Big Finish’s first ever story in The Fourth Doctor Adventures range is certainly nostalgic. But does that make it a strong Doctor Who story?
With the first part currently on sale for free from Big Finish, and considering that I had only just finished Season 14, I thought it was a good time to revisit the Doctor Who audio drama Destination: Nerva. The first-ever story released in The Fourth Doctor Adventures, it’s a pretty significant audio for Big Finish. But does that make it a good one?
The first thing that leaps out about Destination: Nerva is nostalgia. If the very title alone wasn’t enough to draw the attention of Fourth Doctor fans, (the station had previously featured in the serials The Ark in Space and Revenge of the Cybermen), then the opening moments certainly are. Continuing directly from one of the most popular stories of the Classic Series was a bold move, but it works.
It’s also nice to revisit Nerva, particularly as we get to see the earliest days of the station in this story. It’s just starting out, not everything’s working, and it even has some workers still doing construction on it. Overall, the story is certainly filled with nostalgic elements that should really grab fans’ attention. So why doesn’t it quite work?
One thing to keep in mind with The Fourth Doctor Adventures is that it, in some ways, it was a replacement for The Eighth Doctor Adventures. While the latter range did continue later the same year with Dark Eyes, it would move from monthly one-hour stories to four-part box set releases.
As such, The Fourth Doctor Adventures takes on the same format. Considering that most of Tom Baker’s TV stories were originally told in four or six-part stories, telling them in just two episodes is a bold move to make. And – while there have been many one-hour stories released since it began that have been brilliant – here, it doesn’t quite work.
There are many great elements here, don’t get me wrong. There’s body horror, there’s a race looking for vengeance, and there’s a condemnation of the worst of the British Empire. There’s even a mini-adventure set in Victorian England at the very start!
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But that’s the problem. There’s perhaps too much included here, at least for the one-hour run time. There’s little time to let the story breathe, to give it some tension, to flesh out the characters. And that’s a shame, as there are some really great ideas in this story, many of which are perfect for a four-parter.
Especially the mini-adventure at the start. It would have been great for that to unfold across an entire episode, letting the listener wonder how Nerva is connected, before heading to the space station for the remaining three episodes. At the very least, it would have been a great nod to the original story – while The Ark in Space was set entirely on Nerva, the opening episode focused on just the Doctor, Sarah, and Harry exploring the station, and it worked really well. But as it is, the mini-adventure is only five, maybe ten minutes at most, and so doesn’t quite work.
Destination: Nerva isn’t a bad story to begin The Fourth Doctor Adventures with. On the contrary, along with the nostalgia, it also sets the overall theme for this series well, with Leela wanting the Doctor to educate her more, as he promised to do back in Talons. It’s just a case of trying to do too much at once, and that’s a real shame. A story with a lot of potential, but doesn’t quite work.
Have you listened to Destination: Nerva? What are your thoughts on it? Do you agree that it tried to do too much? Let us know in the comments below.