Review by Jacob Licklider
2022 is a year of change for Big Finish. We are already a month into the year and the switch to box sets has meant that there is a new format for every range, with a majority of the previous box sets decreasing to three CDs instead of four. To bring the Third Doctor into the new box set era, Nicholas Briggs pens and directs ‘The Annihilators’, Big Finish’s first seven-part story and Briggs’ tribute to Season 7. This is how it was initially announced complete with dummy cover, until it was revealed that Michael Troughton, son of Patrick Troughton, would appear as the Second Doctor with Frazer Hines reprising his role as Jamie McCrimmon. This, while understandable as to why it is integrated into the story, does mean that the second half of the story where Briggs admirably pulls off a story style switch which makes it feel like a completely different story instead of just a different direction. Jamie and the Doctor end up on a mission although it’s not quite clear if it’s for the Time Lords, but considering how Doctor Who expanded universe material likes to make it for the Time Lords that’s probably what’s being done here. There wasn’t an intention to cross the timelines, and it is explicit that the Third Doctor has had his memories altered in some way, and the story ends in a way that we are dealing with timelines in flux, but the sheer different nature makes this more akin to The Daleks where the second half could be a completely different story.
Briggs should be praised for not making the Second Doctor and Jamie overshadow Tim Treloar, Daisy Ashford, and Jon Culshaw who are really the leaders in the story. Certainly Troughton and Hines are wonderful here, Troughton giving a performance as the Doctor that some may automatically discount as it doesn’t follow other impressionists like Hines or Chris Walker-Thompson, but is more akin to Michael Troughton’s interpretation of the character. For a character like the Second Doctor who is notorious for writers to characterise due to the humour and physicality of Patrick Troughton that can only be captured by actors like Hines who worked with him for so long it means that Michael Troughton while doing an impression is more trying to match the energy and does it admirably. It also helps that there is an implication of both the Second Doctor and Jamie being much older so both Troughton and Hines are playing their characters as older. The script also makes the decision to introduce Jamie first so Frazer Hines can shine and Jamie can cross paths with Liz Shaw for an interesting dynamic. Jamie here is written as having grown and become more intelligent in the ways of the world and technology since his time in the TARDIS, being older and wiser. It could have been an easy way out for Briggs to make the Jamie/Liz dynamic a repeat of the Jamie/Zoe dynamic, but Liz’s character shines through the characters working together and immediately share resources. There’s much less of a feeling of it being a comedy duo then Jamie/Zoe as a pair.
Tim Treloar and Daisy Ashford as the Third Doctor and Liz Shaw are also the ones carrying the plot forward while the Second Doctor and Jamie are mainly there as a tease for Beyond War Games. The story opens at UNIT HQ at 3:00am with the Doctor annoying Liz with time experiments in getting the TARDIS console back into the TARDIS itself before being called out to investigate a death. The first half of the story plays out like a crime drama with science fiction elements blending it into the Doctor Who universe. Jon Culshaw as the Brigadier is essentially police chief, with the Doctor and Liz attempting to understand the green glob creatures and what’s happened to the person whose turned up dead. Treloar, Ashford, and Culshaw are all delightful in their roles and work out to make the script work, especially with Briggs using a pace that is intentionally weird. The intention is to make it choppy to make certain twists in the story work, the appearance of the Second Doctor and Jamie not even being presented as a twist as they just appear in the middle of an episode, but the team dynamic of the Doctor, Liz, and the Brigadier is the listener’s anchor point to the weird goings on. It’s a reflection on the Doctor’s exile while putting him in a situation that makes the longing for time travel come to the forefront while there are points where Liz feels out of her depth as she never had to deal with time travel. Finally, Mark Elstob juggles several characters excellently due to the seven episode length meaning that several supporting characters must be introduced while Daon Broni and Sam Stafford flesh out the rest of the UNIT troops, following the Season 7 tradition of being unique to this story.
Briggs eventually brings out a political message which is very fitting for the era, however, it is almost too much of a retread of other stories, especially those by Malcolm Hulke, which is perhaps the biggest thing to bring The Annihilators down. As it stands, it’s a love letter to Season 7 and a great example of why longer Doctor Who stories are some of the best as they have enough time to flesh out the plot and characters with a stellar cast and Nicholas Briggs once again taking control to make it a labor of love to the era. 9/10.
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