Romana (Lalla Ward) and the Doctor (Tom Baker) are perusing the cream of supernatural fiction in the Doctor’s Baker Street residence in the early 1920s… there are movements in the Attic that the Doctor is adamant they must not investigate. Meanwhile, in darkest Kent, a young woman named Beatrice loses her father, only to find her long-dead brother knocking at her door.
As a whole, Big Finish’s The Haunting of Malkin Place, the latest in the audio’s company’s Fourth Doctor Adventures Series 6, is satisfyingly clever. The cast is just the right size, easily distinguishable, and play their parts admirably. Baker continues to ooze authenticity in the role he was born to and Ward is as reliable as ever. I have previously moaned that poor Romana doesn’t seem to have much fun in the Big Finish range. I’m certain her on-screen incarnation spent more time enjoying herself, while in her audio incarnation, Ward seems to be a constant state of frustration if not outright irritability. It would be nice for Romana to have a bit more fun in her current adventures but Ward delivers a clear and engaging performance nevertheless.
Haunting, directed by Nicholas Briggs, is in some ways very standard retro-Who and of the era, but has enough that’s new and well thought-through to hold our attention. It does lean toward the love-saves-the-day narrative in the vein of Closing Time (2011) or other science-fantasy storylines where we’re given less science and more emotional magic. However, Haunting is also refreshingly bleak (if that’s possible) and grown-up such that it avoids some of the mawkishness that can creep into this genre. I’m referring to plots where emotions feature as a sort of force that can interact with advanced technologies. This has been perhaps a little overdone in Doctor Who both on screen and in audio in recent years, but here, there’s something rather more interesting at work.
Nostalgia, memory, and mourning become active forces in the plot and rather than being a plot-device or short-cut, have a slightly more allegorical presence in the story. I might be doing other stories a disservice, but I found there to be a lot more going on in this adventure.
Without giving too much away, we have a story that manages to deal with grief and grieving and the redemption of cowardice all in a neat and contained narrative. [Very mild SPOILER ALERT:] The titular haunting itself hints at the resolution of a grief that is a little too much for one of our protagonists, young Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan), to bear as the story starts out. Writer, Phil Mulryne has made a story sufficiently layered to have more to offer on a second listening.
The setting is slightly reminiscent of The Chimes of Midnight with the domestic period setting, mysterious goings on of a ghostly nature, though it’s less Sapphire & Steel and more traditional in structure and style. We have séances, a jaunty spiritualist, semi-psychic twins, the emotional legacy of World War I, and some (mostly) satisfying sci-fi, all delivered with aplomb.
All in all, I can recommend Haunting, particularly if you enjoy the more Gothic end of Baker’s era (perfect as the winter nights roll in) – and the Baker Street reveal at the end is a delight!
The Haunting of Malkin Place gets a thumbs up – whilst keeping fingers firmly on the table and not breaking the circle…
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Haunting of Malkin Place is out now from Big Finish, priced £10.99 on CD and £8.99 as a download.