It’s surprising to realise that Doctor Who has rarely used the Industrial North as a setting. We have seen adventures set in futuristic factories and warehouses, visited the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in Mark of the Rani and had a few romps into Steampunk. Big Finish has touched on it in The Peterloo Massacre and Industrial Evolution but that landscape of terraced houses, looming smoke-belching factories and municipal buildings that could be found from Birmingham to Newcastle has remained the province of Coronation Street and contemporary drama. So having the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe land on the corner of a cobbled street in Will Hadcroft’s The Resurrection Plant feels quite fresh.
Not that this is the actual North of England. In fact the TARDIS has brought our friends to Calico Three, a small habitable planet where the rural colony the Doctor remembers is in the grip of an unexpected mechanisation. What’s more the factories are capitalism run wild, with human workers mere expendable cogs in the machine. But nobody minds because on this planet everyone can be brought back to life thanks to the Resurrection Plant, even if occasionally they change gender along the way. The travellers investigate but are soon captured, just in time for a factory accident to lead to the creation of a terrifying mutation in the newly grown humans.
The author captures the the characters of the regulars extremely well. Patrick Troughton’s Doctor can be hard to capture in print, since so much of his character is in his delivery, but here he’s compassionate, curious, mischievous and has moments of righteous indignation. Jamie and Zoe both get moments to shine on their own too. The story seems to be setting up as a Frankenstein-influenced piece about Ren, a technocrat facing up to consequences of treating his workforce as commodities, together with a fearsome but misunderstood monster, but there’s a second act twist which takes us into another kind of drama, one that I was worried was going to ruin the authentic Sixties atmosphere that Will had recreated. Thankfully he skilfully avoids this.
Fraser Hines has been sharing his enjoyable Troughton impersonation for a while in Big Finish audio plays and books. It’s great to hear it again. Elsewhere he is an excellent reader in general and tells the story with animation and a good pace. Similarly impressive is the soundscape.
There are echoes of The Rebel Flesh and The Quatermass Experiment, but ultimately this is a great original adventure. It tells a story probably too difficult for the television series of the time to realise well, and instead takes advantage of the freedom of prose. An excellent addition to this year’s mini-Troughton celebration, along with the recently released animated recreation of The Abominable Snowmen.
Will Hadcroft of course is a friend of mine and its been marvellous to see him achieve the ambition of writing an official Doctor Who story. He’s previously written several novels and many moons ago an adventure for my old fan audios Fine Line, called The Chattath Factor, which has recently been re-released on Youtube. It was a marvellous story to end my fan series on.