Retrospective: The Fourth Doctor Adventures – Suburban Hell

We asked some very special guest reviewers to take a listen to Suburban Hell, the fifth release of the fourth series of Fourth Doctor adventures from Big Finish. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s only Keith and Candice Marie Pratt from Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May!

Last seen on screen camping out in Dorset in 1976, we had to convert the CD to 8-track cartridge so they could play it in Keith’s beloved Morris Minor (still going strong). We catch up with them 40-years later, exiting the M3 at junction 13, toward Southampton Docks/Bournemouth…

Keith: (SWITCHING OFF THE CAR STEREO) What did you think of that, Candice Marie?

Candice Marie: I’m still covering my ears, Keith!

Keith: Not very effectively, Candice Marie, as you can clearly still hear. How did you enjoy the audio drama production?

Candice Marie: I shall be having nightmares, Keith. All that screaming and cruelty. I thought it was lovely at first with all the neighbours coming over for a party. But when the beastly blue monsters started shouting… it was horrifying! I shan’t be able to close my eyes in the tent tonight, Keith. Even when I cuddle up with Prudence.

Keith: Yes, I don’t think it’s recommended for people of a very nervous disposition. But the horrific elements are quite tame, in my opinion, particularly for this form of pulp science fiction adventure. I found the story a pleasant enough diversion as we travelled along the M3 towards Basingstoke/Southampton, with a brief comfort break at the Fleet Services between Junction 4a and Junction 5. Although the eerie thick fog has set our schedule back somewhat today.

Candice Marie: I preferred it when we listen to the New Seekers, Keith. We always listen to the New Seekers.

Keith: As I like to remind you, Candice Marie, it’s good to experience new things, as it helps to broaden one’s mind. And we have listened to We’d Like to Teach the World to Sing for the last 43 years, every time we take the approximately three-and-a-quarter to three-and-a-half-hour journey (depending on traffic) from Croydon to the Corfe Castle Camping and Caravanning Club Site.

Candice Marie: That’s because it always makes for a jolly start to our holidays, Keith.

Keith: There was a certain level of observational humour in this audio presentation to lighten the spirits, Candice Marie, chiefly derived from the interactions and relations between the characters. Particularly, the juxtaposition between the two alien beings and the suburban neighbours from the 20th Century. Personally, I prefer the world-weary musings of Anthony Hancock of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam…

Candice Marie: Or the Goons!

Keith: We have discussed this, Candice Marie, and I believe we agreed that their form of surreal and ultimately juvenile humour has very little long-term cultural value…

Candice Marie: (SUDDENLY IN DISTRESS) Keith! Keith! Watch out!

KEITH MAKES AN EMERGENCY STOP, WHEELS SCREECH.

Keith: What sort of prize lunatic leaves a great blue box in the middle of the dual carriageway just off the Merley Roundabout?

Candice Marie: You could have killed us, Keith. Why didn’t you stop earlier?

Keith: Because it appeared out of nowhere, Candice Marie.

Candice Marie: You said things didn’t just appear out of nowhere! You said that there are physical laws which govern the universe that can’t be contravened!

Keith: I know perfectly well what I said, Candice Marie! There are physical laws which govern the universe, and this object is in direct contravention of those laws. I’m going to discuss this with the clearly irresponsible individual who owns this box.

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Candice Marie: Don’t get so cross, Keith. Remember what Doctor Peterson said: you need to find healthier ways to express your anger. And it says ‘Police’ on that box – we can’t afford another incident!

Keith: Stay strapped into the passenger seat, Candice Marie. I’ll deal with this…

***

Sorry, we seem to have lost Keith and Candice Marie, so maybe I should finish this review?

It’s no secret that Suburban Hell is Alan Barnes’ homage to everyone’s favourite (apart from the writer/director himself) 1970s Play For Today, Abigail’s Party. It’s always a risk to attempt to ape a much loved classic (see above), but Suburban Hell is pitch perfect in that regard. It has very clear (and clever) echoes of the lauded source material but still manages to fit some great twists in the mix. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but things really aren’t as simple as they first seem.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson have a ball with the very funny script, but their performances never slip into the extremes of Graham Williams-era silliness. Annette Badland (Boom Town) and Katy Wix (Not Going Out) shine as Thelma and Belinda, respectively. However (spoiler alert!), I prefer Badland’s choice to keep her Estuary English accent when she reveals her alien origins, whereas Wix switches to Received Pronunciation when transformed into an alien queen. I’m sure Badland’s accent decision would get the Eccleston seal of approval.

I enjoyed Alistair Lock’s sound design and music too, a clear homage to mid-’70s Dudley Simpson, with an appropriate twist of Sapphire and Steel thrown into the mix. It really does take you back to tea time on Saturdays, beans on toast, Subbuteo, Etch A Sketch, Trev and Simon… Hang on, that last nostalgic reference was a bit of an anachronism. It’s like someone’s messing about with time…

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So, before I blow the whole plot, I’ll just say feel free to purchase Suburban Hell with my wholehearted recommendation. If you love it too, please PM me via the DWC and we can trade our favourite lines. If you don’t, feel free to email Big Finish with your concerns.

It’s much harder to review a release you really enjoy. Let’s face it, it’s easier to lay into something at length that you don’t think is much cop. And you fear if your review just says: great dialogue, fab story, excellent performances and so on, then it would be a little bit of a dull piece to read.

I’m sure there are ways to make a gushing review a bit more entertaining; I’ll have to think of a device to keep the interest up. But until then, I can say I heartily recommend Suburban Hell.

In an unrelated matter, we’ve just located Keith and Candice Marie.

Candice Marie: Put the branch down, please Keith! He’s much bigger than you! And his lady friend looks fearsome!

Keith: No, I don’t want a jelly baby. Get away from me! I’ll knock your head off!

What they’re trying to say is, Suburban Hell is out now from Big Finish, priced £10.99 on CD or £8.99 as a download.

(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in June 2015.)