It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Katy Manning‘s Jo, but now she’s back… with a twist. The Return of Jo Jones sees Manning’s character rejoin the Doctor fifty or so years after she left the TARDIS in The Green Death, giving us an older, wiser version of the Jo we all know and love. Throughout the three scripts in this boxset, we’re shown how she’s changed- and indeed how she’s stayed the same- since leaving the Doctor behind, which makes for a fresh-feeling set of adventures, even if the first two episodes feel a little underbaked compared to the finale.
The opening story of the set, Matt Fitton‘s Supernature, feels very much like a Pertwee-era story brought up to date, with environmental themes, corrupt officials and a modern-day Earth setting. In line with the 70s stories it emulates, it’s a fairly serious, slowly-paced affair, though this is offet by the glorious emotion of the reunion between Manning’s Jo and Tim Treloar‘s Doctor, which happens early on in the tale. This, as well as the truly tearjerking final scene, which serves as a touching tribute to the sorely missed Stewart Bevan, is the highlight of the piece.
Wanda Opalinska impresses as Jo’s old friend Dr Lorna Holmes, selling their years of close friendship with her performance, while Corrinne Wicks is suitably slimy as the cold-hearted Ms Frost, the villain of the story. The star of the show, though, is Katy Manning, who squeezes every ounce of pathos out of every scene she’s in, tugging at the listener’s heartstrings from start to finish.
Felicia Barker‘s The Conservitors takes this older Jo on her first trip in the TARDIS, exploring how she reacts differently to her life of adventure and danger now she’s grown up. Barker does a great job here at underlining Jo’s greater sense of independence from the Doctor, showcasing how her life of fighting for peace and justice on Earth has shaped her.
Joining Treloar and Manning for this tale is Paul Copley as the similarly righteous, family-oriented Wendell and Gary Turner as autocratic Premier Maldon, whose desire for a risk-free world has had untold consequences. While it’s the weakest in the set, The Conservitors has some strong ideas at is heart; with better execution, it could have been a real hit.
Lastly comes The Iron Shore by Lizzie Hopley: a dark, brooding story about a haunted wet dock and a terrible curse. It feels very different from the other two stories, not least because it’s partly narrated by Katy Manning, but this is entirely to its credit, feeling less like a modernised Pertwee story, and more like something completely new.
Nicholas Briggs is on direction and music duties, and does a great job at creating the story’s foreboding atmosphere, eschewing the 70s synths from the rest of the set in favour of a more downbeat score. Benji Clifford‘s sound design is similarly effective, conjuring up the watery world of Mercator with flair. Thanks to this strong post-production, and to Treloar and Manning’s performances, The Iron Shore is the best story in this set.
I must admit I was surprised that the Doctor and Jo were still travelling together by the end of this boxset; I’d assumed The Return of Jo Jones was a one-and-done. If their adventures are to continue together, I’d love to hear more stories like The Iron Shore, which puts Jo front and centre, really highlighting her independence from the Doctor, rather than the more 70s-flavoured opening instalments. Overall, though, this is a strong collection of adventures, which puts a much-loved companion back in the spotlight. Recommended.
The Return of Jo Jones is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com
Leave a Reply