“What on Earth’s that?”
“It used to be my transistor radio. But now it’s a cassette recorder, powered by chips.”
British Railway trains are emerging from a Sussex tunnel, with all onboard dead. And moreover: they appear to be strange passengers indeed…
“They did look a bit like hippies…you know, long hair, beards…”
“But there was something wrong with them…apart from the fact that they were all dead, I mean…
If the passengers were hippies, they were very strange ones…all in suits and ties.”
When The Doctor commandeers a train himself to see what lies beyond the mysterious tunnel, he returns frozen in ice…and looking quite old and greybearded.
What is the secret this particular segment of railway holds? And can the Doctor set things straight, before UNIT takes over with a more direct and explosive solution?
“Once the Doctor’s decided to do something, it’s nigh well impossible to stop him.”
While the story itself is more of a fragment than a short story (or even self contained vignette) proper, author Nigel Fairs captures all the loveable and familiar mannerisms of the Jon Pertwee Doctor and his UNIT entourage with an appropriately impressive level of detail.
As ever, Katy Manning throws herself into not only approximations of her younger self, her Doctor and companions, but even investing the narration with a surprising level of excitement and vigor. Only Maureen O’Brien invests quite this much into her reading and performance with regularity, which makes the erstwhile Jo Grant something of a national treasure (so noted with a nudge and a wink I’m sure the lady herself would appreciate).
Though Fairs does certainly capture the conflict between The Doctor (and Jo’s) utopianism and UNIT’s rather blinkered militaristic pragmatism the era was prone to revolve around, the story per se ends without ever truly having started. While things start out well enough, a half hour later we come to a sort of impasse that leaves the tale ending on a huge question mark that hints at possible meanings or intentions more than giving any sense of closure or the sense of having followed a story thread from start to finish.
Sure, you can argue that it’s a bit Close Encounters in many respects. But self-congratulatory Hollywood pundits aside…who ever said that was a good movie?
Check it out for Manning’s lively performance and Fairs’ encapsulation of many of the mannerisms and character details that made the Pertwee era one of, if not the summa cum laude of, Who’s all time greatest.