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Doctor Who: Serpent Quest: Pt. 1: Tsar Wars by Paul Magrs

1/12/2011. Contributed by Sue Davies

Buy Doctor Who: Serpent Quest: Pt. 1: Tsar Wars in the USA - or Buy Doctor Who: Serpent Quest: Pt. 1: Tsar Wars in the UK

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pub: Audio Go/BBC. 1 CD 67 minute story. Price: CD: GBP 5.39 (UK), Download: GBP 3.96 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-40846-885-2). cast: Tom Baker, Susan Jameson, Michael Jayston, Suzy Aitchison, Simon Shepherd, Sam Hoare, Paul Chequer, Grant Gillespie and Gabriel Vick.

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Just when you think it’s safe to serve the mince pies, there’s carol singers. Well, it is Christmas Eve and so far there have been more than enough adventures. (See ‘Demon Quest’ for details).

Before you can say ‘brandy butter’, those pesky carol singers turns out to be robots who knock out Mike Yates (sorry no adventure for Richard Franklin this time) and whisk off Mrs. Wibbsey(Susan Jameson) and the Doctor(Tom Baker) into ‘Tsar Wars’, another Paul Magrs adventure in time and space.

Routed through a wormhole, our intrepid middle-aged adventurers find themselves in a strange new world of the Robotovs. The Empire is in trouble. The Tsarina is worried about her three year-old son and the Tsar is filled with anger towards the Tsarina. The all too human emotions might come as a surprise as these ‘people' are androids. There is a rebellion brewing and they believe the Doctor is at the heart of it.

It’s a case of mistaken identity as the Doctor, sweet benign soul, is the spit of Father Gregory, the machinating rebel who is determined to bring down the Robotov Empire. The Tsarina (Susie Aitchison) in particular is very interested as when the human Father Gregory last visited, they created child on whom the whole future hangs.

If this sounds a little familiar and you are a Tom Baker fan (who isn’t?) you may remember a film from 1971 called 'Nicholas And Alexandra' where Mr. Baker played the infamous Grigori Rasputin. In amazingly astute and clever casting, we have the return of, Michael Jayston who played Tsar Nicolas in that same film, this time as the Robotov Tsar. Such acting royalty lends a real cachet to this performance and it is good to see that BBC Audio takes itself as seriously as this when casting this ‘Doctor Who’ story.

Tom Baker gets to play the father and talk to himself on occasions. That happens to everyone eventually. There is no pesky split screen to worry about here, though I can imagine him charging to the other side of the desk as he picks up the accent on the way.

I really am very impressed with the production values associated with this series and who can fail to respond to the fruity resonance of Tom Baker cut through by the acid and sharp tones of Susan Jameson as Wibbsey. I can’t help thinking of her as a feistier Mrs. Pepperpot. I’ve no idea why as she isn’t an incredible shrinking woman. The two of them bounce vowels off each other to a creditable extent making this as ever a must listen.

There are four more episodes following this and at some point there will be a box set of all five.

Sue Davies

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