Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents – Review
Gustaff Behr reviews the Big Finish box set containing The Ghosts of Gralstead and The Devil’s Armada.
One of the most popular times in Doctor Who was the Philip Hinchliffe era. Famous for gloom and doom, dark and gothic, this box set promised to take us back to 1975.
Composed of two stories, The Ghosts of Gralstead and The Devil’s Armada, the former being a 6-parter, the latter being a 4-parter, I was most curious to see if Big Finish could pull off the grim atmosphere the era is renowned for. More importantly, I wondered if they would be able to make the era enjoyable for me. Because for me personally, the stories set during this particular era of Doctor Who don’t comprise a lot of my favorites. Of the 16 stories, I’ve only seen 10 and I only like 3, so I knew I’d be tough to please.
The Ghosts of Gralsted
The first is The Ghosts of Gralsted which already contained something I’m not very fond of – 6 episodes! It was called doglegging back in the classic series, but most of the time, 6 episodes just felt like 2 too many for me. The Ghosts of Gralstead is one of the exceptions though! The pacing from start to finish feels moderate and at times brisk. There is very little padding and when there is, it is covered up with fantastic dialogue.
Like most of 6-parters, I took my time listening to it and enjoyed every moment of it. Tom and Louise are on top form and their characters even more so. Leela finds a kindred spirit whose company makes the listener want to hop into the story and join them. There is just something about the blunt, uncultured Leela that captures your ears. Making up her own names for things to make it easier for her to understand. It’s adorable.
The Fourth Doctor is his usual clever self, albeit a little more detached and insensitive at times. This is clearly visible during one of the scenes in the second episode. Like me, you’ll probably go: “That’s pretty cold Doc!
The supporting characters has, I am pleased to inform, no duds. At least not for me and I usually always find at least one to hate. Usually there is at least one character that comes across as unlikable or annoying that drops the story’s score for you. Gralstead has none. They all come across as reasonable and given that we have six episodes, each one of them receives time to develop and charm us. On the topic of the cast, it’s nice to see how large it is for this story. It’s unusual for a story to have 12 characters, but as I said before, the six-parter allows/requires additional characters to function.
The villain for this piece might be the only thing that drags it down. At times, you’ll go ‘oh please shut up’ or as you get to know them better, you’ll probably go ‘I wish we’d get to the part where you die already’. A well-thought out character granted; it’s just a shame they come across as such a whiny pain in some parts. Takes away all the menace!
Rating The Ghosts of Gralstead: 9/10. A solid, benchmark story depicting what the Philip Hinchcliffe is all about!
The Devil’s Armada
The Devil’s Armada is a complete 180 on the scale. Taking place in Elizabethan times, the tale brings us witches, imps, overzealous religious followers and a priest. It’s also incredibly boring! How weird that I’d enjoy a story I usually criticize for being too long when the story that’s just the right length fails so miserably? The Devil’s Armada is filled with cliché tropes (you know how I love those), all of which you’d expect to see in such a tale, making it feel like it’s just trying to tick off all the standard boxes required for a this type of story to work.
What also makes this story so hard is the pace. It ranges from moderate to unnaturally slow, focusing more on side-quests than getting to the bottom of the main plot. The first episode is specially mixed and depending on your attitude towards it, will cause it to either go on being better or worse. It’s also filled with cliché characters to go with the cliché tropes it’s filled with. Nothing you haven’t seen like a dozen times before.
The Devil’s Armada does contain the best line of the two stories combined with this little gem from Leela early on: “Elizabeth the 1st? Is that like November the 5th?” How precious is that?
The concept behind the monster however is great. There are shades of The Fearmonger and Midnight, but overall, it still manages to do a good job over the enemy used in Gralstead. There is a sinister hide and seek mystery game going on in this story that is more entertaining when compared to the scenes featured in Gralstead.
Rating The Devil’s Armada: 7/10. Good ideas, but some bad plot focuses.
Time-placement for this box set: Leela asks the Doctor if they can visit Jago and Litefoot again indicating that this takes place sometime after The Talons of Weng-Chiang. She is still wearing her Victorian attire from that story so it wasn’t that long ago either. The cover of Destination: Nerva depicts Leela as still wearing that outfit while the Doctoar seen still wearing his Sherlock Holmes getup while not being shown to wear it for these adventures, signifying that these stories take place directly after Destination: Nerva, but before The Renaissance Man.