Sign up here with UNIT for an action-packed journey back through time to the glory days of the Pertwee era! It's a terrific tale of deadly weapons, defectors and disarmament; when the Cold War suddenly seems to heat up, it's time for the Doctor to fight both a strange new enemy and his own beliefs. Because this time the world is being held to ransom - in the name of peace... 5*
`The Mega' (6 Episodes, 3 hours 21 minutes, 3 CDs)
I thought I'd seen my last `new' adventure of the Pertwee years when I watched `The Mind of Evil', so Bill Strutton's previously unproduced six episode story `The Mega' was a brilliant and very welcome chance to travel with my Doctor, Jo Grant and UNIT once again. I'm definitely a Third Doctor fan; as I've commented in other reviews, Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning and the UNIT `family' were the `Doctor Who' I knew first and that makes this a very special era for me. So would this Big Finish production live up to my expectations ...?
The answer is yes, in every way. If you don't know the Third Doctor's time that well, then this is a very enjoyable adventure. But if you know and love those years from `Spearhead' to `Spiders', then you'll fully appreciate how superb Simon Guerrier's script is for its dialogue, details, characterisations and references and you'll recognise with delight all the little mannerisms of Jon Pertwee in action. Because that's the really weird thing - there were a couple of moments when I got deeply into listening to this story that I forgot it *wasn't* Jon Pertwee ...
Katy Manning puts in a superb double performance, stepping effortlessly back into the youthful (probably platform-soled) shoes of Jo Grant AND producing an impression of Jon Pertwee in Doctor mode which (as she says on the documentary tracks) "is kind of a little spooky!" and so believable I could almost see the bouffant hair and swirling cape. Even that man of many radio voices would have been impressed. Jo and the Doctor are a close pair throughout this story as ever, so for much of the time Katy Manning is talking with herself and doing it so well that as the plot heated up I honestly forgot for a minute or two! The sleeve notes say that Simon Guerrier expanded Jo's role so she is right there with the Doctor in the thick of the action throughout - quite right too!
Richard Franklin is perfectly on parade as the leaders of UNIT, reliving his role as the efficient, intelligent Captain Mike Yates and he's also promoted to be the Brigadier, doing a great job voicing the smooth, clipped tones made famous by Nicholas Courtney. His interpretation of Sgt. Benton is perhaps from a little too far southwest of Bristol, but it's definitely Benton. The UNIT chaps make a close-knit team as usual, so Richard Franklin also spends a lot of time talking with himself and again, it's very convincing.
The two companions share the narration between them, but the Doctor and Jo are separated from UNIT for most of the story and the clear division works very well in this format. Bo Poraj and Derek Carlyle cleverly perform the assorted politicos, military men - and big monsters! - without whom no Third Doctor tale is complete and the overall feel is much closer to full-cast drama than a narrated story. This sense of scale is certainly helped by the ambitious storyline, Ken Bentley's direction and the excellent sound design that creates a convincing audio picture.
There are points in episodes 3 and 4 when the Doctor and Jo seem to be moving from A to B and back to A to fill in the time, while the UNIT part of those episodes is more interesting, but it's a very rare six-parter that doesn't have a few moments like that and the action and gadgetry are still fun to follow. In continuity terms it would seem to belong somewhere in season 9 and I thought what a pity it was they didn't make this story to end that season instead of `The Time Monster'.
Dangerous science, devious politicians and leaders, strained loyalties and subversion, intrigue and alien invasions are standard stuff in many UNIT stories, but here these familiar ideas are given some surprising twists. The `enemy' has been given a polite Ruritanian makeover to avoid naming any real country, but `somewhere east of Austria' was not friendly territory during the Cold War.
Because this is very much a Cold War story; under all the aliens and advanced technology it reflects the concerns of the 1960s and 70s as did so many `Doctor Who' scripts of that time. Like `The Ambassadors of Death', `The Mega' is a sci-fi thriller, somewhere between James Bond and The Saint plus unwelcome aliens and a Time Lord hero to take them on - and to take on the humans who forget where their true loyalties should lie. But I did wonder how comfortably this story would have sat alongside some of the other scripts of that era, because it challenges some of the most cherished, vaguely `left-wing' ideals of those decades.
There is a real depth to this story, it's more than just a very enjoyable adventure and is sometimes quite satirical as it tackles what were then seen as `trendy' post-war attitudes towards `progress' and disarmament, and clearly draws a line between the democratic governments of Western Europe and the then-existing autocracies (of whatever type) of the East of the continent. The Doctor is forced by events to reconsider what makes either weapons or other technology `good' or `bad' (or at least necessary) depending on who uses them and regardless of the intentions of their creators. He also passionately defends `the past' against the fashionable 1960s doctrine which viewed anything old as useless and only saw value in the new. His influence is, as usual, vital in changing attitudes and helping humanity to save ourselves and save the world again.
I can understand why this story was never made, it would have cost a small fortune to do it justice and without modern special effects parts of it might have been disappointing. Happily, on audio, Big Finish could give it the `big screen' treatment so we can now enjoy the full scale that Bill Strutton's storyline imagined. Following the story is an entertaining 12 minute `making of' feature and the CD booklet has some interesting background details on the storyline and adaptation, and cast photos.
Swirl your scarlet cape, jump into `Bessie' and zoom off for a UNIT adventure in the classic style. I believe this is the only Third Doctor `Lost Story' that exists, but hopefully Big Finish will eventually extend their `Early Adventures' range to include some more exploits with this talented team and my Doctor - now that would be Mega! 5*
(Thanks to Timelord-007 for recommending this story for a Third Doctor fan to enjoy!)
Thanks for reading.