Mike Yates listens on as the Doctor tells him about his next encounter with the swarm of alien hornets, at an abbey in the middle ages. The nuns of the abbey tell the Doctor that they welcomed a new Mother Superior only a few months ago, at roughly the same time that wild wolves began to besiege their abbey. Despite the nuns’ protectiveness of their new leader, the Doctor demands an audience with her, confident that she is the current host of the hornets. He’s stunned to find that she’s not even human, but a hornet-infested pig. The hornets leave their host and infest one of the wolves, which then pursues the Doctor and gains entry to the TARDIS. The hornets now have their prize: with the Time Lord under their control, that can set into motion the events that he has been trying to prevent since his first encounter with them. His story told in full, the Doctor prepares to fight the hornets one last time, and Mike Yates wonders if it’s a fight they can both survive.
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates), Clare Corbett (Nun), Rula Lenska (The Swarm), Susan Jameson (Mrs. Wibbsey)
Notes: The Doctor reminisces about some of the enemies he has defeated in the past, from the Nestenes and Axons of the Jon Pertwee era to the Kraals, the Mandragora Helix and Sutekh from Baker’s era in the role on TV. But a curious addition to that list is Vogons – quite clearly pronounced differently from Revenge Of The Cybermen‘s Vogans. Has the Doctor hitchhiked through the galaxy with Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect? The story also includes scenes set in Venice – a venue visited by writer Paul Magrs in a Big Finish Doctor Who adventure starring Paul McGann, The Stones Of Venice.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: If the Hornets’ Nest cycle has a soft center where the momentum sags just a little bit, A Sting In The Tale is it: this episode simply spends its running time confirming what we’ve begun to suspect from the previous segments. Actually, it’s more like it pays off the hints that have been telegraphed quite boldly in the previous segments. That might be a bit of a bore, except that for the first time in this entire miniseries, Tom Baker hits the mark, finally. This is the fourth Doctor who risked all to fight Sutekh and Davros and the Wirrn and didn’t always win, and didn’t necessarily always crack jokes about it either. In other words, this is where it gets really good.
Even though we’ve got a pretty good idea of what must transpire in A Sting In The Tale in order for the rest of the episodes thus far to happen without creating a time paradox, Baker nails the Doctor’s horror at being the cause behind the effects he has already experienced. This story is dark, and then some; there’s not a lot of room for snappy sarcasm or tongue-in-cheek humor. The cliffhanger, which sees the Doctor and Yates preparing to go into battle together once again, marks a major turning point: at that moment, Hornets’ Nest is no longer spoon-feeding us fireside tales of adventures already concluded. The rest of the story almost has to be dealt with in the present tense.
A Sting In The Tale may not contain the bulk of the action of the Hornets’ Nest story, but it does have a great, doom-laden atmosphere that squares perfectly with the Philip Hinchcliffe-produced, gothic-horror-inspired heyday of Tom Baker’s Doctor, and either Baker or the director of these audio plays picked up on that, and Baker reigned in his more flamboyant, eccentric excesses, to fantastic effect. The script and its star finally hit the right tone at the same time, and for that, the penultimate segment of Hornets’ Nest gets top marks.