Released September 2015
Big Finish is a company known for taking risks and exploring new territory with its Doctor Who license, but The Third Doctor Adventures box set represents what is unquestionably its biggest risk yet. With the unfortunate passing of the first three actors to play the titular role, Big Finish has thus far circumvented the absence of the leads of those eras by use of narration or companions voicing the role. For the first time, though, Big Finish has recast a Doctor, with Tim Treloar stepping into the iconic role of Jon Pertwee to bring the Third Doctor to life once more alongside Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Richard Franklin as Captain Mike Yates.
The first story of this set, ‘Prisoners of the Lake,’ checks all of the boxes of what comprises a quintessential Third Doctor story, sticking to familiar terrain as Treloar makes his presence known. As an ancient menace begins to stir as the team investigating a strange and structure beneath Dunstanton Lake realizes it is not equipped to handle what it finds, the Doctor and his UNIT companions must dive to the depths of the lake to discover hidden secrets to save Earth itself.
The big question here, of course, is how Time Treloar would manage in the role, taking on the thankless task of impersonating an icon and knowing that a certain subset of Doctor Who fandom would be against him from the start. It is obviously unreasonable to expect a spot-on impersonation, but the amount of work Treloar has put into learning the mannerisms and eccentricities of Jon Pertwee’s delivery pays off handsomely, somehow creating a suspension of disbelief that allows listeners to easily believe that this is a genuine lost story with Pertwee at the helm. The script likewise captures the essence of the Third Doctor perfectly, showing his arrogance and impatience but also his humour and willingness to put himself into danger for what he believes is just and right even for the human race which he is unafraid to describe as irksome and tiresome. It is in the moments of greatest peril that Treloar definitively proves his excellence, adding extra weight to the credence of this tale’s chronological placement.
Katy Manning reprises her companion role as Jo Grant effortlessly, blundering into danger but also adding a needed element of true humanity to proceedings and being a true friend for the Doctor. Even if the fact that Jo went on an underwater assault course previously comes off as a convenient plot device to keep her involved, her continued presence is a most welcome one. Richard Franklin also successfully return to the role of Mike Yates, sounding as if he hasn’t aged a day. While Yates may not have been the most intriguing character during the original story until his fascinating roguish turn, ‘Prisoners of the Lake’ continues the audio reformation of the character, showing a resourceful man who keeps everyone around him grounded.
‘Prisoners of the Lake’ does still make use of narration despite it being a full-cast drama, but it is used sparingly enough and only to progress the plot without relying on awkward dialogue. It is also unafraid to borrow elements from classic serials, certain similarities to ‘The Sea Devils’ and ‘The Daemons’ being the most overt. Still, there is nothing wrong with an introductory story firmly entrenching itself in its era, and the nostalgia created is exquisite. As the structure beneath the lake unsurprisingly turns out to be a spaceship, the so-named prisoners of the lake end up being the leaders of the Dastron military force, ones responsible millions of lives across the cosmos as they attempt to expand their imperialism by annexing more systems. With two stone robots acting as prosecutor and defender aboard what is found to be a justice ship, several fascinating aspects of the Dastron culture are revealed in short order, fleshing out this new race to great effect.
As the stakes continue to escalate and millions of lives on Earth become threatened, ‘Prisoners of the Lake’ firmly achieves everything it set out to do. The story may play it safe to create an air of familiarity for the Third Doctor era, the bold move to cast Tim Treloar as the Third Doctor ends up being hugely successful, and Katy Manning and he recapture the astounding chemistry between Jo and the Doctor fantastically.