November 1963 obviously saw different incarnations of the Doctor turning up in many unusual places – not just the ones that we’re hearing about in this trilogy of adventures but also in The Light at the End and various novels. We don’t often see him in adventures behind the Iron Curtain, but the sixth Doctor and Peri are caught right in the middle of the USSR when the TARDIS malfunctions, effectively stranding them.
They’re catapulted into a complicated cold war scenario as they assume fake identities and then discover that even those aren’t what they seem. Nor is everything that’s happening at Baikonur exactly what either Time Lord nor American student expect from their study of history. The role of Laika in the space race wasn’t quite as simple as we’ve been led to believe.
It’s a story that would be very difficult to do live-action without it seeming daft, but on audio it works well. As long as you buy into the central conceit – which is the cliffhanger of episode one, so I won’t spoil it – then you’ll find a lot to marvel at, as Jonathan Morris allows his imagination to run riot.
It’ll come as no surprise that the Doctor goes back into space, although there’s perhaps surprisingly no overt references to a similar scenario in The Ambassadors of Death. Director Nick Briggs ensures that the changes of perspective are clearly signposted, and there’s a clever use (or non-use) of Russian accents – ironically, it’s the American ones that seem rather overdone.
Verdict: Not afraid to rewrite history where necessary (and use one key event in a surprising way), this is a tense enjoyable piece. 8/10