(WARNING: Significant spoilers follow!)
This, more than most Companion Chronicles stories, is very much a “your mileage may vary” kind of story. Mostly it varies based on how much you liked the character of Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) from the Third Doctor’s time at UNIT. If you liked him a lot, you’ll probably really enjoy this story. If not…well…
The story concerns mysterious symbols appearing in different places around the country. The Doctor figures out that they are alien characters, and not long after, a mysterious alien woman (Felicity Duncan) arrives. She then begins handing out mysterious alien rings, the Doctor mysteriously disappears and before long, the Brigadier and the rest of UNIT are acting very mysteriously. If you’re getting the idea that there’s a lot that’s quite mysterious in this story, you’re on the right track.
Mike Yates doesn’t get a ring, and instead starts investigating exactly what’s going on. He then runs afoul of the Brigadier and is drummed out of UNIT. Then he sees the face of the Doctor crop-circled into the ground and from there, things get a little strange.
Now it must be said that I’ve never been that hugely into Mike Yates. I think he’s a decent character, but I’ve always found Sergeant Benton to be a lot more interesting, though the fact that he’s in more stories helped. I did like what they did with Yates toward the end of the Third Doctor’s time, though, and this story continues that general feel. This serves to make his character someone that’s more entertaining to spend time around.
Franklin does a good job of playing Yates and the various other characters, and Duncan does a good job with her roles. The overall story also does a good job of capturing the “feel” of one of the Third Doctor UNIT stories.
But something here felt “off”. I think it might be that the story came off a little predictable. Yes, of course the rings are some sort of mind control device. Yes, of course Ikiria wasn’t all that she seemed to be. Yes, of course this was a prelude to an alien invasion. While this is all in line with what was being done in the series back in the early 1970s, the story concept hasn’t aged especially well, and I think perhaps a Third Doctor companion chronicle that did something a bit different, like “Binary” and “The Many Deaths of Jo Grant” might have worked out a little better.
That said, this wasn’t a bad story, and I did really enjoy the character of Mike Yates and Franklin’s performance. I’d like to have him come back and do more of these, though I’d prefer it to be in a story that’s a bit more modern feeling or, perhaps, a story alongside one of the various other Doctors.
Next month, William Russell returns as Ian Chesterton, telling a story about the First Doctor in “The Time Museum”!