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The Third Doctor Adventures range is breaking new ground as it delves for the first time into the worlds of Season 7 and Season 11! Tim Treloar returns as the Third Doctor, joined by Jon Culshaw as the Brigadier and, for the first time in this range, Daisy Ashford as Liz Shaw and Sadie Miller as Sarah Jane Smith! Read on for my thoughts!
1. “The Unzal Incursion” by Mark Wright
Liz Shaw has just unveiled the Hotspur Network: a new and highly advanced early warning system that will revolutionise the world’s security. But Hotspur poses a huge risk to the alien Unzal, who are planning an invasion, so they put a dastardly plan into place to dismantle Earth’s security… starting with UNIT! The Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier soon find themselves on the run from a group of turncoat UNIT troops, and, in their attempts to get to the bottom of this conspiracy, find themselves drawn towards the mysterious Fulcrum training facility. What secrets might they find there?
Well, that would be telling. Suffice it to say, this is a story full of intriguing twists and turns, perfectly replicating the suspicion-filled, grittier Season 7 on TV. This is very much a story in the vein of The Ambassadors of Death, with all kinds of gripping plots and counter plots, but equally some breakneck action sequences that prevent it from being a dialogue-heavy slog. As Big Finish‘s first foray into the very different world of Season 7, Mark Wright does a fantastic job at ensuring The Unzal Incursion is an undeniable success.
Daisy Ashford steps into her mother’s shoes as Liz Shaw here, making this the first full-cast story set during Season 7 since, well, since Season 7 aired way back in 1970! She does a fantastic job at breathing new life into the character, putting her own spin on things while also sounding uncannily like Caroline John at times.
It’s no secret that, despite Caroline John‘s wonderful performance, Liz wasn’t the best-served companion on TV, unceremoniously replaced by Jo Grant between seasons, but this story shows just how wrong of a decision that was, with both Wright and Ashford absolutely doing the character justice. She’s so well-written and performed throughout the story, and gets the kind of development she really should have had on TV. There’s even one moment for her character in Part Three that had me punching the air with delight… fantastic stuff! More Liz please, Big Finish!
The cast is rounded off by Misha Malcolm as new UNIT recruit Nicki Attah, who is an immediately likable presence and gets an important share of the story, and Clare Corbett as the villainous Cherilyn Dankworth, the cool-as-ice head of the Fulcrum facility. Meanwhile, Gary Martin gives life to the gruff-voiced Unzal, who are an strong (if a little underdeveloped) presence throughout the script.
Benji Clifford handles sound design, effortlessly bringing to life the various action sequences in the story, as well as providing the soundscape for the quieter scenes at UNIT HQ and Fulcrum. A highlight is definitely the plane crash in Part Two: an exciting aural treat that leaves the listener excited to hear what happens next. Meanwhile, director Nicholas Briggs also supplies the music, successfully aping the electronic scores of early-70s Who.
Overall, this is a very strong story, and an exciting taste of future Season 7-set stories. Putting Liz centre stage, while not neglecting the other leads, Mark Wright crafts a script which is a thrill to hear from start to finish. Oh, and what a post-credits scene! Had the final part not been slightly less gripping than the first three, I’d have had no reservations at giving this full marks. Almost perfect.
2. “The Gulf” by Tim Foley
The TARDIS arrives on a rig in the middle of a vast purple ocean, bringing the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith with it. After being cut off from the ship, the travellers fall in with a group of artists who, strangely, have all been painting similar things. Might this be connected to the sudden disappearance of one of their number, Laurel, who fell overboard, never to be seen again? And just what is the mysterious Gulf?
This is a delightfully atmospheric story that revels in developing its setting and characters, putting this, by and large, in front of any kind of complicated plotting or big twists. Because of this, the first two parts are easily the best, with the more story-heavy closing installments being just a little less interesting, but, overall, this is quite a strong story, with a really unique alien menace (no spoilers!) right at its heart.
Sadie Miller reprises the role of Sarah Jane Smith, which she first took on earlier this year in Return of the Cybermen (review here). As in that story, she does a phenomenal job at recreating her mother’s vocal cadences, and, by dint of this being an original story (rather than being an adaptation of a lost script like her previous appearance was), the character gets a lot more to do here, which really helps to develop her interpretation of the character. As I said above with regards to Liz: more Sarah Jane please, Big Finish!
The guest cast for this story is, delightfully, an all-female ensemble, which is a rarity for a Third Doctor story. On TV, Jon Pertwee most often faced off against male authority figures (The Master, the Brigadier etc.), so to have a character like Marta Malvani (Wendy Craig) for this Doctor to play off against is a refreshing change. Praise should also go to Lucy Goldie, who gives a chilling, haunting quality to the character of Laurel, and Jennifer Saayeng, who is compelling in her role as the secretive Pen.
Luke Pietnik is the sound designer for this one, and does a great job at bringing the rainy, oceanic world upon which this story takes place to life. Meanwhile, Nicholas Briggs handles the music and, while his approximation of the synthy, burbling soundtrack of 1970s Who is undeniably authentic, I can’t help but wonder if this story might have benefited from a more subtle, quieter score. As Briggs himself says in the Behind the Scenes feature, being faithful to the era isn’t always the most important thing…
Overall, while this doesn’t quite hit the heights of The Unzal Incursion, it’s still a very strong story: traditional in some senses, while also breaking exciting new ground with its feminist undertones and focus on character. Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller make a fine pair, perfectly bringing back the iconic team of Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, and are bolstered by a consistently strong all-female guest cast. Highly recommended.
All in all, this is quite possibly the strongest Third Doctor Adventures boxset yet, combing two very different but equally as exciting stories and throwing us back to two eras of 1970s Who that we haven’t really had explored on audio. Tim Treloar, Jon Culshaw, Sadie Miller and Daisy Ashford all do a wonderful job at recreating the Doctor and his companions, while Mark Wright and Tim Foley effortlessly recreate Season 7 and Season 11, while also putting modern twists on them. Add to that era-authentic music by Nicholas Briggs and evocative sound design from Benji Clifford and Luke Pietnik, and this boxset comes highly recommended.
The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 7 is available now on CD or as a download at http://www.bigfinish.com