Somewhere in a suburb of North London, there’s a crisis. More than a crisis, a positive disaster: Belinda and Ralph are expecting four for supper, and there’s no Marie Rose sauce for the Prawns Marie Rose. All in all, the evening couldn’t possibly get any worse… Until the doorbell rings, bringing the Doctor and Leela to the dinner party. They’ve got a crisis, too – temporal ruckage has sent the TARDIS to another time zone entirely. Meaning they might have to endure a whole evening in Belinda’s company. But the Doctor and Leela aren’t the only uninvited guests tonight. There’s a strange fog falling, out in the road. And in that fog: savage blue-skinned monsters, with dinner party plans of their own. Because it’s not Prawns Marie Rose on their menu – it’s people!
After being such a mixed bag of offerings throughout the first three series’ of Big Finish’s Fourth Doctor range, the series has recently seemed to find it’s footing and a consistency, recent releases hitting the note in terms of tone and performance. After the impressive Death Match last month, can Alan Barnes keep the trend going and equal his other release this month Last of the Cybermen? no, he betters it.
While Last of the Cybermen was excellently plotted with magical performances from our leads, Colin Baker and Frazer Hines standing out in particular, we felt the play was let down somewhat with a sense of over-familiarity, that we’d walked a similar path with the Cybermen all too often. Not so here, the concept and execution refreshingly new. While we like to see the audios staying within the bounds of the realities of the era (lower your weapons rads vs. trads veterans) there is a danger of straying into complacency and the realms of deja vu.
Bringing a nightmarish dinner party to life, Barnes’ tale is benefited by the perfect Doctor for the role, the premise having “written for Tom Baker” all over it and it’s difficult to see it working in this way with any other Doctor. The icon is having a ball here, you can visualise the eyes bulging – all teeth and curls as he’s gifted some riotously funny material, stealing the show as only Baker can, while ensuring the drama never suffers. This is vintage Tom, offsetting the ever increasing threat with humour.
The rest of the cast is excellent, Annette Badland (Aliens of London, Boom Town) standing out as Thelma and Katy Wix’s Belinda is suitably monstrous in her role as hostess, both served well by the script as once again is Leela, her scene with Penny and her husband a highlight. While the play stays strong throughout, the ending unfortunately lets it down, feeling at odds with the rest of the audio and something that unduly effects what came before.
That said, Suburban Hell is a fantastic entry in this very strong fourth series of Tom Baker audios. A genuine rib-tickler with a dark underbelly that shines it’s most with a Tom at his sparkling best. Excellently cast and scripted, the series has found a fine footing and the play comes highly recommended as we head into the anticipated The Cloisters of Terror next month and the return of Emily Shaw. Suburban Hell is one of the highlights of the Fourth Doctor at Big Finish.
Wonderful performance from Tom Baker & cast
Genuinely funny script
A poor ending