During the nearly 20 years that Big Finish has been producing original Doctor Who audios, they’ve introduced a lot of new companions to the series – from Oliver Harper for the First Doctor to Erimem for the Fifth and Hex for the Seventh – so it’s not as big a surprise as it might once have been to have a new person alongside the First Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Vicki. Wisely producer David Richardson and writer Philip Lawrence have elected to drop us into The Fifth Traveller with James Joyce’s Jospa firmly in place alongside the TARDIS crew, rather than going the traditional route of an introductory story, and that gives the whole tale more impetus, as we listeners try to work out how he’s come to be there, and how he’s going to fit alongside the others. Certainly it’s good to have another person around Vicki’s age on board the Ship, so she’s not just the solo “rebellious teenager”, although she and Jospa do seem to have something of an adversarial relationship (Barbara makes a pointed comment about similar things she’s seen at Coal Hill).
Equally wisely, Lawrence hasn’t focused the story entirely on this newcomer. As the cover indicates, the TARDIS travellers encounter a race of ape-like creatures, and there’s an interesting way of dealing with communication between the crew and the aliens that never fully spells out why things have happened this way (as would have been the case in 1965) but the Who-savvy listener can work out for themselves. There’s a moment where I thought we were going to get a bit of a homage to Battle for the Planet of the Apes, but the confrontation went a different way…
In the real world, this marks Jemma Powell’s first full appearance as Barbara, after the character was sidelined for quite a bit of the previous story. Powell doesn’t do a slavish mimicry of Jacqueline Hill’s performance, but uses similar inflections and tones to produce something that feels absolutely right – the scenes between her, William Russell and Maureen O’Brien simply work as they should. Like O’Brien (who’s narrating) and Russell (playing the Doctor), Powell does double duty, also playing Fula, and I’m glad that director Lisa Bowerman chose not to give any sort of “ape” speak to those characters when they’re talking in their own language. Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s sound and music fit the period with an impressive mix for the sounds of distress required on a couple of occasions.
Verdict: A cleverly constructed tale for Jospa’s first story. 9/10