For some time, Big Finish have been producing Third Doctor adventures with the late Jon Pertwee replaced by the vocal talents of Tim Treloar. This Third Doctor has been joined by Jo Grant, voiced by Katy Manning and, from time to time, other names of the era such as Richard Franklin as Mike Yates.
I’ve listened to some of these before and, whilst Treloar is to be commended for how much he sounds like Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor, the adventures have been less than they could and should have been due to the writers wanting to push Katy Manning to the fore. The results have been adventures that are weighted far too heavily in the favour of Jo Grant – commendable though this may be, it means they come across as a rewriting of the past and not much like a Third Doctor adventure of the 70s. If there’s anything that defines the Third Doctor’s era, it’s that the Third Doctor was the star of all of his adventures. The companion was not the most important character there and so, to write the adventures that way just skews them into something that they shouldn’t be.
By the time of this fifth volume, the cast of regular characters is growing – which means there are more original characters that are not voiced by original actors.
Primord, this first episode of the fifth volume, sees Tim Treloar’s third Doctor joined not only by the “original” Jo Grant, but also by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (the late Nicholas Courtney replaced by Jon Culshaw) and Liz Shaw (the late Caroline John replaced by Daisy Ashford). The “original” Sgt Benton (John Levene) is also present, but not in this episode.
This first episode doesn’t really give you a sense of the whole adventure, but there’s enough there to get a handle on the “new” voices. The adventure, from what we can tell from this episode, is a sequel to the TV series’ adventure [b]Inferno[/b], but I won’t go into it much more than that to avoid spoilers.
With UNIT having been hugely successful in seeing off alien invasions, UNIT is currently experiencing a lull and so The Brigadier (Culshaw) has been asked to assist with what appears to be a regular prison break. The Doctor doesn’t want to get involved in something so mundane, besides which he and Jo have been invited to Cambridge by Jo’s predecessor – Professor Liz Shaw.
Jo quickly gets bored of the science talk, but Shaw has an experiment she wants the Doctor to see. It’s not an experiment the Doctor takes to.
For the voices, Treloar actually sounds a little less like the Third Doctor than he has before. There’s enough of the Third Doctor there, but I feel that Treloar is probably putting too much of himself into the voice, and not enough of the Pertwee impression.
Culshaw’s Brigadier is quite effective but, like Culshaw’s impression of the 4th Doctor, his vocal range remains fixed and you don’t get the subtleties of the original Brigadier. There’s sufficient there for you to believe in the character, if you want to, but it’s also easy to become distracted.
Ashford’s Liz Shaw doesn’t really sound like Liz Shaw. There is something familiar in her impression, but it’s a whole lot less acerbic than Caroline John’s version. At times, Ashford could be voicing any generic female character.
Katy Manning struggles to give us the real Jo of the 70s, but she does a better job here than on previous occasions. The writing still gives too much to the character – she’s often interpreting the Doctor’s comments in a way that the original Jo would not, but this is much better than her taking over the whole adventure and marginalising her co-characters.
At the end of the day, the success of this volume depends on how much you want more third Doctor adventures. Despite the struggles with the voices, and the writing not feeling hugely like a 70s UNIT adventure, it is better than just having the surviving actors reading an audiobook.