Primord

Posted in Audio by - May 12, 2019
Primord

Released May 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

No era of Doctor Who has been hit quite so hard by the passage of time on its leading men and women as the Third Doctor’s, Katy Manning the remaining lead connection to such a beloved and unique time that spawned so many classic serials while reinventing itself on more than one occasion. With no actor from that time able to convincingly voice Jon Pertwee as William Russell and Peter Purves have done for the First Doctor and Frazer Hines has for the Second, The Third Doctor Adventures which began in 2015 boldly cast Tim Treloar as the Doctor and has allowed the era to come to life dynamically with Jo Grant and occasional help from UNIT at the Doctor’s side. However, with John Dorney’s ‘Primord’ to begin the fifth volume of this incredible range, Big Finish has likewise decided that the time has arrived for the stories of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Liz Shaw to continue following the passings of Nicholas Courtney in 2011 and Caroline John in 2012.

It goes without saying that recasting so many characters is an ambitious experiment that could just as easily backfire as achieve its intended purpose, but ‘Primord’ thankfully shows that the decision to do so was not made in haste and that each and every character will assuredly be treated with due respect to capture the very spirit and energy of the original actors. While it’s perhaps unsurprising that Daisy Ashford, real-life daughter of Caroline John, should have an intimate understanding of John’s mannerisms and inflections, she at many times is pitch perfect and manages to imbue a certain element of deference and intelligence that is wholly fitting for the character of Liz Shaw but that is wholly impressive for someone acting in the role of this companion for the first time. Similarly, impressionist Jon Culshaw gives a stunning performance as the Brigadier, and in many instances it is all too easy to imagine that Nicholas Courtney is still voicing this man who is trying to do his best with his training and mindset in a situation he can’t hope to fully understand as he barks orders and exasperatedly deals with the Doctor’s choices and demands. Of course, Tim Treloar is once more the backbone of the production, and even with the Doctor not himself as he deals with a threat from the past in an unexpected location he superbly captures every nuance of the Doctor’s sense of righteousness that Pertwee so boldly made famous.

Of course, with so much care given to ensure an authentic experience, it’s no surprise that Manning once again gives a truly amazing performance as a young Jo Grant both as she first joins the Doctor’s journey to Cambridge to meet her predecessor and then as she rejoins the Brigadier to try to piece together the puzzle surrounding recent mysterious occurrences of prisoners escaping from incarceration. Jo understandably experiences a momentary sense of jealousy when she considers that the Doctor must miss conversing with someone with more scientific knowledge than she can offer, but that moment of vulnerability leads to one of the most touching and open moments that the Doctor and Jo have ever shared, perfectly encapsulating just how genuine their friendship is. Alongside the Brigadier, Jo also has the opportunity to showcase her own intelligence and compassion, and her steadfast belief in the Doctor proves vital to preventing the unfettered spread of the Primord threat stemming from the viscous ooze from beneath the Earth’s crust that Professor Stahlman’s drilling uncovered in ‘Inferno.’

In a plot perfectly befitting of the Third Doctor’s more Earthbound adventures, General Sharp and Lady Madeline Rose have decided to explore the possibility of weaponizing the Primords, calling in Liz Shaw to study the ooze to accelerate the rate of infection and eliminate the weaknesses inherent to it. The military applications are clear, and the furtive joint venture involving the military and government is a shocking indictment of certain mindsets that is all too believable. While Liz’s intentions are more honourable and have yielded a suppressant of sorts, she has learned all over again just how dangerous this threat truly is as absolutely nobody is safe from its spread and influence. This makes her invitation to the Doctor all the more effective when the truth behind it is revealed, and the dovetailing of the scientific and military storylines as confinement is breached and the entire world is unknowingly put at risk works brilliantly while leading to a profound and devastatingly resonant resolution that will be sure to haunt these characters for some time.

‘Inferno’ is rightly hailed as a genuine classic, and re-exploring that threat delivers a very personal story that manages to successfully expand upon what has been established previously. There is no doubt that the Brigadier and Liz can continue to thrive within the audio medium given the evidence here, and the only nagging- albeit subjective- issue is that visiting Liz at this point in her life which is so open for exploration yields only hints at what her life is like now because of the mysterious forces in play. The result is undeniably a brilliant one, but it is still a bit strange to have both the Doctor and Liz as atypical versions of themselves when finally meeting up again in their own continuity and finally playing against each other in person for Big Finish. Nonetheless, ‘Primord’ is an absolute masterpiece bolstered by strong direction and sound design that recapture the spirit of this era perfectly, and hopefully this is the beginning of a long-lasting narrative style that allows it to continue to develop and flourish in a dynamic fashion.

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