Review: Doctor Who Early Adventures – The Night Witches

 Review by Kenton Hall

The Early Adventures which are, in many ways, the natural evolution of the Companion Chronicles, have been a fascinating mix of the narrated style of those stories and the full-cast plays of the Main Range. Both allow audiences to revisit the eras of Doctors (and, at times, Companions) who are no longer with us.

There are times, of course, that the absence of William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee in the studio, by comparison to later Doctors, makes their eras seem all the more distant. And there continues to be a tendency amongst these stories to hue to replicating the feel of those eras, rather than expanding them, with notable exceptions. This is no bad thing, in many things, and the joy of writing for those eras often seems to fire the imaginations of the writers in different ways.

One change, however, and this has continued over from the Companion Chronicles, is, as would seem self-evident, the Doctor’s friends get far more of a look-in on the meat of the story than they perhaps did in some of the actual stories of the time. This is particularly true of the female companions, and by extension the performers bringing them to life. This story is no exception to that, giving Anneke Wills, as Polly, a healthy and interesting role to play in proceedings. And she seizes the opportunity with both hands. Frazer Hines as Jamie (and the Second Doctor) is as engaging as usual, and Elliot Chapman’s Ben feels utterly natural alongside the original cast.

The other interesting thing is that The Night Witches is what fans like to call a “pure historical”, a rare thing in later Doctor Who and much more of a staple of the Hartnell era; still fulfilling some of its original remit to educate younger viewers about history. Adding to the feeling of progress, in terms of representation, the Night Witches puts the TARDIS crew into an adventure with the eponymous female military aviators of the Soviet Air Forces during World War II.

It’s an atmospheric, at times claustrophobic, and fascinating story that manages to feel like both Classic Doctor Who and a step forward in terms of the history into which our TARDIS team is thrust. In the end, though, it’s Polly’s tale and she is given ample opportunity to remind us how strong a character our “Duchess” can be, in the right hands. Highly recommended.

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