Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Producer: David Richardson
Cast: Tim Treloar (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), George Watkins (Delralis), John Banks (Jickster), Amy Newton (Elaquon), Robin Weaver (Arianda), Iain Batchelor (Adam Rigg), Robert Hands (Major Hardy / Crewman), Richard Derrington (Commander Burton), Ian Cunningham (Sinko / Ronson / Lieutenant), Jake Dudman (UNIT Radio Operator) and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
Released by Big Finish Productions - August 2017
With much of Big Finish’s annual Doctor Who content becoming inevitably geared around taking advantage of their recently-acquired New Series licence, from The Lives of Captain Jack to The Diary of River Song to UNIT: Assembled in the past year alone, classic fans of the TV series – and indeed its accompanying audio storylines – might reasonably begin to worry whether the 1963-1989 Doctors will plummet down the agenda, to the point of them rarely warranting a look-in beyond the odd multi-Doctor crossover.
Quite to the contrary, however, as well as continuing the escapades of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s incarnations via their Main Range along with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton’s in the Early Adventures saga, the studio has reaffirmed its commitment to Jon Pertwee’s ever-wise, ever-courageous and ever-defiant version of Theta Sigma this Summer. Enter The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 3, the latest edition in an ongoing series of boxsets showcasing the incandescent Tim Treloar’s captivating take on the character in the late and great Pertwee’s absence.
This time around listeners can expect both a flavour of the new and the familiar from scribes Nick Briggs and Andrew Smith, their dual, standalone four-part serials combining shades of Who’s recent and distant past with innovative new conceits to form a potent concoction of wonder and adrenaline-fuelled action. While certainly not without its notable blemishes, particularly in the first half, Volume 3 is all but guaranteed to sate the appetites of long-running Pertwee aficionados as well as diverting its path just far enough from the beaten track of nostalgia to avoid intimidating newcomers either…
“The Conquest of Far”:
If we consider the two serials presented here as a wedded couple of sorts, their marital ceremony spanning the set’s sizable 5-hour runtime and the presents offered up at the reception conforming to that age-old saying of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”, then Briggs’ opening salvo unquestionably fills the first and third of those criterions. Much as he avoided plumping for the traditional “…of the Daleks” syntactical structure when titling the piece, the man best known for voicing Skaro’s finest in the New Series has crafted a classic invasion story centred on Davros’ creations to kick off proceedings, one set just moments after Series 10’s Planet of the Daleks (1973) to boot.
En route back from giving their archenemies a rather frosty reception on Spiridon, the Doctor (Treloar) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning, as bumbling but endearing as ever throughout Volume 3) soon find themselves inadvertently tumbling to the planet Far instead, ready to face another onslaught from the Kaleds’ final mutations with the Earth Alliance’s begrudging assistance. If nothing else, it’s certainly a premise which would’ve felt right at home in Series 10 as surely was Briggs’ intent, as would the motley band of human and alien resistance fighters with whom they work and vie to ascertain the likelihood of their – and indeed any Far resident’s – survival against the near-insurmountable odds of liberating a near-fatally weakened planetoid.
Unfortunately though, while “Far” gets off to a compelling enough start, soon splitting up our intrepid time travellers – as has so often been the case in the great Who serials – to meet the various factions living under Dalek tyranny on Far and teasing the Daleks’ nefarious purpose for the long since conquered world, events soon become rather predictable, leading to the same inevitable sacrifices and pyrrhic counter-plays for which the show’s invasion sub-genre has become so irreversibly known over the last 54 years. Try as they might to reinvigorate proceedings with their energetic, psychologically tormented takes on the wearied, warring rebels tasked with overthrowing the Dalek regime, supporting stars like George Watkins, John Banks and Amy Newton – among others – struggle to bring much depth to one-note players, each of whom’s sole purpose is seemingly to progress the rather mundane plot above all else rather than undergoing any thematic personal journey.
Even Briggs himself sounds as if he’s on auto-pilot as he voices Who’s most iconic foes, a fault again perhaps of his own creation given how little his script experiments with them – surely episodes like Dalek, Asylum of the Daleks and Into the Dalek have proven it’s possible to break the invasion, base-under-siege or interplanetary scheme mould? If Big Finish plans to continue rolling out stories featuring the Thals’ mortal enemies with such rapidity – between The War Doctor, The Churchill Years and Order of the Daleks in recent months, we’ve had more than our fair share of overblown, galaxy-threatening plots – then they’d best consider how to innovate upon such tired narrative structures for the characters, or perhaps give them a well-earned break as Steven Moffat did in the 2011 TV run.
Thank goodness for Treloar and Manning then, both of whom ensure what’s otherwise a disappointingly by-the-books first half for Volume 3 remains thoroughly entertaining listening regardless. Whether it’s the former channelling Pertwee’s immense authority and unyielding sense of hope, even in the gravest of circumstances where all chances of success appear lost, or Manning endowing Jo with an admirable aura of bravery, even when inside she’s clearly as terrified by the events of “Far” as any other player, the two wholly capable lead stars sizzle both when they’re sparring off one another and when they’re desperately attempting to ensure their quest to rid a planet of Dalek tyranny once more brings the least possible collateral damage.
“Far” marks an uneven start to the boxset, then, one which stays afloat thanks to its lead performers’ stunning turns – not that we should be surprised by this point, admittedly – but doesn’t come anywhere close to matching Third Doctor classics like The Time Warrior or Carnival of Monsters owing to its near-complete lack of imagination and narrative innovation.
“Storm of the Horofax”:
Whereas Briggs opted to draft the safer – ironically, given its scale and its surprisingly inferior quality – of the two serials comprising Volume 3, Andrew Smith takes anything but a conventional route, rounding out the boxset with the far more understated yet resultantly far more successful “Storm of the Horofax”. Not dissimilar to “Far”, this riveting four-parter does pay homage to story elements from past Who serials both classic and modern, withInferno, The Time Meddler and even the cracks in time arc from Steven Moffat and Matt Smith’s first televised run of the series in 2010 springing to mind on various occasions.
But if “Far” struggled to surprise, simply imitating what had come before without innovating upon the achievements of its hallowed predecessors, then Smith’s Earth-bound tale presents a model template for Briggs to follow should he hope to avoid making similar mistakes next time around. Every instalment of “Horofax” presents one of the aforementioned past conceits in a refreshing light which reinvigorates the serial at precisely the right time, with the story serving at once as a mystery, an invasion-driven thriller and an intimate personal drama but never seeming tonally disparate either thanks to the subtle yet elegant manner with which Smith weaves together his divergent plot threads.
Just as key to its success beyond the constantly subversive script, though, are Manning and Counter-Measures star Robin Weaver, the latter of whom plays a time-travelling psychic whose powers and hidden secrets threaten to play havoc with the Earth in both its physical and evolving temporal states. “Horofax” sees the pair strike up a refreshingly unpredictable dynamic, developing from sympathy to spite to supreme terror for reasons this reviewer shan’t spoil, not least since half of the joy of experiencing a brilliant romp like this is doing so with all of the major surprises intact. Better yet, Manning doesn’t need Weaver to play off in order to tug at the listener’s heartstrings either, some of her fraught exchanges with Treloar’s Doctor towards the latter stages of the play transporting Jo through a powerful emotional gamut unlike almost anything we saw the character experience on-screen in the 1970s.
As ever, all this isn’t to say that Smith doesn’t have scope to improve his Who contributions further should he return for Volume 4 or indeed as he presumably continues to write for Big Finish’s various other ranges. While Weaver’s at first tantalisingly restrained quasi-antagonist grabs our attention within just moments of her debut, once her true intentions become clear towards the second half, Arianda’s motivations for her actions seem difficult to trace, with the about-turn she performs of course inevitable – every serial needs its threat, after all – but also lacking the beneficial psychological context or backstory which might have lent her the depth of classic villains like Davros, the Family of Blood or the Master. Listeners won’t soon forget Arianda, that’s for sure, yet it’s tough to envision the Doctor truly fearing the prospect of her potential return either.
But tossing its minor characterisation issues aside, “Horofax” nevertheless excels at providing both the quintessential Third Doctor experience that fans of Pertwee’s early ‘70s era will have come for as well as the revitalising shocks in which “Far” came up so sorely lacking. Despite “Far” getting proceedings off to a disappointingly unambitious start, with “Horofax” Smith has ensured that both diehard Pertwee devotees and newcomers looking to explore the Third Doctor’s era should come out satisfied, ready for another slice of 1970s – or should that be 1980s? – action in the not-too-distant future.
Oh, and one more thing: stop, don't move!