Retrospective: Big Finish’s Third Doctor Adventures (Volume One)

“Sat at his kitchen table, Peter Shaw turned on his laptop computer and started typing up the retrospective review that had been swimming in his subconscious for the last few days…”

Considering the second volume of Big Finish’s Third Doctor Adventures is released imminently, it’s a good time to look back at the first boxset, released in September last year, in this Retrospective, which is a bit like a review, but with the word “retrospective” instead.

While the Third Doctor’s era is now complete and in colour – so close you can feel the planet screaming out its rage – the irony is Pertwee’s is the least represented audio Doctor (classic anyway). Sad though it is, with the missing episodes of their depleted eras available on audio, it means that Hartnell and Troughton get to come with you in the car, they follow you on bus journeys, country walks, and on your holidays. Which sounds creepier than it is.

The Third Doctor is not only earthbound for much of the time, he’s also restricted to the TV in the sitting room and bedroom. So our action hero is also the bed-bound Doctor. Which also sounds a little creepy. But I hear you cry, “What about The Paradise of Death and The Ghosts of N-Space? Eh? Have you forgotten them?” If only I could, dear reader, if only I could…

The Paradise of Death Ghosts of N-Space

So this is a very welcome experiment from Big Finish. Now I can have someone who sounds like Pertwee following me to work and accompanying me on the loo in Tooting Bec. Move over Yeti and make way for Tim Treloar – there’s room on the pan for three. Which is, frankly, the creepiest image yet.

And what a triumph Mr Treloar is in The Third Doctor Adventures, he puts in a spot-on performance in the acting stakes, and manages to evoke the essence of Pertwee without it being an impression. And on many occasions he sounds uncannily like dashing Doctor Three. Good grief!

“Feeling thirsty, Peter decided to pause the review writing, got up, made a cup of tea then came back…”

And so to the adventures. Two of them. That’s one more than one, and just enough to justify the plural of the release’s title. It’s a shame because the two stories, Prisoners of the Lake and The Havoc of Empires, are both rather splendid, and I’d like some more, please. (No, I can’t wait until this November? How dare you insinuate I should use patience? This is Doctor Who – we’re not used to waiting around, amirightfolks?) They’re both hits, and very palpable ones at that.

We often live with the mistaken assumption that the success of a Doctor Who era is just about getting the right people in the same place together. And that’s particularly true about the Third Doctor’s era. Perwee often talked proudly about his ‘team’ on Doctor Who. And he was right in many ways, the combination of Perwee, Courtney, Delgado, Manning/Sladen, Levine, Franklin, and not forgetting Letts and Dicks was a knock out.

But remember, the same team who brought us The Daemons, just a year later presented us with The Time Monster

The Time Monster 3rd Third Jon Pertwee Katy Manning

So, back to those ’90s Pertwee audios, two of them again: Paradise and N-Space both managed to re-call most of the key players, many more than Big Finish are able to muster here. But, to be fair to them, it’s because most of the cast are now sadly ghosts in N-Space. Yes, broadcast on BBC Radio 2, it was the return of the team who brought you one of the greatest Doctor Who eras of all time: the Doctor, Sarah-Jane, and the Brigadier back together in a story by Barry Letts. How could Paradise of Death possibly go wrong? And how could The Ghosts of N-Space possibly go even wronger? And, why, given the extreme wrongness that resulted, did Letts feel it was necessary to apply the same wrongness to Blake’s 7 the year after, and again wronger still a year after that?

“Peter scratched his head then re-read what he had written so far. He’s strayed quite a lot off the point and really should get back to reviewing the two adventures. But he still had other things to get off his chest…”

Pertwee was the driving force behind the 1990s audios and, out of all the Doctor’s, he was the actor with the most radio experience. And you just know he would have been first to sign up to reprise the Doctor on audio.

From the very start Big Finish stated that they wouldn’t re-cast the first three Doctors. Well, we all say silly things when we’re young (“I hate girls/boys, they smell!”), and often find that the things we say we’d NEVER EVER DO we often end up doing (“I hope that girl/boy doesn’t think I smell”). And over the past few years, Big Finish have been sneakily recasting Hartnell and Troughton left, right, and centre in the guise of companion actors narrating and playing the Doctor. But for some silly reason of principle that no-one-at-all is forcing them to stick to, they crowbar pointless narration into these Third Doctor tales.

“Peter stopped typing. Had he gone too far..?”

Colony-in-Space-3rd-Third-Doctor-Jon-Pertwee

I don’t know if Big Finish have noticed, but The Powers That Be completely re-cast the original Star Trek team a few years ago. And loads of Trekkies across the interweb probably issued death-threats to J.J. Abrams for his sacrilegious behaviour. But the naysayers hopefully stopped going on and on and on about the outrage when the films and new cast turned out to be something of a triumph. The new Star Trek films are an example of supreme boldness, showing belief in a project even when some might consider the concept unthinkable.

And why are Big Finish so sheepish about re-casting Pertwee, when they’ve already re-cast John Steed in The Avengers, Sapphire and Steel, and No 6 in The Prisoner?

“Having got that rant out of the way, Peter finally turned his attention to reviewing the stories…”

In Prisoners of the Lake, written by Justin Richards, we get exactly what flashes up in the mind’s eye when we think of the Pertwee era: an earth-bound UNIT adventure. Mike Yates is investigating a mysterious archaeological site deep below a lake and – dum de dum – when are we going to hear this new bloke doing the Third Doctor… eh? And for some reason Mike’s being followed by a man who sounds not-quite-unlike the Third Doctor, who occasionally narrates bits of the story you could have worked out anyway.

It’s a bold move not to feature Treloar’s take on Doctor Three until halfway through the first episode. I found myself listening frustratedly for 13 minutes until the Third Doctor finally turns up. When he does (as mentioned earlier), Treloar is quite brilliant. I then realised I’d been distracted and missed most of the plot thus far. So I tracked down Tim’s phone number and asked him to narrate the first part of the story to me. He slammed the phone down saying, “What a ridiculous waste of my time. You, sir, are a nitwit!” God, he’s good.

And so is this first proto-Pertwee tale. Despite featuring the Brigadier in a scene that explains why he isn’t featured (if you see what I mean), it is a confident start. This is an unreconstructed Third Doctor who can be tetchy, superior, and often downright rude to people’s faces, but clever, kind, and charming too. While we can’t see Treloar rubbing the back of his neck or swishing his cape, you are in no doubt he is the Doctor.

Big Finish Tim Treloar

Manning’s Jo Grant, once you get over how much her voice has changed, is on top-form too. But in both these adventures, Miss Grant comes across as much more competent than she ever did on TV. While it’s great to stretch the character, I prefer a little more kooky and clumsy in Jo; it’s what makes her character so endearing.

The second story, Andy Lane’s The Havoc of Empires is an outer-space Third Doc tale that you could easily file alongside the Peladon stories with it’s galactic shenanigans, interspecies intrigue, and fiendish plots. It’s a fantastically well-constructed tale absolutely in-keeping with the Pertwee era but original enough to slavishly conform to it. Jo Grant takes centre stage and, while it does really work, I hope she gets to be a bit more bumbling too in future.

A huge soup of praise should also be ladled on Peter Doggart and Russell McGee’s sound design and Jamie Robertson and Nicholas Briggs’ music. Like Treloar’s vocal tones, they manage to convince the listener that this is early ’70s Doctor Who without being obtrusive or derivative, greatly enhancing the overall effect of this release. Which, as you may have suspected, is highly recommended.

“Peter stopped in his tracks; it seems strange to end on such a positive note. He needed a joke or something to round up this so-called ‘review’.”

The irony is that when Pertwee did star in two Doctor Who audio adventures he was quite advanced in age, and didn’t really sound like he did in the golden years. But Tim Treloar often does, and long may he reign as the new third incarnation! Doctor 3.2 anyone?

“Now listen to me,” the Third Doctor exclaimed on numerous occasions. And now, once again, thanks to Tim and Big Finish, we can.

It feels good to say “Hai” once more to the Third Doctor .

“And with that, Peter got up from his computer, went outside, climbed into his Edwardian roadster and drove off into the sunset…”

The Third Doctor Adventures Volume One is out now, priced £30 on CD or £25 as a download from the Big Finish website.

(Adapted from an article originally published on Kasterborous in November 2015.)