Back to the 1970s and the Doctor that's truly my Doctor! It's true what they say, your first is the only real one there is, no matter how much you like to think otherwise, so I'm buggered either way...
Hornets Nest I: The Stuff of Nightmares
"It seems ridiculous! I mean, how could a lot of moth-eaten relics suddenly jerk and twitch into life?"
"...I knew you'd say that."
Things kicked off with a revamped theme tune. Except it's a tune I've never heard before and absolutely sod all to do with Doctor Who. It does, admittedly, sound like the sort of 1970s Dudley Simpson tune you might get a crime show, a ghost story or the more mundane bits of a Hammer Horror flick... but, really, if they can't even get the theme music right, how good can this be?
Coming straight afterwards is a monologue from Mike Yates, as if this might be a talking book or - perhaps - a hastily-adapted Companion Chronicle for everyone's favorite loony captain. Anyway, Yates is generally whining about his trip towards an adventure that is far more double-fisted than any he has previously experienced, and considering he's bitching about a drafty train carriage you've got to wonder who the hell is going to be impressed. It's December, yet ominously there are still insects in the air as Yates, bitching all the way, goes to some country house (the Nest) in the middle of nowhere to deal with a ghost. There he is met by a foul-tempered Mrs Wimsey the housekeeper, who's pissed-off-with-absolutely-everything manner rivals Yates himself who whines about how helpless he feels. What. Ever.
We then get a flashback to Yates' conversation with Mrs Wimsey about a curious advert in the local paper: cryptic, pretentious and long-winded, it's basically "Captain Yates, we're needed!" from the Doctor. Mrs Wimsey is as amused by the advert as I am, while Yates is so moronic he's got the idea it's actually the Master leaving these sort of clues (let's be honest, it's easier to imagine him laying traps for Sergeant Benton than going after Yates, isn't it?). "The truth was," Yatesy confides in us like we give a crap, "I felt that the advert had been somehow placed there in order to gain my attention. And mine alone!"
With all respect for the character surgically removed, and even Yates himself wondering if he's being incomprehensibly stupid, we get told that the Doctor (oh, are you still wondering who placed the add?) is a total alcoholic knocking back booze like no tomorrow. Considering the only time on TV we saw the Fourth Doctor partake of alcohol, it was a single glass of sherry he didn't actually drink, I wonder if this series will be a kind of Fourth Doctor uncut and with Tom Baker freed from having to worry about impressionable children, allowing him to be the violent drunken megalomaniac everyone loves and hates simultaneously?
Oh, whatever happened to the lashings of ginger beer?
On with what I sigh and dub "the plot". With Mrs Wimsey deciding she's sick of putting up with Yates, she quietly leaves him to get wasted and marvel at a clock that rings thirteen times (this is apparently significant, but I dunno why Yates would know about regeneration limits...) before falling over flat on his arse. He's only saved from concussion by the lightning reactions of the Doctor. Tom sounds old. Very old. And incredibly sarcastic. I might even say drunk, but his voice seems usually this thick and amused nowadays.
Oh well... Oh. Wait. There's the theme music. Proper music too, as Tom Baker beats the shit out of Nick Briggs and takes over his narrative duties.
The Doctor and Mike exchange witticisms and it's painfully obvious he's less than impressed with how the ex-Captain handles his firewater and they both start getting drunk. Mike circumnavigates The Killing Stone and reveals that he's met the Fourth Doctor before (yeah, you do realize it's mainly your fault the Third Doctor died, you know?) and Mike believes that by being in the 21st century, the era of David Tennant, the Fourth Doctor has crossed the timelines! Yeah, the Doctor's as interested in that fanwank complaining as I am as Mike sinks into self-pity at what an old loser he is. When Sarah Jane Smith did it, it had a kind of resonance but when Mike does it in front of a manifestly older Doctor it just sounds stupid.
The Doctor has been living at this house with his dog (a wolf called Captain rather than K9) for some time and the place is full of niknaks and the clearly pissed Mike is gripped with nostalgia yet reluctance as a UNIT era stereotype like him is jammed into an evil shit Gothic era story where even stuffed owls are terrifying. The Doctor's tales of Seasons 14 and 15 blow the pathetic human's mind as he finds himself unable to believe that Image of the Fendahl could be canonical. HAH! In your face, Kaldor City. Most of these events, I should note, are related to us second hand by Yates as a narrator. There's hardly any actual audio drama.
Which is annoying.
Anyway, the moment the Doctor admits he's so desperate for company he's even considering Mike Yates as his next companion, he gets attacked by a stuffed weasel. "Really!" insists Yates, before admitting that the weasel had been loitering with intent for ages and he forgot to mention it until now. With the kind of drunken stupidity that I'd more expect from a Sparacus character, Yates proudly blows the weasel's brain out and expects applause only to be told off by the Doctor for being such a stupid bastard. The Doctor storms off in annoyance while Yates bitches about everyone else in the house. Shut up already.
Yates goes to bed in his drunken stupor, before that spooky stuffed owl comes to life and tries to claw his eyes out. Man, this is turning more and more into a Sparacus parody... Anyway, the Doctor barges into the bedroom and grabs the owl and tells it to go to sleep. It does. Yates' brain explodes once again at this amazing display of strength and mental agility and bounces up and down demanding he wants an explanation. The Doctor tells him to fuck off and spends the rest of the night repeatedly hypnotizing all the stuffed animals to remain in stasis. Yates goes to bed in a huff and the next morning isn't just his normal foul self, but HUNGOVER as well. The vitriol isn't at all stemmed at breakfast where the Doctor reveals that if Yates didn't keep distracting the Time Lord, the mental hold keeping the stuffed animals dormant kept breaking.
The Doctor finally agrees to explain everything if Yates shuts the hell up for five seconds and stops slagging everyone off like Mad Larry with a stubbed toe. He then starts chatting amicably about the advantage stuffed animals have for hunting human flesh, which is actually rather disconcerting as he lists the stuffed animals like the snow leopard or the giant easter bunny or a mountain goat who murdered a government minister in his bedroom. When a bull elephant slaughtered Whitehall ministers at a dinner, the Doctor finally decided to investigate this wierd crap mainly out of 1970s nostalgia. "Nostalgia, me!" he whispers.
More and more Avengers-style whackiness ensued as stuffed animals eat influential beurocrats and the Doctor is convinced someone is using the "posturing corpses with dead glassy eyes" as assassins. It turns out that stuffed animals are being turfed out by musuems in favor of CGI, and could this be a "bestial revenge"? Or is it an insane taxidermist called Mr Noggins? Hang on, isn't this the plot of Night Thoughts?
Anyway, Noggins has motive, opportunity and the stupid-enough name for the Doctor to right reasonably assume this wanker is behind it. After doing a variation of the old, "Hello, I used to be Jon Pertwee!", the Doctor was captured by Noggins' hired goons, made a few witticisms, then sodded off again while discovering he can hypnotize stuffed/reanimated animals. I'm probably doing it a disservice, as the retelling of a usual capture-and-escape routine by the Fourth Doctor is very comforting and entertaining, especially the random literary quotes dropped into it. I've always maintained that the name "Baboon" is the funniest word in the English language (go on, say it loudly without smiling) and Tom Baker proves it once and for all. Repeatedly.
By now, the B-man is now sounding more and more like the Doctor (less theatrical and more... well, normal), he chats about his confrontation with Noggins - a creepy child molester dude in a marmalade toupe so pathetic that the Doctor... or maybe Tom Baker... pisses himself laughing at this loser, who is actually played by another actor. A wavering-voiced bloke who sounds like Chris Parsons from Shada (or, to be strictly accurate, the idiot Harvey Nigel Baines from Waiting for God... hang on, yes it IS Daniel Hill! I was right! Bloody good for me, huh?) who is totally horrified at the mere idea that all the stuffed animals he's buying keep coming to life and killing people.
After about thirty seconds of talking to the Doctor, Noggins snaps like a house of cards dipped in liquid nitrogen and is left pathetically screaming for Nigel Verkoff to come and save him. After having a nervous breakdown, the Doctor rather awkwardly sneaks out leaving Noggins to blubber in private. "You know me, Mike, subtle and blythe as a shadow," he muses, announcing that obviously Noggins ISN'T the evil scientist animating monsters in the best TV Comic fashion. Obviously some ghost is up to something!
Hanging around at the Nest (this being a flashback is before the still-yet-to-justify-her-presence Mrs Wimsey became the Doctor's housekeeper), the Doctor was minding his own business at three in the morning when a homicidal badger - if you know anything about Tom Baker, you'll know exactly why it's a badger - sneaks in through the window and attacks. Using a heap of newspapers, a red hot poker and the kind of gymnastics this story curiously insists the Doctor is too old and knackered to get away with, the Time Lord kills the furry bastard only to discover that the badger has brought the entire fucking cast of The Animals of Farthing Wood with it to aide the apocalypse.
Coming to conclusion that he's got no time for Cricket Boy style morality, he improvizes a chemical flame thrower to nuke the mofos and when morning comes the Doctor begins to brood that maybe, you know, he might have overreacted. Making amends, the Doctor decides to dissect the lot of them and finds each stuffed animal contains brains made out of paper. Is this some kind of Golem gig, where you write your instructions on a bit of paper and feed it to the thing? But the Doctor discovers the brains are full of insects - a hive of insects (hornets, mayhaps) have been living in the stuffed animals and he's unwittingly committed near genocide!
But. You know. In self-defense.
The Doctor decides to cheer himself by tormenting Noggins again, who insists that taxidermy is a kind of photography that can record all the animals mankind makes extinct in its wake. Noggins reveals he knows all about the brain-eating insects and he's freaking out something chronic - and in proper DW style this definitely horrific scene is underplayed by the Doctor chanelling Captain Redbeard Rum. In any case the hornets are after the Doctor for revenge! The Doctor convinces Noggins to take him to the evil lair of the brain-bugs, the intellect-insects, the hypothalmus hornets, even though this is clearly suicidal behavior. The Time Lord is more fussed about the lack of booze than the idea that superevil insects have somehow evolved on Earth when no one was looking. "Well, there's no use panicking, is there? Where does that get you?" he asks, musing on Wirrn, Zarbi and Wrath Warriors.
(NO NO NO! HE DOESN'T MEET THEM UNTIL SEASON 17! WITH K9! AND THEY'RE NOT FUCKING INSECTS ANYWAY, ARE THEY?!?! GOD DAMN YOU ALLL!!!!!)
Ahem. Well, with the now very disturbing sound of buzzing wasps, Percy Noggins becomes possessed by the evil hornets and the Doctor attempts the kind of Vulcan Mind Meld that, generally speaking, isn't fashionable for the next six Doctors. We then get some stuff I think it's fair to say would never have been allowed on TV at the time...
"I looked at Percy Noggins, I looked him straight in the eye. I saw something I hadn't noticed before. His eyes were a bright, glassy black! Like the badger's eyes, like the eyes of all the beasts I had seen setting out from this place. Within that glass, I could see insect eyes - faceted like dark jewels - staring straight back at me through the eyes of Percy Noggins! I could see their pointy-little limbs, distorted in the fish eye lenses! They swarmed and clattered around the inside of the man's head... were they really inside his skull? Had they nibbled away his brain with their tiny mandibles? I frowned, staring deep into those swarming pits! He was TEAMING with insects! He was LEGION!"
Scares the shit out of me just typing it...
The insects, envious of the warmth and flesh of the animal world, have embarked on their quest for world domination and are rather put out that the Doctor's out to stop them, and quite annoyed that he's not scared of him. When they insist they can taste his thoughts, he just laughs and says, "Yes, they are rather marvellous, aren't they? But not today, thank you." It really is impressive how Tom Baker can make dialogue work that countless fan Doctors couldn't, like when he goes "Well, I don't DO fear, you know... I can never take it completely seriously." and manages not to sound like a tryhard loser failing to impress anyone. Yep, only Tom Baker can be Tom Baker and Matthew Kopelke, Dave Segal, Steve Johnson, etc, sadly were too late to find that out.
Fending off some TRULY unwanted interruptions from Mike Yates (yes, we all worked out the hornets were aliens, it's obvious, shut up if you haven't got anything to say you bastard), the Doctor tells us of how the hornets kept trying to terrify him by revealing they're old enemies of our hero and trying to burrow into his brain, so he convinced Noggins to mentally resist the buzzing little shits. All the stuffed animals and all the insects are summoned to hang out at the Doctor's swinging bachelor pad, where they shall all party like it's 2009!!
Alas, the Nest cottage has a TARDIS telepathic force field doohickey over it, allowing him to bushwack the bugs and leave them docile, for the most part. This is why the Doctor's house is full of stuffed monsters and swarms of bugs. The Doctor apologizes for bringing Yates to this death trap... but I don't really think he's sorry. Come to think about it, if you wanted a REALLY expendable regular, it's a tossup between this tit and Sylvia Noble (she's so nice in real life, you know, it's uncanny). But, remembering that he has encountered this bugs before/after via wibbly wobbly timey wimey, the Doctor repeatedly pops out on Short Trips, More Short Trips and Short Trips and Side Steps (all books filled with Paul Margrs tales - what a coincidence! If these books were still on sale, I'd call it product placement!)
Showing once again how few brain cells Yates hasn't pickled, he suggests setting fire to the cottage and the bugs but the Doctor patiently explains the hornets would evacuate before they were all wiped out and that this time they have to play the long game. Then, just to make sure we all know what a total fuckwit Yates is, he stops the Doctor saving Captain the dog from the evil possessed animals. "It was all I could do to keep the foolish man back from diving in and rescuing that damn dog of his!" the soldier tuts, as if letting an innocent animal suffer is something to be proud of! "Doctor, you've dragged me into another nightmare!" he whines, right after insisting that he didn't mind being put into danger.
The Doctor and Yates... no, I shall call him Asshole from now on... hide in the cellar of the cottage while Asshole complains about the decor, refuses to make a cup of tea, and then pathetically tries to attack a bat with pink balet slippers. "Oh Mike," the Doctor sighs in seeming genuine pain as Asshole starts coyly hinting that the Doctor's a poofter for owning such objects, before sadistically savoring the ultimate death of the bat via garden spade.
Kee-hrist, man! Ben Chatham and Spartha Jones all fused into an indigestible Asshole!
And the Doctor's stuck in the cellar with this wanker for the rest of the night!
Now THAT is what I call a cliffhanger...
Hornets Nest is an aquired taste of 1970s nostalgia and Tom Baker's Caligula like whims. Most annoying of all is how utterly cheap it is, basically two talking books spoken at each other. Would it REALLY have been so terrible to make an ordinary audio story? Would it really be lost if we got the Doctor visiting museums and talking to people rather than just describing it to Mike in a florid manner that gets very old very quick, especially as ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE ELSE SEEMS TO TALK THAT WAY? The horrible bitchy Yates can't die quick enough in my opinion, as he is utterly surplus to requirements throughout. Indeed, I'm one of many who assumed Tom Baker asked the burning question "Who the fuck is Mike Yates?" upon being given the script, and the answer I'm sure pleased nobody: a spiteful, mincing loser who at times makes Ben Chatham look endearing. The scripts admission that two very different relics in 21st century surroundings is awkward, yet the fact is... it didn't have to be. This could have been set in the UNIT era for all the difference it makes, especially as it's trying to evoke the mood with every second sentence. You don't write a story about Victorian values in 12th Century Palestine, do you?
There's hardly any humor (well, the Doctor makes a few jokes but that's more characterization than comedy), and telling spooky ghost stories generally works better if the person you're telling them to isn't a total skeptic. Good god, why is Yates so bloody fickle as he mentions fighting dinosaurs but refuses to believe inanimate objects could come to life - oh, Mike, what was your first story? Terror of the Autons? Huh?! YOU THINK THAT COULD BE A BLOODY CLUE?! I can only think Richard Franklin has some kind of amazing blackmail on the BBC, as he is completely superfluous in every way - as character and narrator, all he does is slow the pace down, getting in the way of all the jokes, pissing off the Doctor and insisting none of it can be real. After the... interesting... decision to recast Adric as an insane old king who attempts to rape the first humanoid female he sees, I suppose turning Yates into the biggest asshole outside of Alex Drake's family is rather tame.
All in all, I hope the nex installment of this "two old farts tell spooky stories to each other" focusses more on Time Lords, killer insects and zombie animals rather than the unspeakably horrid companion. Indeed, Stuff of Nightmares describes Franklin's character far better than the events he faces.