From galaxy threatening super weapons to rumours of something satanic in the woods, the Third Doctor Adventures are back to loving capture the spirit of the 70s
The Third Doctor is back. Or at least a reasonable facsimile in the form of Tim Treloar returns for an eighth volume of adventures. Now alongside not just original cast member Katy Manning as Jo Grant, but Sadie Miller as Sarah Jane Smith and Jon Culshaw as the Brigadier, it’s one of Big Finish’s most complete recreations of the Pertwee era yet. At this stage it’s safe to say the recasting strategy is no longer an experiment. It’s an established, mature range about which we can draw some conclusions. And, in truth, this Doctor doesn’t sound very much like Jon Pertwee’s in either voice or manner. Vocally gruffer and rougher, this Doctor is also more straight-forwardly grumpy.
The opening of first story Conspiracy in Space underlines the difference, with the Doctor getting the hump about the offer of a place in the UNIT pension plan. Pertwee played such moments as the tantrum of a schoolboy throwing his maths book across his bedroom. Often followed swiftly by a rueful awareness of his own childishness. But usually somehow not quite actually apologized for. But here Treloar seems genuinely aggrieved. He’s also a contrarian to the point of absurdity; at one point on this set even insisting velvet is a breathable material to wear hiking on a summer’s day. Throughout these stories, this never feels quite like the Third Doctor. But here’s the question (and you might want to sit down for this one)… Does that actually matter?
Tim Treloar’s new Doctor successfully adds to Doctor Who’s rich tapestry of alternate Time Lords
After all, fans are well used to almost Doctors, sort of Doctors, alternative Doctors… Richard Hurndall and David Bradley created their own unique versions of the Doctor the screen. Each of those were perfectly Doctorish in their own way without being quite the First Doctor we know. Even Peter Cushing’s Dr. Who is no less loved, in all his twinkling whimsy, for not being a ‘proper’ Doctor. If this is instead a look into an alternate vision of 1970s Doctor Who, like the Countdown comics of old, then all the better. After all, why ‘just’ have more of the Third Doctor? Instead we can add a new take on the Doctor with charms of his own to discover.
In any event, this is the only possible way for us to experience new tales set during this very specific time in the Doctor’s life. In theory, you could tailor almost any other type of Doctor Who story to suit almost any other TARDIS team. But only this era of the show gave us this unique connection to Earth and to the UNIT family here. And the work of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks gave their stories a feel unlike any other. These latest stories are as much about revisiting that atmosphere as they are recasting Jon Pertwee.
Conspiracy in Space takes us back to Draconia for a space spy thrill ride of supervillain lairs, gadgets and galaxy spanning chases
First story Conspiracy in Space from Alan Barnes certainly succeeds in capturing the spirit of 1972. This isn’t just a return appearance for the Draconians, the lizard-like imperialists who were Jon Pertwee’s favourite monsters. Both the plot and execution couldn’t fit more perfectly into the era if it had come from the typewriter of Frontier in Space’s Malcolm Hulke himself.
The TARDIS, under remote control, brings the Doctor and Jo to Draconia at a pivotal point in the planet’s history. It’s twenty years before the events of the first story, the Grand Widow (Issy Van Randwyck doing a fine John Woodnutt impression), mother to the Emperor we met before, is battling court intrigue relating both to the impending wedding of her son and the ongoing cold war with the Earth Empire. Two strangers, presumed to be human spies, have fallen into the clutches of her rival Lady Zinn. It’s a development which threatens to make a volatile situation explosive. Worse, it goes without saying that the two ‘spies’ are actually the Doctor and Jo…
The struggle to uncover the nature of the conspiracy against the Emperor takes the pair half way across the galaxy. It’s a twisting turning ride where nobody is as they seem and no one can be trusted. Amid the double crosses, triple crosses, and possibly even quadruple crosses (it’s easy to lose count), there are spaceship chases, space walks, the most withering of aristocratic putdowns, and enough Venusian martial arts to ‘Hai!‘ an elephant. This isn’t just an exercise in Pertwee Era Bingo either. Instead it’s such a loving recreation of a distinct sort of space thriller that you can practically see the model shots. A more than worthy addition to the oeuvre that gave us the original Frontier in Space.
The Devil’s Hoofprints puts the Doctor and Sarah Jane on the trail of the great Devon mystery
The second entry in The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 8 is Robert Valentine’s The Devil’s Hoofprints. While Conspiracy in Space chose a particular strand of the era and stuck to it, this is a joyful cocktail that mixes different elements in new combinations. It also squeezes a healthy measure of aspects of Doctor Who we rarely got to see in the early 70s. The result is a heady concoction that will leave the listener smiling for almost the entire run time and beyond.
On TV, the addition of Sarah Jane Smith helped rub off some of the Third Doctor’s rough edges. It’s an effect even more pronounced with the Treloar incarnation. Sadie Miller steps into her late mother’s shoes as the intrepid reporter in easily Big Finish’s most successful recasting yet. Her voice is a fraction higher, but in every other respect, this is Sarah Jane to a tee. The warm smile in Miller’s voice when gentling teasing the Doctor, or the gasped indignation when affronted are almost spookily perfect in capturing Lis Sladen’s acting choices. We even get a bonus Liverpudlian “Gerroff!” when Sarah is manhandled by some ruffians.
The plot sees UNIT assigned to review security at an experimental energy project following some suspicious deaths. The brittle genius behind the project is displeased by their presence and determined to proceed no matter the hazards. Mysterious hoof prints have appeared across the countryside and local legends of appearances by the devil have imprinted themselves on the area’s place names. But inevitably there’s more of the interstellar than the infernal about goings on.
In one of the Brig’s strongest outings in years, Jon Culshaw gets to show the UNIT commander’s steel
Despite the familiarity of these elements, the story swiftly takes a left turn into areas rarely explored by the Letts/Dicks team. The Doctor and Sarah Jane are soon on the trail of the original real world mystery of the Devil’s hoofprints. They quickly bond with a town of lovable eccentrics. Derek Griffith’s magnificently mannered vicar, Carolyn Seymour’s wise woman, and Robert Daws’ comically bullish squire create a delightful coterie worthy of Robert Holmes’ finest. As with the best Doctor Who guest casts, it’s easily to imagine the trio with a life that continues after the final end credits scream. No doubt, had this really aired on television across four Saturday tea-times, there would have been Jago & Litefoot style talk of a spin-off. Brilliantly, we also get a couple of forms of transport checked off the Third Doctor’s wish list. Including a blissful chase sequence that’s half Alex Rider and half National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
With the Brigadier often relegated to a sidekick role, or even comic relief, Blogtor Who has a soft spot for stories that allow him to really show his mettle. So The Devil’s Hoofprints scratched that itch with one of the Brig’s strongest outings in years. He’s separated from the Doctor and Sarah Jane for much of the narrative in his own parallel battle for survival. It allows Lethbridge-Stewart to shine at his wry, determined, courageous best. By the time he’s staring down his opponent with a steely line about “the difference between a hunter… and a soldier,” you’ll be punching the air.
And our new Brig, Jon Culshaw judges it just right. Able to provide a Nicholas Courtney you’d be hard pressed to distinguish from the original, he slides into more of an approximation of the spirit of the man in order to provide a fresher, more dynamic performance. It’s an approach that works well in bringing the beloved character to fresh life while honouring the original.
The Third Doctor Adventures continues to bring one of Doctor Who’s most cherished eras to life in fine style
Together the two stories in this volume represent a parallel universe of a Third Doctor not quite the one we know. But it’s one which contains the best of this universe’s version, crafted with love and skill. It proves Big Finish’s firm grasp of what made Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks one of the great teams in all Who history. It’s a world well worth the visit, and Blogtor Who’s already looking forward to our next day trip there…
Doctor Who – The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 8 is now available as a collector’s edition box set (on CD at the special price of £24.99) or a digital download (at the special price of £19.99), exclusively from the Big Finish website.