The Hidden Menace
Jeffrey Coburn stars as the Doctor in this four-part 76 minute adventure from non-profit-making American fan group Everlasting Films. I bought this play after listening to EF's 20th anniversary documentary as my first sampling of the series, mostly because it comes from the pen of their British distributor Robert Dunlop, and he and I have been enjoying a correspondence over the Internet (he has also bought a copy of my book, so I thought I'd better return the gesture!).
The first thing to greet the listener is Keff McCulloch's arrangement of the theme tune. It was quite something to realise that I don't hate this version as much as I thought I did. It's not the slightly different mix as featured on the 25th Anniversary Album (or Evolution, as it's now known), but rather the actual music lifted from the Sylvester McCoy titles. With some bemusement I found myself liking the power of McCulloch's rendition, and I can only guess that it's the actual McCoy title sequence with its slick spiral galaxy, winking face and totally inappropriate logo that contributes to my annoyance when 'watching' the music on TV. The theme seems perfectly at home on audio.
One is then struck with the clarity of the recording. The voices are perfectly audible and the sounds are duly used. It's also interesting to hear American actors trying their level best to sound British. And more often than not they pull it off successfully.
The story revolves around the caves at South Bank. There's a strange animal on the prowl and a secret door concealing the real source of the trouble. Dunlop's script is an engaging one, nice and thrifty, with just the right amount of humour balanced with the action. And the cliffhangers always leave you wondering what will happen next. I cannot help thinking, though, that more layers could have been added to this tale. In his correspondence with me, the author admitted that one or two loose ends needed tying up, and he plans to write a sequel and submit it to EF soon.
Jeffrey Coburn is the series' third Doctor, and he plays the part convincingly. I cannot understand why he felt he didn't really deliver the goods (as disclosed on the documentary CD). He's in full flow here as the chirpy, eccentric Time Lord, this being his penultimate adventure. The companion is an unusual one, but a welcome change to the norm nonetheless. Christine is not of our age, she's from 13th Century England, and in some ways is quite an innocent. Rachel Sommers puts in a charming performance, and the character grows on you in no time at all. I love the exchange, "You can buy postcards from the back. Now, any questions?/I have a question./Yes?/What are postcards?" Brilliant. (Robert Dunlop laments he can't take the credit for that bit...).
It's amazing the play is as good as it is, given that the performers had to act their parts as the sound effects and background scores were fed in live! I'm told The Hidden Menace was the last story to employ this method. Subsequent adventures are recorded the conventional way, with the effects being mixed in during post-production.
My only gripe is that Everlasting Films haven't employed an original composer for their incidental music. All the background material is lifted from commercially available Doctor Who music albums. This mars the story somewhat, as the tracks are instantly recognisable and one cannot help thinking of the TV stories they are from, or even humming along to the ones which have a distinct melody!
That said, this release has converted me to the range. I'm
dying to catch up on the Doctor's past exploits and embrace his
new ones, and I'm already scanning the catalogue to choose my
Well that was good fun. Robert Dunlop has written an entertaining adventure that was just the right length for its plot and kept me tuning in for more. It's also the first story where I've really got a handle on the current EF Doctor. In the past he's been rather nebulous but his dialogue with the obstreperous alien ship at the end and his fatherly relationship with Christine had a lot more focus in them. Good performances all round in fact and some excellent production, the alien hound and the collapsing caverns were ideal.
The Doctor and Christine visit some caves on a tour group. People are going missing in the tunnels, caves are there that are not on the maps. The time travelers poke their noses into things that don’t concern them and discover a kind of incredibly annoyed CGI panther prowling around Southbank Caves. It is connected to an ancient space craft with a habit of zapping anyone unsuitable for it. It turns out the ship and the monster are effectively one creature and it requires a living mind of suitable capacity to help it escape. After million years it locates a suitable brain in the Doctor and tries to use electric shock therapy to force him to help, unfortunately its incredibly moronic human helper shoots one of the CGI panthers, and causes the ship to self-destruct.
If one word sums up The Hidden Menace, it’s “traditional”. It’s a story any Doctor could have had, with a recognizable locale, dark tunnels, unthinking guard monsters being ruled by a more intelligent threat, human traitors, alien presence in established history... even the title, so generic it could apply to just about ANY Doctor Who story, lacks only the ‘X of Y’ format to make it the most formulaic title ever. The plot – which features the Doctor and various other characters being forced to head up and down dark tunnels chased by a monster, aided and abetted by a human traitor – is also nicely derivative, with riffs on The Krotons, Doctor Who and the Silurians, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Face of Evil, and to an extent The Girl in the Fireplace. The fact The Hidden Menace targets the same themes rather than being outright copying elevate it above the rehashes of the Segal era. As the Doctor notes, there are similarities to the stories of the big bad wolf, the Pied Piper, and Hound of the Baskervilles in a wild animal that can be controlled by whistling tunes, especially by a ruthless businessman.
Although it is easy to forgive the story for its derivative subject matter, The Hidden Menace is by no means flawless. The cast of characters is surprisingly small and the plot seems stretched to cover four episodes, with the content of the first three (monster notwithstanding) easily being fitted into a twenty-five minute episode. The ending is unforgivably abrupt, with the ship, computer, and monsters all dying moments after their role on the plot is finally explained, and the Doctor’s later revelation that the ship could never have been free makes the whole thing feel rather pointless.
Another drawback is Chip Jamison’s intensely irritating performance as Tim, but a case of bad acting is not as severe as the problem of the major villain Cross. There, actor Jym DeNatale is refreshingly subtle but he has nothing to really work with. Cross changes at random from a cynical money-loving manipulator to sadistic psychopath to insane lost soul apparently at random. He expounds his nihilistic belief that death does not matter as long he gets gold moments before explaining he initially never intended for anyone to be harmed. Exactly why he relies on incompetent staff and makes things so difficult is not clear, nor why he hasn’t arranged some kind regime to keep the ship supplied with new material to check over. On the bright side, as DeNatale manages to make Cross sound dangerous during his periodic descents into childhood, and performs the ‘evil’ bits with a flirty tone, as if Cross is aroused at the thought of death and power. It’s a pity this quality does not extend to the dialogue, which is frankly embarrassing.
Since the audio dramas, seemingly satisfied by ‘revamping’ the Master, the Daleks and UNIT, abandoned all continuity-driven fan-pleasing storylines in favor of new, self-contained plots, The Hidden Menace comes across as refreshingly straightforward and unpretentious – a marked difference to most of the range.
Personal Appreciation: ***
It’s no The Descent. Or The Cave. Or The Cavern. Because they didn’t have Chip Jamison, lucky sods.
Today, the Doctor’s full of life and as exuberant as Tom Baker on holiday in Paris. He used to explore caves on Gallifrey as a boy, getting lost for days. He loves ice cream, is trying to wean himself off getting junk from gift shops and at first is oddly lacking in curiosity over mysterious movements in cave. He is happy to send Christine off into unknown danger for a laugh (presumably hoping she gets killed, coz I know I am), and is clearly irritated by her lack of respect for his abilities. He’s got a pass for the Leisure Hive, is a member of a secret club called the Stonecutter’s Lodge, and is still carrying his jelly babies, sonic screwdriver and a bright twenty-sided torch that be increased or decreased in size. Clearly he went through an archaeological phase on his 200 year stint of misery and self-loathing, as he’s visited lots of cave systems for precisely that reason. He recently tackled a Raston Warrior Robot (The Five Doctors). He is disgusted at Christine for wanting to murder an innocent creature. He’s still wicked at Venusian Karate – though he hates using gun – and enjoys being considered ‘more suitable’ than human beings. He’s a bit slow on the uptake, not twigging just how insane Cross is until it’s too late.
Christine shows her usual enthusiasm by hating caves, tour guides, queues and being educated. She finds the Doctor embarrassing (ironic, as Miss “What are postcards?” stands out of the crowd more than the mad magician), is paranoid, superstitious and determined not to enjoy herself. For someone with such low self esteem, she is incredibly angry and stubborn when someone ignores her. She hasn’t seen the sonic screwdriver before and assumes it to be magic, stupid cow. She calls the Doctor ‘the worst of all living men’, the ungrateful *****, but she later claims to have total faith in him to succeed against the monster. Make your mind up, woman. She claims to have no pity beyond that for those who hear the Doctor’s singing. She’s heard (of) banshees and is thoroughly taken back to be given ‘explanation’ duties. She is introduced to soft drinks (in particular Coca Cola, the symbol of the Free West) in this story.
Who is that doing the voiceover of the add? It sounds like Sam West! No, it’s Michael Wade – AKA Lockwood from those Auton movies! What is a man of his calibre doing in crap like this?! If it’s blackmail, why is he doing so little? Did he destroy the evidence! Oh, this is so exciting! Oh. Wait. Yeah. Back to the story. Sigh...
Argh! Ludicrously inappropriate music from The Sea Devils, The Five Doctors and Chip Jamison in incredibly obvious exposition, I AM IN HELL! And so is the bloke who gave that incredibly convincing scream...
“Stalag-tights”? What are they? Pants from German prisons? Is it perhaps the fact none of the cast can pronounce stalactites? ‘Stalagtites,’ I ask you...
The Doctor’s full of life, he can go on forever... yep. He’s dead meat next story. Guaranteed.
“Why won’t you listen?!” Because you can’t act, you shouty moron! SHUT UP!! WHY DO THEY KEEP GIVING THIS IDIOT ACTING JOBS?!
My ***, is every woman working at Southbank Caves being played by Sheri Devine? Why isn’t she credited for any of them? How many characters are called Chris? And why are they giving Christine so much dialogue? Do they not hear that demonic lisping?!? And won’t she realize all that talking to herself is just using up oxygen?
The Doctor’s “accidentally” locked Christine in a stone tunnel... it’s a start, Doc. Trust me, the next incarnation will wish you just put a bullet through her head. The audience already do.
“When we get out, I’m going to get the police!” The police are already investigating, you retard! SHUT UP! ***, this character is even more moronic than Christine! He’s actually ASKING for things to go wrong, demanding it if anything! Just listen to him! And then he suddenly goes all quiet at the sight of imminent blood-drenched terror, not because he’s scared but because he’s thoughtful?! WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS GUY?!! Oh, how I miss Peter Hinchman...
Christine called Tim ‘Lord’. Does that make him a Tim Lord?
Just who decided to put the Gundan tune (for those who haven’t heard it, it’s ‘creepy suit of armor slowly comes to life and starts to move in a threatening manner’ music)? It’s a slow build of suspense played over two figures running for their lives being chased by a zombie puma! Not exactly a moment of subtle terror, is it? I despair... I really do!
Cavs? Kives? It’s sad the leading man cannot pronounce ‘cave’ the same way twice. Yet again the word “Shameelion” is used... dear ***.
Massive props for the ‘ticket’ scene, with music and acting turning an unfunny ‘Doctor empties his pockets’ scene into something so tense and serious Douglas Camfield would have noticed it.
“And I’d be in total control.” I dunno about you, but I think Cross is getting horny...
Hah! The Doctor takes only three seconds to totally extract the mickey of Tim and his psychotic ‘acting’. And well done for him berating Tim for being so moronic. The scene about the whistle plan is blessed relief. If Tom was being smacked down in every scene, it’d be enjoyable, oh ***, he’s talking to himself and being miserable! SHUT UP YOU STUPID MORON! SHUT UP!!!
Why do all these alien spaceships sound like a Zygon ship with a Skarasan sitting in the corner?
“If you must know, I’m in it for purely self-motivated reasons! Gold! Lots and lots of it!” Wow. Suddenly Sutekh the Destroyer is just forgotten against THIS brilliance!
I wonder if these gold-generating aliens ever tackle the Cybermen? That’d be interesting. And face it, this audio series seriously needs something interesting to happen.
Tragedy strikes, as ever, when suddenly it becomes impossible for new dialogue to be written for the Doctor and he starts spewing up quotes like “overblown adding machine”, “unlimited rice pudding”, “maybe it just liked my face?”, “intensely interesting”. It’s no surprise most of those are from Tom Baker’s Doctor?
All in all, who thinks the monster would be a better companion than Christine? I mean, if Ramsay the Vortisaur worked for Paul McGann...
Preposterous Plot Points:
How do domestic cats get trapped in a cave system?
The Doctor has spent two centuries on his own and he never got round to visiting the caves? That’s either very dumb or very believable and I’m honestly not sure which.
Why are there still tours being conducted in the caves simultaneous to a police search for a missing person?
The idea of Tim and Christine hiding from the monster by staying quiet doesn’t work as a) they shout their dialogue at each other and b) the creature is making so much noise it couldn’t hear them anyway.
Cross’ moronic staff. He would have killed them for his own kinky fun by now and got someone competent to work there.
So, we have a sentient space craft capable of growing parts of itself into living creatures it can transfer its mind into, with the ability to mimic a cave network and transform things into solid gold. A ship that has lasted for millions of years. Yet its creators never bothered to give it a distress beacon. Or come looking for it. And this incredibly advanced spacecraft... crashed. Doesn’t quite add up, does it?
The Doctor on Cross’ demise -
DOCTOR: Why do I keep feeling sorry for these people?
Drinking game: drink one small sip whenever Tim mentions the police. Be warned, more than one episode will lead to your liver being pickled.
DOCTOR: My nose is beginning to itch. Now, which is it? Hairs down the back of my neck means I’m being followed, knee acting up is for rain... what does an itchy nose mean? [sneezes] Oh. No, that’s not it. It means something funny is going on here.
Anyone else getting Patrick Troughton flashbacks?
CHRISTINE: Verily, it is mighty indeed!
DOCTOR: Yes, it IS big, isn’t it?
TIM: That definitely ISN’T a dog! This a day I’M definitely going to remember.
Another bit of my soul died...
DOCTOR: All these tunnels look the same.
TIM: All these stupid tunnels look alike!
DOCTOR: Are you both all right?
TIM: About as all right as one could be considering...
DOCTOR: That’s the spirit! Now, I’ve got an idea to stop this creature! You have to be quick so it doesn’t get too far away. Chris, you remember when you whistled and the creature calmed down?
DOCTOR: And then when you stopped it turned wild again? I think if you can whistle, as high as you can for as long as you can, we might just be able to... soothe the savage beast.
TIM: That’s talking an awful chance! How can you be sure something like that will work?
DOCTOR: I have it on the highest authority! ... I once saw Daffy Duck do it to the Tasmanian Devil.
TIM: (TO CHRISTINE) He’s nuts!
CHRISTINE: My Lord had dealt with many a demon.
TIM: YOU’RE BOTH NUTS!
DOCTOR: Positively crackers!
This story came bottom of the season survey. The Chronic Rift won. Madness. Utter madness.
What Could Have Been Done To Improve It:
- Recast Tim. Or change the character to some passing pot holer or something. In fact, do both.
- Less stupid names for the baddies. “Cross”, “French”, “Forrest” and “Ship”, I ask you.
- A less abrupt ending.
The Party Line:
Nota bad little story. There is just enough to sustain it over four episodes, though it wouldn’t have hurt if it had been cut down to three. The ship is almost a sympathetic character in its insanity, wanting only to be free, though Tim comes across as somewhat annoying in his almost constant state of forced panic. The scenes between the Doctor and Christine during the tour show the relationship between them very well.
The Awful Truth:
Certainlythe party line over Tim is the truth, albeit understated, and the relationship between the two leads is summed up as well – proving how pointless the character of Christine can be. As for the story itself, it’s undemanding fair with a painfully abrupt end. Nevertheless, worth a listen, and, despite the leading man’s fear, his performance is as good as ever in this, giving no hint that the next story would be his very last.
Rob's first written and only the fourth EF story I have heard. This is a traditional story and as such has no completely breathtaking and outstanding moments that make you go 'ooh' (well, there's one surprise I wasn't expecting!). This doesn't mean it's bad though. I enjoyed this story, four parts, which has good acting from people such as the Doctor, the cave's manager and the companion Christine. This story is written quite well, up to the last episode where it seems a little rushed to get the complete ending in. If you want a good, simple story, with monsters and other sci-fi elements, with lots of questions, and of course some caves, listen to this. If not, listen anyway. 7.5/10
Last updated: Wednesday, January 3, 2013