When it was announced that there was to be a new series of audio books featuring Tom Baker reprising his role as the Doctor for the first time in nigh on thirty years, there was understandably a great deal of excitement. And if there’s one thing that I’ve learnt, it’s that high expectation invariably leads to disappointment, and it appears that’s exactly how a great many fans feel about The Dead Shoes.
Whilst it’s undoubtedly true that Hornets Nest is nothing like Doctor Who in it’s broadest sense, it is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping piece of drama, and it is therefore rather puzzling that Paul Magrs second instalment has been greeted with such hostility. Perhaps it’s just the whinging traditionalists -- who were no doubt expecting the Doctor and Mike to grab their insect nets and clamber aboard the TARDIS to do battle with the evil Hornet’s -- that have been piqued, if this is the case then we need not be too concerned as such fundamentalist opinions are almost impossible to satisfy.
On the subject of Mike, my only complaint is that his character thus far has been somewhat lacking in substance. In the first episode his participation was limited to asking the obligatory “but Doctor…” type enquiries and venturing the occasional opinion, regrettably however The Dead Shoes renders Mike largely superfluous, and one hopes that future instalments will see Richard Franklin fulfilling a more active role.
There’s something rather disconcerting about lifeless objects being brought back to life and stalking the unwary, and it’s stories like The Dead Shoes which illustrate these anxieties plainly. Like The Stuff of Nightmares, The Dead Shoes is far from being a conventional Doctor Who story, but being a huge fan of the Hinchcliffe/Holmes horror era, this particular type of story really struck a chord. Bodily possession and killer dolls are far from original concepts; however I’m not certain that they’ve ever been used quite as effectively. I mentioned before that Paul Magrs scripts are more like fireside ghost stories, and some of the gaudy themes he uses are perfect for the storytelling talents of Tom Baker.
Several reviewers have written that Tom’s performance in The Stuff of Nightmares was a little stiff, personally I never got that impression, and it’s certainly not an accusation you could level at his portrayal in The Dead Shoes. The depth of feeling that Tom manages to convey is impressive, the sheer power and poetry of his words driving the story along and keeping the listener on the edge of their seat. It sounds as though Tom is really enjoying the story; it’s almost as if he never left, which I’m not certain that he ever did.