Tim Treloar and Katy Manning are back as the Third Doctor and Jo Grant respectively, for Big Finish. And for the sixth volume, they’re up against the Daleks!
But what is the new boxset like…?
Poison of the Daleks by Guy Adams
For all their schemes, Dalek plans quickly devolve into ‘do what we say or we’ll exterminate’. Actually it’s more, ‘do what we shout’. While they are a staple of Doctor Who, the Dalek audio experience can sometimes have you reaching for the volume control. Thankfully, the first story in this boxset has more than just screaming pepper-pots.
What start out, as usual with a Third Doctor affair, faffing about in factories with officials, quickly escalating to guerrilla warfare on a distant planet. The jump is sudden and very effective. The Doctor, Jo, Benton (John Levene), and the Brigadier (here played by Jon Culshaw) are stuck on this new planet for quite some time. It’s very exciting, but I would have liked to have seen a little more of the earth-bound events.
Big Finish can achieve real time travel. Creating new stories for the Third Doctor set in the Seventies (let’s not get into the dating argument here) means he can have actual knowledge of the future. He can put aspects of the era into a broader historical perspective in a way that the other characters can’t. Poison of the Daleks deals with pollution and threats to people and the planet as a whole – issues of the time that continue to this day.
We also see Jo’s activist tendencies, that would later (for the character) be seen in The Green Death and Death of the Doctor. She is very keen for the pollution stripping technology to work and is put out by the Doctor’s immediate dismissal of the whole thing. It’s nice to have Jo disagreeing with the Doctor, when she otherwise often puts up with his nonsense.
The issues of recasting key roles is a problem that will never go away. Some people are staunchly against it, while others are happy to have more full cast audios starring their favourite characters. In both of the stories in this set, half of the main cast are recast, but you’d hardly ever notice. Culshaw doesn’t sound exactly like the Brigadier, but Katy Manning doesn’t sound exactly like the Jo Grant of The Mind of Evil either. There’s an aural suspension of disbelief, but it doesn’t get in the way of some wonderful performances.
A story set in the ’70s, but very much about today.
Operation: Hellfire by Jonathan Barnes
It’s time travel of a different sort this adventure, with the Doctor and Jo being sent back to World War II on a mission for the Time Lords. Things never work out for the Doctor when his own people get involved and this is no exception. He may be friends with the most powerful man in Britain, but that won’t be enough to save him.
I haven’t heard many of Big Finish’s Ian McNiece Churchill stories. He’s appeared in a handful already and I am sure that his own series delves into the character; however, he’s not in this story much. He’s on the cover of the set, but has fewer lines than Benton, who isn’t. I’m not saying that Churchill needs to be front and centre all the time, but I’d like him to have a few more lines. He’s a much more divisive figure in British history than Doctor Who likes to contemplate most of the time.
Thankfully, Jo is here to ruffle some establishment feathers. For all his frills and cloaks, the Third Doctor is quite a conservative figure. He might rile against the various ministers he talks to, but he fits in well. Jo, on the other hand, doesn’t. I was never quite sure how she got a job at UNIT; she hardly seems the type (even if she does know significant people). Which comes in very handy in this story. She is the voice of the normal person in a world full of Old Boys.
Operation: Hellfire brings a lot of different genres together in a way only Doctor Who can. We have historical intrigue, spy games, and ancient occult amulets – that’s a lot to fit into four episodes. Jonathan Barnes manages, though, and delivers a story that feel right at home in the Third Doctor era. World War II seems like such an obvious fit for the Third Doctor.
The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 6 is available from Big Finish for £29.99 on Download and £34.99 on CD.