Let’s get this out of the way right off: Jon Pertwee is “my” Doctor.
Despite discovering the man almost by accident in the mid-80s (our Stateside PBS sandwiched a lone airing of The Green Death between the finale of a several-year delayed Tom Baker run and the dawn of a similarly behind the curve Peter Davison one), both I and my surprisingly Whovian/Blakes Seven loving father found ourselves entranced by the bristly, scientific, unusually action-oriented Pertwee Doctor, his cute and loveable companion Jo Grant, and the stuffy but good humored UNIT crew of Brig, Benton and Yates – in my own case, moreso than even the long running (and so far as we knew at the time, “only” or “real”) Doctor of Tom Baker. Suffice to say, the ensuing Davison “full Tardis” paled miserably by comparison.*
* yes, with ensuing decades and a Big Finish-induced re-evaluation of that run, I came to love those actors and episodes as well, but like the then-wholly unfamiliar (yet concurrently airing on homeland shores) Colin Baker run and the later Sylvester McCoy run, these went ignored, unseen or in Davison’s case, a surprising disappointment after all the Baker and Pertwee exposure. Let’s be realistic, I wasn’t exactly of advanced age at the time!
Eventually, we were able to catch intermittent airings of further Pertwee episodes (if memory serves, on another area PBS network), and when my wife and I began revisiting the series through VHS during its long hiatus in the 1990’s, aside from a few Hinchcliffe-era classics, it was Pertwee’s run we gravitated to first.
And that cemented matters. Without any doubt, and a later strong appreciation of Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy (and those initially through and due to their Big Finish work), Jon Pertwee is “my” Doctor. Period.*
* Hell, we even followed the man to his subsequent run as host of Whodunit?, making us fans of “Bloodhound” Patrick Mower and the lovely Anouska Hempel (also of the wonderful Zodiac – how about licensing that for an audio run, hmm?) in the process!
So with background out of the way, let’s forward up to the present day, and more particularly the stories at hand.
“A group of ruthless, homicidal war criminals running amok on this little planet of yours? No, that’s not good at all.”
First up, Justin Richards brings us to Dunstanton Lake, “one of the largest inland bodies of water in Britain”, where the Archaeotech Dive Control Center and senior archaeologist Freda Mattingly (Caroline Seymour) are investigating a prehistoric structure half buried in the silt at lake bottom…
While Richards manages to capture several basic touchpoints by which the casual observer might identify the era*, there are touches that feel more oriented towards the prior Troughton era – perhaps Fury From the Deep, or one of the several Cybermen episodes of his reign: The Invasion, the Moonbase or Tomb of the Cybermen. Hell, one episode of Prisoners of the Lake even ends with a Troughtonian “when I say run…!”
* Aided and abetted by savvy sound designers Peter Doggart & Russell McGee, who co-opt some cues that feel as if they were ripped directly from a Barry Letts-era adventure. Hats off to you for sheer authenticity, gents.
Despite the involvement of Yates and UNIT’s scientific advisor and his assigned assistant, it’s not as militarily oriented as the earthbound (and generally superior) Pertwee seasons tended to be, and while always at the center of the action, Richards’ take on his Doctor often comes off as a bit more incidental, less authoritatively center stage than Pertwee’s inevitably was.
It’s as if he’s there right up front, but the spotlight never truly shines his way for any appreciable length of time. I’m sure it’s a matter attributable mainly to the late lamented man himself and his sheer force of personality, but as decent as the script is overall, variances of tone such as this are quite noticeable.
Even so, it’s an admirable effort, that taken all in sum could have been a modern rebuild of some “lost story” of the Pertwee/Letts run. Some of the impersonations (in both soundtrack and in lead actor – more on that later) are dead on, and there’s enough of that telltale Avengersish feel to leave the Pertwee/Manning/UNIT era fan feeling fairly chuffed.
“Well done, Jo! I see a grammar school education really does prepare you for other worlds!”
Next, Andy Lane tells of the Havoc of Empires, which hails from the period where the Timelords rescinded The Doctor’s exile on Earth, allowing him to travel into space for such middling efforts as Colony and Frontier in Space and the two Peladon serials (which if you append The Time Monster comprise the least of all Pertwee-era adventures by far). While it wasn’t a deal breaker (as Planet of the Daleks was entertaining enough), as a fairly unshakeable rule of thumb, the Pertwee Doctor and outer space just did not mix.
And as you may have rightly guessed, a very Peladonesque intrigue is exactly what Lane is aiming his sights on.
That duly noted, we have a similar cross-timeline bit where Yates wants to go to a famous cricket match (and later uses his skills at bowling to take out a futuristic security guard – how Peter Davison of him), more of Jo than we got in the Richards story (where she was all but absent from the proceedings), and a more typically Doctor/companion trio paradigm. Being in space, there’s nowhere for them to go, really – and as such, there’s far more of the usual interplay and banter going on, rather than everyone going off their separate ways to investigate some aspect or other of the affair.
There’s a touch of Carnival of Monsters’ Drashigs in the Ato Eels, a subplot involving a likeable sentient A.I. (shades of Mass Effect!)* and a bit of politicosocial commentary in the marriage (and war) as business relations between the Chalnoth and Teklarn Corporation, but the bottom line here is that it’s Peladon all over again.
* a role impeccably essayed by Helen Goldwyn.
On the plus side, like the Curse of Peladon, at core we’re talking about a murder mystery: one in which our heroes are assuming roles of importance they don’t actually merit and therefore find themselves on the wrong side of accusation, unable to explain their way out. And love springs in the oddest of places and situations…*
* A tip of the hat to Hywel Morgan (Regent Tharlar) and Lucy Briggs-Owen (Director Tina Andresson) as the arranged marriage who discover actual feelings for one another, once they get to know each other…
The bottom line is, despite being a space-set Pertwee affair riffing liberally off of the Peladon episodes (Curse in particular), Havoc of Empires is both likeably warm hearted and entertaining, in spite of all of the backstabbing and political maneuvering going down. While the performances are effective and often nuanced, the success of this serial lies squarely on the shoulders of a surprisingly warm hearted script. Another tip of the hat in your direction, Mr. Lane.
While his narrator voice just sounds oversmoked (if not rather Frazer Hines-ish), Tim Treloar pulls off a surprisingly near-Pertwee as The Doctor. Even coming from a longtime Third Doctor fan like myself, it’s often uncanny as an impersonation. At a remove of time or to those less familiar with the man whose shoes he’s filling, one could be forgiven for thinking Pertwee himself was tapped for these – high praise, indeed.
Surviving Companions Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) are on hand, lending an additional measure of verisimillitude to the proceedings. While Manning has slowly become more associated with her Iris Wildthyme than Jo Grant over the years (and rightfully so!), this project simply would not have worked without her inclusion – fellow veteran of the era Franklin joining in on the fun is icing on the cake.
While both stories have their issues (or at least concerns given comparison to the rather lofty standards of the man and era of Who they are meant to evoke), in the end, all is well, things come off uncommonly authentic (particularly given the absence of three of the run’s most prominent lead players!) and I can, in good conscience, give the Third Doctor Adventures an unabashed recommendation to fellow Letts-era Whovians.