The Third Doctor poses a bit of a conundrum for Big Finish. It’s a tonally unique era and one that legions of fans adore, but the unfortunate passing of so many of the key actors has left a rather large gap in storytelling opportunities compared to the other Doctors. While the Companions Chronicles tales are superb and a nostalgic reminder of that bygone era, Big Finish has been reticent to do anything more in line with the televised adventures of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. Until now.
Wanting to further explore the Third Doctor era, Big Finish was tasked with the unenviable and nearly impossible task of bringing in someone to respectfully portray the legendary Jon Pertwee. Somehow Tim Treloar manages to do just that, not focusing so much on being a pitch-perfect mimic or impressionist but instead capturing the soul and substance of him. The cadence, manner, and inflections he speaks with absolutely channel Pertwee in a very nuanced performance. Where this ‘recasting’ could have gone spectacularly wrong and instantly turned off listeners, it is instead easy to imagine that Pertwee is still there leading the cause.
Anchored by the pitch-perfect duo of Katy Manning as Jo Grant and Richard Franklin as Mike Yates as well as very strong guest performances and production values, this first volume offers two distinctly different tales that excellently capture the Pertwee era’s vibe.
‘Prisoners of the Lake’ is the first offering, with UNIT focusing on an ancient threat to Earth discovered deep under Dunstanton Lake. In fact, a huge portion of this tale is set underwater and it is very easy to imagine the glee Pertwee would have exuded if given the chance to film these scenes. The story is serviceable enough, never quite reaching the heights that the plot makes possible, but the set action pieces are visual enough and the mystery intriguing enough tat attention and focus is always warranted. Really, though, this is a character-driven piece for listeners to understand Tim Treloar as the Doctor, a showcase for his obvious talent.
‘The Havoc of Empires’ comes next. In what was supposed to be a fun excursion for Jo and Mike, the TARDIS takes the crew instead to a space station upon which a diplomatic wedding between the Teklarn Incorporation and the Chalnoth Hegemony is scheduled. This is perhaps the stronger of the two stories as far as character portrayals are allowed, as the tale quickly turns into a murder mystery of sorts with everyone a suspect. Katy Manning really gets to steal the show here as she impersonates the security chief Alex Filton, overscoming a sense of vulnerability to work through the case’s different angles to determine who the responsible party is. Likewise, Treloar again perfectly channels the characterization of Pertwee as he stringently looks for a non-violent resolution without ever losing faith in his companions.
All in all, Big Finish has another hit and has found a gem in Tim Treloar. The stories and sounds easily capture the feel of the 1970s offerings and, while not doing anything too unexpected or spectacular, certainly set a clear foundation from which future volumes can continue and expand.