Recent years had seen a shortage of Nicola Bryant stories as Big Finish took the opportunity to develop other companions for Colin Baker’s sixth Doctor. We had a burst of stories at the end of 2019, including the enjoyable Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories, but there’s always room for more. What we hope will be the first of many Sixth Doctor and Peri boxsets redresses the balance with four varied stories. There’s a lot to enjoy, even with some niggles.
For Queen and Country?
It’s useful to know the Peri in these stories is post Trial of a Timelord. This means she’s been married to King Yrcanos and rejoined the Doctor as a far more experienced companion than seen on TV. Some of this comes to bear in The Headless Ones written by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown. The setting is the age of Victorian exploration of Africa. There’s a strange lost tribe or two, a well acted aristocrat in the form of Lord Erpingham (Hugh Skinner) and the equally well realised Amanda Latimer (Deirde Mullins).
To us the story feels crammed into a single disc, leaving a tale of British Imperial arrogance, sexism, colonialism and everything else we now find despicable. The story skips several scenes through the use of Amanda’s diary recollections, a device that could work well but gave an odd character to the tale. It’s full of tropes and there’s definitely a better story here than fits into one CD.
The perils of social media
Jac Rayner has a very modern dig at social media in Like. It’s a single idea, overdone in a tale with another curious narrative technique. Cheesy adverts punctuate the story every few minutes and while they tell the story, we found them more irritating than amusing. The ‘social media is an evil’ angle is overdone and this feels like a modern story in the style of twelfth Doctor and Bill Potts in Smile.
Peri is very much centre stage and where the story does provoke ideas is in the connection between the idea of wiring people into social media and using it for social engineering.
You’re so vain…
Illustrator Stuart Manning takes us the world of fading holiday actress Myrna Kendal (the excellent Sarah Douglas) in The Vanity Trap. It’s a familiar setup: ageing female actor wants to stay young (why not a man for a change?) and time-changing technology gets involved. So far so familiar, but this take on vanity has some extra elements and the sixth Doctor and Peri work well as a balanced team as they investigate. Young actor Carolyn Sue (played by Colin Baker’s daughter Rosie) adds to the complexity, and it all makes for a pleasant listen.
A Freudian slip
Nev Fountain understands the sixth Doctor and Peri better than most writers, and Conflict Theory gives another example of his skill. The sixth Doctor and Peri are in therapy. The setting a space station full of robot Sigmund Freuds (David Sibley). As therapy progresses, we get a lot of insight into the relationship between the main characters and the story asks some interesting questions. Why does the Doctor court danger? Why would a rational person choose to be his (or her) companion? How overdue are his library books?
The psychoanalysis is told through the use of flashbacks to a war. Androids are destroying a library and then a whole planet. There’s a character called Dodo (!) and lots of high octane laser battles and explosions. Familiarity with Nev’s work meant we were able to spot the twist before the end, but that made no difference to our pleasure in hearing this story.
Alls well that ends well and we await the announcement of volume two.
The Sixth Doctor and Peri volume one is a welcome set of sixth Doctor and Peri stories, and while not perfect it’s always a pleasure to spend time with this TARDIS team. It’s available now on the Big Finish website.
Extras comprise an entire disc of behind the scenes material.