Where to start with Big Finish - The Third Doctor

Tony Fyler picks five of the best Third Doctor stories from the Big Finish audio range.

The Third Doctor is particularly and very sadly troubling when it comes to audio stories, for two simple reasons. Firstly, Jon Pertwee’s voice has proved harder than almost any other to ‘have a stab at’ with any particular credibility. And secondly, the last few years has not been kind to the Third Doctor’s travelling companions – we have in a relatively short space of time lost Sarah-Jane, Liz Shaw and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to the realities of life and death. It’s a failing Big Finish openly acknowledges, and in 2015, it will take the brave step of producing a Third Doctor Box Set to redress the balance somewhat, with actor Tim Treloar playing ‘the narrator’ – who speaks Pertwee’s dialogue. This is not so much a re-casting, the company says, but a new way of addressing Third Doctor stories, given the difficulties involved.

Nevertheless, as if focused by the particular challenges that the era presents, those stories that do exist from the Third Doctor’s time include a handful of real pearls.

1. The Many Deaths of Jo Grant
Jo Grant of course was never going to be the brightest bulb in the Tardis console, but she was inventive, and brave, and loyal beyond the point any man or any Time Lord could expect. Many was the time when tiny, squeaky Jo would throw herself between the Doctor and an alien – or indeed Earthly – menace, and demand that they take her, or kill her instead of the man who was her friend, her surrogate father in the UNIT environment, and the most amazing man she’d ever met. The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is in many ways the perfect ‘Doctor and Jo’ story – tight, compact, full of peril, and perfectly encapsulating their relationship, each prepared to give their lives to save the other, and the Earth. An uncomfortable listen at times, with themes of torture and mental abuse, The Many Deaths of Jo Grant remains a jewel in the Companion Chronicles range.

2. Old Soldiers
Particularly in the wake of the Series 8 finale, you’re going to need your hankies for this one. The Brigadier, from some point beyond the Third Doctor’s days, looks back on an adventure not long after the adventures of The Silurians, with himself and the Doctor beginning the tale at odds, and dealing with manifestations of dead soldiers. Highlighting if anything the bravery of Big Finish’s scriptwriters, this story slips in between the pages of canon, and shows us more of both men, and how they dealt with each other and their different approaches to protecting the world. Quite apart from anything else, any release that lets you listen to Nicholas Courtney’s voice for an hour has to be worth picking up.

3. The Last Post
Listen to enough Big Finish audio, and one thing becomes clear – there are actors who sound the same now as they did during the days when you remember them, and there are actors who don’t. Colin Baker, to this day, can and sometimes does recreate the 80s version of the Sixth Doctor. Nicola Bryant does the same with Peri. Louise Jameson can give you a Leela from practically any point in her history at the seeming drop of an audio hat. Frazer Hines is positively, ridiculously convincing both as Jamie at various points in his life and as the Second Doctor. Geoffrey Beevers, if anything, has significantly improved his Master. With others, it takes a minute or two to readjust your expectations, and Caroline John was one of the latter. Her voice is that of an older, more mellow Liz Shaw on Audio, but the tales she tells are right in the middle of her tenure as a companion, and so it takes a moment or two to say to yourself ‘This is what Liz sounds like.’

Once you’ve done that though, her stories are especially rewarding, particularly because there was relatively little given to her by way of externalised characterisation in her on screen stories. In The Last Post, we see Liz in the whole new light of her family, and in particular her brilliant, professorial mother. The story of a Doomsday Clock, and people dropping dead in apparently mysterious circumstances after receiving a letter announcing as much is spot-on Pertwee period stuff, and the idea of shenanigans at high levels of government too has the whiff of 70s Who to it. But it’s in Liz’s relationship with her mother, and in the reflections of life in UNIT that she’s here allowed the space to deliver, that the ultimate charm of this story lies.

4. The Blue Tooth
Sticking with Liz, and with the theme of broadening her character beyond what was shown on screen, The Blue Tooth is a deliciously grand guignol story which again brings in areas of her life outside UNIT – this time through college friend Jean Basemore, who brought out the initially shy Liz and gave her someone to laugh and be herself with – as she discovered what ‘herself’ really was. It also has the distinction of being the only time outside The Five Doctors when the Third Doctor does battle with the Cybermen (not really a spoiler once you’ve seen the cover for this story, to be fair) – although it’s the Cybermen in a way that they’ve never been shown before, and a way that would absolutely work in the 21st century, almost certainly better than it would have done in Pertwee’s era. Spoiler: don’t listen to this, ever, if you’re particularly squeamish about…trips to the dentist.

5. The Prisoner of Peladon
Like Old Soldiers, part of the appeal of this story is where it fits in the chronology of on screen Who, and part is the pure pleasure of having an experienced actor narrate a story for you almost single-handed for an hour. David Troughton tells a story of Peladon, as King Peladon tells it to his sleeping baby daughter Thalira, and as you might expect, it has many of the ingredients that make up a classic Peladon story – the Ice Warriors, Alpha Centauri, corridors and catacombs, while also blending in a note or two of classic adventure serial; there is a whiff of The Prisoner of Zenda about the premise here, and a soupcon of The Man In The Iron Mask. The joy with any Peladon story of course is that nothing is quite – if at all – what it appears to be, and the spirit of those 70s stories is alive in well as Peladon tells the story of refugee Ice Warriors and what happened when the Third Doctor came back to the planet, alone.

As ever with these introductory features, only a handful of stories have been highlighted, and the choices are entirely subjective – feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments – but this happy handful will get anyone new to Big Finish immersed in the company’s approach to storytelling, and ready to make their own choices about where to go next.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk
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