Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Kaleidoscope (Big Finish Review)

The second installment of The Third Doctor Adventures this follows the same pattern as The Annihilators (check out our review here), and devotes an entire release to one six-part story in the vein of Jon Pertwee’s era of Doctor Who. This time, the time frame moves from season seven to eleven, as Sadie Millier joins Tim Treloar’s Third Doctor and Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart, as companion Sarah Jane Smith.

The Third Doctor era has now been almost entirely re-cast (with the exception of Katy Manning’s Jo, of course) and this cast have been playing these versions of iconic Doctor Who characters for some time now. Treloar brings all the arrogance, gravitas and charm of Pertwee’s Doctor, while Culshaw’s Brigadier is now bordered on a pitch-perfect portrayal of Nicholas Courtney performance. Sadie Miller has now filled her mother Elizabeth Sladen’s shoes multiple times now, and we even have a new Harry Sullivan, pre-Robot, in the guise of Christopher Naylor.

The care and respect in the creation of these Big Finish stories is highly commendable and the performances are nothing but respectful of the actors that portrayed them originally. Kaleidoscope is another piece of classic UNIT-era Doctor Who, with a vibrant script by Alan Barnes and strong direction by Nicholas Briggs, who also scores the music and acts as script editor for the range alongside producer Heather Challands. While making use of the budget-free restraints of audio, Kaleidoscope feels as if it could have come straight out of 1974.

The Review

The joy of Doctor Who on Big Finish, is the ability to create new stories that capture the tone of the original era in which they were made. With a number of key roles now recast, there is a renewed ambition in The Third Doctor Adventures as they move ever close to the sound and feel of the 70s UNIT era. The Annihilators was a brilliant attempt to tell a length multi-episode story set within the seventh season and, while not as strong as the previous entry, Kaleidoscope certainly achieves its goal of making a story that feels like it could have been made as part of Jon Pertwee’s final season on the show.

But there’s also a grand ambition to Kaleidoscope too. As an audio adventure, it doesn’t need to work within the restraints of 70s BBC television. It’s a cold war thriller that travels from the UK to Russia, and back again, courtesy of a handy time distortion between both locations. As a six-part story, there’s plenty of room to develop the characters and writer Alan Barnes works to ensure that there isn’t that usual repetitive sag that many longer Doctor Who stories would often fall foul of.

It has an intriguing hook; is the strange man Kaleidoscope, being interviewed on TV, really a traveller from another world? The idea of humanity uncovering the truth about aliens from another world is a solid conundrum for the Doctor and UNIT to navigate. However, despite the earnest performance from Gerran Howell as the naive Kaleidoscope, the titular character is probably the least interesting aspect of the story.

Jasmin Hinds’ Jenny Nettles is a much stronger character. Acting as a foil for the Doctor and UNIT, her ambition as a reporter sees her set her sights on a much greater prize than Kaleidoscope – the Doctor. There is a genuine threat to the Doctor’s secret identity and position in UNIT as the story reaches it mid-point, making clever use of keeping the heroes – and the listener on their toes before events pivot to much grander events in parts five and six. Jenny also serves as a great foil for Sarah; another reporter full of ruthless zeal and none of the humility and empathy of Sarah.

The biggest twist is the cold war angle; the love interest turned Russian spy turns everything on its head and explores an aspect of human-alien relations not really explored in the UNIT era – the idea of a rival organisation that might seek to use contact with aliens for their own ends. Stephen Noonan, most recently playing the recast First Doctor on Big Finish (see our review of The Outlaws here) makes for a great, grandiose villain and dark mirror to the Brigadier, in Colonel-General Sokolov.

The core cast are on fine form. While I always find Sadie Miller’s performance as Sarah a decent take on her mother Elizabeth Sladen’s iconic companion, Tim Treloar just gets better and better with each release; it really feels like you are hearing the Third Doctor without having Jon Pertwee alive to reprise the role. Best of all is Jon Culshaw, who delivers a pitch perfect performance as Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. I loved everything about his story, including his chemistry with Helen Goldwyn’ deliciously femme fatale Daphne Green.

And then comes the best surprise of all for listeners – admittedly spoiled by the cast list – of Christopher Naylor as the recently recast Harry Sullivan. Kaleidoscope really has fun establishing Harry’s debut at UNIT without ruining series continuity.

Kaleidoscope is a great example of recreating 70s Doctor Who successfully. While the titular character serves his purpose, it is the cold war aspect, the dark mirrors to Sarah and the Brigadier and the surprise origin story for Harry Sullivan that really work here. Like The Annihilators, it shows that six or seven-part stories work best for The Third Doctor era – long may they continue!

Extras

While there is no music suite in this release, there are approximately 45 minutes of behind-the-scenes discussions with the cast and crew, split across the three disks. At the end of the first disk, writer Alan Barnes considers the strain in storytelling in tradition Third-Doctor stories and the using audio format to ensure it was not a rinse and repeat the same sets all the time. The cast share their insights on their roles, with Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller exploring the teacher-pupil nature of the Doctor and Sarah’s relationship, the joy of returning to 70s Doctor Who, and the banter and atmosphere of having everyone back together in the recording studio post-lockdown.

At the end of the second disk, Mark Elstob Jon Culshaw talk the military bluff and clashes between the Commodore and Brigadier, while Elstob discusses his 30 years of friendship with Big Finish‘s new First Doctor Stephen Noonan and how that relationship informed the symbiotic nature of the nanobots they voiced. Treloar and Briggs also discuss their ‘rude and abrasive’ relationship (all in good jest), while Christopher Naylor talks the nifty and mischievous bit of writing to introduce Harry Sullivan to the world of Doctor Who, without encountering the Doctor.

In disk three, Stephen Noonan talks preparing to play the mysterious villain Colonel-General Sokolov, by finding inspiration in rewatches of Harrison Chase in The Seeds of Doom and Solon from The Brain of Morbius. Finally, Briggs talks the challenges of directing a longer, six-part story and the difficulties with scheduling a project of characters across multiple episodes, and the boundless the joy of scoring the Kaleidoscope music for episode four!

 

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Kaleidoscope is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here, and goes on general release on the 30th November 2022.

Synopsis

His name is Kaleidoscope. He claims to have travelled halfway across the universe to warn all humankind that it stands on the brink of extinction. And a certain tenacious young journalist has got an exclusive interview with this alien messiah…

But it’s not Sarah Jane Smith who’s got the out-of-this-world scoop – it’s her rival, the unscrupulous Jenny Nettles. Sarah’s busy helping the Doctor and UNIT work out if Kaleidoscope is for real or a fake when RAF Phantoms scramble to intercept an unidentified something homing in on a top-secret missile base.

It seems like Kaleidoscope’s apocalyptic predictions might all be about to come true.

Cast

Tim Treloar (The Doctor)
Sadie Miller (Sarah Jane Smith)
Jon Culshaw (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart)
Imogen Church (WRAF Controller)
Mark Elstob (SM Roach / Air Commodore Hurley / Norwegian Radar Controller / Nanobots)
Helen Goldwyn (Daphne Green)
Jasmin Hinds (Jenny Nettles / Lieutenant Kuznetsova)
Gerran Howell (Kaleidoscope )
Christopher Naylor (Harry Sullivan)
Stephen Noonan (Colonel-General Sokolov / Keeth Hazel / Fairford / Phantom Pilot / Nanobots)

Production Credits

Cover Art by Sean Longmore
Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer Nicholas Briggs & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Music by Nicholas Briggs
Producer Heather Challands
Script Editor Nicholas Briggs
Sound Design by Steve Foxon
Written by Alan Barnes
Senior Producer David Richardson

Recommended Listening

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: The Annihilators

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 08

Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws

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