Plight of the Pimpernel is the first of two December releases for Big Finish’s monthly adventures range. While Doctor Who has visited the French Revolution before, both onscreen and on audio, we gain a different perspective here as the story riffs on the fiction of Baroness Orczy and her dashing hero, The Scarlet Pimpernel.
The Reign of Terror
The tale begins in France with the Sixth Doctor, first posing as an undertaker before revealing himself to be the famed Scarlet Pimpernel. Freeing aristocrats from the cold embrace of Madame Guillotine, he makes a dashing escape, not only avoiding an agent of Citizen Robespierre but also something robotic and alien
Back in Britain, we find Peri playing Lady of the Manor and affecting a fine English accent. With her husband Sir Percy Blakeney incapacitated, she is preparing for a ball while concealing the alien nature of her husband’s injuries.
While writer Chris Chapman’s story is joyous and apparently was sparked by a request from Colin Baker himself, the Pimpernel is, of course, a fictional character. This fact becomes a lynchpin of the plot as we discover quite what might make someone set themselves up in such a fashion – and leads the story into unexpectedly dark territory.
We loved the relationship between the Doctor and Peri, freed of the antagonism of Season 22 and working together. Their genuine affection for each other shines through, no doubt infused by the famously warm working relationship shared by Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant – especially when the pair host the Winter Ball.
It is a great adventure for Peri too, who gets her share of the derring-do as well as to pose as Lady Blakeney. As Peri herself says, why can’t the hero be a girl for once? We loved that she instantly adopts a sidekick too, taking the earnest young Oliver (Joe Jameson) as her assistant.
Swashbuckling Bank Holiday fare
Director John Ainsworth gets the most from a hard-working ensemble cast, all of whom take on multiple roles; six actors populate both revolutionary France and the English nobility. Jamie Parker is perfectly cast as Sir Percy, the dashing hero with a secret, while Anthony Howell’s Citizen Donat exemplifies the most dangerous kind of zealot.
Composer Andy Hardwick’s gorgeous, sweeping score sells the idea of an afternoon matinee adventure. He also provides brilliant sound design, especially for the relentless, ailing android which has something of a demented pinball machine about it. Cleverly, it is also the sort of automaton that announces every thought process, which is remarkably helpful on audio!
All in all, Plight of the Pimpernel is a festive treat, starting out as swashbuckling Bank Holiday fare before twisting into something more challenging with themes of justice and redemption. And dare we say… just what the Doctor ordered?