Released October 2016
The Early Adventures continues with Philip Lawrence’s ‘The Fifth Traveller,’ revisiting the era of the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara Vicki, and Jospa. Jospa, of course, is the orphan from the slums of Earth’s future that pickpocketed the Doctor and then joined the TARDIS team, forming a powerful sibling-like camaraderie with Vicki along the way. Only, the audience knows that none of that happened, and the mystery of how this man came to insert himself into established continuity forms the driving force of this intriguing release.
The early years of Doctor Who is famous for occasionally allowing ambition to trump what could realistically be achieved on a minimal budget, and ‘The Fifth Traveller’ certainly channels that sense of ambition with its scope. After Jospa discovers an organic jellyfish-like creature that should allow the Doctor to finally control the TARDIS with much greater precision upon the planet of Vavidic, the story proper takes place in the jungles of Arunde. This vegetative world and its golden primates’ culture and structured society are both fleshed out and described wonderfully, the incidental music and sound design helping with the former and telepathic communications of the latter adding incredible depth to these creations.
Once more, the dialogue and the actors exude the very fabric of the era wonderfully. William Russell and Maureen O’Brien again evoke their younger selves seemingly effortlessly, and Jemma Powell again proves a revelation at capturing the essence of Jacqueline Hill as Barbara, showcasing a friendly but almost matronly tone. The script likewise does well discussing the eagerness of Ian and Barbara to get home as the organic device’s potential is explored, but the emotions of Vicki as the very real possibility that her friends may soon depart arises are certainly not forgotten. Of course, this release belongs to James Joyce as Jospa, the titular fifth traveller, and he instantly shows an easy chemistry with the rest of the cast that makes it quite believable that he has been aboard the TARDIS for several adventures. The gradual shift from cheerful and friendly to something much more insidious is done expertly, and the dangerous environment along with the uneasy truth that memories may not be infallible make his character’s progression very enjoyable, indeed.
In fact, the only true faltering point of ‘The Fifth Traveller’ is that it relies on narration seemingly much more than any release in the range before it. These stories have always struck a balancing point between the full-cast styles of Big Finish’s Main Range and the more narration-heavy styles of the The Companion Chronicles range, but the Fifth Traveller rivals even the latter range its amount of narration. On the one hand, it certainly makes the character of Barbara much more involved in the release than in ‘The Age of Endurance,’ but relying on narration to tell of the action rather than having the individual actors actively engage effectively takes away from a lot of the dramatic potential and emotional investment. There are several very visual moments of danger and intrigue, but all too often the narration describes the event and leaves the actors to simply talk about what happened.
Still, ‘The Fifth Traveller’ effectively brings this early era of Doctor Who to life very well as it explores the interactions and motivations of its cast, and it’s certainly another worthy addition to the The Early Adventures range. While it sadly does lack some of the impactful punch than a less narration-driven story may have held, the interesting mystery behind the known usurper as well as the mesmerising details of the primates are more than enough to captivate until the end.