The Doctor and Leela arrive in rural England in 1979, finding a village dominated by fears of a legendary white worm who consumes animals and people alike. A man-sized trail of mucus makes it look like the legend isn’t purely superstition, and the time travelers follow the trail. The Doctor encounters the suspicious locals, while Leela finds herself on the grounds belonging to Colonel Singleton. Both of them meet Demesne Furze, who is able to help the Doctor solve the mystery of a missing girl whose disappearance sparked local fears of the white worm. But Demesne isn’t who she seems, and neither is the hooded, disfigured man who hides at Colonel Singleton’s estate. He reveals himself to be the Master, and he has enslaved the white worm to do his bidding, creating a path for even more unearthly allies to follow and conquer Earth.
Cast: Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Michael Cochrane (Colonel Spindleton), Rachael Stirling (Demesne Furze), John Banks (Carswell / Mercenary), Becci Gemmell (Julie), Mark Field (John)
Notes: Geoffrey Beevers played the part of the disfigured, demented Master in 1981’s The Keeper Of Traken, and has reprised the role for Big Finish Productions several times (Dust Breeding, Master). He is the only living actor to have portrayed the Master in the original BBC series, and was married to Caroline John (1940-2012), who played companion Liz Shaw in Jon Pertwee’s first season as the third Doctor. Since this story takes place shortly after Leela’s first three television stories, then chronologically (in story terms), it’s Beevers’ first appearance as the Master! Guest star Rachael Stirling is the daughter of Diana Rigg, and would appear alongside her mother in a 2013 episode of television Doctor Who after recording this story.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Trail Of The White Worm almost sets out to fill in a series of checkboxes for a traditional fourth Doctor adventure. A present-day (in ’70s terms) tale taking place in an out-of-the-way English village populated by slightly backward locals? Check. Local superstitions confirmed/explained by an alien presence? Check. Leela immediately behaving strangely in front of the locals? Check. The Master barely even figures into this two-parter, which is largely a set-up for The Oseidon Adventure, but Geoffrey Beevers relishes every line he can sink his teeth into. Tom Baker is back to delighting in simply being weird (a task made easier by the locals’ tendency to refer to the monster in their midst as “the you-know-what,” all but begging for the Doctor to mock their superstitious fear of even so much as naming their nemesis), and again most of the action falls to Leela.
The meatiest role among the guest cast, though, is Michael Cochrane’s portrayal of Singleton, a character who runs the risk of being a walking cliche: he’s the latest in a long line of stuff-upper-lip, old school British characters who genuinely miss the days of colonial expansion and subjugating indigenous populations. It would be all too easy to turn this character into a Biggles-esque caricature, but instead Singleton has shades and nuances. His nostalgic single-mindedness infuriates the Master, and he’s almost certain to butt heads with Leela in the following story. (Singleton is also not entirely dissimilar to Redvers Fenn-Cooper, a character Cochrane played in 1989’s Ghost Light.)
Basically forming the first half of the only real four-part story of Big Finish’s first fourth Doctor “season,” Trail Of The White Worm feels less rushed than most of the stories that preceded it, and therefore feels more authentic to the format of Baker’s television reign than most.