THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Big Finish Productions
Three's a Crowd

Written by Colin Brake Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005
Continuity Between Planet of Fire and
The Caves of Androzani

Starring Peter Davison, Nicola Bryant, Caroline Morris and Deborah Watling

Synopsis: On an almost lifeless planet in a remote star system, Earth Colony Phoenix is struggling to survive. The colonists, utterly dependent on transmat technology and unable to leave the security of their Habitat Domes, have developed severe agoraphobia... not to mention an inability to deal with visitors...


Reviews

Two's company... by Joe Ford 10/8/05

I'm starting to give up all hope...

After the slow and talky Juggernauts, the tedious Dreamtime and the underdeveloped and quiet Catch-1782, Big Finish needed to remind me of how good they can be, especially in the wake of the new series. Three's a Crowd isn't that reminder, it further enhances how stuck in a rut the company is. This is a potentially fascinating tale which is squandered on a traditional Doctor Who plot, one we have seen a hundred times before.

It isn't completely without merit but they are so few and far between it is barely worth mentioning them. Certainly Peri and Erimem are coming on as an engaging pair and continuing their story from Roof of the World provides this tale with its best moments. Early scenes feature the pair discussing the hazards and responsibilities of time travel with Peri attempting to heal Erimem's wounds from their last story. I like this sisterly affection Peri has for her friend, it allows us to see a new side to a companion who more used to moaning her way through adventures. Erimem's bitterness towards the Doctor feels uncomfortably like Tegan is back but never fear, she is back to her old jubilant self by the end of the story. I'm not certain I buy her sudden turnaround though, at the beginning of the story she wants to leave and simply seeing the TARDIS dematerialise without her makes her suddenly change her mind. Seems a bit abrupt. And all this leaving/staying tension was dealt with far more maturely with Evelyn/the sixth Doctor in Arrangements of War. On the plus side though the last scene is bright and optimistic and leaves me hungry for adventures with this jolly trio. And I am pleased that they bothered to heal the problems from Roof of the World rather than ignoring them.

Colin Brake is not a name I get especially optimistic about because of his two novels for BBC books. They weren't very good to be honest and marred the reputation of a man whose work I enjoyed greatly when he was writing scripts for BUGS. His two novels were hugely traditional Doctor Who dealing with alien incursion on present day Earth and failing colonies in the future and Three's a Crowd confirms the Baxendalian nature of his work. The central idea behind this story is smashing and could have been turned into a ripe psychological drama but instead we are forced to lumber our way through the usual old tripe, aliens attempting to wipe out a human colony, an inexplicably naive leader condemning the colony to certain death and lots of running around corridors. How they managed to achieve this on audio is astonishing and I think Brake has been watching far too many televised stories before he wrote his script as this would fit in perfectly during the mid-eighties on screen.

Big Finish have already proven what a diverse medium audio can be (playing about with narrative, dialogue, framing in the past) so it baffles me as to why they seem to have given up the ghost lately and stopped exploiting their medium. The only story this year to explore the riches of audio is Dreamtime, which spends its time going into more depth and investigating its ideas more than your average Doctor Who story would on telly but considering the script was as dull as plumbing, that can hardly be considered a sparkling success.

Listen... this colony is slowly being transported home and its number has whittled down to thirteen. Its inhabitants are trained up and kept in isolation until it is their time be zapped back to the Federation. They have become claustrophobic and frightened of company; even being in the presence of two other people is enough to send some people into shock. Doesn't that sound like a brilliant idea to explore? After the slow-paced, character-led first episode I felt sure I would be treated to a gripping drama that handled the idea of isolation and its effects well. I was wrong, aside from a few scenes of Bellip hyperventilating when Peri pays her a visit, they all get over the initial shock of being around people quite easily. Brake could have upped the tension by killing off more and more colonists and fool the listener into believing it was really on the edge of extinction. I could forsee uncomfortable scenes of colonists killing themselves rather than being forced to spend time around people. I wanted the Big Brother-ish Auntie who is watching over them to be behind some horrific scheme to exploit these people somehow. It would have been fun too to see the Doctor, Peri and Erimem having to deal with an adventure where they cannot be around the people they are trying to save. None of these things happened.

What we get instead is a bunch of lizard-hatching eggs and tricking the Auntie into teleporting the colonists over to them so they can gobble them up under the pretence that they are sending them home. What??? How gullible is this woman? Did she not figure out what was happening when there was no contact with anybody who had been transported away? Why didn't she ask to get anyone back to find out what was going on at the Federation or so she could get a relief team sent out to help them? And if, as she says at the climax, they have effectively terraformed the planet, why doesn't she stop sending people home and give them the choice to start afresh on a new colony where they are? Auntie is one of the most stupid characters ever to appear in a Doctor Who story. She deserved death at the climax. And her sudden realisation that she has been tricked is followed up by some truly horrid "I'll have my revenge!" moments that had me cringing away.

None of the characters really come alive and stick to their basic parameters. One of the colonists is agrophobic, one is a conspiracy hunter and the other is in love. That's about all we find out because they are far too busy wandering corridors and hopping back and forth on teleporters. There should be real tension between these people, terrified of company, offended by the Doctor and co and lashing out at anybody who tries to change their way of life. But they all stick to their two-dimensional roles, the agrophobic leaves her room and explores the outside world, the lover gets his girl and the conspiracy hunter discovers his conspiracy. None of this is especially surprising or rewarding. It would have been braver if some problems weren't fixed.

The Doctor doesn't really seem too arsed with what's going on here either, with Peter Davison going through the motions. The first time I felt any real tension was when Auntie ordered him dead and he had to explain away how naive she had been. He acted as though he had seen the aliens tricking colonists plot before, which of course, he has. Davison's brightest moments deal with his concern for Erimem and the story could perhaps have dealt with this a little more.

I did quite like Butler who was something of a cut-price K9, literal interpretations and all. He provided the story with brief moments of humour which it otherwise sorely lacked. Although he did sound a hell of a lot like Joseph from Bernice's adventures. Actually now I come to think of it did anybody else notice the Blake's Seven teleportation sound effect? What was that all about?

Typically bland Gary Russell direction and a sinister score from David Darlington leads to another uninspiring Doctor Who release from Big Finish.

Time for some fresh blood.


A Review by Richard Radcliffe 17/9/05

I have felt a bit guilty lately, which is rather silly. The Big Finish audios have been number one DW for many years now - with their general excellence surpassing much that bears the label. The wonder of the new series has meant a slight relegation. It has been as much as two weeks after release that I have gotten round to listening to them. There's so much Who around. I'm not getting into what is more relevant Who, and what isn't - but the TV series just has to come first, hasn't it?

And so two weeks, again, after release, I listened to Three's A Crowd. Rather appropriate title that one. The audio saw the return of Colin Brake, who had written a couple of novels before - one introducing one of my favourite book companions, Anji. I was more open-minded than usual about this one, not really knowing a great deal prior at all.

It starts out very gently. The recognizable voice of Deborah Watling as Auntie is welcome. Better though are the subdued TARDIS scenes with the Doctor, Peri and Erimem. This TARDIS team have been together quite a while now, and have been a success of the audio range. Erimem is a lovely character, and she's had the added bonus of strengthening the existing character of Peri. Amazing how BF have inserted a whole new chapter in DW in a space where there seemed none - and it's brilliant.

I usually enjoy these little reflective excerpts - and I was grateful time out from the story was taken to make the characters more real. The discussion between the Doctor and Peri was pleasant. Peri and Erimem's chat in the countryside room was also delightful. But the story had to come eventually - and it's rather an odd beast with its colony world, space station watchtower, socials and robotic butlers. There's a nicely traditional "TARDIS crew wandering round a space station" opening, but there's also a strong Logan's Run inspiration going on as well.

No one in their right mind comes to the colony apparently, a dead end system. It hardly sounds the most interesting environment, but yet I can only recall the excellently eerie Embrace The Darkness for a similarly claustrophobic story. The full range of subtle interior sound effects are employed, with suspiciously Blake's Seven-like transporters invading their fatherly show - a bit out of place, but nice to hear. It's all designed to be as closed-in as possible. The setup is remarkably basic, yet horrific in its simplicity. Subtly scary.

The final two episodes are all about the Doctor and companions sorting out the mess the colony is in. There's a reassuring reality to it too, with the few colonists we meet reacting badly to external forces - that's exactly as it should be. The Doctor and companions also split up, and are faced with differing challenges. This keeps the story moving along at a frenetic pace - and helps distinguish the supporting players - who could have been rather similar.

The main guest star must be Deborah Watling as Auntie. It's a complex part, where you aren't quite sure whether she's good or bad, or just misguided. She does the part well though. In fact all the actors/actresses involved here are pretty good. It's difficult to portray somebody as weak, without becoming a bit pathetic yourself - and the colonist actors just stay the right side of likeability.

Three's A Crowd is rather good. It features a refreshingly simple setting, a straightforward story, with underpinnings of psychological terror. With all the hoo-haw of the TV series in 2005, it's reassuring to note that Big Finish continue producing excellent drama, on a regular basis too - enriching the past of Doctor Who, and telling rattling good yarns. In the DW universe there are so many different ways of telling a tale, and so much to enjoy from all different kinds of angles, visual or otherwise. If the TV series can continue producing Who as interesting and diverse as its Big Finish counterpart - then the future of DW is extremely rosy. 8/10


A Review by Ron Mallett 4/5/07

Three's a Crowd, by Colin Brake, is yet another adventure featuring the 5th Doctor, Peri and their specially created companion, the female Pharaoh, Erimem (as portrayed by Caroline Morris). Although many purists would scoff at the suggestion that the 5th Doc and Peri spent more than a few days together, the Big Finish series has given Peter Davison's Doctor a second lease of life on two major fronts (the other in the middle region as opposed to the end, expanding his "Teganless" time with Sarah Sutton's Nyssa). While the 6th and 7th Doctor's eras lend themselves easily to new companions, with the always accompanied 5th Doctor, this matter seems a little convoluted (when exactly is Omega supposed to have occurred?). I prefer to think of it as an alternative reality. It is a shame that Peter and Nicola Bryant did not have at least another four part adventure together. I think Season 21 would have been bolstered by finishing on the high note of The Caves of Androzani and Colin Baker's era would have no doubt been ironically boosted by holding off his debut until the season 22 opener, Attack of the Cybermen - which would then perhaps, not have come across as so self-indulgent. I fear nothing would have been missed by the loss of The Twin Dilemma and its replacement by an extra 5th Doctor and Peri adventure. Perhaps Hex by Peter Ling?

Anyway back to Three's a Crowd. Although the first part is a little slow, the story soon gathers pace and it is a traditional Doctor Who thriller with all the necessary ingredients: ventilation shafts, a derelict space station, a lost human colony and some truly nasty villians. One of the nicest aspects of the tale is its handling of the phobias which would probably be inherent in humans who had been forced to live alone in rooms by themselves all their lives.

The production is boosted by the guest appearance of Deborah Watling, who portrayed companion, Victoria Waterfield, during the era of the second Doctor. Like many others her voice has deepened with age and I admit I could not pick it out until I checked it out on the sleeve, although there was something very familiar about it. Watling puts in a convincing performance in a part that could have easily come across as too cliched and too quickly repentant. Caroline Morris continues to shine as Erimem.