Doctor Who: The Annihilators recreates the style and drama of Season Seven in a fast paced seven-parter with a very special guest star…
The new UNIT family ably led by Tim Treloar’s distinctive Third Doctor return for more in The Annihilators. And at this stage, while not the originals, they have a sense of fond familiarity and family all their own. The relationship between Treloar’s Doctor, Daisy Ashford’s Liz Shaw, and Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier recaptures so much of the magic of the original Season Seven team. But, more than that, it creates a distinct rhythm and cosy joy that’s uniquely theirs. Ashford, in particular, doesn’t so much replicate her late mother’s performance on television as inhabit the role of Liz completely. This new/old team are now so well drawn that you can anticipate Liz’s wry bemusement or burst of outrage in the split seconds before they arrive.
This development of the Third Doctor Adventures is also thanks to an evident deep love and knowledge of the era. ‘Homage’ is too weak a word for what the team have accomplished in these boxsets. Rather, they often truly feel like long lost scripts from the bottom of Malcolm Hulke’s or Terrance’s Dicks’ desk drawers. Nicholas Briggs is the latest Big Finish to step into the cuban heels of Doctor Who 1970ad. And once more the range seems to inspire every writer involved to create some of their best work. Indeed, Briggs isn’t just on scripting duties this time, but also directs and provides the incidental music! The quality of that soundtrack is a particularly vital part of the effect, perfectly evoking the period; the crumple horn of intrigue in full effect with every twist of the plot.
From the opening titles to the barnstorming cliffhangers, The Annihilators delivers a superb sense of the 1970 series born of obvious love and affection
Many of the motifs of the era recur in The Annihilators. There are jurisdictional conflicts for the Brigadier, the Doctor being keen to keep advanced alien weapons out of the Brigadier’s hands, and fraught attempts to build trust between humanity and an alien race. But this is far from being the type of random cobbling together of elements of which Solon might be proud. Instead, there’s a real elegance and flow to their use. They highlight Briggs’ keen understanding of the underlying concerns and thought processes of the 1970 team, and at times you can almost imagine the biro of Terrance Dicks on the script, giving it a quick polish, or notes given by Barry Letts.
This authenticity extends to The Annihilators’ format and even opening titles. There’s no need to double check your app isn’t skipping a track, as it uses The Ambassadors of Death’s unique snatch of theme/cliffhanger reprise/main theme/episode pattern. Meanwhile, the structure of seven twenty-five minutes is an ambitious first for the Big Finish range, but pays off brilliantly. Combined with a succession of fun and gripping cliffhangers, it means the story speeds along with tremendous pace and energy.
The script mines a familiar vein of paranoia and mistrust as UNIT uncovers a deadly conspiracy
Smartly, it takes its cue chiefly from The Ambassadors of Death in terms of pacing too. When a police car is recovered from the Thames, the officer instead seemingly killed by contact with some form of toxic sludge, a cover up into what really happened swings into action. The Brigadier is determined to get the truth, and the script cleverly holds back from tipping its hand too soon. Instead, he, the Doctor and Liz, face a succession of dangerous setpieces as they edge closer to the conspiracy’s heart. There are gun battles with blobby aliens besieging a country home, an exhilarating chase sequence in an abandoned warehouse, and sinister pathologists lurking in the morgue. It’s an episodic approach, setting up and resolving challenges in each instalment as the central mystery slowly advances. It keeps The Annihilators brisker and more exciting than some stories half its length.
Ambiguous forces are ranged against UNIT. Is the desire of DCI Denise Walker (Karen Archer) to keep UNIT out of the investigation purely the usual inter-agency friction? Who is the mysterious Dr. Daniels (Mark Elstrob, doing his best Peter Miles), and why is he covering up the results of the autopsy? And what’s the connection to the noxious, gelatinous Greshtrenor whose very touch seems lethal? The Annihilators offers up only a limited menu of possibilities, but still keeps you guessing on exactly which way the truth lies until near the end, with just enough hints and clues to keep you engaged in the mystery along the way.
Michael Trougton debuts here as Big Finish’s new Second Doctor in a performance that seamlessly inhabits the role
Other questions abound too. Why is the Second Doctor here, who are the mysterious ‘they’ that have sent him, and how is his companion Jamie so much older than the Third Doctor remembers? Oh, didn’t we mention – yes, the Second Doctor and Jamie are along for the ride too.
It functions as a peak at Michael Troughton’s take on his father’s most famous role ahead of Beyond War Games. And the Second Doctor’s appearance here should blow away any doubts. As with Daisy Ashford’s Liz and Sadie Miller’s Sarah Jane, the absolute casting gift of a quality actor who happens to be the child of the original pays off wonderfully. The younger Troughton’s natural speaking voice is eerily close in accent and tone to Patrick’s. And this largely frees him up to concentrate purely on his performance.
And it’s a performance that reflects Michael’s peerless familiarity with his father’s work and philosophy of acting. He perfectly captures the Doctor’s sly amusement and mock innocence as he effortlessly drives his opponents to distraction, his mercurial pivots mid-sentence, and that sense of cogs continually turning in his brain. Even his vocalisations when cornered by the Greshtrenors will raise a knowing smile from fans of The Seeds of Death.
Why the Second Doctor is here is never quite clear, but as a preview of Beyond War Games, it’s a resounding success
Otherwise, however, the Second Doctor’s presence the one aspect of The Annihilators that doesn’t quite work. Briggs wisely keeps Troughton firmly a guest character. He doesn’t make his entrance properly until almost the halfway point, and the plot keeps the two Doctors separate for as long as possible to allow each to shine in their own unique way. And certainly all of Troughton’s and Hines’ scenes are perfectly lovely. But perhaps the traditions of multi-Doctor stories, from The Three Doctors to The Day of the Doctor has set too high an expectation of some epic crisis at work.
It’s lovely to have him around, but there’s no strong sense of why the Second Doctor has to be here. Or, indeed, how the story would be materially different if he wasn’t. Though, by any measure, as a tease of his own upcoming series, his guest appearance here is a resounding success, sure to be followed by a flood of new pre-orders for Beyond War Games.
The Annihilators displays a total command of everything that made Season Seven great
Doctor Who: The Annihilators shows a masterful command of everything that made Season Seven great. No mere check box list of elements, it displays a real feel for why this team of characters worked so well and insight into the themes and approaches of the original writing team. And it solidifies the place of a new UNIT family that now feels as indispensable and loved as any other.
Doctor Who: The Annihilators
There’s something in the water at Lewgate Docks. Something strange, and green, and deadly. Summoned to the North of England by a mystery informer, the Brigadier finds his investigations hampered at every turn by the local police. Just what are they trying to hide?
While the Doctor uncovers sinister goings-on in the city morgue, Liz attracts the attention of something unearthly. But with Time running out, quite literally, the Doctor, Liz and UNIT aren’t the only ones to find themselves targeted by a world-shattering alien menace…
… because they’ve got a previous Doctor and his best friend Jamie in their sights, too!
Doctor Who – The Third Doctor Adventures: The Annihilators is now available to own for £19.99 (on collector’s edition CD + download) or £16.99 (on download only) exclusively from the Big Finish website.