The Doctor tells Mike Yates that his encounter with possessed taxidermist Percy Noggins wasn’t his final encounter with the Noggins family tree; after some investigation, the Doctor discovered that Noggins’ grandmother, dancer Ernestina Stott, has herself suffered unusual effects after being stung by a hornet in 1932. Traveling to meet her in the TARDIS, the Doctor witnesses Ernestina’s unusual behavior, including the smash-and-grab theft of a mysterious pair of ballet slippers in broad daylight and an astounding one-woman presentation of The Nutcracker ballet, wearing the aforementioned slippers. But it soon becomes apparent that the slippers are another means for the alien hornets to possess a human host. The Doctor confronts the hornets again in his attempt to free Ernestina from their grasp, and discovers that he and the hornets are moving in opposite directions through time… something which may work to the Doctor’s advantage when the hornets reveal something that he will do in the future.
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Susan Jameson (Mrs. Wibbsey), Clare Corbett (Ernestina), Christian Rodska (Reverend Small)
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: A bit more to my liking than The Stuff Of Nightmares, The Dead Shoes isn’t without a few silly scenes, though I probably could’ve gotten past the homage to The Incredible Shrinking Man more easily without a certain leading man hamming things up.
For starters, The Dead Shoes doesn’t have its tongue planted so firmly in cheek; the story plays it straight and makes the surreal scenes that much more unnerving. The concept that the Doctor and his enemies are taking different paths through the sequence of events is intriguing, and the story also confirms something I’d suspected about the character of Mrs. Wibbsey from the first installment. Best of all, the fairly-recent period setting lends the whole thing a great mood, and the suspense-killing framing story involving Mike Yates is kept to a minimum (no disrespect is intended here toward Richard Franklin, who still effortlessly brings an older, wiser Yates to life in his few scenes).
So what’s not to love? In a few places, Tom Baker is guilty of hamming it up just a little too much. I’ll give him credit: for 95% of The Dead Shoes, Baker really nails it: he is the Doctor again, back in character and perfectly pitched. So when he goes over-the-top, it’s that much more jarring and takes me out of the story. To be fair, a little bit of this is down to the script, which turns the Doctor’s trademark scarf into a means of saving the day, not once but repeatedly, drawing more attention to the scarf than the show itself ever did in Baker’s heyday. The beauty of the scarf on TV was that it was so obviously bizarre, but so little direct comment was ever made about that fact onscreen.
The Dead Shoes is a vast improvement on the first disc in the Hornets’ Nest cycle, proving something that has fueled so many debates over the years: Tom Baker’s Doctor was at his absolute can’t-get-your-eyes-off-him (or, in this case, ears) best when the story demanded a serious reading rather than a near-spoof. In fact, with a lengthy recap of Nightmares kicking things off, you could almost skip the first part and start here.