Big Finish Productions has taken a leap and given the Fourth Doctor a new companion who was not in his television era. “The Syndicate Master Plan-Volume One” is a Doctor Who audio boxset and sets the Doctor on a new saga in this new collection of four adventures that is only half of what is store in the eighth series of Fourth Doctor Adventures. Jane Slavin and John Leeson join Tom Baker’s version of the Doctor in the TARDIS as a new threat menaces the universe.
“The Sinestran Kill” by Andrew Smith starts off with Doctor meeting WPC Ann Kelso as he comes across a cosmic witness protection program in 1970’s England. Alien gangsters have descended on Earth, and the Doctor and his new ally have their hands full in preventing an assassination. Frank Skinner and Glynis Barber are featured in the guest cast. It’s an amusing start to this collection, and Kelso is a fairly interesting character. I like the idea of her being a cop and what dynamic that can bring in her relationship with the Doctor. It’s a pretty entertaining start to the series due mainly to Tom Baker’s admirably energetic performance. It’s a serviceable episode to kick off a bigger story.
Phil Mulryne continues the journey with the Doctor and Kelso landing on “The Planet of the Drashigs”. Fenella Woolgar and Jeremy Clyde are part of the guest cast. The Drashigs were creatures first introduced in a Third Doctor television story entitles “Carnival of Monsters”. The Drashigs are once again on display in a park but this time, there are different variations of the most predatory of monsters. They also have an ability not seen last time in which they can exert a psychic influence. K9 also shows up. This series takes place between the departure of Leela and the arrival of Romana. John Leeson is the first actor to perform as K9 and is still the best even after forty years. I also love hearing him speak in his normal voice during the cast interviews. He just sounds like a hell of a nice guy. Anyway, it was an interesting new direction to go with the Drashigs.
“The Enchantress of Numbers” by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris has the Doctor and Kelso meet Ada Lovelace, played by Finty Williams. Now this was the almost obligatory historical story that usually appears in sets like this. Ada Lovelace was a 19th century mathematician who is credited to have composed the first algorithm that would have been used in computers if such devices existed in that time. She also had the distinction of being the daughter of one Lord Byron, the poet who was once considered to be mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Anyway, strange figures are appearing, and Lord Byron himself makes an appearance long after he was to have died. Block transfer computation also makes a return to the series. It is the ability to manifest physical objects from some incredibly complex mathematical equations. It was first introduced in the Fourth Doctor’s last television serial, “Logopolis”. I guess this was a prequel to the concept. It’s a pretty solid episode for the most part. I ended up being partial because it introduced me to some historical figures who I did not know very well. Computer programs being written long before the existence of computers is a pretty enticing idea to explore.
Finally, “The False Guardian” by Guy Adams closes out the first half of the eighth series for the Fourth Doctor. Ann Kelso wants to return the Doctor to the task of finding out about the mysterious allies of the Sinestrans. Yeah, those guys from the first episode in this collection. They find a planet which is familiar to the Doctor. Time has also gone very much awry on this world where an asylum lies in the middle of the maelstrom. The Doctor learns of the consequences during an early encounter with the Daleks back in his first incarnation.
It’s a pretty bold step for Big Finish to come up with a new companion for the Fourth Doctor. Some stories are a little better than others, as expected, however Baker’s performance still makes most of the weaknesses in the plots forgivable. I find Ann Kelso to be more interesting because she is new to the series, however she does not really stand out much from the other companions. Fortunately, Slavin does fine with her performance. Kelso doesn’t stand out for sheer awfulness either, so that’s good. The collection was pretty good overall, but I am not sure there is anything outstanding about it. It was good enough for me to want to see how this whole thing wraps up in the second volume, Big Finish accomplished that mission.