It’s been a while since we had a continuation of the Sixth Doctor and Peri’s story since Mindwarp with the Big Finish trilogy consisting of The Widow’s Assassin, Masters of Earth and The Rani Elite coming to an end in 2014. While we’ve had plenty of Six and Peri adventures since they’ve all been set before this new boxset. Now, with Volume One of The Sixth and Peri, we know what sort of things they got up too after defeating the Rani.
The set opens with The Headless Ones, from a writing duo; James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown. When the Doctor and Peri find themselves in the jungles of Africa in Victorian times, they stumble upon an expedition looking for a mythical tribe of men, men whose faces are in their stomachs and eat the flesh of their victims. Upon first reflection, this story shows how cruel the Victorian era can be when viewed in historical terms, something that Doctor Who has steered away from the past, the mission of expedition team is colonisation and its apparent that not everyone in the group as the same thoughts as the Doctor and Peri in terms of discovering this mythical tribe.
It was nice to hear Peri’s past in botany coming into play, its a character trait that was forgotten in the television series almost as quickly as Mel’s background in computer programming! What was also nice was that her new background as a queen is brought out to play too and this leads to some of the more important scenes in the whole play. Nicola Bryant is particularly strong amongst the cast here, clearly relishing getting the chance to play an older and stronger version of her character.
The Headless Ones is quite a mature Who story and in that respect, is very in keeping with the grittier storytelling of the Sixth Doctor’s television outings. And is a story with many themes in genocide and Victorian values that can bog the story down a little and unfortunately despite trying too, this is a story that failed to hold my interest, despite the writers really trying their best.
Things pick up in the second adventure, Like, penned by Jaqueline Rayner, when the Doctor and Peri find themselves on a world where your survival depends on how many likes you have on your social media account. It’s a wholly original concept and Rayner does a great job of showing us a world that reflects some people’s lives. We’ve all seen it, people so obsessed with getting likes on Instagram and Twitter that nothing else matters and Rayner really succeeds in giving us a whole world where this concept is taken to the extreme.
But she does balance it in an interesting way and poses some interesting questions. Would the world be better if everyone was obsessed with trying to please others, undoubtedly it would but can a society survive on that alone, definitely not and the Doctor and Peri are the catalysts for revolution here. Again it was great to see Peri being so front and centre and she becomes intrinsic to the problem being solved. Also excellent is Colin Baker as the Doctor and his indignity that nobody likes him is hilarious, though it takes a dark turn when it puts his life in jeopardy.
In between each scene is a little advertisement slot which eventually also proves to be a part of the solution to the main plot, but they do get a little annoying, especially as they feel like they stop the flow of the drama. If the Doctor and Peri are in deadly danger, I don’t want to hear an advert for a perfume, no matter if it forms part of the plot, it stops the flow and disturbs the listening experience. However, that is a little quibble in what is otherwise another original story from Rayner.
Stuart Manning brings us the third story, The Vanity Trap, which sees the Doctor and Peri take a trip back to the glitz and glamour of old Hollywood. Its a timey-whimey story with the TARDIS gang experiencing a number of time-jumps throughout the runtime. There are a few good themes here, most notably not wanting to let go of the past and how people ignore others. Being ignored forms a large part of the story, though one wonders if it would have worked better in one of the Dark Shadow’s releases rather than Doctor Who.
For the most part, The Vanity Trap is a solid story, though it does begin to drag towards the end and could have easily been wrapped up about twenty-minutes towards the end. Another thing of note about this story was that it was the debut of Colin Baker’s daughter, Rosie, who plays Carolyn Sue, a character who joins the other guest actors in this set giving really strong performances.
Chaotic Theory from Nev Fountain rounds the set out in a really fun way. It sees the Doctor and Peri in therapy and forced to confront their feelings about each other. From fun nods to the Doctor’s strangling of Peri in The Twin Dilemma to Hartnell’s companion, Dodo, it is another fan-pleasing treat with many looks at past events.
Famously, Fountain is the real-life husband of Nicola Bryant and as such, many of his past Big Finish outings have focused on her character, here though, he takes a look at the Sixth Doctor and how in all his previous incarnations, he lives his life, going from danger to danger and how, all the way from the beginning with Susan, he’s chosen his companions. He states that perhaps the Doctor picks up ‘waifs and strays’ because they remind him of him when he was younger, someone who is bored and looking for an escape. He also plays with the idea that companions like Vikki and Dodo were picked up because they looked like Susan. It’s an interesting look at the Doctor’s character in a way that’s never been explored before and as a result, this comedic romp is all the stronger for it. In the end, Chaotic Theory ends up being the strongest story out of the set.
As we’ve come to expect over the years, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are on top form here. Colin Baker has always been at home with Big Finish and he’s clearly loved the development his Doctor has gotten over the years working with them. Likewise, Bryant is clearly enjoying playing a stronger and older version of Peri and it was nice to hear her new characterisation as a queen of an alien world coming into play many times in this set. I don’t think she’ll stand for the Doctor’s nonsense as much any more and she won’t be afraid to call him out on it, it’s going to be interesting and fun to hear where their adventures go now and of course, when Bryant decides she wants to leave, we’ll get a brand new departure for an old companion, something that hasn’t happened yet. But hopefully, that won’t be for many, many years to come.
Scott Handcock once again directs these stories excellently, keeping them rattling along at an enjoyable pace. All the scripts are fun too, even if there are few issues here and there. I think the problem I’ve always had with some Big Finish boxsets is that the quality of the stories varies more noticeably than it does in the monthly schedule. I think that’s particularly apparent here and while it doesn’t stop the enjoyment of listening to these outings, it can be particularly jarring. If this is the way Big Finish is going to tell new stories moving forward, I think they need to look at the quality of all the stories. But once again, all four adventures here are great, but the uneven storytelling is sadly glaringly obvious. But for fans of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, this set is an absolute must.