When do you know it’s time to move on, to let go?
That’s the first question that’s posed to the listener by Steven Taylor in the reflective Return of the Rocket Men. Starting the story during his twenty-first birthday and travelling through space, young Steven’s ship is attacked by the Rocket Men who are led by the vicious and particularly villainous Van Cleef. After barely escaping with his life when he is saved by a mysterious Stranger, the story moves on to Steven’s current birthday as he’s aboard the TARDIS and travelling with the First Doctor and Dodo.
The celebration of a birthday aboard the TARDIS is one of those very ideas that you can see working well, and with some slight camp effect, in Doctor Who’s earlier years rather than its later ones. In fact Dodo’s excitement at Steven’s birthday all rather helps to set the feel of the era well and pull the listener in to a familiar time and place. But as Return of the Rocket Men continues, it starts to take more wibbly wobbly approach with proceedings, having Steven’s past and his future occur at the same time. This is where the tale gets its legs from as Steven suddenly realises what might be his ultimate destiny, and it’s heartbreaking. If Return of the Rocket Men starts with exciting set pieces and action aplenty, it ends with self reflection and noble statements.
Not only is the story true to its era with its surroundings and characters but we’re also treated to another fantastic and pitch perfect performance by the talented Peter Purves, who’s performance as the First Doctor is brilliant. The voice, the vocal ticks and the hmmm’s at the end of his sentences help to sell the listener to the fact that the First Doctor is very much present here. But it’s not just William Hartnell that Purves captures well; his performance of Dodo is excellent and considering the fact the he’s nearly fifty years older than when he first played the part of Steven Taylor, still manages to make the character sound as young as ever. Credit to Tim Treloar as the horrible Van Cleef as well, a villain that is, refreshingly, a downright villain. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel for this character, no redemption, no reason for him being the way he is and no last minute reprieve. He’s a nasty piece of work, a brute and an unhinged one at that. There’s no reasoning with his and no mercy. But don’t worry, he gets a fine and worthy comeuppance.
Return of the Rocket Men does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a sequel; but not one to create an ongoing story arc but rather a vehicle to bring back the excellent space pirates, the Rocket Men. Based on this rather cracking story, this review looks forward to Revenge of the Rocket Men. Or whatever they’ll inevitably call it.
Return of the Rocket Men is available from www.bigfinish.com now.