25 April 2015

BF: The Defectors

Kicking off the trilogy that will take us to Big Finish's two hundredth main range Doctor Who release is Nick Briggs' The Defectors. It's fitting in a way that Briggs should return now for it was his The Sirens of Time that started things off several hundred years ago.

The basic premise for April, May and June's releases is that the main range Doctors (five to seven) have been transposed four lifetimes backwards. This is taken a lot more literally than it may sound. Sylvester McCoy doesn't just land in a Pertwee-esque story, he's dropped right in the midst of the action. This is a Pertwee story in all but Doctor. The change is even noted in the script although disappointingly everyone's forgotten it ever happened by the end (I wasn't over the moon when Briggs used this device in The Light at the End either).

Long term readers will know I'm a big fan of McCoy's Doctor, especially on audio. It's with that in mind that I say I quite enjoyed this story. If you don't like Doctor Who Number Seven, I doubt this will be your cup of tea. And although it was really nice to hear McCoy again, I think it's fair to say the irritating quirks are turned up to eleven in The Defectors. What I found most annoying was the reuse of the phrase 'You called me Doctor!' every bloody time Jo accidentally referred to him by his name after initial doubt. The 'not the one you were expecting' line was also pretty terrible and I sincerely hope it doesn't turn up in either of the next two stories.

The plot's engaging enough but boils down to what is stereotypical Pertwee: isolated island, dodgy officials, vanishing locals, pubs, UNIT, a helicopter, Mike Yates, revolting aliens... The list goes on. This is quite deliberate though, as it may be the closest we ever come to a new, full-cast Third Doctor story. To be fair to Briggs he does nail all the clich├ęs with impressive accuracy. I especially liked how the aliens from Europa were called... wait for it... Europans.

The structure also mirrors that of the early seventies. There's not really enough material to cover the middle episodes and it all ends in the base being blown up. But that doesn't mean Briggs can't have a little fun along the way. There's a few twists in the tale, but unfortunately most of them come too late in the day. As such the final episode is far too busy, with revelations in every other scene that leave the listener a little disconnected from the whole thing when they were engaged at the top of the episode.

There's some nice character building in this, and the island is instantly visible in my mind's eye at least. The supporting cast are all strong, with David Graham and Barnaby Edwards at the front of the crowd. The Seventh Doctor and Jo spend much of the first disc together and little of the second. What screen time they do share is adequate but you never get that buzz that makes you want to hear more of them as I did with Seven and Hex all those years ago. And so this feels like a bit of a missed opportunity - this can only be done once, and not a lot's done with it to make the event feel 'special'. It's all a bit downbeat.

This does feel like an all round safe release. It never tries anything particularly revolutionary (although I did like the idea that the Europans never wanted to harm us) and so neither do its cast. Sylvester McCoy's on good form but oddly Katy Manning seems to be unable to recapture Jo's youthful persona as accurately as usual. This isn't a script that serves either notably well, with the Doctor taking an age to work everything out. It's kind of insulting to humans that the Europans are worried because he seems too clever when he's barely making any revelatory discoveries - and often a couple of episodes after me. And Jo, we're regularly informed, is capable and proactive but her characterisation doesn't match this, being much more in line with Season 8 than 10, which is when this is apparently set.

All in all then, this is a pretty traditional romp. The Seventh Doctor taking the Third's place isn't given all that much emphasis, but this is most definitely a Pertwee era tale. Being such a male-dominated story is a bit of a shock after the last three stories featured such strong women, but again that's authentic. The sound design is nice (I especially liked the Europans' screams) and the music is very impressive. More of Joe Kramer please. And Tom Webster's cover is of course as beautiful as always. This is an average tale, but still enjoyable. Briggs plays with the mystery but the fact that everyone forgets everything undermines it a little for me. I'm mildly curious to see what purpose displaced Doctors serve and who's doing it but not a lot more at this stage.

In a Nutshell: Enjoyable but forgettable (hoho), The Defectors ends up being little more than pleasant.

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