At this point I should be diving headlong into the worlds of the Seventh Doctor. But, after the diversion afforded by the recent Fifth Doctor trilogy, there’s another trilogy that needs some attention. This one’s bloody hard to classify and chronologise, however, since the central conceit surrounding Big Finish’s celebration of 200 Main Range releases is that Doctors Five, Six and Seven have temporarily taken the places of their younger counterparts One Two and Three. They have become locums. While it might be easy-ish to place the stories from the point of view of the supporting characters – Jo Grant, Jamie and Zoe, Vicki and Steven – it’s a lot harder to do so for the Doctors themselves. So these stories, while they are obviously officially part of the Folly’s remit, aren’t going to have official numbers.
I think I said, way back in the mists of time, that this was going to be something of a quixotic crusade. How right I was, how right….
Big Finish Folly, Part ℜ – The Defectors, by Nicholas Briggs
Captain Mike Yates has gone missing. So have the rest of the UNIT personnel – only Jo Grant is left to witness UNIT HQ taken over by Captain Cornelius and his soldiers, all in the name of national security. Fortunately, the Doctor is on hand to make sense of things for her – but it would seem that this little fellow with the hat and umbrella is not quite the Doctor Jo was expecting…
Seven and Jo Grant – what an odd team-up. I should say from the outset that I’ve always found the Third Doctor’s era a little difficult to enjoy, and that might colour my perception of this play even though the Third Doctor is nowhere to be seen (or heard) within it (save for an implied, unconscious appearance at the very end of the tale). In the early 70s Doctor Who focused far less on out-of-this-world science fiction and far more on military/industrial-complex alien espionage. Even when the Doctor and Jo ventured off-world, there were tones of cold war battles, and the Master was never far behind. Two post-TV books brilliantly evoke that era of gritty thrillers and weekly alien invasion (and yes, both feature the Master too) – Alastair Reynolds’ Harvest of Time, and Mark Gatiss’ Last of the Gadarene. While the latter is perfectly-baked nostalgia on a plate, and the former does dizzying time-spinning things with space opera, The Defectors somehow misses the mark.
Which is a shame, because the ingredients are intriguing enough. With UNIT placed into lockdown, and the Brigadier away in Geneva, it’s left to Jo Grant and a little man she doesn’t fully trust to solve the mystery behind the secret base on Delphin Isle. It’s obvious from very early on that something not altogether human is running the show on the island, especially when Jo and the Doctor make a midnight trip down to the docks to spy out the fishing fleet after sampling some of the worst pub food ever served up. There’s an urgency behind Captain Cornelius and Commander Wingford too, one that is never fully exploited as much as it could have been. The Defectors could feel more like a race against time, but instead we cut between Jo and the Doctor and the tension isn’t as developed as I would have wanted it to be.
It’s a very talky play, too. Yes, yes, I know this is audio, and you can’t do anything but talk, but the last episode, once the full reveal of the backstory to the alien invasion has been done, is hamstrung by being little more than a long argument about whether the aliens should be doing this or not. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is surprisingly withdrawn from this, always assessing the situation, internalising, while Jo Grant (and,eventually, Mike Yates too) brings the noise. There are some good lines, some proper Sly-style cryptic touches, but like a lot of the Pertwee-era Who, I just can’t seem to get on with this play, despite wanting to.