Over the course of his era, Jon Pertwee spent much of his time with UNIT. UNIT was led by Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Gordon Stewart. And like all the great companions, The Brigadier holds a special place in the Doctor Who universe and fan’s hearts.
It’s brilliant then, that over the course of the show, since 1968, the Brigadier has met every single classic incarnation of the Doctor as well as reuniting with Sarah Jane Smith and nearly meeting the Tenth Doctor in The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith, but due to poor health, Nicolas Courtney couldn’t appear. It’s great then that The Spectre of Lanyon Moor would be the first many great appearances for the Brigadier in Big Finish. And Winter for the Adept gives us another good Fifth Doctor and Nyssa story as well as introducing us to India Fisher who would go on to not only narrate Masterchef but also voice one of the most popular Big Finish companions, Charley Pollard.
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor
Written by: Nicholas Pegg
In many ways, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor is something of a missed opportunity. Once you’ve finished listening to this, you’ll wonder why Big Finish never did at least one series of adventures with the Sixth Doctor, Evelyn Smythe and The Brigadier.
For a such a great audio adventure, it’s surprising it gets off to something of a rocky start with a rather oddly voiced monster threatening to ruin things before they’ve even begun. Thankfully, even that gets more bearable as the audio goes on. Largely down to the shining performances from the main cast of Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Nicolas Courtney.
The story concerns a recently uncovered Fogou and an archaeological dig which has uncovered a few ghosts and monsters that are now seemingly lurking around the countryside. Of course, the Doctor has some suspicions of what is actually going and suspects something more alien than just your traditional ghosts.
The moment the Doctor steps out of the TARDIS, you’ll notice the Doctor has a strange voice. This is because Colin Baker had a bad cold at the time of recording and so couldn’t do much with his voice, so the cold was written into the script with a couple of quips from Evelyn. What’s also interesting is that this is only the second story for Evelyn and yet Maggie Stables feels so comfortable in the role, that you’d think she’d been around for a lot longer. And listening to Stables and Baker spar off one another, it isn’t hard to understand why she is the popular companion she is.
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor plays out like many of the most popular 70s stories, a quiet and strange village, duplicitous locals and Pegg makes sure to give us some nostalgic nods to stories like The Daemons, The Stones of Blood and Battlefield. Where Pegg struggles is the handling of so many of the characters and a couple of the plots. Evelyn gets to explore the B-plot, which puts her in danger, though it is great to have a character using an accessory like a handbag to their advantage, this allows her to rescue herself rather than waiting for the Doctor to come and get her. Just because she is an older lady, doesn’t mean she is a damsel in distress, I really liked that.
Nicolas Courtney hasn’t lost any of his charms since his last appearance in 1989’s Battlefield. The version of the Brigadier here feels much less shoehorned in this story than he did Mawdryn Undead, and the reason for his being there slowly becomes clear as the story progresses. Courtney’s love for the character is evident in every scene he is in and it’s a shame that we never got a proper boxset with him involved. Had Courtney been a little younger and still with us we’d probably get just that these days, however, it does prove a nice a little what-if? question.
As only the third Sixth Doctor audio, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor continues his development nicely. I think his pairing with Evelyn went a long way in Big Finish’s development and re-design of the character, and the fact that Colin Baker got a lot of input in how he was going to perform the role really helps as well. With a few flaws, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor isn’t the really-stone-cold-classic that some fans hold it in, but it’s a cracking adventure nonetheless. As a love letter to the 70s Doctor Who its really excellent though I can’t help thinking had it not been handled by the fantastic performances of Colin Baker, Maggie Stables and Nicholas Courtney, it might not have been held in such high regard.
Winter for the Adept
Written By: Andrew Cartmell
Winter for the Adept always has me conflicted. I really enjoy the gothic atmosphere, the locked haunted house mystery and the isolated location, all of which add up to make a terrific soundscape and feeling of total isolation. On the other hand, I don’t particularly enjoy many of the characters, some of the acting is questionable, in particular from Peter Jurasik who doesn’t seem comfortable with the audio format at all and the story seems to take forever to reach its conclusion. As one of the earliest Big Finish’s I listened too, I do wonder sometimes why I enjoyed it so much in my younger years. I think its largely down to the performances from Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton as the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, though this might have been a story better suited to any other Doctor and companion duo.
It’s strange that a story from Andrew Cartmell, the script-editor from the late 1980s who put his own stamp on the show in such a spectacular way would write a story that seems to be completely off. I’ve never been sure if the tonal problem is something wrong with the script or something that is intentional, though I suspect the former.
Setting aside his master-plan, Cartmell instead seems to focus much of the story on the development of Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa. Gone is the slightly prim and proper character from the television series and he allows her to be much snarkier, snappy with her dialogue. Sutton seems to enjoy this too, though there are moments when she feels like she has been given lines better suited for Tegan than Nyssa. But as a beginning of development for her character, this is a nice start, even if Sutton does get better stories as the range continued.
Also worth noting is that is the debut performance from India Fisher as a character called Peril, who works as a prototype Charley Pollard. Fisher is good in the role, even if it takes her a little while to get used to the audio-format, Masterchef this isn’t, not even is it Pollard-level good, but it’s a passable performance and Cartmell makes great use of her character.
Apart from setting the audio-scape, the feeling of isolation and his handling of the Doctor, who feels perfectly in character and Nyssa, Cartmell does fall into the traps of the audio format and some of the pitfalls of the classic era of Doctor Who. We’ve got cliff-hanger screams, strange pseudoscience, poor acting, mainly from Jurasik and a strange monster that doesn’t really work.
I think for me, at the end of the day, as much as I used to like this story, it really doesn’t work. At the time, when I hadn’t much else from the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, I don’t think there was much for me to compare it too, but there was so much better to come.
Next Time: The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn head to Gallifrey to confront the Daleks in The Apocalypse Element and The Seventh Doctor and Mel go back in time to the Romans and one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, the eruption of Vesuvius, in The Fires of Vulcan…