"On an almost lifeless planet in a remote star system, Earth Colony Phoenix is struggling to survive. The colonists, utterly dependent on transmat technology and unable to leave the security of their Habitat Domes, have developed severe agoraphobia... not to mention an inability to deal with visitors...
"The TARDIS crew arrives on an apparently abandoned space station in orbit above the planet and soon discovers that they and the remaining colonists are in the gravest danger.
"To survive, the Doctor, Peri and Erimem must uncover the colony's darkest secrets before it's too late.
"Something inhuman is stalking the colony...
"...and it's hungry!"
"Three's a Crowd" is scripted by Colin Brake, who might have become "Doctor Who"'s next script editor had the series not been cancelled in 1987. I liked a lot of the ideas Brake injected into his play, including the severe agoraphobia of the colonists, who have grown up never leaving their habitation cells due to delays in terraforming the planet, and the troubled leader who has made a deal with an alien race for what she believes to be the good of her colonists. Said leader, known as Auntie, is played with considerable (and surprising) aplomb by Deborah Watling, who played Victoria alongside Patrick Troughton's Doctor in the 1960s, and whose performance is one of the play's highlights. The regular cast are well-served by their dialogue and put in good performances to match it, and the play takes a few welcome minutes to deal with the aftermath of rookie companion Erimem's horrific experiences of the previous few plays.
Unfortunately, the "Three's a Crowd" is compromised by slightly tiresome performances from the rest of its guest cast (which must to some degree be blamed on Gary Russell's direction), in particular Lucy Beresford as Bellip, whose panic attacks feel very forced and occur rather too frequently. The play is also, unusually for Big Finish Productions, seriously over-produced: if my living environment suffered from such loud, insistent ambient noise as that inhabited by the colonists, I'd go insane pretty quickly. The endless high-tech, space-age rumbling distracts from the dialogue and makes the play, at times, unusually tiring to listen to. It endures in my memory much more than David Darlington's score has done, and that can't be good.
It's also a little unconvincing that the colony's wily leader, Auntie, should have been so easily deceived, as she ultimately turns out to have been, by the play's monsters-of-the-week, the one-note, brutish-sounding Khellians, only one of whom is actually given a voice for much of the play. As slobbering humanoid reptilian monsters go, the Khellians are definitely up there amongst Doctor Who's least interesting.
After two disappointing outings for the Fifth Doctor / Peri / Erimem team in "The Axis of Insanity" and "The Roof of the World", I genuinely enjoyed "Three's a Crowd" despite its shortcomings, and I wanted to give it a good rating; but, eventually, I decided that the play's weaknesses were too signficant to realistically rate it any higher than average.