The second story in the latest Third Doctor boxset sees the return of the Doctor / Sarah Jane dynamic with Sadie Miller continuing the fantastic impression of her mum to go along with the always fun Tim Treloar as the Doctor and Jon Culshaw at The Brigadier. Returning actors aside though what’s the story like? Well, it’s good, though it may never surprise you. Let’s take a look…
Long ago, in Devon in 1855, a mysterious event occurred. Overnight, during a terrible blizzard, thousands of hoofprints appeared in the snow. The tracks led on for miles…and no-one ever identified who or what caused them.
Many years later, the Doctor, Sarah and the Brigadier have come to Devon themselves, to visit a controversial scientific establishment in the wake of a mysterious death and rumours of strange occurrences in the vicinity.
But things are just about to get much, much stranger. Because they’re about to uncover the origins of the Devil’s Hoofprints…but is this one mystery that should have remained unsolved?
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The Devil’s Hoofprints doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen or heard before but what it does do it does well. The set up is as tired and predictable a Third Doctor set up as you can get as The Doctor and Sarah meet The Brig at a newly launched scientific research centre that has recently has some disappearances along with reports of a wandering monster leaving hoofprints in the snow. The head of this facility, Chilton (Barnaby Kay), is as per usual not-at-all happy with UNIT snooping around his new lab and during their stay he activates his large power storage device and shuts the facility down in the process, The Doctor and Sarah just managing to get out but The Brig being stuck behind with the madman, and with a “devil” knocking on the door. Throughout the rest of the story we hear The Brig and Chilton in a game of cat and mouse across the facility, which is quite fun, all while the invisible monster bears down on them.
What’s The Doctor and Sarah doing during this time? They go back in time via the TARDIS and arrive at the same place but in 1855, when the hoofprints were first reported. Alongside some 19th century village clichés like the friendly local Reverend Mr. Woolsgrove (Derek Griffiths) or the hunting-obsessed manor house owner Sir Basil Hexworthy (Robert Daws) they also meet Chilton, though under a different name. Across most of the last three episodes they find out he’s an alien who had been exiled to Earth alongside the invisible creature and his only ticket back home is to hunt and kill the beast. He has a lot longer of a lifespan but he didn’t plan on spending a lot of it on Earth, only his method of calling the creature gets damaged in his final confrontation with the Doctor and co. so he then spends the next 150 odd years building a way to achieve the same effect, which is what he did in the present.
In the end Chilton is arrested and the mysterious beast goes back to becoming a local legend, so everything is neatly settled.
Everything was done perfectly well, the acting was good and the score was very 70s, so it was very much “comfort Who”, but on that front it also doesn’t really do anything new or interesting. Much like the previous story in this boxset there isn’t anything specific to point out as bad but it also plays it possibly too safe, at least too safe to get a big score and to get people talking.
You know thinking about it for the thumbnails I could’ve just split in the image in half to represent each story… Oh well, too late to change them now!
Nothing to directly connect this to anything else. Obviously the Third Doctor, UNIT, a small village and talk of demons and devils brings back a lot of mental images from the classic TV story “The Daemons”, though that incident isn’t even referred to during this story…
The Doctor meeting the same immortal person at different time periods as he tries to use alien technology reminds me a lot of the Eighth Doctor audio story “Seasons of Fear”, though the alien tech and what he’s trying to achieve is different, and that takes place over four time periods, if my memory serves me rightly. There has been other stories that use a similar idea too, like the recently reviewed Excelis trilogy.
The Devil’s Hoofprints is a good example of “safe and fun Doctor Who”. It’s of-its-era, it uses some story beats and locations we’ve seen many times before and uses them well, it’s just at no point does it innovate or surprise. A good story and very enjoyable but doesn’t reach that memorable height some do.