/half preying mantis who thrives on raw meat.
Discovering the time portal, the Doctor and Leela bring Charlotte from the village into the future, a single domed city besieged by massive preying mantis-like monsters. Classes are held desperately attempting to train the few remaining human beings in the manners of the 20th Century. Everything from parlance to cooking to driving a Ford Cortina is covered with laughably poor reference material.
The only hope for a race of humans contemplating extinction is to escape into the past, a world that is rapidly becoming infected by the future. The entire affair is a metaphysical noose that tightens around the throat of history with the only contortionist possible of arranging an escape being the Doctor.
The audio landscape is expertly presented, bringing the listener into a world of rural simplicity, futuristic (studio-bound) settings and apocalyptic terrains populated by roaring monsters. The tone and feel of the 1970’s is lovingly maintained from the villainous dialog to the Doctor’s witticisms. One can only imagine what a scene depicting the Doctor and his companions escaping the clutches of gigantic insects in a barren future world would look like, but it sounds brilliant!
Paul Freeman as Jelnik is absolutely astonishing as one of the maddest of villains ever. I clocked back one of his rants three times to savor the insanity inherent in his delivery. Louise Jameson is of course an old hand at the audio format by now, but paired up with Tom Baker again must have been a mixed blessing. We all have heard that there was some friction on the set back in the day between the two, but you’d never know it seeing as how well the pair gel in the audio format. Leela is granted some stupendous moments to shine and the Doctor’s moods run a marathon gamut from heroic to sheer lunacy.
Despite my anticipation, I had misgivings about these missing stories and after hearing the harsh criticism targeted toward The Foe From the Future in online reviews, I lowered my expectations. Additionally, I had heard Tom Baker lilting toward the ceiling like a balloon filled with spiked Lucozade in the Paul Magrs AudioGo series which caused me to gird my ears for embarrassment. All the same, this was truly a joy to listen to and genuine treat for fans of the Tom Baker era as it moved from the dark era of Holmes and Hinchcliff and into the absurdity of the Williams years.
The Foe From the Future was bundled together with (the less impressive) Valley of Death in the Fourth Doctor Lost Stories Box Set released by Big Finish. It can be ordered directly from their site or from online retailers such as Mike’s Comics.