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Audio Drama Review
The Asteroid – the notorious hideaway of the piratical Rocket Men. Hewn out of rock, surrounded by force-fields and hidden in the depths of the Fairhead Cluster, their base is undetectable, inescapable and impregnable. In need of allies, the Master has arranged to meet with Shandar, the King of the Rocket Men. But the mercenaries have already captured themselves a very special prisoner – his oldest enemy, the Doctor. What cunning scheme is the Doctor planning? How does it connect with Shandar’s new robotic pet? And just what has happened to Leela? The Master will have to work the answers out if he wants to leave the asteroid alive…
After appearing in a couple of First Doctor Companion Chronicles, the Rocket Men are here relaunched into the Fourth Doctor era, in a full-cast drama. The only bit of narration in this story is the brief inclusion of Leela’s (Louise Jameson) internal monologue, as she wonders, “When do you know…?”, a signature phrase borrowed from Ian Chesterton and Steven Taylor during their encounters with the rocket-powered villains.
There were times while listening to this audio drama when I wondered whether I had accidentally switched my iPod to shuffle mode, as it is not clear for quite some time how we get from the situation of the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Leela facing capture by a bounty hunter (Olivia Poulet) to Leela becoming a bounty hunter herself. Then writer John Dorney and director Nicholas Briggs pass up a perfect opportunity for a cliffhanger towards the end of a rather lengthy Part One and simply carry on with the story for a bit longer. Even the Master (Geoffrey Beevers) appears surprised by this development. It is some way into Part Two before things finally click into place.
Dorney and the Doctor effectively turn the tables on the Master. Instead of the Master lying in wait behind a disguise for the arrival of his enemy, it’s the Doctor who does this. Instead of the Doctor finally seeing through the illusion and sighing, “I might have guessed”, it’s the Master who does this. There is further amusement to be had in the confusion caused by K9’s (John Leeson) habit of referring to the Doctor as “the master” – which has to stop!
Unfortunately, the world of the Rocket Men is reduced to little more than a backdrop for the confrontation between the two Time Lords. As a result, the airborne baddies are not as palpable a menace as they were during The Rocket Men or The Return of the Rocket Men, especially not their leader, Shandar (Mark Frost), who comes across as a blustering buffoon by comparison.
The most eyebrow-raising moment happens towards the end, though, during which a track seems to have shuffled forward from another story entirely – when Leela leaves the Doctor! Of course, we know it can’t be permanent (and that’s not a spoiler, as she is shown on the front cover of the next release), but Leela’s decision here, as written by Dorney and performed by Jameson, helps to compensate for the character’s hasty exit at the conclusion of The Invasion of Time. It also sets up an effective Keeper of Traken-style lead-in to the follow-up, Death Match…
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