❉ “A fine recreation of a well-loved era”, as Big Finish take a trip back to the early 1970s in their latest boxset.
It was a long time before Big Finish took the step of recreating eras where the Doctors had sadly passed away. First came the Companion Chronicles, where the use of narration could hide the Doctor away somewhat, then as their confidence grew actors such as Peter Purves, William Russell and Frazer Hines took on playing their respective Doctors. It was a massive step though to actually cast someone new to play a Doctor we already knew, particularly one as beloved as Jon Pertwee. It was with some trepidation I started listening to these stories, wondering if Tim Treloar would be up to the job.
He does a good job! He channels Pertwee rather well, capturing his verbal mannerisms fairly authentically and is convincingly the Third Doctor throughout. Listening to the extras, you learn how hard he’s worked on playing the role and how diligent Treloar is. I was impressed. He captures both the Doctor’s moral outrage and his charm very well indeed.
The stories are authentically Third Doctor too. The first, The Transcendence of Ephros takes the Doctor and Jo to what should be a verdant jungle world, but instead find a desert planet, apparently at the end of its life. Ephros is being exploited by Galactux Power Inc, a very IMC style conglomerate, out to make as much money and power as they can from the dying planet. Also there are the Followers of Sortan who are awaiting Transcendence like their great prophet when the planet dies.
The story has many pertinent points to make about the nature of belief and faith, both in a religion and in a person. There’s a brilliant counterpoint between Jo’s belief in the Doctor and Mother Finsay’s belief in her old mentor (which is a wonderful twist I won’t spoil) that sparkles throughout the last episode, as does the Doctor’s relationship with Temper.
The Third Doctor often works best when he has bureaucracy to rub up against and here he has Galactux Power Inc to face up to. The Doctor is at his imperious best here, namedropping the President of Earth among his credentials. Bernard Holley plays Karswell , the head of Galactux as a highly motivated Northern businessman, the like of which we normally see in a 1970s sitcom and it works well, giving him a contrast to the calm of the Followers of Sortan.
The Transcendence of Ephros is an engaging story with a breezy pace. The two hours fly by.
Even better though, is The Hidden Realm, which brings the listener back down to Earth. The Doctor takes Jo to Bramfield New Town, where her cousin’s husband has mysteriously disappeared. Are the ravens circling around the town something to do with this and why does the Doctor’s quantum field manipulator keep picking up unexpected anomalies?
This is the kind of story that you imagine the Pertwee era did all the time, but actually didn’t. In some ways it’s got more in common with the Countdown comic strips of the time than the TV series, with the Doctor arriving in Bessie (or should I say Betsy?) in an English town to investigate some mysterious goings-on. Here, the new town setting is a good one for the early 70s, and living in a new town myself, I had to smile at some of the lines about the labyrinthine road layouts and the concrete town centre.
The use of ravens is a nice touch. Their noisy chattering sounds rather sinister under normal circumstances, but here it creates a disquieting and unsettling atmosphere, as they gather. This is a very good use of making something normal feel disturbing.
There’s some great material for Katy Manning in this story. We meet her cousin Stephanie and explore some of the family dynamics, which cast Jo in a bit of a new light. Even better though is the relationship between Jo and DS Joseph, a young police officer sent to investigate the mysterious disappearances in Bramfield. There’s warmth in all their scenes together, as Jo inspires confidence in the young officer as he’s forced to take over the investigation. Like in the TV show, this shows how much Jo has grown as a person in her time with the Doctor, without it needing to be stated too heavily.
Tim Treloar also has some terrific stuff to do in this story, taking the Third Doctor into areas we didn’t see often on TV. There’s a good relationship established with guest house owner Miss Barnett, but even better are the scenes where the Doctor’s body is taken over. Treloar manages to give the Third Doctor’s usually warm tones a distinctly chilly air and brings an intimidating and threatening air of menace to the scenes where he taunts Jo that her friend has gone for good.
As ever, Big Finish include a whole host of extras, including music suites from each story and a comprehensive making of disc, which interviews all the actors involved and Nick Briggs, the director of the two stories. It’s a great package overall and a fine recreation of a well-loved era. I look forward to hearing more from the third Doctor in the future!
❉ ‘The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 2’ was released 3 November 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until December 31st 2016, where it can be bought on Download for £20, or on CD for £25 (which unlocks a download version for free). These pre-order prices will be held until the end of the year.