Poor old Sergeant Benton, why was he mistreated so? During the Third Doctor’s tenure, Benton played an integral role as part of the UNIT family, working alongside the Brigadier, Mike Yates and Jo Grant to help battle Daleks, Autons, Axons and, more often than not, the Master. Then the Doctor’s exile on Earth was lifted and he spent less and less time with UNIT. Soon after that, the Doctor regenerated and his Fourth incarnation had no time for nostalgia. As important as John Benton had been in the Doctor’s life for a time, he was soon forgotten and replaced by new friends and allies.
So it’s a wonderful thing indeed that Big Finish have finally got the actor himself, John Levene to finally come back to the role after so many years and remind us of exactly what we’ve been missing.
Council of War finds Sergeant Benton undercover investigating reported sightings of ghosts as well as missing persons. This is all on the request of the Doctor of course, who is feeling a little lacklustre after the departure of his friend Jo Grant and the downtime of his colleague, if you will, Mike Yates. Whilst posing as a local councillor at a Christmas party, Benton meets Margery Phipps and that’s when things get really out of hand.
This particular Companion Chronicle is a game of two halves, especially since the two writers, Simon Barnard and Paul Morris wrote one episode each rather than both together. Episode one is a small scale adventure with a feel of The Saint about it, not to mention other popular spy series from the same era; the episode also takes great care to try and give a more pinpoint accuracy to the whole ‘UNIT dating’ fiasco that has occurred in Doctor Who over the years, much to this reviewer’s amusement (I found myself pausing the play for a few moments to register what was said and see if the dates add up which technically, they do).
The second episode is more of a sweeping space opera that unravels the plot of the story. Margery Phipps plays a far greater role in events than she could ever dreamt of and her involvement in the alien invasion of Kettering is satisfyingly refreshing and new.
Where Council of War really shines is in its performance form the two leads. John Levene is, as ever, fantastic as John Benton, his likeable nature and James Bond style performance remind us just quite how much we’ve missed good old Benton over the year. Sinead Keenan (Being Human, The End of Time Part One and Two) however is the star of the show. Her telling of this story brings a breath of fresh air the Companion Chronicle range; she’s an absolute natural at doing it, and if ever there was a professional production that proves she should be in more Doctor Who, it’s this one.
Ultimately however, this is a Benton story. There’s very little of the Third Doctor in it, and we’re reminded exactly why the Sergeant was chosen to work for UNIT in the first place. He’s brave, kind, thoughtful, resourceful and cunning, all of the qualities that UNIT needs for defending the planet Earth in the 1970’s.
Or was it the 1980’s?
Council of War is available now from www.bigfinish.com