The fourth and final story in the ninth series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures (Numbers!) is an odd one. The setting and some of the scenes are really great and get the old imagination going, but some of the script is slow going, and the villain over-written. Does it balance out, or does it swing one way more than the other? Read on!
The TARDIS crew’s attempts to escape E-Space lead them to a strange planet with a surface that shifts and changes constantly.
Losing their ship down a fissure, they venture into the depths of this world and encounter the man who rules this place – a man known only as ‘the Engineer’. He tells them that he’s on a quest for illumination, and to find a rumoured portal in space that may lead to another reality, with knowledge unknown in this universe.
It seems he may be on the same quest as the Doctor and his friends. But can he be trusted? And who is he really?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
I mean, A for effort, but it looks far too… stupid to be effective. Hilarious to look at though!
The main setting of the story is the star of the show here. While we’ve had ships the size of planets before, the planet-ship seen here has the rather fun twist that it can move its crusts around at the push of the button (or several buttons, probably) and is therefore able to swallow crafts and people up into its innards, something that happens to our hero and his companions early on. Lots of great imagery created by the sounds and dialogue alone, this was definitely the standout.
It’s very nearly the only standout, mind you. There were some interesting ideas and characters, the lead known only as The Engineer (Nicholas Wooderson) had some great cheesy villain moments (though that being said, more on him down below in The Bad…), and there are characters who were dead but their corpses used to become robotic slaves that was an interesting twist, hearing new character Anla Jessik (Sarah Woodward) lament the use of her family member’s corpse as a puppet was good drama as well (though not enough for me to remember whether it was her son or brother… Pretty sure it was her son, but it’s been a few weeks and I didn’t actually note the relationship down in my review notes…)
The Doctor gets some good shouty bits as well, which is rare for Tom Baker’s incarnation (especially on audio) but in general the story kind of plods along…
As I just mentioned, the story is slow going, and a lot of the characters, both regular and new, spend a lot of time talking or going in and out of being captured. Regis Tel (George Layton) is the old doomsday preacher who nobody believes, but at no point in his journey did I particularly care about him. Romana spends most of the episode under the thumb of The Engineer, but beyond pointing out how bad of a person he is, she does very little. Hell, I can’t even remember what Adric and K9 do, beyond the former feeling sorry for the walking corpse-bot.
Also as I previously mentioned, The Engineer is over-written. He starts of as a mad genius, someone who wants to reach N-Space to see their technology and maybe meet someone of equal intellect, that was fine. He wipes out a whole planet to test a theory about what we know as a CVE, so he’s definitely mad, but that was fine. Then halfway through we find out he was an evil general of a galaxy-spanning empire that went missing, so… okay, unnecessary, but I guess it doesn’t make too much difference. Then at the end things gets all Dr. Freeze as they add a lost love he wants to bring back as his motivation, right up to The Engineer staying behind in his now-exploding base because he won’t leave her side. I’m sorry, am I now supposed to sympathise with him? It’s a bit too bloody late for that! He should have just been kept a simple crazy scientist, that would have been fine…
So big Wicker Man for Planet of Witches, the TARDIS for this story? Seems a bit unfair, though admittedly there isn’t much on the cover for this story beyond weird falling Tom Baker, so…
The whole planet-sized ship moving across space and being responsible for the vanishing of entire solar system’s worth of planets is extremely similar to Fourth Doctor TV story “The Pirate Planet”, even if they soon veer in different directions.
Other than that though, its only real connection is E-Space and the crew’s attempt to find a CVE to get back to their own universe…
The Quest of the Engineer has some great ideas and fun moments, but it is somewhat ruined by a slow pace and an antagonist with far too many layers to him. It starts off strong, but vanishes into a hole of more and more stuff until you just either don’t care or get lost. A shame, but I doubt I’ll be listening again, which given the strength of the previous three stories, is a sour note to end FDA S9 on, even if it’s not actually bad.