Review by Michael Goleniewski
Poison of the Daleks by Guy Adams –
UNIT has been employed to handle security concerns at a new air filtration center that promises to help rid the planet of atmospheric pollution forever. The Third Doctor, Jo Grant, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, and Sergeant Benton arrive to lend their expertise (and hopefully their endorsement) as necessary despite the Doctor’s personal suspicions and the somewhat rude comments of the leading professor on the project. But something strange is going on behind the scenes hinted at when a strange battered man suddenly appears out of nowhere asking for help before dying right in front of them. It’s not long before the UNIT family discover a dark connection to a whole other planet filled with killer plants, oddly familiar robot men, and occupied by an old foe lurking in the shadows waiting to strike…..
‘Poison of the Daleks’ is a lovely Third Doctor adventure and by far the most interesting new Dalek story we’ve had in a long while. Guy Adam’s script is essentially what would happen if ‘The Green Death’ were combined with ‘Planet of the Daleks’ in audio form with touches of ‘Inferno’ for good measure and the story-telling has a lot of fun in combining tropes from these stories into a neat little package. The plot is really on the nose in that regard especially once the main cast is teleported to the extraterrestrial world itself (what is it with Daleks and jungle worlds…. seriously). While many of the direct events are certainly different enough, you can still guess quickly what’s going to happen if you’ve ever seen any of those Classic TV stories. It makes the narrative tedious especially with initial moments that feel too dialogue-heavy and yet another subtle environmental message hiding in the background.
With all that being said though, this is still an incredibly entertaining adventure at its best. The soundscape, direction, and score once again brilliantly nail the atmosphere of a good early ’70s Who story and the Dalek plot being used to eradicate humanity is an intriguingly vile one even for them. The connection between the environmental plot and the guerrilla conflict is at least tangible if a bit on the circumstantial side and the action has everything from Varga plant attacks to the return of the Gold Dalek Supreme to large-scale battles and everything in between. At times, it does sacrifice a little of one in service to the other and the balance is skewed in favour of replicating ‘Planet’ with the entire UNIT team as opposed to just Jo and the Doctor. But it’s never once boring or uninteresting and there are plenty of moments here that satisfy and thrill in equal measure.
In terms of the cast, Tim Treloar continues to be exceptionally good as the Third Doctor though there are a few more cracks in the performance this time around particularly when it comes to his obnoxious singing performance. Jon Culshaw is again a flawless surrogate for the late great Nicholas Courtney and it’s always great to hear both Katy Manning and John Levene again. It’s a ton of fun to see the Brigadier and Benton forced into the role of helping the population of a whole other world train and fight and Jo Grant once again serves as the emotional heart of the fight in both personality and purpose. The side cast is somewhat boring full of manipulative politicians, scheming scientists, and natives engaged in conflict though there are some great moments of humour in how little regard the Daleks actually give to the conspirators they are working with. But each performance works exactly for what it needs to in bringing gravitas and power to a situation where the populaces of two planets are at stake.
‘Poison of the Daleks’ is a great little adventure and one that will prompt waves of nostalgia for the best of the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who. It combines the best of two later Third Doctor television stories (even improving on the threads of one of them in particular) in a way that’s a tad predictable for hardcore fans but still incredibly enjoyable. The cast for this range continues to be fantastic across the board particularly Jon Culshaw who really is eerily outstanding as Lethbridge-Stewart, it’s nice to hear the Daleks again with an especially nasty scheme at play, and the action is appropriately explosive and well worth treading down some formulaic paths for. It’s another strong outing for the Third Doctor Adventures range and another good entry into the ‘_______ of the Daleks’ template.
– 8 / 10
Operation Hellfire by Jonathan Barnes
In the midst of a particularly quiet afternoon at UNIT headquarters, the Doctor and Jo Grant decide to follow up on an invitation to attend an audience with a famous author of dark fiction. Writer and Wing Commander Douglas Quilter has a talent for reaching a wide audience with his work but seems to base his pieces on his notable real-world experiences and appears to have met the Doctor and Jo before. But as Quilter is reading a chapter from his latest work to a rapturous crowd, the Doctor recognises a very familiar presence nearby: a Time Lord bringing a mission from Gallifrey. A dangerous amulet from the dawn of time has disappeared from the halls of the Panopticon and the only clue they have is an appearance in 1943 in the midst of the Second World War. Manipulated into an excursion into the past regardless of whether they want to or not, the TARDIS team journey into an unsettling world of British intelligence, smoke and mirrors, and a dangerous military operation against occultist Nazis with the very fate of history itself on the line…..
‘Operation Hellfire’ is a slow burn of a story that uses the WWII setting as a basis for some extremely silly but very enjoyable thriller entertainment. The large scale narrative and exceedingly pulpy atmosphere both blend in with the over the top horror films of the day and you can feel the fire and brimstone mixed with the red and black colours that the setting implies. The soundscape is fine and the initial set up by Jonathan Barnes is fantastic with lots of great build-up and well-paced tension. But the bulk of the action that takes place in the second half is a bit too simple given the level of the threat and the payoff isn’t quite as strong considering how much work it takes to get there. It’s also really hard to take seriously even with some strong themes of misdirection and some lovely references to the past (including the resurgence of Venusian Aikido) and it all comes off as a story that had some great ideas to work with but just didn’t quite know how to work with them effectively.
Thankfully, the cast is once again mostly strong and able to keep things entertaining even if you end up sorely missing Jon Culshaw’s Brigadier. Tim Treloar is again outstanding as the Third Doctor and Katy Manning is as great as ever. Both leads are obviously having a lot of fun with this adventure with a lovely connection that frankly carries the whole story and dialogue that even foreshadows Jo’s imminent departure to come in the future. Mark Elstob has a very high-minded presence to his character of Douglas Quilter, Terry Molloy returns as a decent evil mastermind that’s not Davros, and Jeany Spark is strong as a traitorous agent that all work to set the scene remarkably well. On the other hand, those listeners who are expecting the prominence of Ian McNiece’s Winston Churchill might want to temper your expectations a bit. His appearance isn’t quite full-on involvement so much as an extended cameo which is a bit of a disappointment. Granted there’s one scene that has some fabulous interactions and chemistry between McNiece and Treloar that has a lot of potential behind it. But it’s not nearly long enough or even that substantial enough to justify the effort of promoting and putting McNiece’s face on the cover of this set.
Sad to say, ‘Operation Hellfire‘ is a goofy thrill ride that’s not quite as dark as it wants to be and not nearly as strong as its predecessor ‘Poison of the Daleks’. It’s certainly a strong story for Jon Pertwee’s incarnation to flex his heroic muscles with and the performances and atmosphere are all well-crafted all around. But the ideas and setting it works with aren’t nearly exploited as much as they could’ve been and compared to the similar but more masterfully crafted predecessor story ‘The Daemons’, this one comes off as an inferior copy that tries to make up for it by throwing a forced historical window-dressing on it for good measure. Not to say that this is a bad story per se; there are certainly some good moments for those who take the leap especially if you love the occult stories of the day. But there’s not much to be found here behind the superficial thrill and it’s not quite on the level of other Third Doctor Adventures in the range.
– 7 / 10
OVERALL SET RANKING: 8 / 10