The Third Doctor Adventures continue with another bumper-length story: Kaleidoscope, by Alan Barnes. The epic, seven-part Third Doctor story The Annihilators from earlier this year (review here) has been one of Who Review‘s favourite Big Finish releases of 2022 so far, but is this next audio adventure in the series any good? Read on to find out!
When a man claiming to be from far beyond the stars appears on television warning humanity of a coming catastrophe, UNIT takes him in for questioning. As the Doctor and the Brigadier are called away to investigate a UFO homing in on a top-secret missile base, Sarah Jane butts heads with her rival Jenny Nettles, who wants to know all about this beguiling stranger and his mysterious psychic powers. Just who is the enigmatic Kaleidoscope? And what does he have to do with events at the missile base and far away in the snowy reaches of Siberia?
Like The Annihilators before it, Kaleidoscope is a longer Doctor Who story than we’re used to from Big Finish, spanning six half-hour episodes rather than the usual four. This allows for an impressive number of plot threads and characters, none of which, thankfully, are underserved by Alan Barnes‘ script. All of this comes together to make Kaleidoscope one of the most delightfully unpredictable, yet still completely coherent, stories I’ve heard in a while, and one of the strongest Big Finish scripts of the year.
Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller return as the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith, and continue to prove themselves as excellent recasts of such iconic characters. They’re so embedded in their roles by now that I have absolutely no trouble believing their performances; here’s to lots more from the Treloar and Miller pairing in the future!
The two are joined by Jon Culshaw as the Brigadier, who gets a really substantial role in this story. Culshaw excels at portraying a more frustrated and tetchy Brigadier than usual, perfectly bringing to life his ire at having to deal with meddlesome journalists, crazed Air Commodores and even an old love interest, Helen Goldwyn‘s multifaceted Daphne Green.
The titular Kaleidoscope is played by Gerran Howell of Young Dracula fame, and is a delightfully novel character, a very 70s-inspired alien messiah whose true nature remains a tantalising mystery for much of the story. He’s used really well throughout the script and, paired with Jasmin Hinds‘ unscrupulous journalist Jenny Nettles (who has some very fun interactions with Sarah Jane), serves as a sort of parallel to the Doctor, even getting a whole episode where he works with UNIT solving mysteries.
The cast is rounded off by a few familiar faces. There’s Christopher Naylor, reprising his role as Harry Sullivan in the middle parts of the story as he works with the Brig and Kaleidoscope, and Mark Elstob, impressing as the blustery and slightly insane Hurley, the villain for the first couple of episodes. Big Finish‘s new First Doctor Stephen Noonan also appears, and shows off just how great of an actor he is by bringing to life both Russian Colonel-General Sokolov and rock star Keeth Hazel without ever betraying that his voice is behind both of them. Impressive stuff all round.
Steve Foxon handles the sound design for this story, and conjures up an impressive and immersive soundscape, bringing to life all sorts of high-octane action sequences, like the snowmobile chase depicted on Sean Longmore‘s stunning cover art. The music is composed by Nicholas Briggs, who does an excellent job at combining a 70s-style score with a more modern sound and does a particularly good job at composing Kaleidoscope’s ethereal theme, which crops up throughout the piece.
Kaleidoscope is a storytelling triumph, packed with storylines and characters, and yet remaining easy to follow and coherent throughout. The acting is on point throughout, every character is well-served by Alan Barnes‘ script and the story goes into some unexpected but very interesting territory. Were it not for a slightly less interesting second act, this story could have received five stars, but as it stands it’s still one of the strongest releases Big Finish have put out this year. Highly recommended.
Kaleidoscope is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com