Broadening out the idea of the Companion Chronicles, rather than featuring a lone narrator and single extra performed character, this first volume of the Second Doctor Adventures find a middle ground somewhere between narrated storytelling and full-cast audio play. It’s a mostly very successful mix, with the four authors generally invoking narration only when necessary or if they have some point to make – and there are plenty that are made. It is, and for a number of reasons, a set of stories that deviates by quite some distance from the era in which it is set, and listeners expecting simple stories of besieged bases and mono-functional aliens are in for quite a surprise.
The initial revelation is that these Second Doctor Adventures aren’t really about Patrick Troughton’s Doctor at all. He’s certainly there – beautifully impersonated by Hines such that there are genuinely moments when you forget that Troughton isn’t with us performing the role himself – but occasionally in the background, and quite deliberately sidelined almost altogether for large parts of the final story. Because what we have here is a set of tales plotting out the evolution of Hines’ Highlander, beginning with The Mouthless Dead (a pretty decent rail-side ghost story) in which Jamie’s comprehension of the universe around him is at its most guileless. The Story of Extinction is next (a surprisingly effective sibling to Wells’ The Time Machine), and deals with the broadening of Jamie’s learning, followed by The Integral (perhaps the weakest of the four instalments, albeit precisely because it’s the most true to its 1960s influences and least harmonious with the overall arc) and finally The Edge, in which Jamie completely comes into his own, not just as the focus of the story but the architect of its resolution too. This focus on Jamie is by turns the absolute success of the set as a whole, far more so than its evocation of five decades old television, but conversely also what draws attention to those aspects that feel the least congruous. Hines makes up for any shortfalls elsewhere though; confident, pertinent and engaging, his bullish delivery is subtle enough to suit modern audiences while nevertheless being entirely reminiscent of a long bygone period of the series.
The three girls aren’t entirely forgotten, though, each of them co-narrating one of the first three discs, with Deborah Watling’s Victoria given easily the strongest part. The last few minutes of The Story of Extinction are affecting in a way that only the very end of Troughton’s tenure on the series had been previously, entirely due to the way its author Atkins uses narrative techniques that 1960s Doctor Who seldom approached. This is true of the tenor of the set as a whole, its plots more reminiscent of old annual stories than their television equivalent, and by setting itself apart in this way, The Second Doctor Adventures are actually a much more fulfilling listen than they might otherwise have been.
THE SECOND DOCTOR ADVENTURES VOLUME ONE / AUTHOR: JOHN PRITCHARD, IAN ATKINS, DAVID BARTLETT, ROB NISBET / DIRECTOR: LISA BOWERMAN / STARRING: FRAZER HINES, ANNEKE WILLS, DEBORAH WATLING, WENDY PADBURY, ELLIOT CHAPMAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW