the-crooked-man_cover_largeBlurb: Winter at the seaside. The wind blows. The waves crash. People are dying and a strange spindly figure stalks the cold, deserted streets. A typical holiday for the Doctor and Leela in other words.

When they stumble across a grotesque series of murders at the coast, the TARDIS travelers realize the local constabulary is out of its depth. Something supernatural has come to town, something evil. And it all seems to be tied in to a particular young family.

Monsters lurk behind strange doors. Tragic secrets wait to be uncovered. And somewhere, deep within, the Crooked Man sits. He is waiting for you.

Review: The Crooked Man is the third installment of the third season of Fourth Doctor Adventures from Big Finish productions. Despite its placement towards the middle of the season, this story has no strong links to any others and it makes a great jumping on point for anyone who wants to give the Big Finish audios or the Fourth Doctor Adventures specifically, a try. Although many have criticized the writers of the Fourth Doctor Adventures for not being able to structure the stories to give proper pacing to two-part adventures, writer John Dorney seems to have a talent for telling stories that fit into that time frame. The Crooked Man doesn’t feel as if it is any longer than it needs to be to tell the story and the action seems adequately spaced to maintain one’s interest throughout.

One of John Dorney’s strengths is his characterization, and we get plenty of that here. There are certainly nice touches for the regulars like Leela noticing that someone is attracted to someone else by noticing his body language. There’s also a nice theme about Leela’s literal-mindedness and her difficulty in understanding idiomatic expressions. It also comes up as a plot point that that makes her the best candidate to resist a creature who feeds off imagination. There’s also nice little touches for Tom Baker’s Doctor who knows that someone is trying to kill him but acts as if everything is all right until the final moment. We also have an interesting guest cast that all get their moments, especially Ellis Andrews. At first he just appears to be a regular policeman to be ridiculed by the Doctor for obstructing him on the path to doing an investigation. Instead it turns out that he’s a Professor X fan, which is the Doctor Who universe’s version of Doctor Who. The fact that he’s nonplussed and unphased by the strangeness around him makes him a fun character and it’s nice that when things get really weird that he even has some helpful information to give, and turns out to be a far more dependable character than one would have expected. Laura also gets some strong character moments and in some ways this entire story is really about her, which leads to Doctor Who delving into a subject that it doesn’t normally do, and providing some social commentary on life in the real world in the way that good science fiction is supposed to do.

Dorney also provides a plot sprinkled with good ideas and wrapped up in several twists. He creates a good atmosphere with the seaside resort troubled by grizzly murders. I love that we get almost the same experience that we would have had on television with the Doctor and Leela arriving on the scene and our hearing about the murder. Television in the 70’s would never have shown such horror and it forces the audience to use their imaginations to visualize the disgusting scene. This enhances the experience because everyone creates a mental image of what would be most horrifying to themselves whereas often seeing the thing isn’t as bad as what one would imagine on their own. There’s also an interesting thread built up around the fact that fiction is ever-expanding both in numbers as well as media in which we tell stories. While this thread seems to be unconnected to the main story it becomes a central driving point to both of the major revelations that occur over the two episodes as well as including a nice surprise for those who are familiar with the classic series. One of Dorney’s strengths as a writer is that he can really pull at the heartstrings of his audience, and this story is no different. The final moments are incredibly powerful and will challenge even the most stoic listener not to tear up a little. The only real disappointment from this story is that the subplot about the difficulty between the Doctor and Leela is dropped entirely and isn’t even mentioned, which seems like a wasted opportunity after setting up some an interesting plot development.

The performances in this are fantastic. Louise Jameson continues topping herself at every opportunity. Leela is smart, strong, and brave and it comes through entirely in her performance. Tom Baker seems to thrive on stories that veer back into darkness. He seems to love being the investigator of the dark and strange and also loves being the man who is always two steps ahead of everyone else. He continues to go deeper and deeper into bringing the Fourth Doctor back and it’s wonderful to hear his continued development. Neil Stuke does a fantastic job with the Crooked Man. It’s not a part with a great deal of range and it’s a bit over-the-top, but it’s supposed to be and he comes up with a tone of voice that seems jolly whilst at the same time deadly and creepy. The Crooked Man may give you the goosebumps which is exactly what he’s supposed to do. Richard Earl also does a nice job as Ellis Andrews. He’s just so wonderfully ordinary and down-to-earth and I love how he’s given that trait but is also wonderfully unflappable and dependable. Sarah Smart and Robin Pearce give competent performances but there’s nothing really special there, although in Pearce’s case the blandness becomes something of a plot point. Lizzie Roper grates a bit on the nerves, but I think that may be intentional. She’s a cliche but in a story where cliches can kill, there is a little bit of menace there but her character has an annoying faux speech impediment that grates on the nerves, which may daunt some listeners. The music isn’t completely evocative of the Tom Baker era, but that’s fine as this is a story about placing things askew. There’s a nice piano melody that wends its way through the story with discordant notes thrown in to show that things are a little wrong with the world. It fits into the story very well.

Recommendation: The Crooked Man is a moral tale with great characterization wrapped up in a plot with several twists and interesting ideas. There are a few inconsistencies and there’s one thing about the resolution that seems especially off, but otherwise this is everything that you could want in a story. It’s got some nice nods for long-time Doctor Who fans but also serves as a great jumping on point for someone new. Dorney does it again. I highly recommend it!

9/10

2014

Audio Drama

Big Finish Productions

Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Produced by David Richardson

Written by John Dorney

Runtime Approx 60 min.

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