Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/26/17 3:34 pm
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In The Silent Scream, March 2017's Fourth Doctor Adventures release, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Lalla Ward) arrive in 1920s Hollywood, to meet a favorite actor of the Doctor's Loretta Waldorf (Pamela Salem). But Loretta is scared for her life, as she has been called to perform in the cursed talkie, Fires of Fate. Silent movie actors have been lined up around the block to film it, but each and every one of them loses their voice when they film it. It's up to the Doctor and Romana to unravel this mystery; but will they fall victim to the Silent Scream as well? The Silent Scream, the first Fourth Doctor Adventures script by writer James Goss, is a thoroughly average affair. The acting was alright throughout, with Tom Baker and guest star Andrée Bernard standing out, and the writing was occasionally clever, but it lacked depth to the story and the rest of the cast, a problem that plagues much of the Fourth Doctor Adventures range.
Tom Baker once again reprises his role as the Fourth Doctor here in this story. Baker is on rare form here, which is no small feat considering much of his role here was him making gurgling noises and the odd single word. But his performance here was delightful; Baker hasn't lost the charm that he had in the role, and age has mellowed the poor qualities he once exhibited in the role. He still inhabits the delightfully alien character with all the charms and obfuscations he had in the 1970s, but with none of the arrogance he had at that time as well. I particularly liked his scene with Andrée Bernard as the Doctor was jokingly filmed by Lulu, as he was able to exhibit all of the excellent qualities of his Doctor there; the ability to be funny and joking around in an enjoyable way, followed by his 180 turn to be deadly serious. Lalla Ward also reprises her role as Romana in this story. While she's great acting the role of Romana that she's played in the Gallifrey series with Big Finish, her performance as Romana alongside the Fourth Doctor is somewhat lacking. While she is still a delightful actor, Ward is missing the warmth and charm of the role she played in S17 and S18, replacing it with haughtiness. Sometimes, that works, such as The Trouble with Drax, where it was used to great comedic effect. But S17 and S18 Romana is often joyous, and is very seldom serious.
The guest cast is led by three major actors. First up is Alec Newman as the villainous Dr. Julius, a surgeon who removes the voices of silent movie stars to "preserve" them for all eternity, in the form of shadow-like creatures. Newman wasn't given the most interesting villainous role on the planet, but he did well with what he was given. I was particularly impressed with his American accent which, while still not perfect, was certainly one of the best Big Finish has had. Pamela Salem also guest starred in this story, in a large role as Loretta Waldorf, a former silent movie star called to do Fires of Fate, the cursed film at the center of the Silent Scream. Salem does a fine job here here as the older actress Loretta Waldorf, though it's not the most interesting performance she's given with Big Finish. Rounding out the main guest cast is Andrée Bernard as Lulu Hammerstein, the owner of Hammerstein studios, who encounters the Doctor throughout the story. Bernard is the highlight of the guest cast, delivering a strong performance alongside Baker, who she shares an excellent chemistry with.
First time Fourth Doctor Adventures writer James Goss delivered a fairly underwhelming script here. I feel like Goss almost had an interesting story going into the second half, but he instead let the story peter out into mediocrity, rather than try to write something a little more challenging, but rewarding. To start with the good, I quite liked the characterization of the Doctor in this story. Goss, having never written for the Fourth Doctor, did a fantastic job capturing the tone of the character well, and really helped to bring out something special in Baker's performance. I also quite liked the concept of his story, and the execution of it was fine, if a little too safe, in my opinion. The idea of a person kidnapping stars to "preserve" them isn't exactly a new concept, but Goss added a little twist in that Dr. Julius was stealing the stars' voices, to preserve them that way. It was an interesting concept, and I found the execution to be enjoyable, if bland. My biggest issue with this story, and really many of the Fourth Doctor Adventures is that Goss wrote this story too safe, by writing it as a Fourth Doctor story first and foremost. This seems silly considering the title of the range, but in the first half, the Doctor loses his voice, which is a part of one of his greatest weapons: his words. I thought the story would shift to Romana discovering the way to stop Dr. Julius with the second half of the story, but instead, it was yet again the Doctor finding a way to be dead clever and save the day by himself. One of my biggest issues with the Fourth Doctor Adventures range is that it is a vehicle for Tom Baker, and Tom Baker alone. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the Doctor doesn't travel alone, and often the writing does the companions a disservice by pushing them to the side. Goss could've made this story about Romana saving the day by saving the Doctor, taking the lead and all that. But instead, Goss played it very safe, and had the Doctor think of something clever to do, and a snappy quip to throw out.
The final thing I'd like to mention is the fantastic cover art for this release. Made by Anthony Lamb, the first thing that pops out at me from the cover is the use of the film strip for story and cast information, which really makes this story feel rather special. I also quite like the bold, Hollywood-poster style cover used here, with the cracked old-timey background; the little lightning bolt-esque cuts in the cover, the discarded film reel below, and the creepy shadow-like creatures all make for a rather striking, interesting cover. Lamb has done some great work this series with the covers for the Fourth Doctor Adventures, designing new, interesting, and bold covers for these stories, and shaking up the rather stale covers used often by Big Finish.
Overall, The Silent Scream is a rather average story. Well acted by Tom Baker and Andrée Bernard, and written enjoyable by James Goss, the story nonetheless had some large issues, that are all to common with the Fourth Doctor Adventures. Lalla Ward still acts very different from the way she acted on television back in the 1970s and 1980s, while the rest of the guest cast was rather boring. And while the writing was perfectly fine, I felt that Goss missed out on a really interesting story idea that could've taken the story in a different, and more exciting direction, but instead, the story fell into the trap of being nothing more than a vehicle for Tom Baker to act in. Still, it had it's moments, and I certainly didn't feel like I wasted my time listening to this story, so I'm happy to call it an average, if disappointing story.