Maybe it was the lure of seeing the name Phillip Hinchcliffe across the top, perhaps it was the thought of a classic slice of the Fourth Doctor’s era being brought back to life, or maybe it was the lure of Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Whatever it was, The Helm of Awe offers a wonderful potential for great things. Did it mange to deliver that potential? Not particularly, is the unfortunate answer.
A classic producer returning to Doctor Who isn’t always the rekindling force it’s dreamt to be. Barry Letts returned to the Who fold in the early 1980s to offer advice for the new television series and in the early 1990s for two Third Doctor radio serial for the BBC. John Nathan-Turner and Steven Moffatt both stayed on Doctor Who longer than planned and many of their later episodes contain a certain flippancy that made the show too self aware for casual viewers.
Why is this relevant, I hear you thinking?
Because whilst Hinchcliffe offered some of the most important and brilliant episodes of Doctor Who to ever grace the television screens and is certainly one of Doctor Who‘s most important figures, his Big Finish tales (albeit dramatised by Marc Platt, at least this time) that he has been labelled as presenting have none of the power or swish that one would associate with his good name.
The Helm of Awe starts with a slight familiarity in terms of its isolated village setting and characters shrouded in mystery but soon throws itself into the light as a more standard Big Finish Doctor Who affair.
Tom Baker is Tom Baker and not the Fourth Doctor; he clearly revels in performing in something attached to Hinchcliffe but doesn’t bring his earlier version of the Time Lord to the fray. Leela, whilst inquisitive as ever, has developed a battle cry out of nowhere – not the end of the world as her character could certainly have had one, but surely this piece is designed to evoke an era and stick slightly to the continuity of it as well. The closest thing we had to a battle cry for her TV counterpart was ‘YAAAAA!’
The time travelling elements and monster-of-the-week are fine yet never enrich the story to a heightened level. They serve a more perfunctory role here and by episode four, the usual episode for resolution and action, this reviewer was struggling to stay engaged.
Should it be that this should have been exactly as we remember the Hinchcliffe era stories to be? Perhaps not. Times change and artists like to change what they do. But The Helm of Awe could sit under a different release banner from Big Finish. I’d like to listen to a more straightforward Fourth Doctor/ Hinchcliffe era romp, certainly if that’s what’s being advertised on the box.
Philip Hinchcliffe Presents: Volume 3 – The Helm of Awe is out now from Big Finish.