Decline of the Ancient Mariner, the latest Short Trip from Big Finish, takes place in a less-frequented corner of the Doctor Who universe. Set in Jon Pertwee’s final season, sadly, neither of the actors who led the show are still with us… and yet, in this charming piece of prose, both the third Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen’s Sarah Jane Smith live on.
The story begins with the Doctor contacted by NASA after their Mariner 10 probe goes missing; bound for the inner planets, it disappeared for half an hour with no obvious explanation. Seizing the chance for a TARDIS jaunt, the pair promptly set off to discover what occurred to the errant probe.
Writer Rob Nisbet cleverly constructs his story around another of the Pertwee era’s glorious historical name-drops. On this occasion, it’s Samuel Taylor Coleridge whose “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” finds its inspiration as the events unfold. With the Doctor’s expertise called upon, the story feels well-rooted in the UNIT era. There is also a pleasing dose of temporal antics too in what feels like quite a packed story, given the format.
This is one of the increasingly frequent occasions where the narrator is not an original Doctor Who cast member. However, Mark Reynolds is an excellent storyteller, and the tale rips along under the direction of Nicholas Briggs. While not tripping into impersonation, Mark Reynolds imbues the Doctor’s lines with a pleasingly sufficient flavour of Jon Pertwee’s delivery, so we are pleased to see he will be back for November’s ‘Blue Boxes’ too.