Doctor Who review: Decline of the Ancient Mariner features a barely explored TARDIS team

The Third Doctor and Sarah Jane investigate a little mystery involving space probe Mariner 10, in this month’s little Doctor Who story Decline of the Ancient Mariner.

It’s not often that you get Doctor Who stories featuring the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, even in the expanded universe. There are a few novels and short stories out there, but not many. But honestly, it’s not hard to see why. Both characters are great, and they had an interesting start. But both characters are remembered better with others: the Third Doctor with Jo, and Sarah Jane with the Fourth Doctor.

So when something comes along that features this pairing – even something as simple as a short story – it grabs your interest. After all, for the Doctor and Sarah, it’s early days, and there’s a different dynamic to their relationship.

This is something that writer Rob Nisbet definitely kept in mind when writing this month’s Short Trip, Decline of the Ancient Mariner. One thing that his story captures nicely is the unique relationship that the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane shared. They’re not quite as close as they will become, but there’s plenty of respect between them (even if the Doctor clearly enjoys pushing Sarah’s buttons, from time to time).

Early Sarah Jane

It’s not just the relationship that stands out at this point, either. Even Sarah Jane herself is noticeably different, at least when compared to how she is in subsequent seasons. When she was introduced in The Time Warrior, she was a passionate feminist and a strong vocal supporter of women’s liberation. This was an aspect that was considerably toned down in subsequent seasons, however.

So it’s nice to be reminded of it in Decline of the Ancient Mariner. There are several moments that highlight how important being a feminist is to Sarah Jane at this point in her life. Nisbet handles that aspect well, making it important to the story, but not overbearingly so.

Mark Reynolds is also a decent narrator for this one. I haven’t heard him on a Big Finish audio before, but he does a good job of voicing Jon Pertwee’s Doctor and capturing his speech mannerisms. He’ll also be reading for Short Trip Blue Boxes, also featuring the Third Doctor, so I’m already keen to hear that one.

As for the plot, it’s an intriguing one. Inspired by a real-life glitch that the Mariner 10 had back in 1974, the story and threat is in some ways a little standard for Doctor Who, particularly for this era. However, there are one or two little timey-wimey twists thrown in that make it more interesting, and the story is tied up nicely.

But what’s really the main draw here is getting a snapshot of the earliest days in the Doctor’s and Sarah Jane’s friendship. Overall, Decline of the Ancient Mariner creates that snaphot very well. Not a bad listen, especially if you want more of this particular TARDIS team.

Decline of the Ancient Mariner is available to listen to now, directly from Big Finish’s website.

Next: The Eleventh Hour celebrates its 10th anniversary on Apr 3

Do you think there should be more stories for the Third Doctor and Sarah, in any medium? Do you think they were an effective pairing during their one season together? Let us know in the comments below.

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