Big Finish has a justly deserved reputation for quality audio drama, recreating favourite Cult television shows. Even they can’t match their own high standards every time, which is why a more average release stands out from the crowd. May 2020’s Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 06 is at best average, and shows even Big Finish can’t work their magic on everything. Even the return of Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier (as seen in volume 5) fails to save the day.
One of the challenges faced by Big Finish is to optimise the cast for the budget. In a story with the Brigadier, Jo Grant, Benton and, of course, the Third Doctor, it’s inevitable all four get a slice of the pie. This can make the story seem artificial in places. In the 1970s, any of the UNIT personnel could play a minor role in the odd episode, allowing for more variety of characters. Writer Guy Adams focusses on Jo’s green credentials, giving Katy Manning a more positive part than she sometimes had. The downside is it dominates the story. In “Poison of the Daleks”, we have plenty of environmental (and ethical concerns) as heavily laid on as in the recent thirteenth Doctor stories “Orphan 55” and “Praxeus”.
We also have a magic device for removing pollution (reminiscent of the tenth Doctor story “The Sontaran Stratagem“) and with Daleks lurking in the title, the inevitable alien baddie behind the scenes.
The Daleks are particularly generic in this story; barring the odd “exterminate!” could be any random nondescript alien. Some interesting new characters do appear, and a better story would have given them more impact.
Churchill to the rescue
Jonathan Barnes gets the Third Doctor time travelling again in “Operation Hellfire”. This story feels like a two-part idea stretched into four episodes. The bulk of episode 1 is a contrivance to get the Doctor back to World War 2; a latter episode descends into pantomime with Nazi’s, magic, human sacrifice and lines worth of “Carry on Screaming” (in which Jon Pertwee appeared). We have to reminder several Doctor Who stories did suffer from lack of content, so in this regards the story is not untypical, just not as strong as Big Finish normally deliver.
The cover promises Churchill and Churchill we get. Sort of. Ian McNeice has some short scenes presumably recorded at a different recording for another title. They sound off — Churchill doesn’t sound like he’s talking to the other characters and the tone seems compressed to the others. It’s rare to get this type of sound problem on a Big Finish title.
What would make a decent Fourth Doctor story doesn’t make for a longer listen, whatever the cast and director attempt. It’s a nice idea but doesn’t reach the heights we expect.
It’s in the nature of a review to home in on the strengths and weaknesses of a release and in balance there is a lot of energy in places and some very strong performances. There are worse ways to spending time, but with the whole Big Finish catalogue to choose from there are better.