Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 7/31/17 11:11 am
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In the opening story of Classic Doctors, New Monsters, Volume 02, the construction of Funworld, the happiest planet in the galaxy, has ground to a halt. A mysterious predator stalks the construction area, and all communications with the crew have ceased. Georgia Donnelly (Lorelai King) has sent in a crack team of investigators, led by Amanda Steele (Pam Ferris), to discover the causes of the halt in construction. But when they arrive there, they meet a mysterious stranger called the Doctor (Tom Baker), and they find that something deadly lurks in the shadows. Night of the Vastha Nerada, the first of two Vashta Nerada stories in this set, kicks off the set with a strong, tragic story. Utilizing Tom Baker in a New Who-based story for the first time, the story chooses a story that forces Baker into a corner of his acting skills, which surprisingly brings out a really excellent performance from the man. Alongside excellent costars like Pam Ferris and Emma Lowndes, the cast of the story comes together well to form a tight series of performances. John Dorney too delivered a solid, creepy story featuring one of the creepiest monsters from New Who, utilizing them to their full potential, to create an engaging, suspenseful story. It felt derivative of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead at times, which is to be expected, but I do wish Dorney had put a little more effort into making his story standout a bit.
Tom Baker stars as the Fourth Doctor in this story. Joining the New Series range for the first time, Baker seems to relish the role he's given here. There are shades of the Fourth Doctor we know and love, the clown who obfuscates to trick his enemies into thinking he's a fool. But, in an odd but brilliant mood, writer John Dorney boxes Baker into a specific corner throughout the story. Baker plays the Fourth Doctor for the vast majority of the set as someone terrified of what he's up against, yet who steps up and takes charge. He doesn't spend much time joking around or having fun; he's serious as he tries to save as many lives as he can. Baker seems to relish in this role, sounding the most youthful he has in years here. I'd love to see more of this Baker in the Fourth Doctor Adventures. It's hard to pick a single scene that I liked above all the others, but I found the scene where he laments the death of Phellan (Emma Lowndes) to be a powerful performance, as well as his short scene saluting the death of Amanda (Pam Ferris) to be among my favorite scenes. But Baker really commanded the attention during this story, and he was easily my favorite part of the story.
The guest cast is a little more varied in performances, but I think two of the actors of the set deserve to be highlighted. Pam Ferris stars as Amanda Steele, the gruff head of the exploratory group investigating Funworld. At the start of the story, she's a rather boring character, I have to admit. She falls into the same mold as countless other one-time gruff team leaders over the years; but over the course of the story, Ferris reveals a more sensitive side that's lacking in most of these other performances, culminating in her sacrificing herself to save the Earth. It's a very short scene, but she really steals the show a bit during that scene, and it leads to my favorite scene from the entire play. Emma Lowndes also stars in this story, as the psychic Phellan. Lowndes gives a strong performance by nature of her varied roles; she acts as a conduit for the thoughts of the recently deceased and the Vashta Nerada themselves. She shows some great range throughout the story, as she runs the gamut between showing the anger of the Vashta Nerada, or the horrors of the dead. Her time in the audio is short, but nonetheless I felt she made an impact on the story.
John Dorney wrote this story, a tale of a Vashta Nerada infestation on a planet. The story bears a lot of similarities to Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead at times, which is to be expected. But nonetheless, Dorney gave us a supremely creepy story, filled with some great character moments and a little bit of fun dialogue. The story borrows a lot from the Library two-parter in some ways, though it does make an effort to distinguish itself. Rather than the Vashta Nerada coming to Funworld, Dorney has Funworld as a home for the Vashta Nerada. I felt that this really made them into interesting monsters to see them driven not by fear or disgust, but by a desire to survive. It makes them feel a little more relatable as monsters, which allows for some truly horrific moments. However, I couldn't help but feel that the story was a slightly changed, reskinned Library two-parter. An exploratory team comes to investigate the site of a Vashta Nerada infestation, where they find the Doctor and lose members of their crew to try and save the world. It's very similar to the two-parter, and at times, it really sticks out like a sore thumb.
As I said earlier, I really liked Dorney's choice to put the Fourth Doctor in a bit of a box, to bring out a different side of the Fourth Doctor. It's not a side we get to hear very often in stories, so it was an extremely welcome addition to this story. But beyond just the Doctor, Dorney did a really great job making these characters feel deep. Some bit characters even felt like full-people, rather than expendable filler. In particular, I thought he created a couple of great characters with Amanda and Phellan; Phellan brought an emotional anchor to the story, while Amanda surprised by revealing a more sensitive side as the story went on. Dorney consistently does strong work for the characters he creates, so it's lovely to see him continuing that trend.
Overall, Night of the Vashta Nerada starts off the second Classic Doctors, New Monsters volume with a good story about a Vashta Nerada infestation. Tom Baker gave a wonderful, rare performance here, and was joined by a great guest cast, including Pam Ferris and Emma Lowndes. Dorney's script was at times too derivative of Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, which surprised me as Dorney is usually really good about making the story his own. However, that didn't stop Dorney from creating an interesting story, especially given the revelation that the Vashta Nerada had no intention of harming anyone until the trees were cut down. He also did some excellent work with developing characters like Phellan and Amanda throughout the story. If the rest of the set is as good as this one, this should be a rather enjoyable set.