Foe from the Future reviewed

The Foe from the FuturePart of the Fourth Doctor boxset of Lost Stories, Foe From the Future is a six-part (3xCD) story for the Doctor and Leela. It was originally written by Robert Banks Stewart (who wrote Terror of the Zygons and Seeds of Doom) and adapted by John Dorney. The other story included in the boxset is The Valley of Death; I will review that later.

When Tom Baker came on-board with Big Finish, this was the first product released (October 2011) — does it show any signs of this?

The answer is a resolute no – it is an excellent, if pricey, set of stories deserving of a place in any collection.

The story

From the product page, we learn this tale has a whole host of classic ingredients:

The Grange is haunted, so they say. This stately home in the depths of Devon has been the site of many an apparition. And now people are turning up dead. The ghosts are wild in the forest. But the Doctor doesn’t believe in ghosts.

The TARDIS follows a twist in the vortex to the village of Staffham in 1977 and discovers something is very wrong with time. But spectral highwaymen and cavaliers are the least of the Doctor’s worries.

For the Grange is owned by the sinister Jalnik, and Jalnik has a scheme two thousand years in the making. Only the Doctor and Leela stand between him and the destruction of history itself. It’s the biggest adventure of their lives – but do they have the time?

For all its length, this takes a measured approach and layers on the plot as it moves through the discs. The 1977 ghost story quickly becomes a story of time-meddling scientists from the future and our loyalties are challenged when we learn of the plight of the future Earth from where Jalnik originates. As we learn of the desperate straits facing a small group of people all desperately keen to relocate to the past, we also learn of a greater threat. There are also some sub-plots about betrayal and an alien species intent on wiping out humanity.

It may sound like a lot of ingredients, but between Robert Banks Stewart and John Dorney the story is careful created and works admirably. Of the many threads I could discuss, the two I’d like to focus on are Leela’s and Charlotte’s (Louise Brearley).

Leela has a lot of hunter / alien visitor scenes though feels less one-dimensional than that description would suggest. Early on she and the Doctor and nearly killed while exploring a deserted church, later on she uses this to her advantage and throughout the play native cunning comes very much to the fore. Although always ready to leap out with a knife, she doesn’t come across as naïve but as resourceful. Later on she falls into the Vortex and survives by riding an alien monster back to 1977. There is also a long sequence where she is hunting / being hunted by a seemingly invincible monster. This is paced well and shows the depth of Leela’s intelligence.

In contrast, and as the extras tell us, Louise Brearley plays Charlotte from the village, a character added by John Dorney for various technical reasons (all explained) and she acts as the eyes and ears of the 1977 world back into the world of the Doctor. It is interesting to wonder if, had this ever been made and included Charlotte, would she have become a second companion? Instead she develops through the story and has a decent ending.

Of course this is a Tom Baker, Fourth Doctor story and Tom is suitably larger than life, knowing but balanced by the rest of the cast and story.

The centre of the story involves meddling in things best left un-meddled with, deception and aliens and while we might have encountered much of this before, it all works remarkably well.

The storytelling

We don’t know how far the script was developed before being abandoned, and we do know (from the extras) that this episode was bumped by Talons of Weng-Chiang. Imagine if we’d never met Jago & Litefoot?!

[pullquote]one of John Dorney’s best adaptations[/pullquote]

As recreated by Big Finish this is a very strong story with a very strong cast also including Dan Starkey, Camilla Power and Blake Ritson. At 3 CDs the length feels correct, there is little if any padding a smattering of horror, humour and humility. I’m even tempted to say this is one of John Dorney’s best adaptations, bit that might be coloured by it being the one I have most recently heard. The craft with which it is constructed shines through, and I now regret not getting this at the time it was released. I picked it up in a sale — if you don’t own a copy, do pick it up next time it is on offer. You won’t regret it!

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