The Movellan Grave is the seventh release in the sixth series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures by Big Finish Productions. The story takes place during the beginning of Season 18 of Doctor Who and so stars Tom Baker as the Doctor and Lalla Ward as Romana. It’s written by Andrew Smith (Full Circle) and features a certain species of characters that, let’s be honest here, almost no one particularly liked or ever wanted to see again. It’s a story about the ruthless robots from Destiny of the Daleks, without the Daleks – yes, the Movellans, although you might’ve gained an appetite for them after seeing them again (albeit very briefly) in The Pilot. Mr. Smith has certainly challenged himself this time. The question is, is it any good?
The plot of this story is actually very simple and fun. The Doctor and Romana land in 1980 only to discover that a Movellan ship crashed a couple thousand years ago after a battle with the Daleks. The story follows an odd format which starts off as a bit of a fun, little run around in Part One and about a quarter of Part Two, then it quickly shifts to a Base Under Siege formula. The two different genres blend well together and make for an interesting take on two well-known formulas that is just a marvel to listen to. The story itself feels like it could be a genuine story from Season 18 with references to City of Death, from Season 17, as if this story were taking place directly after it, and several other minor details (such as the score) that give it that proper ’80s Who feel. There are, however, problems that take away from that.
There’s quite a bit to say about the characters in this story. Let’s start with the Movellans. There are two Movellans in this story that are prominent characters, Commander Narina (Polly Walker) and Chenek (Chris Jarman); the rest appear at the end and only have a couple lines each. Sadly, the two of them aren’t very threatening and are mainly used for comic relief. They have their moments, and they do kill, but a lot of the comedy that comes from them and is directed towards them just falls a bit flat. Chenek does get a nice little character arc going for him though.
The Doctor is probably another downside to this story. At this point in the Doctor Who timeline, the Fourth Doctor is meant to be a bit more solemn and a bit more reserved; however, here he is bouncing with almost as much energy as the Fourth Doctor from Season 12. This detracts from the stylized feel of the story as this is meant to be the Doctor from Season 18, yet it doesn’t really feel like him. Despite this, he does get a lot to do and his quips at the side characters are entertaining, which is a plus. Sadly, this means Romana doesn’t get much to do as she feels pushed aside for the majority of the runtime. The other two characters in this audio, Carrie Pierce (Camilla Power) and Robin Lyon (John Banks), are really only there to set up and forward the story.
The acting as a whole is superb. This audio has a relatively small cast, which is something that almost always plays to Doctor Who‘s strengths. Tom Baker, though his character is not written particularly well this time around, gives it his all and brings out a lively performance which the listener can only imagine a younger Baker doing. Lalla Ward, although she didn’t have much to work with, also does an excellent job. Some of Chris Jarman’s lines come across as unbelievable and a couple even in monotones, but as a whole, he’s pretty good as well.
Is The Movellan Grave any good? Well… kind of. It’s an interesting idea from a writer who has been responsible for some of the best modern Big Finish stories; however, it can’t quite decide what it wants to be. Sometimes it wants to be humorous, other times it wants to be pretty depressing. The best way to sum up the way this story is written is by saying it’s like a Robert Shearman script that lacks the fine balance of comedy and bleakness. It has its moments and is a good listen if you need to kill an hour, but it certainly isn’t an audio drama you should go into expecting a lot from.
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Movellan Grave is out now from Big Finish, priced £10.99 as a CD or £8.99 as a download.