At last, the Third Doctor is getting a Big Finish series all his own. Not a Companion Chronicle – although those are very, very good of course – but a full-fledged, all-cast action drama audio just like Doctors Five to Seven (and more recently Eight and Four) have had for years.
The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 1 is a two-story boxset, with the usual behind-the-scenes volume bringing up the rear. Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Richard Franklin as Capt Mike Yates are companions across both stories to the Third Doctor, ably played by Tim Treloar in the sad absence of Jon Pertwee.
First story is Justin Richards’s Prisoners of the Lake: a sunken village at the bottom of a lake hides an ancient, hidden menace that threatens the entire world. Second is Andy Lane’s The Havoc of Empires in which a political marriage between the CEO of a human commercial empire and the leader of an alien hegemony threatens to descend into diplomatic chaos and possibly galactic war.
Both stories have absolutely the right feel. Of course, Big Finish know their stuff, and have made sure everything is authentic, from the pacing of the episodes to the style of the background music (which invokes Saturday afternoon nostalgia all on its own). The writing, as well, is superb, and feels simultaneously modern and up to date, as well as absolutely of the Jon Pertwee era.
But let’s look at the performances. Supporting cast are universally good (it would be nice to have something to whinge about, but I can’t). And the regulars are great too. Manning and Franklin seem to have come straight out of the seventies. To be honest, Richard Franklin’s voice occasionally betrays his age, but Katy Manning’s consistently belies hers – she sounds younger each time she plays Jo.
But relative newcomer Tim Treloar as the Third Doctor himself is, of course, where most interest will lie here. It’s a brave thing, to take the place of a departed actor in a well-loved role, but Treloar is, well, just amazing.
Treloar doesn’t make the mistake of trying to impersonate Pertwee. Rather, he simply plays his own interpretation of the Third Doctor – a character originally realised by Pertwee, and therefore of course hugely informed by his vocal and physical mannerisms. It’s a subtle distinction, and very often the difference between that and impersonation will be slight; but I think it’s important. A constant impersonation would undoubtedly fail over the two hours of narration, but an interpretation and performance – as shown by Peter Purves and Fraser Hines in their Big Finish roles as First and Second Doctors before Treloar – works, and works well.
Of course, having said that it’s not an impersonation, it has to be said that Treloar’s vocal interpretation of Three is superb, and very, very close to Pertwee’s original own performance. Indeed, there are times when it is uncannily close. (In fact, I genuinely at one point found myself marvelling that Big Finish had managed to persuade Pertwee to pick up the role again, before coming back to reality.)
But if it’s all so good – and it is – why did I say nearly’ above? Well, I do have one issue: these aren’t really completely full-cast dramas. The stories are actually part narrated, as if prose (with the narration provided by Treloar in his own Welsh accent, which despite my protests works rather well).
Personally, I hate this. The jump from immersive drama to narrated prose, and back again, completely breaks the fourth wall for me – and on top of this, very often it’s entirely superfluous, with narration immediately followed by dialogue that absolutely repeats what’s just been imparted.
Nick Briggs has claimed that the narration track makes the replacement of Pertwee with Treloar less heretical – but does it? Really? For me it just detracts, and makes the whole thing feel stilted – and if I can achieve only one thing with this review, I’d like it to be the request that further Third Doctor volumes are proper full-cast adventures without the unnecessary AD component. Honestly, they’ll be all the better for it, I promise
But don’t let that minor quibble detract. These stories are atmospheric and authentic, they sound great, and performances from guest and regular cast are pretty much faultless. And Treloar provides a performance that really brings the Third Doctor back. It’s nostalgia incarnate, and I’m really only one fish paste sandwich short of my childhood Saturday evenings coming back in living technicolor. Thank you, Messrs Treloar and Big Finish.
The Third Doctor Adventures vol 1 is available from BigFinish.com.