Doctor Who - The Third Doctor Adventures - Vol 5Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 31 August 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Doctor Who - The Third Doctor Adventures - Vol 5

Stars: Tim Treloar, Katy Manning, Jon Culshaw,
Daisy Ashford, John Levene, Michael Troughton,
Bethan Dixon Bate, Joe Jameson, Andrew Wincott,
Rosalyn Landor, David Dobson, Dominic Wood, Guy Adams
Written by John Dorney and Guy Adams
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Productions, 2019

“Run free, my children, run free! Spread out! Soon everyone in England will be a Primord!”

With the recent centenary of Jon Pertwee’s birth, it would probably amaze the actor that his work is still celebrated today. The Season 10 classic series Blu-Ray boxset of Doctor Who has recently been launched, highlighting both Pertwee’s Third Doctor and the “UNIT family”: Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sergeant Benton). It’s the third season in what was a hugely successful Doctor/support team for the program (1971-73) – and would also signal the beginning of the end of the Pertwee era.

Big Finish has complemented the timing of the Blu-Ray release with Volume 5 of The Third Doctor Adventures, featuring two further additions to the “Pertwee canon”. As a regular listener and reviewer of the Big Finish Doctor Who range, until now I’ve largely avoided the “further adventures” of the first three Doctors, preferring to focus on later incarnations and modern series content. There has probably been an element of snootiness involved there – as much as I’m a child of the Seventies (the Pertwee era of Doctor Who is the earliest I can remember), I was sceptical of serials with other actors recreating the roles of late, iconic performers like Pertwee and Courtney.

For example, I’ve enjoyed Jon Culshaw’s impressions for more than a decade but could he really do Courtney justice and recreate the Brigadier? I mean, Kamelion, yes, but the Brig? And who was this Tim Treloar bloke that he qualified to succeed the great Pertwee as the Third Doctor? Never mind that a rudimentary search of the Big Finish website reveals Treloar has done quite a lot of work for the company’s output and that on IMDB he’s been a long-time thesp in TV and film, clocking up appearances on The Bill, Foyle’s War, Silent Witness, Father Brown and Call the Midwife, as well as a cameo in Disney blockbuster Maleficent! Strangely, I’ve never before had any issue with the recasting of the First Doctor on television (both Richard Hurndall and David Bradley) but clearly when it came to BF’s recasting of earlier Doctors, I had more of a bugbear than I realised!

I’m therefore pleased to report that my doubts and scepticism were horribly misplaced. Not only do Treloar and Culshaw deliver outstanding portrayals of the Third Doctor and the Brigadier but the two stories that make up this set – Primord and The Scream of Ghosts – are very faithful to the tone of the writing of the period and wonderfully evocative of the Pertwee era, particularly in their use of sound effects and incidental music. The inclusion of Manning (in both tales) and Levene (in The Scream of Ghosts), both portraying their parts in a youthful manner that’s in spite of their true age, further cements the impression that these two tales could very plausibly (with some minor exceptions) have neatly slotted into the Pertwee era.

John Dorney’s Primord is an indirect sequel to the early Pertwee classic Inferno. As Dorney points out in the CD extras, the Primords in the original TV serial were largely surplus to the greater parallel universe/apocalyse scenario. They served as the generic “monster of the week”, memorable for their faux hairy make-up and canines, but with little development whatsoever. In this tale, Dorney seeks to make the creatures more three-dimensional and empathetic – the Primords are all pawns in a greater scheme by quarters of the British political and military brass and at least two of them are originally people that mean something to companions Jo and Liz Shaw (Daisy Ashford, recreating her mother Caroline John’s character).

There is also an implied intelligence and cunning to the Primords that only becomes evident as the broader story takes shape – and is exhibited by the most unexpected of antagonists. It’s a great twist that propels the plot further along in the third and fourth episodes after a gradual build-up in the first two instalments.

The performances of the supporting cast in Primord all contribute to an outstanding script and production. Michael Troughton (the other son of Second Doctor Patrick) relishes the opportunity to play the villainous General Sharp, while Bethan Dixon Bate is the amoral defence secretary Lady Madeleine Rose whose political ambitions clearly override any consideration for the welfare of the Primords or the victims of their weaponisation.

But again, in a story where all but one of the four major characters has been recast, it is Ashford’s turn as Liz that is particularly impressive. Ashford’s voice is almost indistinguishable from her mother’s, in a way that Treloar’s is not from Pertwee’s nor Culshaw’s from Courtney’s; Treloar and Culshaw at times sound very much like the Doctor and the Brigadier but there are other times when their natural inflections inevitably creep in. That’s not as noticeable with Ashford – perhaps that’s the advantage of being related – but Liz’s role in the story also benefits from the twist in her regular characterisation. This no doubt gives Ashford some more freedom with her interpretation, whereas Treloar’s and Culshaw’s portrayals have to be largely consistent with type.

Another highlight of Primord is the pairing of the Brigadier and Jo Grant – which, to the best of my knowledge, never happened on TV! – as they investigate Sharp’s operation while the Doctor works with Liz on a cure to the Primord virus. Culshaw and Manning make this combination work so well that they literally become the heroes of the story in the Doctor’s absence, particularly as events escalate and they stand as the only true levels of resistance to Sharp and the broader Primord threat. You never truly doubt that it is the Brigadier and Jo that you are listening in on.

“Harmonise the signal …”

The Brigadier and Jo are briefly paired together during the proceedings of Guy Adams’ The Scream of Ghosts but rather than split off, the regulars in the Doctor/UNIT family are switched and swapped numerous times throughout the plot. Sergeant Benton, for example, has a nice moment of introspection with the Doctor as he relates how his absence of a social life outside of UNIT prompted him to join a group of CB radio enthusiasts from around the world to broaden his horizons. It’s a wonderful moment of rare sincerity glimpsed in Benton and it is deftly delivered by John Levene, performing the part for the first time in these Third Doctor dramatisations.

Big Finish, being the specialist that it is, has throughout its 20 years of delivering Doctor Who for audio done some wonderfully inventive things with sound, dating back to early instalments like Justin Richards’ Whispers of Terror (1999). The Scream of Ghosts also imaginatively utilises sound as a core plot point. Guy Adams explains in the CD extras that his script is evocative of sound in a great many forms – it embraces the concept of hauntology (ie of structures capturing and evoking atmosphere and sound), explores early developments in mobile telephony through arrogant and capricious scientist Professor Caldicott (Rosalyn Landor) and her assistant Armitage (David Dobson), and, in aspiring musician Warren Deckland (Dominic Wood), portrays the general fascination of instrumentalists since the Sixties and Seventies with experimental music and sound, including musique concrète.

In many ways, the story is quite self-referential, given Doctor Who’s iconic theme tune and experimental, electronic sound effects were themselves products of some outstanding young minds (eg Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgkinson). Warren even closes out the story by mixing the theme tune when the Doctor leaves him with recordings of the story’s very own extra-terrestrial menace – a “cheat” that was effectively used by the TV program occasionally in the Pertwee era to bridge its own cliffhangers!

As a tale, The Scream of Ghosts is entertaining “Pertwee fare”, with an old TV foe (familiar to us as listeners, not necessarily the Doctor) rearing its ugly head. This particular alien race was pretty underwhelming on TV, and indeed has remarkably enjoyed more of a charmed life in Doctor Who spin-off fiction than they’ve probably deserved (I must admit to being staggered by their multiple appearances in other Big Finish stories). Adams’ own renditions of the enemy are unsurprisingly full of their trademark volume and pomposity but unfortunately the prior baggage of their lone TV appearance (for this listener, at least) continues to undermine whatever menace and authority they have. Even the Primords, by comparison, don’t suffer in the same way, even though they arguably were the weakest link in Inferno too.

It’s a pity because were the antagonist more convincing and sinister, The Scream of Ghosts would probably be a great – rather than just a good – serial. Certainly, it’s spooky and atmospheric in parts, playing on many of the insecurities in viewers/listeners that the Pertwee era was very good at exploiting, eg electronic poltergeists that beg for help, static-filled TV sets that seemingly swallow up their owners and unnerving voices that talk through inactive earpieces. As it is, it is just edged out by Primord as the better of the two tales.

Given the writers of both serials have kindly story doctored the other’s work, another intriguing and enjoyable aspect of this boxset is the loose continuity between them. Gender politics and diversity are very strongly felt in both tales, with Jo remarking that between meeting Liz in Primord and Caldicott in Ghosts, she is getting used to suddenly meeting more women with scientific credentials!

Given both stories are0 set in the Seventies, there is an acknowledgement that women were only beginning to be trailblazers (Daisy Ashford remarks in the extras that even her own mother Caroline John did not realise that as Liz she paved the way for more positive female role models). Liz complains that despite her prior knowledge of the Primord virus, she was approached second for expert advice. Similarly, Caldicott has spent a decade proving that her work in mobile telephony is valid, to the scepticism of a male-dominated telecommunications establishment; she therefore doesn’t take kindly to being lectured by a “patriarch in a cape” when the Doctor admits that he was not aware of her work largely because he knows (from future knowledge) that the real advances in mobile phone technology will occur in America, not England.

The difference between Liz and Caldicott, though, is that the former does not take either chauvinism or a lack of appreciation for her scientific prowess too personally; she continues to work at her best, in spite of the glass ceiling. Caldicott, on the other hand, is clearly bitter and frustrated with her lack of progress over a significant period of time and is consequentially hostile to both men and women alike.

It’s also great to see Jo herself, despite her unsuccessful O-levels in elementary school science, proving that you don’t need a super IQ to save the world. In Primord, Jo is a little intimidated by Liz’s scientific prowess but in Ghosts there is no one the Doctor trusts more to save the day – and the planet. Indeed, in a nod to Doctor Who serials of the modern era, Jo becomes literally and figuratively the most important person on Earth, even giving the antagonist the Doctor’s usual ultimatum of a last chance to stand down or suffer total defeat. To reinforce that she doesn’t have the Doctor’s near omnipotence, there’s a nice scene where she turns to UNIT’s original Osgood (from The Daemons) for advice.

There are other nice little touches of continuity between the serials as well. Jo’s affection for dogs is referenced in both tales – the characters of Private Callahan (Joe Jameson) and Warren have four-legged friends. There’s even a joke in Ghosts about (to quote Culshaw’s Brigadier) “damn fool fire extinguishers” when UNIT’s finest are assaulted by one – they are also the “weapon of choice” in fighting the Primords. While Primord and The Scream of Ghosts can be enjoyed independently of the other, they feature “Easter eggs” that enhance the listening experience.

The Third Doctor Adventures Vol 5 is a highly pleasurable listening experience, and a good introduction for listeners (like me) that have until now eschewed this “continuation” of the Pertwee era. In all, this set of serials not only successfully recaptures the nostalgia of the Third Doctor’s tenure extremely well – both through the music and sound effects, and the exceptional performances of Pertwee’s, Courtney’s and John’s surrogates – it also highlights just how unforgiving, sexist and regressive the Seventies could be on matters of gender equality and diversity. To the BF production team’s credit, it tackles these issues without putting on the “rose-tinted spectacles” while maintaining the “feel” and atmosphere of the Pertwee era.






Doctor Who At The BFI - Planet of the Daleks & Q and A with Katy ManningBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 June 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

CAN I JUST SAY THAT I WAS SAT IN THE SAME ROW AS KATY MANNING, AND TWO ROWS DOWN FROM FRANK SKINNER!?

 

Anyway, that’s enough of that fan...........wallowing! So, on Saturday 15th June, DWN was invited along to the BFI to see this special edition episode of the Pertwee classic, Planet of the Daleks. A story that is now 46 years old and that is showing to promote not only the upcoming series 10 Blu-ray box set but also to show off what the restoration team have managed to do with the original material. So, to the (literal) strains of Roberta Tovey's Who's Who, I entered the auditorium.

 

I have to confess, I’ve not seen this story since it’s release on DVD some years ago, but it does have a fond place in my heart. Why? Well, it has the Pertwee ‘A-Team’ in it; he and Manning never looked better on the small screen than during series 10. Pertwee himself was at the top of his game, and the show looked great. Yes, you can see the studio walls, but the jungle setting looks sumptuous, and the vicious plants incredibly imaginative. I love this TARDIS set, with its pull out bed, hidden oxygen tanks, and that weird entry threshold thing where you can see the outside....from the inside through the interior doors of the TARDIS. Odd, but very cool.

 

Being a direct follow on from Frontier In Space, which I always thought was just a long and drawn out trailer for this very story, it does suffer somewhat from Terry Nation’s writing tropes, but it’s still a cracking Dalek story, with some great cliffhangers, and fantastic character actors such as Prentis Hancock, and Bernard Horsefall. There is also David Maloney on directing duties.

 

As with a lot of the content on these new Blu-ray releases, the special effects have been spruced up somewhat (a feature that you can toggle on and off when watching the Blu-ray at home). Some of the effects are very impressive (the Dalek ship for instance) and some are so well blended in that you don’t notice them until the story has moved on. The standout, however, is, of course, the destruction of the Dalek army in the final episode. When I think back to the original, all I remember is awfully rendered, pathetic looking toy Daleks and bad lava effects. What we have here though is a complete CGI reimagining of the scene that adds real gravitas to the whole thing, and brings the effects bang up to date.

 

Sadly, upscaling a story like this is not all good. I thought as nice as the picture was, it suffered a bit by being on the big screen (I’m hoping it will look better at home). I also noticed a string on an ascending Dalek, Pertwee’s makeup, and how poor a state the Dalek props were in.

 

Story-wise, as mentioned earlier, it’s a Nation classic. He knows how to handle his Daleks and his mercenaries. But his female characters not so much. Some of the dialogue had the audience in stitches, especially that classic scene where Jo goes to find the bombs....and please, the less said about her brief 'romance', the better. Obviously, this is a window into a very different era of storytelling, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh.

 

After the show, there was a quiz, that Katy helped out with, running up and down the auditorium like a blind teenager. There was also a look at some of the newly filmed extras - Keeping Up With The Jones looks absolutely lovely, as do the Behind the Sofa vignettes featuring Manning, John Levene and Richard Franklin - their chemistry together, even now positively sizzles.

 

We then moved onto the Q and A and I must say that Manning was charming, funny and very engaging. She regaled the audience from how Pertwee started to wear hair rollers to hide his bald spot (which Katy had pointed out to him to his horror), to her heartbreak at leaving the show and moving on all of those years ago.

 

This reviewer really enjoyed the afternoon, if I had one slightly negative observation....well not so much as an observation, as a feeling in my buttocks - it would be that these showings would be better suited to four-part stories.

 

Oh! I nearly forgot! Inside scoop! The next Blu-ray box set will be announced Tuesday 18th June. Make your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.

 




Horrors of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 29 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Horrors Of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Katy Manning

Released by BBC Worldwide - July 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Writer Justin Richards continues his warped timeline of World War I storyline (started in Men of War) in this Third Doctor original Audiobook read by Katy Manning, which follows up on the lead that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand survived his assassination and the war was delayed somehow.  The Third Doctor regrets having done nothing about the discrepancy after he discovered it in his first incarnation, but as that story took place in the midst of the Daleks' Master Plan, I suppose he was busy at the time. 

In this installment the Third Doctor and Jo Grant end up in an earlier part of the war, and meet the nurse who had saved the Archduke from death, and figure out who was possessed and causing the time disruptions. 

Manning's reading is highly entertaining, and the story is just as interesting as Men of War had been, though with a slightly better ending this time around.  I still feel like there is a loose thread, as the Archduke still seems to have survived...and now the Third Doctor isn't busy...so why not solve this? If he did solve it, it was so brushed over that it did a disservice to the story. 

We still have one more of these audiobooks to go in this series, so I suppose it will all be wrapped up then.  For a quick light adventure, these Audiobooks are decent fun, but they leave a little to be desired in the story department.  But Katy Manning is always fun and she does a great job reading this story. 





Land of the Blind (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Land of the Blind (Credit: Panini)
Written by Dan Abnett, Gareth Roberts, Nick Briggs, Kate Orman, Scott Gray
Artwork by Colin Andrew, Enid Orc, Martin Geraghty, Barrie Mitchell, Lee Sullivan
Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Available from Amazon UK

In the mid-90s, with Doctor Who off the air for a few years and showing no signs of returning, Doctor Who Magazine Editor Gary Russell tired of the comic strip playing second fiddle to the Seventh Doctor novel series, and decided it was time to change it up. Instead of continuing to have confusing continuities with a book series that possibly not all readers were reading, he decided that the Comic Strip should forge it's own path.  The first step to that was to stop the Seventh Doctor adventures in the strip. This was a bold move, because up to that point the Doctor Who Magazine strip had been pretty much running continuously in a variety of publications, but had always featured the most recent Doctor. Instead, the long running strip would now focus on different Doctor adventures.  Land of the Blind is a collection of the first batch of these comics, and features a story each for the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors.

The book opens with the Fourth Doctor story "Victims," which has the Doctor and Romana thwart a plot to take down the Human Empire via beauty products on a Fashionista Planet.  The story here is okay, and the art is pretty bad, but there is a bit of charm to the premise...it is just rushed.  We then move forward the Fifth Doctor who has an adventure on the Moon with some evil Space Cows.  That is just the kind of bonkers premise I like in Doctor Who, particularly in comic form.  Following from there we venture back to the First Doctor with Ben and Polly, in which they battle a giant slug that is eating cryogenically frozen people or something.  It is fast paced and hollow, with little substance. It also doesn't really capture the tone of those early 60s stories.

The next stop is the Third Doctor, who is reunited with his first companion Liz Shaw as they stop a Professor who is using psychokinetic powers to kill his perceived adversaries. This story captures the tone of the Third Doctor era pretty well, and tries to give more detail to the offscreen exit of Liz Shaw from the TV series, which is nice.  The final two stories both feature the Second Doctor.  First up is the titular Land of the Blind and has the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe save a spaceport from some alien overlords who have trapped them there for decades. This is a pretty good story, with a good script and good art.  The last story in the volume is a one-off from a a Doctor Who Magazine special, called "Bringer of Darkness" which is told from the perspective of Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield, as she explains of an adventure with the Daleks that made her realize that her time with the Doctor was going to need to end soon.  It is a short but solid piece, with some good character development, including some stuff about the Doctor that surprisingly has paid off in the years to come.

While not the most cohesive period, for the strip, it is an interesting one.  There may not be a uniting factor behind all of the stories, whether that be a single Writer or Artist, or even a continuing plot thread.  But it does have some fun random adventures for these past Doctors. They are all pretty short and light, but that isn't always a bad thing.  Only a few feel like they rush to the finish line. I think this was sort of a lost period for the strip.  The Seventh Doctor had run his course, especially with all the Novel Continuity clogging up the works, and they didn't really find their voice again until the Eighth Doctor would finally launch as the star of the strip. So here is this weird little period, where they are trying to figure out their voice again, and they didn't even really have a regular Doctor starring.  As a bit of a novelty, this volume collects together some interesting stuff.  It may not be the best collection they have put together, but I still enjoy reading these old black and white strips.  





Third Doctor Adventures Volume 4Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 27 March 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Third Doctor Adventures - Volume 4
Writer: Guy AdamsMarc Platt
Director: 17021
Featuring: Tim Treloar, Katy Manning, Rufus Hound, Mina Anwar, Joe Sims, Carolyn Pickles, 17021
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 5 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - March 2018
Order from Amazon UK

Before we begin, a quick housekeeping query: is everyone sufficiently bucked up and ready for further old-school 1970s (or 1980s, depending on whom you ask) sci-fi escapades? Wonderful.

Perhaps emboldened by the success of their Dalek revival in Volume 3, Big Finish isn’t skimping in the slightest on classic villains in their newest pair of Adventures for the Third Doctor. In fact, they’ve introduced not one but two returning antagonists into the fray for Volume 4 in the forms of the Meddling Monk and – for the first time ever in a Jon Pertwee-era tale, so better late than never – the Cybermen.

Admittedly this reviewer took umbrage with how intent “The Conquest of Far” seemed with simply reliving Dalek glory days, rather than seeking to develop how we perceive Skaro’s finest in any notable way, last time around. Will Guy Adams and Marc Platt’s next efforts to immortalise the late Pertwee’s beloved Doctor – now revitalised via Tim Treloar’s loving aural homage – fall into the same traps, then, or can their connective thematic tissue surrounding the ever-complexifying concept of human nature elevate proceedings?

“The Rise of the New Humans”:

“Look, Bessie’s a lovely car Doctor, I mean a really lovely car, but have you ever thought about investing in a little roof rather than a flappy tarpaulin to keep you dry?”
“Don’t you listen, old girl – she knows you’re beautiful really!”

Had we ever told diehard fans of all things Doctor Who after watching the divisive “The Woman Who Lived” in 2015 that supporting star Rufus Hound would go on to resurrect a long-overlooked classic antagonist to tremendous acclaim, the best case scenario, most would have justifiably scoffed in our faces. Between his infrequent appearances in the Short Trips and Doom Coalition ranges along with the British comedian’s headline role in Volume 4’s opening tale, however, that’s all changed and the results could hardly feel more satisfying than in the case of “The Rise of the New Humans”.

A whirlwind four-parter that’s by parts thought-provoking, hilarious – as if we’d expect anything less of Hound – and thrilling, “Rise” fits into the mold of the Third Doctor era perfectly, posing a fascinating metaphysical concept as human test subjects find themselves transformed into supernatural beings capable of withstanding nearly any affliction. Naturally, though, Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an audacious experiment gone wrong, and sure enough the side effects – not to mention the technology recklessly co-opted by the Monk to achieve his not-so-altruistic goal – quickly lead listeners and the major players alike to question the limits of science’s oft-perceived god complex.

If this all sounds too grim and sombre an affair to warrant the Monk’s involvement, then rest assured that Hound alleviates any such concerns with unmistakable ease from the outset. It’s thanks to his sinister, almost sickly, charisma and brilliantly earnest haplessness in the face of just about any danger that Adams’ borderline gothic – certainly Frankenstein-esque – script never gets too bogged down in its contemplations on evolution and the increasing risks of intervention in this natural process for financial gain, with the Monk’s attempts to disguise his seemingly benevolent intentions so delightfully inept that the audience should barely mind sitting through the humour-laden first half before discovering his true ambitions.

At the same time, though, Adams thankfully also realises the supreme value and drawing power that Tim Treloar and Katy Manning both hold in the eyes of the Adventures range’s fandom, peppering in a wealth of understated conversations between the pair which perfectly encapsulate their bubbly, at times teacher-student-style dynamic. Whether they’re arguing over Bessie’s temperamentality on a rain-swept road – a subtle homage to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, perhaps? – or the Doctor’s comforting Jo upon her poignant realisation that rumours of us only accessing 10% of our brain power may have been exaggerated, every exchange that the characters share could’ve been ripped straight out of a 1970s serial, with Treloar’s righteously confident and Manning’s sweetly innocent line deliveries both as completely pitch-perfect as ever.

The only noteworthy misstep on the wright in question’s part, then, comes with Part 4. While by no means a deal-breaker, the final installment of “Rise” does succumb to an all-too-familiar virus plaguing myriad audio and TV Who adventures – hightailing it to the finish line and ditching any intriguing ideas laid along the way in the process. One can’t help but notice the superior running time afforded to the boxset’s second story – the individual episodes of which run for around 30-35 minutes each compared to this serial’s 20-25 – and wonder if Adams struggled to give ideas like humans struggling with their deadly mutations full due, hence the final 25 minutes descending into the usual catastrophic monster mash and retconning a hugely tantalising cliffhanger regarding Jo within moments of its occurrence.

Maybe Adams simply needs to keep honing his stabs at the four-part format instead, but it’s food for thought in terms of whether he might better befit a five- or six-episode serial should he contribute another script for the recently-announced Volume 5.

“The Tyrants of Logic”:

“Doctor, what are they?”
“Cybermen!”

Reading the above lines of dialogue alone will, for many fans, surely prove a cathartic experience in and of itself. After all, despite coming into contact with Daleks, Silurians, Sea Devils, Sontarans, Ice Warriors and Autons over the course of his four-year tenure, not to mention the Master on a near-weekly basis, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor never earned himself the chance to battle arguably Doctor Who’s second most iconic monster, joining Paul McGann, John Hurt and Christopher Eccleston’s as the only such incarnations faced with this unspeakable on-screen plight.

But, as Hurt’s War Doctor proclaimed in 2013’s similarly Cyber-lite 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, no more. Setting down on an initially near-deserted human colony dubbed Burnt Salt, the now exile-free Time Lord and Jo soon discover that they’re far from alone; quite to the contrary, a nearby saloon houses a wild assortment of rogues and ex-soldiers, all of whom bear a secret inevitably doomed to surface as the Cybermen make their presence on Burnt Salt known with their destructive efforts to secure a vital hidden weapon.

Prior to us proceeding any further, though, a word of warning – with its Cybermats, Cyber Wars fallout and attempted Time Lord-Cyber conversions, Marc Platt’s latest script represents a quintessential story for everyone’s favourite Mondas residents, for better and for worse. Unless this boxset somehow marks your first encounter with Who, many of the twists in “Logic” will likely seem rather familiar; from characters mistakenly willing to sacrifice their humanity to the robotic menaces escaping supposed extinction yet again, from the Doctor needing 10 minutes to alleviate his companion’s dismay at their latest foe’s near-human nature to Part 4’s predictable final duke-out, there’s nothing particularly fresh to speak of in what’s a fairly run-of-the-mill nostalgia tour.

Nothing, that is, save for the continuing thematic strand surrounding what it truly means to call oneself a member of the human race. If “Rise” explores this existential concept through a metaphysical exploration of our species’ DNA being evolved to a supposed higher state, then “Tyrants” – as with many Cyber-tales, although to more emotional effect a la Spare Parts – does so by presenting members of our species on the brink of having every aspect of their personalities stripped away. Can we possibly still define someone as human when they’re clinging to any remains vestiges of their Id / ego / super-ego? Sure, it’s a line of inquiry also recently pursued by TV serials like “Asylum of the Daleks”, but without spoiling too much, Carolyn Pickles achieves wonders as her character Marian Shaeffer’s cold exterior peels back to reveal her heartbreaking motivations in this regard.

Indeed, even if “Logic” doesn’t exactly break a great deal of new ground compared to a recent TV Cyber-outing like “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”, it’s not for want of the central and supporting cast alike doing their utmost – with director 17021’ support and guidance, no doubt – to provide an entertaining 2-hours of pseudo-base-under-siege action. That Treloar and Manning’s insatiably endearing chemistry injects humour and charm at every turn likely goes without saying at this point, but look out too for Briggs’ finest turn yet as the ever-hauntingly impassive invaders standing in Burnt Salt’s doorway as well as a contrastingly vulnerable performance from Deli Segal’s Skippa, another innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a seemingly unyielding, constantly destructive conflict.

The Verdict:

Above all, this stellar new boxset for Treloar’s Third Doctor marks a vast improvement on Volume 3, offering a far more consistent pair of serials that seldom cease to provide gripping listening no matter your chosen venue of aural consumption. Does “Logic” still follow the roadmap presented by Cyber-tales gone by a little too rigidly at times? Sure, but its stirring explorations of warped human psyches – combined with Adams’ own study in “Rise” of our dangerous strides towards godhood of late – ensure that it’s nonetheless a far superior beast to “Conquest of Far”, particularly with Briggs taking such unnerving pride in chronicling Pertwee / Treloar’s proper first encounter with the Cybermen.

This reviewer has spoken before on the matter of whether Big Finish’s abundant New Series productions – see Tales from New Earth, The Churchill Years Volume 2, Gallifrey: Time War and The Diary of River Song Series 3 in 2018’s opening quarter alone – threaten to overshadow their Classic Series output if they’re not careful. Provided that the studio keeps producing such captivating jaunts into the lives of Doctors past, though, then their listeners, stars, scribes and directors should have nothing to worry about in terms of the job security that Hartnell-McGann’s incarnations will maintain going forward.

And buck down…see you next year for Volume 5 at the same Bessie-time, same Bessie-place!



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The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 4 (Doctor Who - The Third Doctor Adventures)



The Ambassadors of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Ambassadors Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Geoffrey Beevers

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Way back in the day, before home video, and before there were even many reruns of Doctor Who, many serials of the Classic Series were fondly remembered by fans via their novelizations printed by Target Books. There are probably still older fans who remember seeings bits of stories that never actually aired, because their memories of the Target Novelizations were so embedded into their memories of the show.  Now the BBC are taking those novelizations, and producing audiobooks of them.  So The Ambassadors of Death this is an audiobook adaptation of a novelization of a TV serial that aired in 1970.  Also, this is not to be confused with the television soundtrack of the story which was previously released, which was the soundtrack of the TV story with linking narration by Caroline John

With all that out of the way, I can say, I was not one of the fans who grew up with hte Target books.  I've never had an opportunity to read any of them, as I grew up i nthe wrong era and wrong continent for these books to be too available.  So this is really my first taste of what Target brought to the table. I can see why this line of books lasted so long, and managed to adapt nearly every serial from the classic series. The Story Editor of the Pertwee Era, Terrance Dicks, wrote this novelization (he actually wrote several and was fairly prolific in the book series), and his adaptation of the TV story he co-wrote is very detailed and captures the spirit of the original Pertwee story perfectly. I haven't watched The Ambassadors of Death in a few years, but listening to this I could just picture it all brought back to life in my head. 

Of course, an audiobook version of any book is only as good as the person reading it, and Geoffrey Beevers could read me the phonebook.  He has a great voice, actually voices as he distinguishes several characters with different tones and accents, and that voice encouraged me to zip through the audiobook.  Beavers also briefly played the Master on television against Tom Baker, and went on to reprise that character in severa Big Finish audio plays.  He was also, fact fans, the husband of Caroline John who portrayed Liz Shaw during the first season of Pertwee's tenure (including this very story).  I have all sorts of pointless trivia!

Anyhow this audiobook was quite good.  If you are on the go and want to relive the Target novels you once read (or, like me, experience them for the first time) you want be disappointed in this.  Beevers is a great narrator, and the audiobook reminded me just how entertaining the original Serial was.