Nigel Robinson’s Hunters of Earth.

Audio Destiny of the Doctor is the main trunk of AudioGo’s celebration of Doctor Who’s fiftieth year, with monthly releases, one per Time Lord, curiously co-produced with Big Finish with a vaguely connecting story. On paper, the paper being the preview pages in Doctor Who Magazine, the most enticing prospects come later in the year as we ponder what an AudioGo Eighth Doctor audio will sound like and the Ninth Doctor, thanks to the Byzantine intricacies of nuWho licensing, receives his first proper spin-off story since 2005 (not counting the odd flashback here and there).

With that in mind, releases featuring the more visible incarnations will need to have a similarly unique flavour and so it proves with Nigel Robinson’s Hunters of Earth, set in the mysterious few months before the Ian and Barbara stumbled into the TARDIS and became lost in time, a period only previously explored in short stories, Kim Newman’s old Telos novella Time and Relative, and on screen in other anniversary returns to Totters Lane in Attack of the Cybermen and Remembrance of the Daleks, which is actually less than it seems.

There are no great revelations. Susan’s having difficultly making friends and integrating at Coal Hill School. The Doctor’s shambling about town looking for components to repair the TARDIS. Inevitably a storyline intrudes, of the local teenagers population uncontrollably losing their temper at the slightest thing, much as youngsters tend to anyway, but in a way which stokes this early Doctor’s interest and in a rare instance of altruism, becomes involved because it risks exposing him and Susan for what they really are.

Hunters of Earth is a mood piece, expanding upon An Unearthly Child’s opening push-in past the policeman to reveal a London landscape still scarred by the Blitz, beatniks huddled in cafes listening to The Beatles and subconsciously awaiting flower power, general cynicism about technology, Robinson’s descriptions aided by sound engineer Simon Hunt’s percussive soundtrack conjuring a shadowy city fittingly more akin to Z-Cars or Dixon of Dock Green and the kinds of British films released in the BFI’s Flipside series which seem entirely alien to our eyes now.

Each of these releases will apparently evoke their respective programme eras, and Robinson captures neatly the slightly leisurely pacing, long on incident but short on plot. The focus is on Susan, who enjoys a little light romance with school friend, Cedric, who like her is from a different social environment and the writer pitches well the slightly ambiguous nature of a character who on the one hand is a genius in comparison to humanity but doesn’t quite understand their customs. Like the main story, it’s the stuff of The Sarah Jane Adventures (cf, Luke) played out within a different idiom.

Recorded in a style that crosses AudioGo’s nuWho exclusives with Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles, Carole Ann Ford reads much of the text with Tam Williams voicing Cedric. This is the sort of material which Ford probably wishes she’d been given during her time on the programme, and makes the most of the opportunity communicating the girl’s vulnerability without the shrillness that was sometimes the norm back then, as well as giving a good idea of her grandfather's mood swings. In his curious position of giving an acting performance within an audiobook, Williams blends well too.

But this is somewhat only the opening “episode” within a much longer story and there are plenty of hints towards the future as well as a few in-jokes that are entirely out of period but forgivably charming enough. Hunters of Earth works as a stand alone piece but there’s enough double meaning in consideration of an adversary to suggest where Destiny of the Doctor might be leading. The Doctor and Susan are at the beginning of their story, but they have a rich awareness of the wider Whoniverse surrounding them and of a darkness to come. Oooh-eee and indeed, oooh.

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctor: Hunters of Earth by Nigel Robinson is out now from AudioGo.  Review copy supplied.

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