April 2015 and it’s main range #198, The Defectors by Nick Briggs, the first in the so-called locum Doctors trilogy. This particular mash-up gives us Jo Grant meeting the Seventh Doctor with some Mike Yates for good measure. The first in a tightly linked trilogy has to do two things – be a good story and set up the next two parts.
How well does The Defectors achieve this? Let’s find out!
First the Big Finish product page synopsis:
Jo Grant is shocked to find most of her colleagues are missing. Then she discovers that the Doctor has inexplicably changed.
But there’s no time to worry about it, as she and her misplaced Time Lord friend are whisked to the mysterious Delphin Isle on a matter of national security. There, they encounter a disturbingly odd form of local hospitality and learn of a highly classified incident that took place during the Cold War.
Why exactly have they been brought here? And what is the truth concerning the bodies in the harbour and the vast project being undertaken beneath a cloak of secrecy?
Nick Briggs wastes no time in getting the story going; Jo is just reacting to the appearance of a stranger claiming to be a future Doctor (this is set after Three Doctors, which is useful) than we find the Brigadier is in Switzerland, others have been rounded up by a strange military UNIT and Jo is escorted to a helicopter for a blindfold ride to Delphin Isle!
Things are not right as Jo and the Doctor stay in the worst B&B in existence, before stumbling on multiple mysteries – strange local inhabitants, bodies in the harbour and a military base. As they visit the base, separate (of course) and explore, we learn of a dreadful incident in the past, find out dark secrets and end up with very mixed sympathies. At this point the Seventh Doctor begins to wonder why he has been switched into his own past, and what he should be doing to justify the change.
As the presence of Jo and the Doctor causes matters to come to a head and unravel, Mike Yates comes on the scene with reinforcements, adding to the sense of nostalgia. Once the local threat is resolved, the Doctor vanishes back to his own timeline, memories adjust and we pull away, wondering what happens next.
[pullquote]most striking is the humour[/pullquote]
Over the years Nick Briggs writing has visibly changed. Where he was once very good at tidying up all loose endings, giving every character a destiny (or random death) he has matured his style. This plot has plenty of rough edges, much like real life. The storytelling is solid, but most striking is the humour. It is great to have Barnaby Edwards as Commander Wingford but many characters are played with a mad, dark humour. In some regards a bit Dr Strangelove, but more mad.
The overall feel is very Third Doctor, and Jo is quickly charmed by the Seventh Doctor (who is more tricked than trickster) as the plot bounces along. Maybe it doesn’t bear much scrutiny – how did Delphin Isle end up isolated yet also having a secret military wing in London? Who cares, this is a piece of entertainment very rooted in the show’s 1970s style. There are multiple echoes of great stories from the time, and appropriate dilemmas.
Nick keeps all the bigger mystery unspoken, and I assume it will all make sense in the end. I wonder how the arc will connect as the Fourth Doctor gives us the plot in the third story yet the Seventh Doctor remembers nothing. We shall know in June.