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After four stories across two sets, Big Finish's The Third Doctor Adventures audios can be said to have firmly arrived. Tim Trealor has settled in as the new voice of the Third Doctor on audio and the company has proven just as adept at recreating this era as they have others. So this third set would seem to be setting up two more fantastic tales, especially with a Dalek story. But does it?
The Conquest Of Far, which opens this set, is the aforementioned Dalek story. Picking up from the end of the TV story Planet Of The Daleks, the story finds the Third Doctor and Jo Grant on the planet Far which is under Dalek occupation and about to be the target of an Earth Alliance offensive. Nicholas Briggs (who also voices the Daleks) has proven himself adept at writing traditional Who stories, especially where Terry Nation's famous creations are involved and The Conquest Of Far is no exception, right down to its title. Unfortunately, that is precisely its problem. The Third Doctor era on TV is (in)famous for Nation's uber-traditional Dalek stories, effectively reducing them to greatest hits compilations. Briggs does the same thing here and the result is a story that is immensely listenable but not surprising or highly enjoyable. Plot twists are obvious and the listener will likely spend the story waiting for the other shoe to drop through its nearly two-hour length. A story that could have been a chance to do something different with the Third Doctor and the Daleks is instead reduced to a bunch of cliches strung together.
The second story in the set is far more effective. Written by Andrew Smith, Storm Of The Horofax brings the TARDIS team back to 1970s (or is it the 1980s?) Britain as a Royal Navy exercise turns up an alien visitor. One who claims to come in peace but which leads to UNIT and the Doctor being called in to investigate. Of course, things are not what they seem and shenanigans ensue involving time travel and the threat of an alien invasion. If Briggs' script was too traditional for its own good, Smith's script for this story makes up for it in spades. All the traditional trappings are there but there are some neat subversions of the tropes of the era and some neat playing around with others. It's an exciting story that plays around with the possibilities of time travel in a way that's very of the era and yet fresh at the same time. Thankfully it isn't too difficult to follow but it is the definite highlight of this box set.
Beyond the stories themselves, the cast is solid. Tim Trealor continues to excel as the Third Doctor, capturing the spirit and ethos of Jon Pertwee's performance throughout without ever going into an imitation of the late actor. Katy Manning, reprising the role of Jo Grant once more, also continues to excel and though at times she doesn't quite recapture her younger sounding self, she's handing in fantastic performances and in the second story especially. The chemistry between the two of them in undeniable as well, further cementing the recreation of the long-ago era of Who on TV in the early years of the 1970s. Add on some solid supporting casts and it's everything you'd want out of a set like this.
Like with its predecessors, one of the big highlights of volume three is its sound design and music. The score especially from Jamie Robertson, who has proven himself to be one of Big Finish's most talented composers, brilliantly creates a score that is all the more evocative of some of Dudley Simpson's work on the era and more experimental scores from the likes of Malcolm Clarke, for example, and the music suites for each story are a joy for fans. The sound design of David Nagel and Joe Meiners is effective as well, bringing to life the various locations and soundscapes from Dalek control rooms to a Royal Navy frigate. It's the work that the company has rightfully become well known for.
Contrary to the old saying, the third time isn't quite the charm for The Third Doctor Adventures. The opening Dalek story is a little too traditional, a little too predictable for its own good which takes down the volume's overall quality. Yet the strength of the second story, the performances, and the production values all kick the set up a notch after it. So while it might not quite be up to the level of the previous sets, it's still a highly enjoyable piece of work and well worth checking out for fans of this Doctor.