Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Kaleidoscope, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Kaleidoscope, Review

Matthew Kresal must focus...
One of the highlights for this reviewer from Big Finish since 2015 has been their release of the new Third Doctor Adventures. With Tim Trealor taking over from the late, great Jon Pertwee, the range has taken in the width and breadth of early 1970s Doctor Who from Liz Shaw and Jo Grant to UNIT in action and Sarah Jane Smith's early adventures with the Time Lord. It's also seen the company stretch its creative muscles, sometimes pastiching but other times expanding upon the types of stories aired on those long ago Saturday tea times. A case of the latter came in late October with the release of 2022's second Third Doctor Adventure, a little epic with a catchy title: Kaleidoscope.

As with February's The Annihilators, Kaleidoscope is part of a relaunch of sorts for the range. Whereas previous releases would have seen two four-part adventures per box set, this year has seen them experimenting with doing a sole longer story per release. Whereas Nicholas Briggs' The Annihilators pastiched the seven-part stories of the first Pertwee season, Alan Barnes presents a six-part tale set at the opposite end of the tenure during Season 11.

And what a packed story Barnes has to offer. Kaleidoscope has several different strands playing out, seemingly separate from one another until the instance they intersect. There's the titular young man, an apparent alien being despite his flashy seventies fashions, with incredible psychic powers. Sarah's got a journalistic rival, Jenny Nettles, who gets into the mix by breaking the story about Kaleidoscope before Sarah and UNIT can get to them. Cold War tensions, still ongoing in the seventies, come into play involving an RAF base, inter-service rivalries, and a women's protest group led by a figure from the Brigadier's past.

And that's just the first half of the story.

What Barnes as writer and Briggs as director craft here is one heck of a Third Doctor story. It's a thriller, pure and simple, one with a lot of moving pieces, but it is, despite that, fun to follow as it unfolds. Part of that is down to Barnes offering some knowing nods to the era and Doctor Who's history, including the inclusion of Harry Sullivan (the ever-dependable Christopher Naylor) in a supporting role. Other times, there are subversions and inversions of Pertwee tropes, such as with the Doctor-companion style relationship that springs up between Kaleidoscope and Jenny. The action set pieces also help with that, especially given this final season gave the era a number of its iconic sequences. Unburdened by the limitations of early 1970s budgets or multi-camera studios, however, Barnes gives this a grander scope that borders on the outright cinematic. It's a best-of-both-worlds approach to this era that makes listening to this an utter delight.

So too, does the cast. Trealor continues to fill Pertwee's velvet jacket most amiably, capturing the unmistakable hints of Pertwee's voice and mannerisms. Sadie Miller, who made a strong impression as Sarah Jane Smith in Return of the Cybermen and previous Third Doctor sets, continues offering up an, at times, uncanny take on the role that her mum made famous nearly a half-century ago. Jon Culshaw, too, continues to provide an impeccable recreation of Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier, making it easy to imagine Courtney in UNIT uniform as the man of action while also getting some wonderful character moments via the inclusion of Helen Goldwyn's Daphne Green. Goldwyn's character, with all of her charm and apparent sincerity, is a showcase for Goldwyn as one of Big Finish's most versatile players, given a meaty role by Barnes. That showcasing also includes Big Finish regular Mark Elstob with his wide range of vocal talents alongside recently debuted First Doctor actor Stephen Noonan who likewise shows off his remarkable range beyond recreating Hartnell's Doctor elsewhere for the company.

The real stars of the supporting cast are Gerran Howell as the titular alien and Jasmin Hinds as Jenny Nettles. Howell's performance brings out the almost naive alienness of Kaleidoscope with a "far out" quality befitting the period. Meanwhile, Hinds plays an inversion of Sarah Jane that's interesting in its own right, with perhaps fewer moral scruples and a little too willing to play loose with the facts. They're well-realized characters, something that allows Howell and Hinds to flesh them out to their fullest and makes some late-in-the-story moments work all the better. Put together with Trealor, Miller, Culshaw, and their fellow castmates, it's a strong cast Briggs and producer Heather Challands have brought together.

Also worth mentioning is the sound design and music. Steve Foxon's sound design brings forth the grand scope of the story's locations and, in its more genre-based sound effects, more than a hint of the Radiophonic Workshop. Briggs once more puts on his composer hat and delivers a score that suitably echoes Dudley Simpson's Pertwee era music wonderfully. Not to mention giving Kaleidoscope his own earworm of a signature tune that's still in this reviewer's head days after finishing the story!

And by the time the final episode is over, Kaleidoscope is another feather in Big Finish's cap of Third Doctor Adventures. One that takes the best parts of this Doctor's TV era while bringing a scale than it could ever have achieved on-screen. From Cold War tensions to action sequences, intriguing characters, and a well-paced plot, Kaleidoscope is far more than just another Third Doctor adventure. It's a genuine epic of one.

Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Kaleidoscope is available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 November 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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