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The Third Doctor returns in two new adventures! Volume 8 of the Third Doctor Adventures series sees everyone’s favourite Time Lord, brought to life by the inimitable Tim Treloar, reunite with Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith as he faces the lizard-like Draconians in the depths of space, and a diabolical beast with cloven hooves in snow-swept Devon. Volume 7, released earlier this year (review here), was one of the best releases of 2021 so far… will Volume 8 be as good? Read on to find out!
1. “Conspiracy in Space” by Alan Barnes
The Doctor and Jo encounter the Draconians once again in Conspiracy in Space by Alan Barnes, a prequel to 1973’s Frontier in Space. Summoned to Draconia by a mysterious force, our heroes find themselves in a world of political intrigue, treachery, and shadowy, competing factions. Will they be able to outwit the sinister Lady Zinn and prevent war breaking out? Or will the mysterious group known only as the Eyes get what it wants?
Conspiracy in Space is a thrilling story from start to finish. Leaping from set piece to set piece (though not without some nice character moments), Barnes’ script is fast-paced, gripping and full of adventure and excitement. The storyline itself is a little confusing, with all kinds of plots and counterplots, betrayals and double agents, but this isn’t much of a problem, because all of the different locations, action sequences mean you’re swept up by Barnes’s yarn nonetheless.
The Doctor is extremely well characterised here, very much the action hero that Jon Pertwee made this particular incarnation of the character. Jumping out of spaceships, fighting robots and sorting out disputes in intergalactic cantinas, this is the Doctor at his most heroic. Meanwhile, Katy Manning gets some wonderful material as Jo, bringing to life her iconic scatterbrained clumsiness but equally her courage and defiance in the face of injustice, and her lesser-seen secret agent skills.
The guest cast are all on top form, with Imogen Church giving an excellent turn as the hawkish Lady Zinn, Barnaby Edwards as officious General Chusa and Aurora Burghart as the mysterious, layered Emerald: a human girl found in a wrecked spaceship on Draconia. The standout, however, has to be Sam Stafford‘s performance as Draconian Lieutenant Ruji, whose lovely rapport with Jo forms the emotional heart of the story. Ruji is such a great character- a kind-hearted Draconian who has got into trouble with the authorities for his love of human literature- that it’s a shame we part ways with him at the end of this story. Who knows, maybe we’ll see him again?
Overall, Conspiracy in Space is a strong story that excels in its worldbuilding, characters and gripping action scenes. Where it falters slightly is the plot itself, which I think throws in a twist or two too many, but this isn’t really a huge issue. Strong stuff.
2. “The Devil’s Hoofprints” by Robert Valentine
After revelling in the space opera style of the earlier Jon Pertwee years, we jump ahead to the world of Season 11 in this boxset’s second story, as the Doctor, Sarah Jane and the Brigadier investigate the mystery of The Devil’s Hoofprints. Travelling to Devon, our heroes visit a controversial scientific institute, which seems to be connected to strange deaths and disappearances in the area. The Doctor and Sarah are soon flung back into the nineteenth century, where they encounter the terrifying Icewalker, whose presence seems to be the key to discovering just what is going on…
This is, overall, a story of two halves. The parts set in the past are far and away the strongest, with quirky side characters and a really unique historical vibe which is so rare in Third Doctor stories. To be honest, I think dispensing with the modern-day framing device would have done wonders for this story; as a pseudohistorical, this would have worked so much better. Not much even happens in the modern-day scenes anyway- most of the 70s-set scenes in parts two to four are just the Brigadier running around, which hardly makes for very compelling listening.
Where this story succeeds is with its characters. Derek Griffiths is great as Reverend Woolsgrove, while Robert Daws and Barnaby Kay are suitably menacing as villains Sir Basil Hexworthy and Chilton respectively. Meanwhile, Sadie Miller and Jon Culshaw continue to impress in the roles they’ve inherited from Elisabeth Sladen and Nicholas Courtney respectively, bringing Sarah Jane and the Brigadier back to life with authenticity and flair.
The sound design for this story is particularly strong, with Steve Foxon and Jack Townley doing a great job at bringing to life the snowy Devon soundscape, as well as the various action sequences. Sadly, the music is nowhere near as effective; I mentioned in my review for the last set that, while authenticity is sometimes a good thing, I don’t think there’s any need to slavishly recreate 1970s-style music for these releases, particularly in less traditional stories like this one. Droning synth music really doesn’t fit with the rural, folky tone of this story, just like it didn’t fit the quiet, contemplative tone of The Gulf from the last set.
In conclusion, this is a fairly average story elevated by some strong performances from the guest cast. Mostly traditional with some nice moments of boundary-pushing, this is definitely one of the more authentic Third Doctor Adventures, so your opinion of this one will probably depend on whether that’s something you’re into.
All in all, The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 8 doesn’t quite hit the heights of its predecessor, but it’s still a solid collection of stories. While Volume 7 was a little more boundary-pushing, dwelling into two eras that have never been covered at Big Finish, this set goes back to the more traditional tone of previous Third Doctor Adventures releases, which is a lovely dose of 70s nostalgia, albeit one that feels a little predictable at times. Both Barnes and Valentine do a good job at worldbuilding and characterisation, and their scripts are brought to life well by Tim Treloar, Sadie Miller, Katy Manning and Jon Culshaw, as well as the rest of the cast. Recommended.
The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 8 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com