Review—'Doctor Who: The Mega'
A Look Back at the 2013 Third Doctor Tale from Big Finish's 'The Lost Stories' Range
Given its more than 50 year history, it comes as no surprise that there would be stories written for Doctor Who on TV that never got made. From 2009 to 2013, Big Finish produced a sizable number of them as audio dramas in a range entitled The Lost Stories. Serving as the finale was the sole Third Doctor entry for the series, The Mega.
Scripted by Big Finish regular Simon Guerrier from a 1970 outline by Bill Strutton, The Mega is at once something that feels like it's of the era and yet not. Featuring the Third Doctor, Jo Grant, and UNIT, it certainly fits the bill of Earthbound sci-fi that was the basis for much of the era. Indeed, it's very much in the thriller mode of stories such as Inferno and The Mind Of Evil with Britain (and by extension the world) under threat from Prince Cassie, leader of the small European nation of Golbasto which has received help from the titular alien race. Global tensions, sparks flying between the Doctor and military men, and UNIT soldiers are all on display as well which further adds to recreating the era. Indeed, all it feels like it needs at times is for the Master to turn up!
Where The Mega feels different is in its scope. Bill Strutton, who wrote the original outline, had written The Web Planet for William Hartnell's Doctor five years before. Those who have seen that story may recall that it was perhaps the most ambitious story of the series' early years and one that was not entirely successful. In listening to The Mega, it's clear that Strutton had conceived of a story with a scope that, while Earthbound, was still grand. There are some sizable action sequences which put even Planet of the Spiders' epic chase to shame as well as scenes of London riots and international settings that would likely strain even the resources of the show's 21st century incarnation. The dialogue too, at times, especially when it comes to the weapon that serves as the story's main menace, also feels more like something from those early years rather than the early 1970s. The result is that The Mega feels like an odd mash-up of eras at times, a combination of the Third Doctor characters with the ambition and dialogue from the First Doctor era.
It's something that also is apparent in the story's length. At three discs and six episodes inside of the usual two and four, respectively, The Mega is a tale epic in length as in its scope. That isn't always as a bad thing as the two aforementioned TV stories and Lost Stories such as Farewell Great Macedon show. This story, however, suffers from its length. Once the Doctor and Jo get to Golbasto, their portions of the narrative quickly become repetitive with a series of confrontations, escapes, and returns. While Simon Guerrier does his best to liven things up with his prose and in fleshing out the outline (something he goes into more in the CD booklet notes), it's something that only helps so much. In the end, The Mega is just too long.
On the plus side, it is brought to life nicely, using the enhanced audiobook format Big Finish had employed for the first two Doctors earlier in the range. The Mega was the first release to see Katy Manning and Richard Franklin returning to their roles of Jo Grant and UNIT Captain Mike Yates side by side in addition to narration duties. While Manning can't truly recreate her voice from her 20s, she makes a good stab at both it and channeling Jon Pertwee though you'd never mistake her for the real thing. Franklin fares better recreating his role as UNIT's longtime captain as well as channeling both the late Nicholas Courtney as the Brigadier and John Levene as Sargeant Benton though the accent on the latter goes a bit over the top at times. The supporting cast of Bo Poraj and Derek Carlyle is solid as well with both playing multiple characters across the six episodes (and Poraj playing the leaders of opposing nations no less!). The sound design and especially the music of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason completes the story with their score capturing the feel of the era nicely. All together they serve to help bring this epic if overlong tale to life.
The Mega is many things. As the concluding tale of the Lost Stories range, it was the culmination of a series that explored the good, bad, and the ugly of unmade TV Who adventures. As a Third Doctor story, it's overly long but has its points of interest. In a way, it's a shame it was made before Tim Trealor had assumed the Third Doctor mantle and Jon Culshaw took on the Brigadier. Because if there's one thing that might have made this even better, it would be making it full-cast. As it stands, however, it's an intriguing curiosity that's weighed down by being too long for its own good but one that fans of the era will likely enjoy.