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“I’ll tell you something else that’s a bit weird…I think our Captain Cornelius was wearing makeup.”

A refreshing series of experiments in cross-companionship kicks off with Nick Briggs’ The Defectors.

“Is it just me, or is this beer…”
“Rancid, rotten and sour. Don’t drink any more, just keep smiling.”
“Let’s hope the food’s better…”

Jo Grant is performing her standard day’s duties at UNIT when an unfamiliar detachment arrives by helicopter.  But the Brigadier, Sgt. Benton and Captain Yates are nowhere to be found, and her dashing Edwardian bon vivant of a Doctor has been replaced by…a little man in a rather tacky knitted pullover?

“Hello, Jo. I’m guessing I’m not quite the Doctor you were expecting…”

With answers not forthcoming, our two new/old compatriots are spirited away to Delphin Isle, a top secret government installation where the focus is on unlocking the secrets of what is presented as a crashed Soviet aircraft.  But why has this operation been carried on for quite so many years?  And what is the secret of the blue skinned staffers, who appear to be dead when off duty?

A fairly straightforward sci-fi mystery, author/director Briggs brings the general zeitgeist of the Pertwee era to audio, despite lacking most of the principal cast and staff who steered that particular ship so many years agone.  Capturing the vaguely Avengers-esque feel and the tug of war between working with and pushing back against the red tape and blinkered views of military operations, Briggs pulls in the expected alien menace and one of the more essential still living actresses of the run while making appropriate allowances to the quite variant take of the Sylvester McCoy Doctor.

So seamless is the transition, in fact, that it feels like McCoy could have been there all along – to be sure, a quieter, more manipulative (and rather less socially concerned!) version than the storied Jon Pertwee (whose dashing man of action and style-conscious aesthete would otherwise seem about a thousand miles away from McCoy’s take thereof), but it’s enough of an unlikely fit to work, and surprisingly well at that.  The little man with a brolly takes on Axos, the Autons and the Daemons?  Hey, it might have gelled, at that…

The effervescent Katy Manning is always a delight to hear, whether as daffy expression of the id Iris Wildthyme (whom I understand may be making a much awaited comeback in the near future…) or as personal longtime crush Jo Grant (I would ask where can I get one of those, if I hadn’t married one!), and this is certainly no exception to the rule.  It’s unquestionable that if she and McCoy didn’t get on (or work styles hadn’t proved quite so complementary), this would never have flown, much less to the admirable extent that it does.  Hats off, as ever.

The older I get, the more I appreciate the particular contributions of each of The Doctors and their companions, and most particularly with respect to the eight Classic versions thereof.  Nonetheless, it’s no secret to Third Eye regulars that “my” Doctor Jon Pertwee has been joined by the estimable Colin Baker, with Sylvester McCoy pulling in as a close third – and these last two unquestionably as a result of their work with Big Finish.

Sure, I’ve gone back (several times, in fact) to their televised runs and reappraised them with new, and generally far warmer eyes.  But that certainly wasn’t thanks to the opinions of fellow Whovians of my acquaintance and era, nor due to mid-90’s rentals of The Two Doctors and Curse of Fenric (neither of which rank among my favorites of their respective runs to this day, it must be said) – it’s wholly attributable to their rather impressive audio work that I’ve come ’round to such a notable degree.  And again, this particular Sylvester McCoy performance is no exception to that rule.  Another tip of the hat to you, sir, with an appropriate Mel-era click of the heels as a flourish.

Richard Franklin even makes an effective cameo towards the end as Captain Mike Yates, which is a nice touch, though it’s a bit brief based on the dictates of the script.

Relative newcomer Joe Kraemer scores this one with the sort of John Williamsesque New Who bombast Briggs seems to gravitate towards, which tends to put this reviewer’s nose a tad out of joint as it comes to greater prominence as we move towards the more action-oriented denouement, but new times, new audiences, I imagine.  It just doesn’t feel very (Classic) Who to these ears.

Overall, this is a rather nice offering, paying appropriate homage to the series’ past while moving forward and serving as kickoff to an ongoing, and quite welcome experiment in bringing some classic companions out of the Companion Chronicles/Lost Stories milieu into the effective “real time” of the main range, pairing them with new Doctors for the first time.

If this is the opening salvo, I’m looking forward to the next few months…