Doctor Who and the Pescatons

Starring: Tom Baker
BBC Audio
RRP 13.99
ISBN 0 563 52764 1
Available 03 January 2005

The TARDIS's arrival on a lonely stretch of beach is closely followed by a slithering sound and a chilling roar. The deadly Pescatons have arrived on Earth. Refugees from their own dying planet, Pesca, the shark-like creatures are led by the telepathic Zor, whom the Doctor has met before...

Long before the days of Big Finish, BBV or even the radio adventures of Jon Pertwee's Doctor, there was Doctor Who and the Pescatons, the first-ever commercially released complete Doctor Who audio adventure. Originally issued on LP by Argo Records (a subsidiary of Decca) in 1976, it was subsequently reissued by London Records in 1985 and on CD by Silva Screen in the 1990s, but it has since been unavailable for a decade... until now.

Whether this counts as a proper full-cast drama is open to debate. The cast comprises three members - Tom Baker as the Doctor, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah and Bill Mitchell, vocally treated as the villainous Zor - though several sections of the story are conveyed via narration by Baker. In particular, the characters of Professor Emmerson and his fellow astronomers are talked about rather than speak for themselves. In retrospect, one wonders why an untreated Bill Mitchell could not have doubled as Emmerson.

Victor Pemberton's script has its shortcomings. Several aspects of the story are lazily recycled from his Patrick Troughton serial, Fury from the Deep, including some deadly seaweed, the very notion of invaders from the sea, and the fact that high-pitched noise is deadly to them. The Doctor suddenly takes up playing the piccolo in order to facilitate the latter plot device, which suggests to me that Pemberton initially laboured under the delusion that the Time Lord was still in the habit of playing Troughton's recorder. "I always play the piccolo when I'm nervous," claims the Doctor. No, you don't - well, certainly not in any of your television adventures!

When he first encounters the Pescatons on their dying home planet, the Doctor seems quite prepared to abandon them to their fate, despite there being no direct evidence that they are "evil" or should be denied the right to survive. After that, the narrator simply tells us that he escaped, one of several junctures at which events are casually glossed over.

However, thanks to the vocal talents of Baker, Sladen and Mitchell, together with some nerve-shredding sound effects, such as breaking glass and screams of fear and agony, this is still an effective story. Pemberton and Baker convey some gruesome images of death, destruction and pain, including a description of the Pescatons' metallic octopus-weed creature cutting into the Time Lord's flesh "like sharp wire".

In terms of continuity with the television series, Sarah's comments about the uselessness of the army and the fact that no one was prepared for an alien invasion suggest that this story takes place in the days before UNIT (or that it is set in a UNIT-free parallel universe). True, the Doctor tells us that the TARDIS has materialised in the present day, but that could mean anything (to a listener in 2005 it might mean the story is set in 2005). In any case, Pemberton seems to have some rather confused ideas about time travel: when they arrive, the travellers have no idea where or when they are, yet somehow Sarah seems to think it is February. (It could be that the Doctor is guessing the TARDIS might have brought them back to Sarah's contemporary time, and so he asks her for a reminder of what month that would be.)

The flashback to the Doctor's solo trip to Pesca could take place during Robot, around the time of his first visit to Xoanon's world, as described in Terrance Dicks' novelisation of The Face of Evil.

From a technical point of view, the recording techniques are not as proficient as we are used to nowadays from the likes of Big Finish. The "outdoor" sequences sound very "indoors", the voices in the beach scene sounding particularly hollow. The electronic incidental music, by Kenny Clayton, is more mid-Pertwee era than early Baker.

Thanks to its original vinyl medium, the story is divided into two 23-minute instalments, an episodic duration that is pleasingly similar to that of the television show. Thankfully, unlike with its recent CD re-release of Genesis of the Daleks, the BBC has preserved the episodic structure.

If you don't already possess this story in one format or another, then it is a must-have. However, if you do already own it, then the addition of a new 45-minute interview with Elisabeth Sladen on the second disc might tempt you to buy it again. Sadly, her recollection of the recording of Pescatons is hazy (her participation was far less major than that of Baker), but she shares plenty of memories about the television series in general with interviewer Mark Ayres.

Despite possessing a few fishy qualities, Doctor Who and the Pescatons is a classic recording.

Richard McGinlay

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