Rounding out the Big Finish main Doctor Who releases in 2019 was Blood On Santa’s Claw, an anthology release of four adventures for the Sixth Doctor, Peri and new companion, Joe, who we are introduced to as Peri’s boyfriend.
Blood on Santa’s Claw: Written by – Alan Terigo
The set opens with the titular adventure, Blood on Santa’s Claw, playing with the title of the Hammer Horror movie, Blood on Satan’s Claw. Alan Terigo throws a lot at us for a story that runs for thirty minutes. We’ve got evil Father Christmas’, characters from Shakespeare and The Wind in the Willows, religion and a hefty message on how one person’s faith and religious beliefs shouldn’t be more important than someone else’s. It’s a strong message that Doctor Who has rarely touched on for a larger extent and maybe for a good reason because its a topic that could offend people. But Terigo handles it deftly using Shakespeare’s work and characters and those figures from Wind in the Willows as metaphors for the different religions that exist today.
Understandably a lot of the world-building has to go somewhat out of the window when there is this much plot and so little time to set it all up but Terigo does an excellent job of giving us enough information at the beginning and continuously throughout the script to keep us up to date with the affairs of the planet and the lifeforms on it. We also get the first hints of something else going on and it won’t be until the final story, that elements of these adventures will come into play properly.
New companion Joe doesn’t really do anything here and to begin with, I found it very strange but as the set of stories reaches its conclusion it all makes sense. That doesn’t mean I really liked the character though. I felt he was a little too snarky, confrontational and sometimes down-right mean, not only to the Doctor but also to Peri. However, it wasn’t until the final episode everything came together, however, if we’re supposed to be having these four stories with him, we need to like him and listening to the character without any knowledge of what will be happening in the end, might leave you feeling confused or annoyed by the character. But the actor, Luke Allen-Gale does a pretty decent job, especially in the final two episodes where the writers actually gave him something to do!
Where Terigo shines though is in his characterisation. The Doctor and Peri feel very authentic to the period they are from and he has a great handle on the guest characters, even if some of them were just made up of religious zealots stereotypes. I really enjoyed the inclusion of Ratty, Mole and Toad though.
Here’s a little known fact, years ago I played Toad in a production of Wind in the Willows in my local theatre. It’s a role I’m still known for around the area I live and that production must be pushing over ten-years ago now! In this story, Roger Parrott played the role of Toad and he did a tremendous job. So from one Toad to another, great job, you did the character proud!
The Baby Awakes: Written by – Susan Dennom
The second story of the set, The Baby Awakes is another tale with a strong relevant message, this time concerning the idea of designer babies and that parents can make sure certain genetic traits are either included or removed from their unborn children. It’s another heavy topic and this is the first time that I’ve seen or heard it used on Doctor Who and it posed some interesting events throughout its half-hour runtime.
Joe feels particularly cold-hearted and cruel here, though that isn’t Dennom’s fault, but yet another unlikable trait of the character. This is a story though that belongs to Nicola Bryant’s Peri, who gets the audio-time in a number of heavy scenes and shows that she can do the serious side of acting just as well as she can do the double-act with Colin Baker. In fact, the Doctor also puts her in something of a cruel position, making her go to investigate the mysterious Ishtar institute. Although they are robots, the Institute let her see what her children could be like before they get taken away from her at the end of the story. It’s quite painful stuff to listen too and Bryant acquits herself brilliantly, proving yet again why Peri is one of the best companions to come from the original run of the show.
The Baby Awakes also introduces us to some concepts that will also come into play in the final two parts and overall is a strong piece of fiction and fits perfectly into the thirty-minute format, and is quite a dark outing for the Doctor and a Christmas story. But it’s brilliant nonetheless.
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day: Written By – Andrew Lias
This is the story where it all starts to come together. Arriving on a space-station where it seems the same Christmas party has been going on for the last three years, the Doctor, Peri and Joe find themselves stuck yet again in the 59th century an era that all the stories of this set have taken place in, much to the Doctor’s disdain as its one of his least favourite centuries.
With Silver Robots guarding the Christmas decorations against being taken down, the trio quickly discovers that things aren’t as they first appear and it begins to call into question the Doctor’s previous actions throughout the other stories in the set.
Rightly though, Lias allows the story to belong to Peri and Joe and the script actually gives Gale some time to really develop his character of Joe. I didn’t really like his character up to this point but Lias makes sure that this story shows us that he allows Peri to have a different angle to her persona that we haven’t seen before. Joe also poses her an interesting question as to whether its time to leave the TARDIS and begin a new life with him. It shows us how much Peri has grown through her travels but also how much she has left to learn and once again Bryant rises to the challenge and has brilliant chemistry with Gale.
The story ends on a cliff-hanger that you won’t see coming, even though the hints were littered through the scripts of the previous adventures.
Brightly Shone the Moon that Night: Written by – Nev Fountain
Fountain has made quite a name for himself writing stories for the Sixth Doctor and Peri in particular so it seems right that he should be the one to wrap this anthology up. And he does a tremendous job. What makes this one really stand out is that gone is the humour that Fountain is normally known for and he instead gives us a story where the stakes seem ridiculously high. With the Doctor seemingly out of action and Joe having revealed his true colours, it all hinges on Peri.
This is a story that introduces us to the Were-Lords an ancient Gallifreyian secret from their earliest times and the Vampire wars. The Doctor has been played throughout the previous outings and everything’s lead here. And what is fun is that the Doctor doesn’t work it out, Peri does. Some realise that Joe didn’t want to go down into the silver mines in the opening stories and what causes the robot children to mutate in the second outing was his DNA and the woman he was talking to in the previous tale was actually his sister in the pack.
It’ll be up for debate whether the revelation of Joe’s nefarious actions impact the actual threat of Were-Lords because it does stop them from feeling like a full-on threat as much of the runtime is taken up with Peri facing off against him. But overall their backstory and their abilities to regenerate indefinitely do pose a credible threat for the Doctor and Peri. And the resolution of the story once again shows us that the Doctor isn’t afraid of taking matters into his own hands and giving the villains a less than happy ending if he has too. And Baker really shines in these final moments, giving these Were-Lords a sort of eternal death.
Overall Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories is a great set of stories that in beginning feel completely separate from each other but in the end, work together to tell one exciting adventure for the Doctor and Peri. Joe will grow on you as the revelation of where he comes from is revealed and Gale really shines in the role. In fact, despite my misgivings about the character in the beginning, I’d quite happily have a trilogy of adventures in the future with these characters because, not only is it interesting for there to be a companion who the Doctor doesn’t actually like, knowing that Joe is up to something dodgy in the end might offer us some interesting future adventures. Big Finish did it when they introduced the Seventh Doctor and Elizabeth Klein, one of my favourite audio companions and it would be great for them to do it again here.
The scripts from all four writers are strong enough to stand on their own two feet as well as working as a cohesive whole. While not every aspect might work as well as others, it’s still a great set of stories to listen too and feels suitably Christmassy for the time of year. Knowing the outcome, it’ll be a release I look forward to rediscovering next year to see if I enjoy it even more than I did this time. Definitely one to be checking out.