BEFORE schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright first stepped on board the TARDIS, the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan spent several months hiding in 1960s London while hunting for components to repair the faulty ship. But their sojourn in this backward place and era was not without incident, and saw the time travellers become caught up in the machinations of dangerous forces which are turning local teenagers into violent thugs with a hatred of outsiders…

The first in an 11-part series of interconnected stories spanning every Doctor’s era as part of the mammoth 50th anniversary celebrations, it’s hard to work out how the narrative is going to progress given the information available here, but that’s part of the fun with a project of this nature.

Any return to Totter’s Lane and Coal Hill School was bound to be nostalgia-heavy, and although there are parallels with the events of the show’s first episode, An Unearthly Child, this is a very different story from anything seen on screen at the time, taking full advantage of the benefits of hindsight for narrative purposes.

Writer Nigel Robinson has taken a conscious decision not to include any “monstrous” aliens, believing they had no place in the series until the introduction of the Daleks in the second televised adventure. It is a decision which works well in this particular setting, the fog-shrouded streets of sixties Shoreditch being far more atmospheric without the presence of killer robots or bug-eyed extra-terrestials.

Rather than offering a full-cast drama, the format is that of a reading by Susan Foreman herself, Carole Ann Ford, who also handles most of the characters, the exception being Tam Williams, who mainly plays Susan’s posh schoolmate Cedric. She does a decent enough job, but struggles with some of the accents, and her First Doctor impression, while displaying many of Hartnell’s “tics” and vocal mannerisms, isn’t up to the standard of Peter Purves in the Big Finish Companion Chronicles range.

There are plenty of Easter eggs for the keen listener, including references to John Smith and the Common Men, Magpie Electricals and assorted familiar lines of dialogue, but they never bog down the story beneath a mire of continuity (so no references to Daleks seeking the Hand of Omega then!), and merely serve as added bonuses for long-time fans.

This is also a Doctor far removed from the current version, reluctant to involve himself in events until he is directly threatened, and far less likeable than even this incarnation would eventually become.

In the best traditions of storytelling from this era, Hunters of Earth captures the bleak starkness of a London still ravaged by the Blitz, and it positively “feels” black and white in its approach. Themes of racism, otherness and nationalism are explored in a mature and insightful way, and the nature of the threat, when finally revealed, is firmly grounded in this world of bomb sites and pea soupers.

A sterling start to this 50th anniversary mini-series, and sure to be worthy of a second listen once the nature of the overarching plot is revealed in subsequent stories.