It seems like ages since we last had a proper Sixth Doctor and Peri adventure. We’ve had the occasional Short Trip but not a nice four-part main range adventure since The Rani Elite, all the way back in December 2014! But this year Big Finish have given us a special trip, not only have we got a brand new trilogy running up to September, we’ve got a new Lost Adventure in November and a Christmas adventure, which I believe will feature the Sixth Doctor and Peri, called Blood on Santa’s Claw. After years of waiting, we’ve finally got one of Big Finish’s best pairings back together again!
I’ve really enjoyed Roland Moore’s writing with Big Finish, mainly from my listening to The Omega Factor range where his stories always had more than one layer and were always human pieces about human desires, beliefs and lives. And this story is no different with Memories of a Tyrant focusing nicely on the horrors of war, people who are affected by it and even poses the question, should people be punished for things they don’t remember doing when its all over?
One wonders if it might be a topic that is a little too heavy for Doctor Who but that is what this show’s always been great at doing, taking heavy topics and giving them a sci-fi spin that really makes you think about the topics it is talking about. Doctor Who has also always done stories with war criminals and tyrants but Garius Moro feels very different from a lot of the other evil-doers we’ve met over the years. I think this is because Moore makes sure that Moro is a rather unassuming fellow. Crippled by the onset of dementia and being forced to remember he genuinely doesn’t, this is where Moore’s message really kicks in as to whether he should still be punished for doing an evil act he doesn’t remember committing.
It’s an interesting question to explore and Moore takes great delight in exploring both sides of it. We’ve got a fun return from the Space Security Services. For those who don’t know, Sara Kingdom, one of William Hartnell’s companions was an operative of the organisation. And we’ve got aliens on both ends of the spectrum, ones who suffered at the hands of Moro and ones who benefitted from his actions. But when Moro is the victim of an attempted assassination, one has to wonder if he really deserves it but at the same time, it makes you feel sorry for him as he doesn’t know the kind of man that he is. It puts the characters in an interesting position and also the listener as one has to ponder on the ethical questions this story raises through its two-hour runtime.
The Sixth Doctor and Peri are used excellently too. Set before Peri’s original departure in Mindwarp, Nicola Bryant get a lot of the best scenes. When the pair arrive at the aptly named Memory Farm, Peri wonders if she can use the machine to try and remember her father, who passed away when she was young. But the pair are thrown into the story’s main mystery before she gets a chance to use the machine. But it is Peri who figures out the mystery in the final two episodes, separated from the Doctor, she figures out who the real baddie is, their motives and why they did it.
Peri has always been one of the best Big Finish companions, thanks to Big Finish always being great at character work and it is clear how much Bryant has appreciated this over the years she has worked with them. Listening to this story, it felt very reminiscent of the early days for the pair at BF and Roland Moore has a great handle on the pair. I’d be very happy to see him writing for the pair sometime in the future.
We also get an interesting look at the Sixth Doctor who thanks to the machinations of the real baddie, believes himself to be Moro and is thrown into a mining planet until he gets a trial. Thanks to Moore’s writing and Colin Baker’s brilliant performance, you do really believe that he might be a genocidal intergalactic menace. So good it is the performance, one almost wishes he spent more of the story in this darker persona but this plot device is played for the perfect amount of time, giving Peri just the right amount of time to really shine as the person who works the whole plan out.
As a return for the pairing of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, Memories of a Tyrant is a great adventure, really showing us how brilliant Peri, was and is. She will always be one of my favourite companions and it is great to see Nicola Bryant getting great stories like this. But Memories of a Tyrant is also brilliant because of the ethical questions that it poses, a staple of Roland Moore’s work. It is handled brilliantly, not really giving a definitive answer, either way, instead of leaving it up to the characters and the listener to decide for themselves.
The theme of moral questions and ethics seems to be what will tie this trilogy loosely together as the next adventure, which I’m really looking forward too, Emissary of the Daleks promises to ask more ethical quandaries. And as long as they are handled as well by Andrew Smith, which I’m sure they will, as they were as Roland Moore, we’ll have another stone-cold-classic on our hands!