Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 08 (Big Finish Review)

The second of two volumes of The Third Doctor Adventures this year, sees Tim Treloar as the brilliantly recast Third Doctor in two new adventures at Big Finish. Katy Manning joins him as companion Jo Grant in a story that serves as a sequel / prequel to 1973 adventure Frontier in Space, while Sadie Miller and Jon Culshaw bring Sarah Jane Smith and Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge Stewart to life in a second supernatural mystery set during the 197 season of Doctor Who.

Big Finish have continued to expand the world of Doctor Who with confidence each passing year and now recasting of roles from actors that have sadly passed, is part of the course. Treloar has been delivering an almost pitch perfect performance as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor for Big Finish, since The Third Doctor Adventures began in 2015 with volume 1. Miller has taken on the role played by her mother in recent years and master impressionist Culshaw has performed as several classic Doctor Who characters, with the Brigadier being the most prominent. With these reimaginings fully embraced by the fans, Big Finish have the freedom to tell boundless new stories set during the original eras of the show. Both stories in volume 08 perfectly capture the spirit of the Pertwee era.

 

Conspiracy in Space by Alan Barnes

If you were to ask me what classic monster is most deserving of a revival on modern Doctor Who, it would be the Draconians.  For me, Frontier in Space is the highlight of Jon Pertwee’s fourth season, with a sprawling epic cold war between two galactic powers – Earth and Draconia. Not only were they built up as a formidable presence in the galaxy, the Draconians looked impressive too. And yet, that 1973 adventure remains the only onscreen story to feature this mighty race.

Fortunately, Conspiracy in Space captures the might of the Draconians in a story that serves as a sequel and prequel to Frontier in Space. Bar the appearance of Aurora Burghart’s human ‘refugee’ Emerald, the entire cast is made of Draconian characters, offering a chance to delve deeper into their fascinating society. Specifically the almost Machiavellian power plays between two mighty matriarchs; Issy Van Randwyck’s Grand Widow, mother of the Emperor and stickler for tradition versus Imogen Church’s ruthless Lady Zinn, who will stop at nothing to gain power.

The threat of war permeates this story, just as it did in Frontier in Space, and knowing that the conflict is going to take place between the two stories adds an air of tragedy to the proceedings. The four part story is perfect balanced between the Doctor and Jo’s arrival on Draconia and the war of minds between the Grand Widow and Zinn. It’s a solid story for the two leads too, particularly Jo. Katy Manning may sound a little older, but she has plenty of fiery gusto and this story presents a companion with skill and wit that doesn’t need to rely solely on the Doctor to survive. Particularly pleasing is her budding friendship with Draconian Lieutenant. Lieutenant Ruji. Sam Stafford sounds a little too ‘human’ at types, but strives to move from making all Draconians arrogant, condescending antagonists. He genuinely seems to care for the plight of humanity. Barnaby Edwards caps off the cast as boisterous General Chusa, the right hand lackey of Zinn who has plenty of firepower and an ambition to match his mistress.

There are some great twists and turns, particularly concerning Emerald and Aurora Burghart certainly makes the most of playing two roles as she bounces off Treloar’s Doctor. There are certain aspects of her character that I saw coming a mile off, but the fast-paced nature of the tale meant I was happy to go along with the ride as events escalated. But for me, it’s Jo and Ruji’s partnership and the war of words between the Great Widow and Zinn that are where Alan Barne’s script really shines.

Conspiracy in Space feels like a spiritual successor to Frontier in Space, with enough tension, political intrigue and powerplays to shake a fist at. It succeeds on doing exactly what The Third Doctor Adventures were intended to do; create new stories that feel like they could have been plucked straight out of 1970’s Doctor Who.

The Devil’s Hoofprints by Robert Valentine

The Devil’s Footprints is a very different – but no less effective – Third Doctor story that places the Doctor, Sarah and Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart in the midst of an historical mystery taking inspiration from a real Victorian supernatural mystery. It’s packed with atmosphere, tension, a ruthless villain and multi-layered time travel shenanigans.

This has another corker of a cast. This may be Tim Treloar’s best performance as the Third Doctor yet – a pitch perfect version of Pertwee – but it’s Jon Culshaw who really astounds. I’ve always enjoyed his performance as the Brigadier, but The Devil’s Footprints is so on point, it really feels as if Nicholas Courtney is somehow in this tale. Sadie Miller captures the mannerisms and energy of her mother Elizabeth’s Sladen’s Sarah, even if the voice is slightly different. But that matters not. You really feel like you are listening to a story from 1973. The guest actors are terrific too, particularly Carolyn Syemour as Mrs Plymtree of both time periods, while Barnaby Key perfectly captures the cold, ruthless arrogance of the main villain Chilton. He’s the perfect Bond-style villain for the Third Doctor to face off against.

Cleverly, Robert Valentine’s script splits the narrative, giving each of the leads something decent to work with. The evil industrialist Chilton of the ‘present’ day 70s or 80s, is another in the long line of megalomaniacs from the Third Doctor era and plays off the Brigadier, who gets the lion share of the action here. From a hot summer in Devon to the cold, wintry nights of Victorian west country, the past draws on Devon’s own evil’s footprints ghostly mystery with an alien twist; think Vincent and the Doctor and you’re half way there. The larger than life characters give the story pathos and energy, as the Doctor faces off against the villain and Sarah bonds with the creature, which is not quite the deadly monster – or devil – we imagine it to be.

It’s a lovely story for all involved, with the two time narratives yielding plenty of surprises and working together. Events in the past shape what is happening in the present, and vice versa. It builds on the mystery of the real devil footprints, while still keeping the atmosphere and mystery. It is a real life Victorian ghost story after all, and Valentine never looses sight of that in his storytelling.

Overall, The Devil’s Footprints is a taught time-travel mystery with plenty of atmosphere, rich, fun characterisation and a few twists to keep the listener on their toes during the four part adventure. Coupled with bold, sci-fi Machiavellian drama of Conspiracy in Space, this is perhaps the strongest volume in The Third Doctor Adventures range yet.

 

The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 08 is available exclusively at the Big Finish site here, and goes on general release on the 30th November 2021.

Check out our review of The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 07 here.

 

The Extras

 

There is a wealth of behind the scenes interviews with the cast and crew to accompany The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 08. Sadly there is no music suite this time, but the discussions more than make up for it.

In the extras for Conspiracy in Space, writer Alan Barnes, director Nicholas Briggs and producer Heather Challands introduce the concept behind the story and their attempt to recreate the magic of that era of Doctor Who. Katy Manning shares some insights on working on Frontier in Space, her era of Doctor Who on television. There are also plenty of lovely insights from Imogen Church, Issy Van Randwyck, Sam Stafford, Aurora Burghart and Barnaby Edwards, offering a well-rounded exploration of what it takes to bring these characters to life, from Klingon culture inspirations to Draconian-Human flirtations. Finally, Tim Treloar and Manning also express the joy of sharing cultural references from the 70s in this story, the exploration of the relationship between the Third Doctor and Jo, and the passion – and challenges – of recording for Big Finish.

Tim Treloar talks terrifying tales from his own childhood in the discussions for The Devil’s Footprints, while writer Robert Valentine delves deeper into the Victorian mystery that inspired this tale – and the ability to throw in a couple of high speed chases that are typical of the Third Doctor era! Jon Culshaw offers the different voices of the Brigadier across the ages, while director Briggs is full of appreciation for the way in which Nicholas Courtney’s legacy is honoured through the performance. Again, there are some great insights from the guest cast on playing these characters, particularly Carolyn Seymour drawing inspirational from a Gloucestershire housekeeper to play Mrs Plymtree. Derek Griffiths and Robert Daws all find inspiration from larger than life real people, while Barnaby Kay talks loosing his voice from all the shouting and ‘action sequences’ the story requires of the villainous Chilton. And Nicholas Briggs continues his track record of playing Doctor Who monsters by taking on the role of the Icewalker and finding shades to a creature that doesn’t conform to good or evil. Finally Seymour and Griffths reflect on the legacy of working for the BBC and working with the late, great Jon Pertwee, making this a rich accompaniment to the main stories.

 

Synopsis

Two brand new adventures for the Third Doctor, Jo Grant and Sarah Jane Smith.

8.1 Conspiracy in Space by Alan Barnes

When the TARDIS is diverted to Draconia, the Doctor and Jo fall foul of the hawkish Lady Zinn. War with Earth seems imminent. The Draconian military are on high alert and rumours of a super-weapon are rife.

Execution, assassination, intrigue and a mysterious faction known only as ‘The Eyes’ are all part of a deadly mission the Doctor and Jo have no choice but to accept. But as they fight to survive, the peace of the entire galaxy hangs in the balance.

8.2 The Devil’s Hoofprints by Robert Valentine

Long ago, in Devon in 1855, a mysterious event occurred. Overnight, during a terrible blizzard, thousands of hoofprints appeared in the snow. The tracks led on for miles… and no-one ever identified who or what caused them.

Many years later, the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier have come to Devon themselves, to visit a controversial scientific establishment in the wake of a mysterious death and rumours of strange occurrences in the vicinity.

But things are just about to get much, much stranger. Because they’re about to uncover the origins of the Devil’s Hoofprints… but is this one mystery that should have remained unsolved?

Cast

Tim Treloar (The Doctor)
Katy Manning (Jo Grant)
Sadie Miller (Sarah Jane Smith)
Jon Culshaw (The Brigadier)
Nicholas Briggs (Icewalker)
Aurora Burghart (Emerald )
Imogen Church (Lady Zinn)
Robert Daws (Sir Basil Hexworthy)
Barnaby Edwards (General Chusa)
Derek Griffiths (Reverend Mr Woolsgrove)
Barnaby Kay (Chilton)
Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Plymtree)
Sam Stafford (Lieutenant Ruji)
Issy Van Randwyck (Grand Widow)

 

Production Credits

Cover Art by Oliver Chenery
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Music by Nicholas Briggs
Producer Heather Challands and David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney and Nicholas Briggs
Sound Design by Steve Foxon and Jack Townley
Written by Alan Barnes and Robert Valentine

 

Recommended Releases

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 05

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 06

Doctor Who – Short Trips: The Devil’s Footprints

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