The Sarge: Good old Sergeant Benton. You wont really find anyone who has a bad word to say about him. Then again you probably wont find anybody who gets giddily excited about him either. He was a firm favourite during the Pertwee era, a lovable officer who was fiercely loyal to all the other members of UNIT and would occasionally be chewed out by the Brigadier for his incompetence (or perceived incompetence) during the course of his duties. It would appear that John Levene was almost universally loved by all those who worked with him, a shy man who brought a great deal of devotion to a small part that was developed because of it. When I saw that a companion chronicle was going to be devoted to the character my first reaction was that it would be interesting, my second reaction was how Levene would narrate given his incomprehensibly fast exposition on the DVD commentaries and my third was that it was nice to see a little variety in the series so near to the end. His slot has been reserved for the fag end of the season, the point where nobody expects great things and so if it goes horribly wrong it can be left there to fester whilst the rest of the (generally fantastic) season can remain untarnished… Fortunately the result is nothing of the kind and Levene proves to be the sort of magnetic performer that brings out the best in the companion chronicles. The very fact that we know so little about Benton and rarely get this close to him is one of the main reasons that this (ever so slight if I’m honest) tale works so well.
Good Grief: Benton can tell that the Doctor is taking Jo’s departure hard. During the day he was his usual jubilant self but in the evenings he could be seen in his laboratory alone, just staring, alone. When the Doctor does eventually turn up on Kettering even he has to admit (and it must have taken a fair amount of effort to swallow down his monstrous ego in this incarnation) that Benton has everything under control.
Standout Performance: What a shame that there will only be twelve more companion chronicles after this and that they didn’t set upon the idea of using John Levene before because he has proven to be quite an enjoyable narrator. I certainly hope they utilise his talents when it comes to the third tales in the Early Years range. He, Katy Manning and Richard Franklin would bring a story to life with some gumption.
Audio Landscape: A relaxed party atmosphere, clinking glasses, pleasant conversation and great music, the Doctor’s time detector makes a wonderfully seventies racket, the lights snapping out, the electronic voices of the apparitions, alarms, clicking cockroach limbs.
Musical Cues: What an awesome score! It feels as though it has been pulled straight from the era that it is set in and had me grooving away whilst I was trying to concentrate on the story and dialogue.
Result: Makes you wonder if the UNIT officers were always off having their own adventures whilst we were distracted by the Doctor’s antics, doesn’t it? I’m not sure that world is ready for The Sergeant Benton Adventures but as a one-off this is a glorious piece of seventies nostalgia, read charismatically by John Levene. The way it slips from the cosily familiar (the quintessential Britishness of the Kettering council chamber) to the blatantly absurd (an alien planet influenced by the work of Margery Phipps) feels like pure Doctor Who. Whilst the concepts might even have been rejected by Douglas Adams for being too ridiculous there is an essential seriousness running through the whole story (brought by straight laced John Benton mostly) that lets it hold together with some dignity. It’s a story that dares to ape the marvellous twist ending of Planet of the Apes, rip the piss out of Churchill’s famous wartime speech and even poke fun at some the clichés of the Pertwee era (‘I reversed the vibracity of the molecule flow!’) but coming from the writers of the Scarifyers I am not surprised that the script is injected with a high degree of cheek and brio. It’s bonkers and great fun but perhaps a little to absurd to truly stands out as anything other than a silly diversion. What really impressed me were the efforts of Levene and Sinead Keenan who share a delightful chemistry as Benton and Phipps and who get to have their own little adventure off world and get back in time for tea. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this release (which is a nice feeling) and I was pleasantly surprised at the amiable results: 7/10