By Will Barber – Taylor
To continue Leela’s education, the Doctor promises to take her to the famous Morovanian Museum. But the TARDIS lands instead in a quiet English village where they meet the enigmatic collector, Harcourt and his family.
When people start to die, reality doesn’t appear quite what it was. There’s something sinister going on within the walls of Harcourt’s manor and the stakes are higher than they can imagine.
The Doctor is about to discover that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
The central theme of The Renaissance Man is that knowledge is something that should be valued and not something that should be seen as simply to be added to a checklist. It is a story that suggests that while aspiring to know everything is a great thing, doing so over the life of another is dangerous. It is a cautionary tale that is oddly Dickensian; this, however, fits with the tone of the story.
While Destination Nerva had a fixed plot that focussed on one location and was essentially a base under siege story, The Renaissance Man is much more fluid. Because it is a story about the versatility and flexibility of knowledge, the story deliberately plays with the structure of itself as a reflection of the plot. This means that the middle of the story sags as the most interesting and playful examples of this attempt to play with the idea of knowledge occur at the beginning and end of the story. It will make some listeners feel as if the story is a bit disjointed because of its experimental nature; however those who realize that it is a reflection of the audio’s central theme of the nature of knowledge will appreciate it.
Tom Baker gives an excellent performance as the outraged Doctor. He manages to present the case for morality and common decency in the face of pure lunacy extremely well. He also produces some of his own Bakerish over the top brilliance. This is best demonstrated in the climax to the story in which, in a purely Doctorish way, he reveals how he defeated Harcourt and the over villains of the piece.
Ian McNeice also turns in an excellent performance as the deadly Harcourt. McNeice makes Harcourt the perfect foil for The Doctor; witty and deadly at the same time. Harcourt’s threats also seem real as he is clearly The Doctor’s intellectual equal (or at least appears to be) and so it makes him scarier than a simple bog monster; by having a villain of the same intelligence as the protagonist it makes the challenge of defeating them more difficult and thus more dramatic.
In conclusion, The Renaissance Man is a fascinating parable about the cost of knowledge and the ways in which knowledge can be corrupted and used for malicious purposes. As the saying goes, “a little knowledge goes a long way”.