Tom Baker did and still does dominate Doctor Who, his seven year tenure casting a long shadow both forwards and backwards in time, Tom is the yardstick by which all other Doctor’s past or future seem to be judged and the “not we” always seem to ask where our scarves are when we mention we are Who fans – and amongst a large section of fans the three years in which his stories were produced by Philip Hinchcliffe are the pinnacle of the show, the sacred cow that can not be criticised and with this weight of history and expectation the “Philip Hinchcliffe Presents” range has a huge expectation to stand up to.
Written by Hinchcliffe himself and then adapted for audio by Marc Platt the pedigree is obvious, add in Tom Baker & Louise Jameson and how can it fail?
The TARDIS is drawn off course to the remote Shetland Isle of Bothness at the time of the “Up Helly Aa” festival, however the island should be deserted, there is no record of anyone living there and the locals are anything but friendly (think The Wicker Man but without the animal masks) and do not welcome “off Islanders”. The Doctor and Leela befriend Joanna (Joanna Vanderham) daughter of the local Laird Professor Angus Renwick (David Rintoul) and Leela is recruited to the traditional long boat race of the festival whilst The Doctor searches for the lost artefact that has drawn the TARDIS to Bothness.
Being a Hinchcliffe story this borrows liberally from established Horror classics, in this case there is a LOT of similarity to The Wicker Man in the early parts, being a Hinchcliffe story it also has an alien threat buried underneath the island – but very unlike the Hinchcliffe era there is a very modern “timey-wimey” (there must be a better word for it) sub plot involving the island in the past and the influence that the alien menace has exerted on the Renwick family.
There are some wonderful character pieces, and a genuinely and sensitive performance from Louise Jameson as she explains her Grandfathers fate in a way that keeps his myth as a war hero alive and some excellent imagery – the island feels remote and cold and exposed and very real and the threat from the denizens of the island is visceral and very believable.
The Helm of Awe really does feel like a 1970′s missing story. It has all the ingredients – Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Philip Hinchcliffe, the space/time telegraph, mentions of UNIT, plot with parts appropriated from a classic British Horror film etc etc, but something isn’t quite right, despite all the right ingredients this release just didn’t quite work for me, it never seemed to get out of second gear and meandered all over the place, it didn’t feel like it had a real sense of purpose which is a shame as listening to the making of documentary everyone really seemed to enjoy making it. I think what it lacked for me was a sense of humour, Tom was incredibly serious in this release with very few of his trademark twinkles and silly one liners – I wasnt expecting a Williams era “Tom Baker Show” but he seemed just a little too restrained – but maybe thats just me. I am sure fans of Hinchcliffe will love the authenticity of the piece but for me I only award a 6/10.
Written by Ed Watkinson
Philip Hinchcliffe, acclaimed producer of Doctor Who (1975-77) returns to tell new stories for the Fourth Doctor and Leela.
The TARDIS arrives on the remote Shetland isle of Bothness and the Doctor and Leela find themselves threatened by Vikings! Only all is not as it seems. The locals are celebrating the old Norse fire festival of Up Helly Aa, so there’s nothing to be worried about. Or is there?
For, unknown to the islanders, the TARDIS crew are on the trail of an ancient artefact invested with mysterious powers that has recently been stolen and brought to this remote location.
Somewhere on this island lurks something ancient, and evil, and alien. The Doctor and Leela will have to stop it. Only on this occasion time might not be on their side.
Written By: Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), Joanna Vanderham (Joanna Renwick), David Rintoul (Professor Angus Renwick), Jane Slavin (Peggy), Ewan Bailey (Davy McTavit), Kieran Bew (Murdo Jamieson), Chris Porter (Nardos), Fleur Hinchcliffe (Young Angus Renwick)
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs