Written by Nicholas Briggs
This story is part of the Early Adventures series, a more recent range of Doctor Who stories that cover the Hartnell and Troughton eras. As both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton have gone to join with the Matrix, their parts are recast, with William Russell (who played Ian Chesterton, one of the first companions) and Frazer Hines (who played Jamie McCrimmon) stepping in to play their deceased co-star.
For anyone who has ever listened to the BBC’s audio recordings of the lost stories, you’ll be on familiar ground with this range. What you get is full-cast dialogue with members of the cast (in this story, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury) providing linking narration. This style means it’s very easy to slip into the idea that this is another lost story, which is precisely the effect Big Finish are aiming for.
The Isos Network is set in the immediate aftermath of the 1968 story, The Invasion. While leaving Earth, the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe spot a scout ship escaping the destruction of the cyber invasion fleet, and give chase. They land on Isos II, a mysteriously empty colony world, just as a heavily armed military unit from Isos I arrive to investigate the disappearance of the colony. The only inhabitants seem to be friendly giant slugs that were apparently used as work animals by the colonists.
Of course, the cybermen went to Isos II for a reason – to reactivate a cybercontroller in stasis, left there following the cyberization of the planet’s population.
The story itself is pretty standard, echoing the likes of Tomb Of The Cybermen and most “human military unit hopelessly outclassed by evil aliens having to rely on a civilian with specialist knowledge”-type stories. The military are originally suspicious, but then come to realize how useful the Doctor and his companions are.
The other big part of this is, quite obviously, the performances of the cast. Nick Briggs manages (with a bit of help from sound effects) to successfully invoke the cybermen of the era, with their buzzing, mechanical, emotionless voices. Wendy Padbury’s voice is a little deeper than it was in 1968, but has no problem slipping back into her old role, as does Frazer Hines, when it comes to playing Jamie.
So how does Hines deal with his dual role? Pretty well, as it goes. The late Patrick Troughton, who originally played the Second Doctor in the TV series, had a deeper voice than Hines, but Hines’s almost uncanny impersonation of the mannerisms of the Second Doctor is surprisingly effective. Since this isn’t a full audioplay, like the other Big Finish ranges, Hines not quite fully differentiating his voice from his original character doesn’t harm the flow too much. It still works well, since there’s enough difference between the two characters to stop confusion, even when writing whilst listening!
If you’re after a faithful recreation of the Doctor Who stories of the late 60’s, you won’t be disappointed. OK, some of the plot points are a little hackneyed, but that’s fine, since the era these stories came from could easily have been accused of the same thing. So in that way, it’s very successful. The performances are of the high standard we’ve come to expect from Big Finish, with the original cast sliding back into their roles with ease (and Frazer Hines making a very solid job of playing the Second Doctor), ably aided and abetted by the guest cast. If, as a fan of Doctor Who, you’re after something decent to listen to, you can’t really go far wrong with The Isos Network, especially if you’ve seen The Invasion. Fair enough, it’s not up there with the likes of The Chimes Of Midnight or Dominion, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed.