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The Quin Dilemma – Doctor Who audio review

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Big Finish celebrates forty years of the Sixth Doctor, surrounding him with many of his companions. 

Remarkably, four decades have passed since we first met the bombastic Sixth Doctor. Initially self-righteous and quite unlikable, dressed in a technicolour nightmare, there was a plan to peel back his layers over time.

Colin Baker arrived during a rocky period when the upper echelons of the BBC had lost faith with Doctor Who. First rested, then cut down, the show was on trial both on and off screen. Eventually, the decision was taken to move on to a 24th season with another actor in the title role.

Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor

However, Baker never lost faith with the character. He returned to play the role on stage for ‘The Ultimate Adventure’ in 1989, then on audio a decade later. In the 25 years since, he has developed and mellowed his Doctor at Big Finish, adding countless adventures and an impressive roster of companions to his era.

Despite recording a final adventure some years back, he shows no signs of stopping. More recently, it’s been a thrill to see him reprise the role in both in ‘The Power of the Doctor’ and Tales of the TARDIS.

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The Quin Dilemma

Now, Big Finish are celebrating all of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor with a new boxset. Comprised of six linked adventures, The Quin Dilemma actually features four iterations of the Sixth Doctor. They’re accompanied by his two television companions, Nicola Bryant’s Peri and Bonnie Landford’s Mel, as well as two audio creations, Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) and Phillipa “Flip” Ramon (Lisa Greenwood). The title, of course, is a spin on Baker’s debut story, ‘The Twin Dilemma’.

Writer Jacqueline Rayner kicks off the festivities with ‘The Exultation’ which establishes the box set’s slightly barmy premise. The Doctor and Mel are enjoying the hoopla of a succession announcement on the planet of Arunopal. Thanks to their enthusiastic new friend Zita, we understand that King Otto will bequeath his throne to one of his five Quintuplet sons.

In order to settle the succession, with all five of his offspring seemingly flawed in some fashion, Otto sets them off on a quest with the victor to be named the new king. Their quarry? A “gaudy popinjay” known as The Doctor, but for a crime which he has no memory of committing…

Separate adventures

Three adventures then follow, each with a different iteration of the Sixth Doctor who is targeted by one or other of the Quins. ‘Escape from Holy Island’, from writer Chris Chapman sees the Doctor and Peri, with HG “Herbert” Wells in tow on Lindisfarne in 793 AD. There, they endeavour to save the monks from an alien horde intent on claiming an alien artefact.

The middle two-parter, from Robert Valentine, reunites the dream team of the Doctor, Constance and Flip. Against the backdrop of a Sontaran invasion on the planet of Geminius, exploiting the planet’s ongoing civil war, the Doctor is targeted by Quins Clarent and Dellan. Although he voices all the Sontarans, Dan Starkey’s principal role here is that of the Battle-Marshall. Skurr’s not he sharpest clone in the batch, but a threat nonetheless.

Chris Chapman returns for ‘The Thousand Year Thaw’, which uses the backdrop of a rare ecological event to let the Doctor and Peri discuss their long-held tensions. It’s a terrific and touching piece of writing, tackling the question of why Peri stayed with this abrasive incarnation after his regeneration.

Finally, all roads lead back to Arunopal as Jacqueline Rayner writes the story’s resolution and a colourful congregation of many Sixth Doctors.

In Summary

The larger-than-life Sixth Doctor demands a problem of equal magnitude. While, in principle, the Quins (all played by Johnny Broadbent) provide that, it never quire materialises. Their internecine squabbling ensures that we’re never truly worried about the threat they propose. Additionally, as they’re differentiated by personality, arrogant, drippy, sadistic, it was difficult to keep track. Regardless, the story’s strong comic sensibilities carry events to their complicated temporal conclusion once the Quins gathered the Doctors together.

‘The Quin Dilemma’ is bags of fun and it nails a celebratory tone. There’s also an especially pleasing moment where the Doctor reels off his companions in order. Disappointingly, Herbert is not among them, which scotches hopes that he might become a regular TARDIS traveller. Colin Baker is on fine form throughout and it’s clear that he’s having a ball. As are the rest of the cast – the feeling is infectious, so even if you do guess the solution to the tale before the end, it’s an entertaining ride.

Forty years on, Colin Baker is the Doctor… and we like that fact very much indeed!

Four Stars

Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor Adventures: The Quin Dilemma is available now, on CD and download, from Big Finish.