It’s not a stellar story, but I enjoyed it anyway: a good old-fashioned classic Who space colony adventure with a bit more emphasis on character than was typical on TV in the old days.
Erimem’s still recovering from a harrowing ordeal in Tibet (Roof of the World, Main Range 59) and her confidence has been shaken. Peri and the Doctor can only do so much to help her. The best thing to do? Distract her with another adventure!
Have a trailer.
They arrive aboard a space station that serves as an orbital relay for a colony of human terraformers. Their society is struggling. It reminds me a little of old Isaac Asimov stories in which people have become isolated, only communicating via intercom and internet. “Auntie,” the leader, has had to make some controversial decisions to keep the place going. It’s a depressingly claustrophobic place.
Peri: It’s just weird, if you ask me. I don’t like it, Doctor. It’s like some kind of lunatic asylum. What’s going on here?
Doctor: I don’t know yet, but you’re right. Something is very wrong here.
I like the balance of action and personal interaction in this story. Peri, Erimem, and the Doctor each spend some time together, some time split up with the guest characters. The mixing and matching helps mitigate the tedium of too much corridor crawling. Unfortunately, most of the guest characters are a pathetic bunch. I felt a certain sympathy for them, but I suspect some listeners may want to transmat them into the sun before the audio’s over. It’s a tall order for Peri and Erimem to babysit these anxiety-prone teenagers even before the real danger materialises. The Doctor, meanwhile, has to negotiate with Auntie and her robot butler, who may or may not be the biggest threat to the colony’s survival.
The Doctor’s role in the climax is somewhat passive, although he nudges, cajoles, and uses wits and fast talking to guide the others and keep people alive. And the hidden danger turns out to be rather one-dimensional, reminiscent of some old classic Who serials.
For me, Auntie is the fun surprise. Before the Companion Chronicles, Big Finish didn’t quite know how to involve early classic Who companions, so apart from Leela, Romana, and Sarah Jane, they tended to press actors into service in guest roles. This time it’s Deborah Watling’s turn. Auntie is essentially anti-Victoria: old, pragmatic, hard-nosed, tetchy, courageous, even brutal, and above all an authority figure! I wish there’d been interviews with this audio; I imagine Deborah had fun with the role.
Trivia note: by the sound of it, the colony seems to be using the teleport technology from Blake’s 7.
It’s hard not to repeat plots after 50+ years of Doctor Who, but on a second listen I realised that this drama is largely a retread of Ark in Space. Except the alien squatters are more gruesome, since 1970s Who couldn’t show half-eaten corpses.
It feels like Three’s a Crowd was originally intended as a departure story for Erimem, but at the last minute, either Big Finish or Caroline Morris decided it wasn’t yet time to part ways. Which is just as well, since they have a few more good adventures coming up. But I’m not sure whether I’m misinterpreting it, or whether the author was just pulling punches. Auntie has an almost-exit as well. I’m not sure how she survived blowing up a grenade at point blank range.
There is an awfully high body count in this story, as is common in Fifth Doctor serials. I think that’s why his role is minimised in the climax: he can’t be seen to knock off an entire colony of aliens to save a colony of humans! So Auntie and Erimem do it instead. On the one hand, there’s several nice reminders that Erimem is a warrior; like Leela, she’ll get her hands dirty, up to and including a whole generation of children if needs must. But the audio treats them as monsters, not sentients, something that the Doctor scolds Generea lMakra’Thon for doing. It seems like the ending should have entailed another “There should’ve been another way” lament from the Fifth Doctor. There is, but only very obliquely: Peri asks him if he’s all right, or if he has any regrets. He says “a few,” but doesn’t go into specifics.
All in all, it reminds me of 70s or even early 80s Who. We didn’t expect as much depth or sophistication from our Doctor Who in those days.
Production code 6Q/G, it’s the sixth Erimem story, immediately following Roof of the World from which Erimem is still recovering. The next one in their continuity is Main Range #71, The Council of Nicea. As usual, all the Peri and Fifth Doctor stories have to be squeezed between Planet of Fire and Caves of Androzani, and the Erimem stories should probably be fitted after Exotron.