Traditional companions, unfamiliar Doctors
We’re fast approaching Big Finish’s 200th regular monthly Doctor Who release, and they’re celebrating with an audio trilogy that gives us some unusual Doctor/ companion line- ups. Each story will, intriguingly, pair companions from the show’s early years with different future Doctors.
The action begins with The Defectors, as UNIT HQ is unexpectedly evacuated and Jo Grant ( Katy Manning) is involved in a sinister excursion to an army base on a deserted island. On top of that, the Third Doctor has vanished, to be replaced by an enigmatic stranger who’s actually the Seventh Doctor ( Sylvester McCoy). The reason for this substitution remains a mystery for now, but the resulting action delivers a series of well-handled concepts and twist alongside strong performances. The Defectors is an entertaining adventure, but it’s most effective in the way it blends the action and military intrigue of the Pertwee era with the darker, more ambiguous edge of McCoy’s Doctor.
Elsewhere, the Tom Bakerstarring Fourth Doctor adventures continue in Death Match, which picks up from the cliffhanger ending of Requiem For The Rocket Men. With Leela ( Louise Jameson) having been abducted by the Master, the Doctor and K- 9 set out to find her, but their quest leads them to a brutal kill- or- be- killed gladiatorial contest being fought on a distant space station – a contest where Leela is now the undefeated champion… After the previous adventure’s pulpy excellence, this is a more familiar tale of SF combat which occasionally overplays its sequences of armed combatants shouting at each other. The story is so inherently visual and action- based that it sometimes feels like an awkward fit for audio, while many of the plot developments are a little too predictable. However, while genuine surprises are in short supply, there’s still a touchingly emotional finale, and excellent work from the lead actors – especially Baker, who’s once again on top form.
The Fourth Doctor/ Leela team is also the focus of the latest download- only Short Trips short story, narrated by Louise Jameson. The Ghost Trap sees the duo arriving on a semi- organic spacecraft, where they discover that humanity’s quest to master the realm of Hyperspace has had deadly consequences. The story features some strong SF concepts and builds an effectively creepy atmosphere that’s aided by Jameson’s excellent narration. Unfortunately, it also ends up overdoing the darker themes, and ultimately pitches so far into grimness that it becomes a rather depressing and unsatisfying listen. Saxon Bullock