Big Finish: Doctor Who THE THIRD DOCTOR ADVENTURES Vol 7 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who THE THIRD DOCTOR ADVENTURES Vol 7 Review

Matthew Kresal is taken back half a century to The Third Doctor's era.
It seems scarcely imaginable to this reviewer that enough time has passed for there to be the seventh volume of Big Finish's Third Doctor Adventures for them to be reviewing. It seems not that long ago that Tim Trealor was first filling the rather sizeable boots left behind by Jon Pertwee, but, since 2015, he and the range have gone from strength to strength, initially having him alongside surviving cast members of the era. With this set, Big Finish takes off the proverbial training wheels and goes for something at one time unthinkable: two stories made up of entirely re-cast main characters.

Up first is Mark Wright's The Unzal Incursion. Set firmly during the first Pertwee season (right down to recreating the post-credits tease and sting employed in The Ambassadors of Death), it's also a different kettle of fish from the serials broadcast in 1970. Something due in part to how Wright subverts the era's tropes by having the Doctor, Liz Shaw (Daisy Ashford, who took from her late mother Caroline John in 2019), and the Brigadier (the ever solid Jon Culshaw) as fugitives from UNIT for large portions of the story. This opening adventure is an alien invasion story with some immensely satisfying twists, not to mention callbacks to those early UNIT stories. The Unzal Incursion is also, in keeping the ambitiousness of the 1970 season, action-packed, including an extended chase sequence in one of its middle episodes. Wright's script, however, has the benefit of running four episodes instead of seven, meaning The Unzal Incursion is all thriller, no filler, and all the better for it.

"And now," to quote Monty Python, "for something completely different."

That being The Gulf, written by Tim Foley, which takes listeners to the other end of the Pertwee era with the Third Doctor traveling with Sarah Jane Smith (Saddie Miller, who took up her late mother's iconic role in Return of the Cybermen). Firmly anchored on a former industrial rig turned artist retreat, the Doctor and Sarah encounter a group of female artists at work. But everything isn't what it seems, especially when a missing member of the retreat returns and things begin to take on a sinister atmosphere. The Gulf is an intriguing story, given the isolated location and gothic-style atmosphere are closer in tone to the early seasons of this Doctor's successor. Yet Foley, armed with an underutilized TARDIS crew, puts a definite Third Doctor twist on those tropes, combined with a cast totally unlike anything found on-screen during this era. It's a breathtakingly creepy story and, quite possibly, this reviewer's new favorite from the range.

It helps that both adventures feature strong casts, as well. Tim Trealor, after seven sets and a couple of notable appearances in the role elsewhere at Big Finish, continues to create a compelling take on an iconic Doctor on audio, capturing enough of Pertwee's voice and performances while not being a slavish (or worse flat) attempt at recreation. Daisy Ashford captures the cadences of her mother's voice to the forthrightness of her delivery as Liz, with Wright's script giving her plenty to work from as a performer. Meanwhile, Jon Culshaw provides an impeccable recreation of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, making it easy to imagine Courtney in early UNIT uniform as the man of action. Sadie Miller, who made a strong impression as Sarah in Return of the Cybermen, likewise offers up an at times uncanny take on the role her mum made famous nearly a half-century ago. Indeed, the greatest compliment this reviewer can think to pay is to confess having had times where one forgot you aren't listening to Elisabeth Sladen at all. One likes to believe that those departed figures from this era on-screen would look on the cast's work and approve, carrying on their legacy in a new medium.

The supporting casts are equally solid. The Unzal Incursion features Misha Malcolm as female UNIT Sergeant Attah in, once one accepts that in a version of the 1970s (or 1980s?) where the UK was sending crewed Mars missions that there'd be such a thing, what one hopes will be a new recurring role, while Clare Corbett (fresh off appearing in this month's Ninth Doctor release) plays a fantastic villain. The Gulf is, quite simply, blessed with one of the best casts Big Finish has assembled in recent memory, led by Wendy Craig as the matronly painter Marta Malvani in a performance that runs a whole gambit of emotions. With Issy Van Randwyck, Lucy Goldie, Jennifer Saayeng, and Bethan Walker rounding off members of this artistic retreat, it's a cast bringing this quite different Third Doctor story to life. As is so often the case, Big Finish's casting is a big reason why their stories work as well as they do, and the two in this set are no exception.

Another part of Big Finish's success is how well put together their productions are. The scores from Nicholas Briggs (who also directs both stories) wonderfully capture the often quite different musical stylings of the Third Doctor's TV serials, bringing together the electronic with more traditional sounds neatly. The real stars of this set, however, are sound designers Benji Clifford and Luke Pietnik. Clifford's work on The Unzal Incursion is nothing short of cinematic, capturing the genuinely epic feel that the script and performances call for and which makes its action set-pieces all the better. Pietnik's work on The Gulf is no less solid, creating a haunted feel that lingers over the entire serial and makes it all the more effective. If there's a set that highlights Big Finish's capabilities production-wise, it's this one.

As the first outing with an entirely re-cast main cast, The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 7 soars. It does so with an assuredness not only built on six previous sets but with two of the range's best scripts and production work. For fans of this era, especially those reluctant to give re-castings a try, these two adventures implore you to reconsider. Because in a year already full of fantastic releases, this is another feather in Big Finish's cap.

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 07 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 June 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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