Wave of Destruction is the first story of the fifth series of the umbrella The Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish Productions. The project fulfilled many Doctor Who fans’ long-standing fantasy of returning Tom Baker to the role of the Fourth Doctor, and over the past seven years, many brand new adventures, featuring original companions, have been released on CD.
Demon Music Group has selected Wave of Destruction for release on vinyl, and it’s presented pressed in transluscent swirling light blue with a new cover design. It teams up Tom Baker’s Doctor with Lalla Ward as Romana and John Leeson as K9. The story, by Justin Richards, skillfully captures the light, humourous and clever era of Doctor Who that inspires it. Back in 1979, the show was script edited by Douglas Adams, who brought his deftness of comic touch, made most famous by the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to the long-running series, bringing an effervescent performance out of Tom Baker that he slips effortlessly back into all these years later.
The essence of that heady cheap and cheerful City of Death period comes through strongly in Wave of Destruction. The story opens with the Doctor and Romana collaborating on a crossword puzzle. It’s a neat touch as Tom Baker is a dedicated crossword-solver in real life, and Lalla Ward, previously married to Richard Dawkins, is no intellectual slouch herself. It’s easy to imagine Baker and Ward solving crossword puzzles together during their short-lived romance and marriage (and oh, to have been a fly on the wall for their reunion! Kudos to Big Finish Productions for bringing the two together for the first time since their 1981 divorce – time, as always, the great healer). It even has a neat reference to The Five Doctors (“tomorrow’s Times!”), and Tom’s slightly thinner, croakier voice aside, it has the bouquet of 1979 all over again!
As for the story itself, Wave of Destruction is set in the near past (relative to 1979) of the 1960s, which is a sensible move, avoiding anachronisms and allowing the period setting to feel authentic. It has a whiff of The Invasion, since it concerns an attack on a scientist, in this case Professor Lanchester, and a threat to humanity cause by radio waves leading to an alien invasion. This time, it’s the Vardans rather than the Cybermen who are behind it, using a pirate radio station to move about the earth, reading people’s thoughts.
The shimmering, often non-corporeal aliens appeared on screen in 1977’s The Invasion of Time, though thanks to James Callaghan’s bungling government, a recession led to a stagnating BBC budget which was unable to cope with rampant inflation. Consequently, the poor old Vardans were brought to life by undisguised sheets of aluminium foil. Needless to say, the Vardans work rather better on audio than they ever did on screen.
Whereas part of the narrative evokes the Doctor Who of the late 1970s, other aspects are less successful. A lively, chattering DJ is quite irritating. And since the whole story is wrapped up within an hour and with very few characters, it necessarily doesn’t have quite the same depth and weight as the small screen era conveyed. There’s also a fair bit of expositional technobabble, something the Doctor Who remake ramped up considerably, which is used to provide storytelling shortcuts.
Nevertheless, Wave of Destruction succeeds in doing what it set out to achieve, which is to allow the listener to be transported back to the golden age of Doctor Who, and to enjoy the definitive Doctor, Tom Baker, rolling back the years and playing the part that defined his career once again. Wave of Destruction is light and fun, with clever moments and plenty of good humour. Just like the era it evokes.
Doctor Who – Wave of Destruction will be released as a Limited Edition run of 1,500 copies on ocean swirl vinyl and will only be available to purchase in the UK in selected Sainsbury’s stores.
Cast: Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, John Leeson, John Banks, Phil Mulryne, Alix Wilton Regan, Karl Theobald Writer: Justin Richards Director: Nicholas Briggs Released by: Demon Music Group Running time: 60 mins Release date: 2nd August 2019