The Doctor returns to Nest Cottage for a break from his travels, but when he’s ready to set off into time and space once more, he’s horrified to discover that his housekeeper, Mrs. Wibbsey, has sold a component of the TARDIS at a local charity sale. And there’s another mystery: a photograph of a first-century tile mosaic clearly depicting the Doctor’s face. Free to travel in time but relatively fixed in space because of the missing spatial geometer, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey travel back to the first century where they are mistaken for Druids with supernatural powers – and during an attempt to pass herself off as a seer, Mrs. Wibbsey says some unusual things about a wizard with a demonic pet. Under threat of their own deaths, the Doctor and Mrs. Wibbsey are sent to slay the wizard and his beast. Instead, they find a strangely genial Roman Emperor from the wrong period of history who knows far more about the future than he should.
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Susan Jameson (Mrs. Wibbsey), Nigel Anthony (Claudius), Kate Sachs (Female Warrior), Rupert Holliday Evans (Male Warrior), Richard Franklin (Mike Yates)
Timeline: after Hive Of Horror and before The Demon Of Paris, and probably still before The Ribos Operation
Notes: Nest Cottage, in the village of Hexford, seems to be the fourth Doctor’s retreat from his time travels, but since his third incarnation, the Doctor has also maintained a (usually unoccupied) residence on Allen Road in Kent, a story development that gave the Doctor a base of operations in several pieces of ’90s Doctor Who novels and comics.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: If there’s anything that everyone seemed to take away from BBC Audio’s five-part Hornets’ Nest series of Doctor Who audio stories – a series which made headlines by luring Tom Baker back to the part of the Doctor for the first time since 1993’s charity sketch Dimensions In Time – it seemed to be the unanimous cry of “But this isn’t what Big Finish would’ve done!” Heavy on first-person, past-tense narration and light on scenes involving multiple voices, Hornets’ Nest had an interesting story to tell, but almost seemed to opt for the least interesting way to tell it. The one asset that probably saved that series from honest-to-goodness bad reviews was Tom Baker’s rich voice, commanding the listeners’ attention every step of the way, and diverting attention away from occasionally self-indulgent scripting.
The Relics Of Time kicks off a second five-part story, collectively known as Demon Quest, picking up where Hornets’ Nest left off and following a similar format. Though it employs more performers on average than Hornets’ Nest did, Demon Quest strives for more of a balance between narration and dramatic scenes. It nearly succeeds – now it’s more like one of Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles series of “enhanced audio books,” which have a similar narration/dramatization ratio.
Still in place are the eccentric tendencies of both Baker and writer Paul Magrs; together, their preferences seem to tend toward the surreal (discussion of taking an elephant aboard the TARDIS as the Doctor’s new companion) and the amusingly parochial (vital components of the TARDIS sold off at a church charity sale), with a dash of bad puns thrown in (a village “awash with the unwashed”). Baker’s predilection toward quietly offbeat humor fits comfortably with Magrs’ style of writing, though depending on your own tolerance for the style of humor that Baker was shoehorning into Doctor Who at its late ’70s low point (see also: The Creature From The Pit, Nightmare Of Eden, The Horns Of Nimon). it may not square with how listeners remember the fourth Doctor.
More dialogue scenes means more witty banter with the delightfully unflappable Mrs. Wibbsey, still played by Susan Jameson, and that’s the high point of this story. (Mike Yates is still in the story, though he’s relegated to a recording on an answering machine in The Relics Of Time.) Jameson is truly the saving grace of this one, with Mrs. Wibbsey finally getting a larger share of the action and dialogue.