It’s that time of the year again, when classic Doctors find themselves about New-Who monsters. In this second set, we’re joined by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth incarnations of our favourite Time Lord in a slew of new stories. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in the set, Night of The Vashta Nerada, starring the Fourth Doctor.
Funworld was set to be the happiest planet in the galaxy. A planet of joy, of euphoria, of laughter and delight. Except construction was marred by reports of a predator and then, a few days before opening, all communication ceased.
Owner Georgia Donnelly is desperate to open the resort and has hired Amanda Steele’s crew to find out what happened on the planet. They’re the best. But even they might not be up to the task.
Joined by the Doctor and being picked off one by one, they slowly start to realise that something terrifying lurks in the shadows.
I’m going to have to say this right at the very start of this review. Within the first eight seconds of Night of The Vashta Nerada I felt as if I was about to listen to something epic and magical. The musical opening, composed by Howard Carter, is so whimsical and fun that it wouldn’t feel out of place in a Harry Potter movie; and it just sets the scene so well. Hats off to Howard Carter for giving us a truly cinematic opening in audio.
The premise behind the story seems, in the beginning, to be somewhat similar to Silence In The Library, there’s a team going to investigate strange goings on; but instead of a library, it’s at a fun fair, and instead of the Tenth Doctor, it’s the Fourth, who enters in a rather remarkable fashion.
I always find it fascinating when different incarnations of the Doctor are left without a companion; it means they don’t have to play the part of the Doctor as much; without a companion, the Fourth Doctor is a lot more alien, probably because he doesn’t have a human (or at least human-ish) companion to ground him.
The first half of the story sets and builds up the premise of the story; with the revelation (and this is hardly a spoiler) that the threat is the Vashta Nerada. The way that the Doctor deduces this is very Sherlock Holmes, using victims vernacular to deduce exactly what attacked them.
With the second half of the story, the themes become somewhat more dark (if you’ll pardon the pun), with the Doctor really wanting to leave and save as many good people as possible; and the crew seemingly on a suicide mission, especially when you know what you know about the Vashta Nerada.
The ragtag team that John Dorney has assembled for this story creates a great tension between the group, which adds to the tension of the entire situation. Teams that enjoy themselves and each others company are nowhere near as fun to listen to, and this team really brings out the best and the worst in every single member.
In the final ten minutes of the story, there’s a little tiny twist that reminds me a lot of a popular cult computer game (If I told you which one, it would ruin the surprise; but rest assured, it’s creepy as hell in this story) and, even though it doesn’t last long, it’s so well written and executed that you can’t help but have the creeps.
Just as you think everything is tied up, there’s a final little mission that the Doctor has to go on in order to save humanity. It’s times like these that you remember just how incredibly bonkers the Time Lord really is.
Remember in The Waters of Mars, how the Doctor thought that he was too good at what he did and, due to this, innocent people died to prove that they’re cleverer than him? Well a similar thing happens here; albeit due to different circumstances. The Doctor can’t save everyone everyday, no matter how much he’d like to.
The conclusion of Night of The Vashta Nerada is potentially a cliffhanger, (I’m writing this review having just listened to this story from the box set) especially when you have a gist of what’s coming up later in the set. If you know exactly when in the Fourth Doctor’s timeline this tale happens too, you may realise that a slight oversight might be catastrophic in the long run. Luckily, I’ll probably find out if my hunch is right within the next few days worth of reviews…
Overall, Night of The Vashta Nerada is a great story to kick off the box set with, we’re going back to the more gothic horror stories of the Fourth Doctor with a great “villain” and the craziness of the setting really adds to the spooky atmosphere. Hearing Tom Baker’s Doctor without a regular companion is refreshing to hear too, as it means that his moral compass is ever so slightly more relaxed. If this is reflective of the quality of the rest of the box set, we’re in for a real treat.
Should you want to purchase Classic Doctors, New Monsters: Volume Two, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £23 on CD or £20 for a digital download for a limited time.