Doctor Who: Short Trips Monthly – Release # 3
Written by: Nigel Fairs
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Performed by: Katy Manning
Duration: 32 mins approx
Chronology Placement: Set after “Planet of the Daleks” and before “The Green Death”
Synopsis: Reports are coming in to UNIT of trains emerging from a railway tunnel in Sussex, their passengers and drivers dead. The Doctor elects to drive a train through the tunnel himself, but when he emerges Jo sees to her horror that he is covered in ice. Something in the tunnel has driven him close to the point of death. What can it be?
Set towards the end of the Third Doctor and Jo Grant’s time together, “Time Tunnel” is an exceptionally authentic take on 1970’s Doctor Who despite being written decades after the fact. The opening sequence is an extremely evocative glimpse into the Doctor’s daily routine as UNIT’s chief adviser, confusing his young assistant and confounding the Brigadier in equal measure. Writer Nigel Fairs recreates the atmosphere of the era perfectly, and as I listened to this prologue to the actual adventure, I could easily visualise the actors in their roles performing the script in the familiar setting of the Doctor’s UNIT lab. Hitting each note with impeccable skill, Fairs’ script not only captures the essence of the actors’ performances but also the voices of the characters.
Talking of character voices, Katy Manning acts as the narrator of this tale and delivers an outrageously great performance, managing to conjure up voices for the Brigadier and the Third Doctor that sound surprisingly close to the real thing. Manning steps effortlessly back into Jo Grant’s footsteps and is able to distinguish between the youthful naivety of the character and her own narrator voice. She also manages to provide voices for Mike Yates and Sergeant Benton, albeit with lesser success, but this doesn’t detract from a chameleonic talent for voices that I didn’t expect from the actress. Much like Frazer Hines’ work on “Little Doctors”, Manning’s versatility makes this Short Trip adventure seem less of an audiobook and closer to an audio drama.
Accompanying Fairs’ innate grasp of the Third Doctor’s era is a plot that taps into recurrent themes of the UNIT years, namely the militaristic nature of the organisation and its tendency to solve alien threats with short-sighted violence – a trait that seems to be less prevalent in the modern incarnation of the organisation. Not just content on exploring the relationship between the Doctor and Jo, Fairs also showcases Mike Yates and Benton too, adding to the subtle characterisation that the two supporting characters received in the series proper. This attention to detail further leverages that overwhelming sense of nostalgia that will no doubt have fans of the UNIT years smiling as they listen.
Whilst the story attempts to create a sense of mystery around the corpses found on the train, the title “Time Tunnel” undercuts any drama there and effectively sums up the problem to the listener before they even reach the railway. Perhaps a less direct title would have maintained an air of mystery? That said, Fairs’ script is so engaging that it doesn’t matter if the “how” and “why” are easily guessable as it is the journey that is most enjoyable. The ending of the story was clearly influenced by “The Silurians”, and while it was a nice echo of those events, it resulted in a rather rushed conclusion to the story and left some unanswered questions that seemed to irritate the Doctor as much as they did me. Unfortunately, this was a Short Trip that could have done with a few more laps around the block before reaching its final destination!
Overall, “Time Tunnel” is an extremely enjoyable addition to the Short Trips roster, offering a bite-sized morsel of Doctor Who seasoned with plenty of Third Doctor nostalgia. Katy Manning wowed me with her versatility as a narrator, and as a result of this adventure, I can’t wait to listen to more of her Short Trips work!
Score – ★★★★ ½
Doctor Who: Time Tunnel is available direct from Big Finish as a digital download.