The Gulf

Posted in Audio by - May 22, 2021
The Gulf

Released May 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Whereas The Third Doctor Adventures Volume Seven  first delved into the early days of this incarnation when alongside the Brigadier and Liz Shaw in ‘The Unzal Incursion,’ Tim Foley’s ‘The Gulf’ boldly treads into the latter days of this incarnation when traveling with Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah, played by Elisabeth Sladen, became one of the most iconic and enduring companions of the classic era, and so there has naturally been a sense of trepidation about prominently featuring the character in full-cast productions since the unfortunate passing of Sladen in 2011. However, with her daughter Sadie Miller expertly stepping into the famed role in Big Finish’s ‘Return of the Cybermen’ earlier this year, the time has finally come for season eleven to be explored once more.

In ‘The Gulf,’ the TARDIS materializes on an abandoned rig on a watery world that has recently been converted into something of an artists’ retreat. A troubled member of the collective has recently gone missing, however, and the Doctor and Sarah quickly come under suspicion just as the Doctor senses a sinister psychic presence. As the two travelers attempt to get to know the various members of the collective and to help with the ensuing investigation, it’s abundantly clear from the start that this story will take on a wholly different tone than its predecessor in this set, opting to tell a tense, burning psychological thriller that makes the most of its isolated setting while building up the unseen threat surrounding this rig’s denizens. The pacing is at times almost unbearably slow, but the script wastes no opportunity to explore the individuals present to unearth secrets that make them all uniquely appropriate targets while simultaneously maximizing the sense of oppression and intimidation as the prospect of death become ever more familiar. The idea behind the threat is ultimately a variation on one that has been used many times before, but there’s no denying how utterly effective the continued buildup of this threat is given how haunting and inescapable the constant danger appears to become.

The soundscape and cast combine to perfectly evoke the aesthetic of the intended era, and Tim Treloar continues to excel as the Third Doctor who here must confront the duality of cruelty as compassion. The Doctor’s intelligence and emotions are each tested as the Doctor struggles to remain resolutely in control, and Treloar instantly develops an immense chemistry with Miller to perfectly portray this slightly more human iteration of his character who is unknowingly approaching the end of his days. However, it’s Miller herself who truly becomes the standout star of the release, exceling in her first story as the sole companion to truly radiate Sarah’s renowned intelligence, bravery, and optimism no matter how perilous and foreboding the situation becomes. Again, it’s unreasonable to expect pitch-perfect replications of Pertwee and Sladen here, but there are moments where Treloar and Miller are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors, and the underlying love in every component of this production will hopefully signal the beginning of another era that so rightfully deserves to be further explored in this fashion.

With a constant thematic exploration of grief and personal suffering that culminates in a powerfully impactful moment of reflection, ‘The Gulf’ blends many familiar elements to nonetheless offer something tonally and narratively unique. There are plenty of hints about adventures and sentiments yet to come for the Doctor that are peppered throughout as well as an environmental message that never feels obtrusive or overbearing, and although the pacing is sometimes quite arduous given the bevy of dialogue needed to make so many personal elements known, the end result is a wholly gripping affair that ends this volume on an emotionally visceral and engaging note.

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