Doctor Who: The Third Doctor Adventures: Volume 4 – Starring Tim Treloar, Katy Manning, Rufus Hound, Mina Anwar, Joe Sims, Clare Corbett, Silas Hawkins, Linda Marlowe, Carolyn Pickles, Ronan Summers, Jeff Rawle, Deli Segal & Nicholas Briggs. Written by Guy Adams, & Marc Platt & Directed by Nicholas Briggs – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
With three sets of stories under his belt, Tim Treloar could be forgiven for feeling a bit smug. Jon Pertwee’s shoes, and capes, were undoubtedly daunting to step into, but Treloar gets better and better, from an acceptably resonant Third Doctor in his first outing, to something that while never stooping to Pertwee impersonation as such, feels distinctly Third Doctor in all its tones and vocal mannerisms, meaning you can absolutely put his Third Doctor stories in among your Pertwee DVDs, make one smooth gear-shift and keep on Doctoring. Treloar is the audio Third Doctor now, just as Frazer Hines is the audio Second and (for my money at least), Peter Purves is the audio First.
There’s been a gear-change too in the things Big Finish has asked of its Third Doctor as the box-sets have gone along. While the first couple of sets are no slouches, and strongly establish the feel of the Third Doctor’s era, in sets 3 and now 4, the company is wheeling out some of the bigger guns in the villainous arsenal – in set 3, Treloar getting the chance to go up against the Daleks, and here, battling the Monk and (most thrillingly because fans abhor a villain-vacuum and The Five Doctors was cheating) the Cybermen.
Perhaps the oddest thing about The Rise of the New Humans by Guy Adams is that it has most of the hallmarks of a great Cyber-story. That’s odd because this is the Monk story – but creepy hospitals, hyper-evolving humans developing metal prostheses and coming back at least a little way from the dead, it’s all here, almost screaming for the great metallic kettleheads to be lurking in dark corridors. But no – it’s Monk-fun all the way. And what fun. Rufus Hound has clearly found the role he was born to play, Katy Manning’s on sensational form, somehow squeezing her 2017 voice back a few decades into the throat of squeaky, breathy, top companion Jo (here handed quite a bushel of great lines – listen out for Jo Grant in brief miseryguts mumbling mode, it’s absolutely priceless). And despite the body-horror core of the story, Adams does good service by the Monk’s core characteristics too, while raising an entirely reasonable ethical conundrum – if your partner, your parent, your friend was dying of a dread disease which is currently incurable, but which a hundred years from now is the work of a course of drugs to eliminate, could you see the bigger picture of the web of time, or would you want them cured? The Monk, supporting the work of genius Doctor Kurdi (played with fabulous grumpiness and then, as her character unfolds, with surprising tenderness by Mina Anwar), is offering tomorrow’s medicine, today. Who is the Doctor to stop him and tell him he’s wrong?
What The Rise of the New Humans gives us is a couple of hours of peak performances from Hound, Treloar, Manning, Anwar and others, with some interesting philosophical questions thrown in to what becomes a kind of medical zombie movie with a wider scope. You’ll barely realise you’re zooming through the episodes, and Hound, who’s established himself as a Monk with whom to conjure, more than repays his star villain billing.
And the oddest thing about The Tyrants of Logic by Marc Platt is the kind of Cyber-story it sets out to be. Pitched somewhere between The Doctor’s Wife and Nightmare in Silver, it’s based on a planet named Burnt Salt, with a couple of semi-Cyber ragamuffins, a host of genetically engineered so-cute-you-could-die lemur-girl creatures who throw snowballs at Cybermen, a research project which may well have more to it than meets the cybernetic eye, the Cyber-wars equivalent of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer, and, in a way that resonates with a Dalek Genesis Arc, a mysterious MacGuffin known as a Cyber-Leveller – we won’t spoilt the surprise of what that does for you, because…well, because it would spoil the surprise.
There are Cybermats here, there are glitterguns, and when things really get moving, there are what sound like an array of Cybermen from Nick Briggs – listen out and see if you can ‘place’ each type of Cyber-voice in their evolution, complete with different Cyber-gun sounds, but there’s also a New Who-style innovation which is absolutely spot-on for how the Cybermen should behave if we’re to take them seriously as a body-horror monster for the 21st century, and the threat at the heart of an all-out war with humanity. Again, Treloar and Manning are on the top of their game together, secure after three previous sets of adventures, and able to deliver some of Platt’s more emotional dialogue, Manning chiming perfectly with her on-screen portrayal of Jo, refusing to give up on the Doctor, talking him back from the brink of death at least once, and Treloar for his part giving the Third Doctor some lovely believable vocal beats of gratitude for all she’s done for him.
Is it, perhaps, a touch too busy and a little downbeat for much of its run-time? You might say so, but everything and everyone in the story has a clear purpose, and were you to remove them, you’d diminish the journey on which Platt wants to take you. Do you feel like you’ve enjoyed a thoroughly satisfying Cyber-story by the end? Almost – but in terms of the balance, Platt and Briggs on direction skew towards giving you a story of the people, rather than a stereoscopic Cyber-story. Does it deliver that rarest of things – a Cyber-story that actually makes some sort of logical sense? Yes, on balance it does, certainly more than almost any Cyber-story in at least Classic Who. Perversely, but also joyfully, you’ll come out the other side of The Tyrants of Logic with your emotions having been put through the wringer (just a warning to lovers of small furry animals – the line ‘Pull her tail off’ appears in the script!), proving above all that you’re not yet ready to side with the Cybermen.
The Third Doctor Volume 4 is a fabulous investment in aural pleasure. All hail Tim Treloar and Katy Manning for bringing the Third Doctor and Jo fully back to the fans. And while we’re about it, all hail the writers and directors who, increasingly secure in their performances and their relationship, are giving them bigger and better and broader things to do. Volume 5, please! Tony Fyler