peri

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Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release Red Dawn

Starring
Peter Davison as The Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri

Also featuring

Robert Jezek, Stephen Fewell, Maureen Oakley, Hylton Collins
Alistair Lock, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Gary Russell
with Georgia Moffett and Matthew Brenher

Written by Justin Richards
Directed by Gary Russell

 

This time out the Big Finish Doctor Who range tackles the long belated defrosting of the Ice Warriors, who haven’t been seen, or heard, since way back in the Jon Pertwee era of the original TV series. Would the second dip into Doctor Who’s rogues gallery prove more successful than the first? Please join me to find out.

 

“It’s surprising what you can cope with if you have to.”

Episode 1: The Fifth Doctor and Peri step out of the TARDIS and into an unknown structure, where the air is breathable, and the odd green walls look strangely organic. As they progress deeper inside, they see huge blocks of ice placed by each of the doorways, each with a faint outline of something frozen inside…

You know, I always had a bit of a soft spot for the Ice Warriors. Whether it be the hissing menaces of the Troughton era, or the more manipulative diplomats of the Pertwee one, there was just something about them that I always enjoyed. Maybe it was the lisp. After all, who doesn’t love a Martian with a speech impediment? With or without Earth-shattering kabooms.

As such, I have been quite looking forward to this one. After all, on paper it seems to have all the right ingredients. Nicola Bryant seemed one of the most successful companions at stepping seamlessly back into her old role, and was one of the parts that I liked most in previous outing Whispers of Terror. Peter Davison has gone from strength to strength, and has, for me, had a pretty much flawless run of stories so far, and I have genuinely enjoyed each and every one. And I’m a fan of the Ice Warriors, as I said. However as even Sir Mix-a-Lot could probably guess, there’s a huge but coming. And that is, but none of it matters. Why doesn’t it matter? Oh, let me count the ways.

First up, somewhere between Whispers of Terror and here Nicola Bryant has forgotten how to do Peri’s voice, which is both immediately evident, and hugely distracting. And it is not only that her accent is worse than ever (and it never particularly bothered me before), it is that she is barely even recognisable as Peri, particularly early on. Now of course the obvious problem with this is that this is audio, so the only recognition factor we have as far as these characters go is their voices, so when something that familiar sounds so far away from what we are used to hearing it quickly becomes very disconcerting as a listener, not to mention distracting. And too often I found myself wondering why she sounded like she did, rather than focussed on what she was actually saying. Which is just about the last thing you want in an audio drama.

Not that it mattered particularly anyway, because this story isn’t just a whole lot of nothing happening, it is a whole lot of nothing happening very slowly. Honestly, Red Dawn may well be the shortest Big Finish Doctor Who audio release by a rather significant margin, but it also somehow manages to feel like the longest. By a lot. It really was a struggle to get through this one for me, right from the start. And worse still, that first episode was probably the strongest of the bunch. And that is damning it with the faintest of possible praise.

 

“Nobility and honour.”

Episode 2: Having encountered an Earth expedition crew, The Doctor finds himself separated from his companion, and face to face with the newly defrosted guardians of this mysterious place. Meanwhile Peri discovers that not all of the human crew are quite what they seem.

Which brings me to the story presented here, and really this could have been called Tomb of the Ice Warriors. But while it cribs a great deal from that classic Troughton era Cybermen story’s set up and execution, it does so in particularly laboured fashion, turning the Ice Warriors into bargain basement Klingon knock-offs, and spreading a virtually non-existent story and a bunch of wafer thin characters out way beyond any sustainable point, to exceedingly dull and predictable results.

After the disappointing Whispers of Terror, and now the flat out tedious Red Dawn, it’s safe to say I’m just not a fan of Justin Richards Big Finish Doctor Who audio work. Apparently he is quite a well respected Doctor Who novelist, or so I have been led to believe, but even in saying that I doubt I’ll be on his Christmas card list this year. Although if he could send me a gift certificate with a couple of hours of my life back, that would certainly be appreciated.

As the story limps on, we move into episode three…

 

“Take care that you do not exhaust what remains of my patience.”

Episode 3: As Peri attempts to help prevent the destruction of the Earth Lander Argosy, The Doctor desperately negotiates with Lord Zzarl of the Ice Warriors for the lives of the Earth crew.

Where things suddenly don’t get any better. However I have, by this point, managed to find one solitary bright spot, and that is in Lord Zzarl, who must surely be the most passive aggressive Ice Warrior of all time. The kind of Ice Warrior that would buy you a mechanical dog, then kick it to death in front of you, then buy you another one. And then set it on fire. For which he would sincerely apologise. For there is honour in setting things on fire. And in apologising. And in everything else, apparently. Honestly, it’s enough to make a Klingon puke.

It also doesn’t hurt matters that to my ears he sounds eerily similar to Paul Darrow, if indeed Paul Darrow was an Ice Warrior (and in my world Paul Darrow can be whatever the fuck he wants).

The image of the Paul Darrow Ice Warrior, in his requisite cape, no less, sustains me for a short while. But it simply isn’t enough, and soon the crushing banality returns full force. And we still have another episode to go.

 

“A pragmatic solution. An honourable bargain.”

Episode 4: After yet another betrayal, and with The Doctor’s negotiations failing, Lord Zzarl sets out to show what it truly means to be an Ice Warrior.

Has Peri’s voice gradually been getting better? I quickly decide that I don’t really care. Which I guess brings me to the performances.

Peter Davison deserves a medal for trying so hard, but even he can’t do much with the material he is given here. He still makes a damn good go at it, though. Nicola Bryant’s performance seems patchy, even putting aside the accent/voice issue. But at least part of that I think is down to poor characterisation, and some truly dreadful dialogue that is forced upon her.

The guest cast, meanwhile, are mostly adequate. Peter Davison’s little girl, and destined to be Mrs David Tennant, and, rather creepily, also the Tenth Doctor’s daughter, Georgina Moffett is fine, if completely unremarkable. Thus I have remarked upon it. Her part here also shares some rather odd similarities with her future guest starring role in the TV series episode The Doctor’s Daughter. At this point I firmly believe she’s stuck in some weird kind of temporal loop built entirely out of coincidences and cheesecake. Although the cheesecake may be a lie.

Soon-to-be-Frobisher Robert Jezek gives a perfectly solid performance, though his character has precious little to do, and basically stands around on the sidelines for much of the story. The various Ice Warrior voices all do the job as well as could ever be hoped for, and there’s no doubting who, and what, they are. While Matthew Brenher does all he possibly can to inject some small semblance of life and interest into Lord Zzarl, and it worked for me, though perhaps not for the reasons that were intended. On the other hand, Stephen Fewell doesn’t do much to add anything at all to what is clearly one of the dumbest, whiniest, and least effective villains I have ever encountered, while the rest of the supporting cast do what is required of them, if little more. Except the ‘merkin voices at Mission Control, whose accents are so bad they have the potential to cause a diplomatic incident.

Oh, and you know how I like a good cliff-hanger? Well this didn’t have any. In fact it had one of the lamest cliff-hanger resolutions I have ever heard. Ever. In my whole history of owning ears.

To me this was the absolute nadir of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range so far, and I sincerely hope it remains that way, because this one truly was difficult to get through, and it is not an experience I would care to repeat. I generally get some level of enjoyment out of even the least successful audio releases, despite any inconsistencies there is always something there worthwhile to enjoy and help pull me through, but this one just flat out bored me from beginning to end. So much so that had it been my first Big Finish Doctor Who experience, I honestly don’t know if there would have been a second.

I love Doctor Who and I do sincerely try to find the positive in things as much as possible. So let me just positively say, in the words our Ice Warrior friends, for me thissssss one absssssolutely sssssssssuckssssss. It may not be witty, but it is, unfortunately, true.

 

Next up: Colin Baker returns in The Spectre of Lanyon Moor 

Cover art for the Big Finish Doctor Who audio release Whispers of Terror.

Starring
Colin Baker as The Doctor and Nicola Bryant as Peri

Also featuring

Lisa Bowerman, Matthew Brenher, Rebecca Jenkins, Nick Scovell
Steffan Boje, Mark Trotman, Hylton Collins
and Peter Miles

Written by Justin Richards
Directed by Gary Russell

 

Back into Colin Baker land we go, who, as I’ve mentioned previously, I am quite the fan of. And who has already excelled himself in the Big Finish Doctor Who audio range. Plus, this time there is the added bonus of the return of Nicola Bryant as one Perpugilliam Brown. What could possibly go wrong? Please join me to find out.

 

“You don’t know where we are.”

Episode 1: The Sixth Doctor and Peri arrive at the Museum of Aural Antiquities, only to find themselves confronted with a fleeing woman and a dead body. And just what are those mysterious otherworldly voices that echo throughout the halls?

And I was so looking forward to this one, too. Alas, it turned out that Whispers of Terror would soon prove itself to be my least favourite journey into Big Finish Doctor Who audio so far, and by a pretty significant margin, to boot.

Now that isn’t to say that this release is a total write off, and there is nothing in it that is anywhere near as grating as parts of the first episode of The Sirens of Time, for example. But disappointing, very much so. At least to this listener’s ears.

The main problem, and one that soon becomes very evident indeed, is just how drawn out the entire thing is. There just isn’t enough story here to convincingly or entertainingly sustain a four episode audio adventure, and as a result there is a lot of padding. This comes not only in terms of lengthening scenes far beyond need, and just generally drawing out the story to near breaking point, but also in the addition of an excess of audio cues. Many of these have a tendency to overstay their welcome, and some even seem to be there for little reason beyond the simple filling of time, particularly during the initial pair of episodes.

The basic premise, while rather simple, is actually quite a good one. It is unfortunate then that it just feels like it has all been stretched way too thin, with the end result being that much of it comes across as a bit of a chore, despite the best efforts of the majority of the cast involved.

Speaking of the cast, Colin Baker is as good as ever, given what he has to work with, while Nicola Bryant very successfully slips back into character as Peri, and manages to do so without the teething problems we have heard other returning cast members going through. It’s just a shame that she hasn’t been given some stronger material to work with. Her character here has been granted little more than a series of verbal sparrings with The Doctor for much of the story’s runtime. These are enjoyable up to a point, but I can’t help but wish there was a bit more there, both in terms of wit and substance.

As for the guest cast, it’s a mostly dependable mixed bag of performances. Peter Miles is very good indeed, as the museum’s blind curator, while there is also notably strong support from Lisa Bowerman and Matthew Brenher. Unfortunately, as so far often seems to be the case, there is again here a performance that stands out as distractingly poorer than all the others, and this time that dubious credit must go to Steffan Boje, who is more wooden than a plank covered by another plank, locked in a pine box, and surrounded by trees. Tut tut tut.

The first episode does the usual job of setting the scene, starting the story rolling, and getting the main players in place. However, despite that, one can’t help but feel like not all that much actually happens. A feeling that is set to continue.

 

“You have to protect me from the voices.”

Episode 2: It appears that somebody has been changing select audio records of the late actor, and aspiring politician, Visteen Krane, from within the museum archives. Krane’s former agent, Beth Pernell, has arrived in advance of a special broadcast dedicated to her client and friend, but is she also hiding ambitions of her own? And what exactly is the true purpose of this creature that appears to be composed entirely of sound?

Okay, first up, can I just say that the audio in this release can be truly grating at times. Particularly during the first two episodes, where, as previously mentioned, it too often serves the purpose of simply padding out the run time.

Now I do get what they are trying to do here, and I think the core idea of a creature made of sound is, while a touch obvious, still quite a good concept for an audio based adventure. However, the execution of it within the audio mix often leaves a little to be desired.

To my ears, they have tried to make the sound design too complex, too multi-layered, with the idea that more automatically equals better. But the end result is that it actually detracts from both the idea itself, and it’s overall impact, and it all becomes aurally overcrowded and repetitive. Even, as already stated, somewhat grating at times. For me it just served to unbalance the story even further.

Though to be fair, as the mystery of the creature became clearer in the last two episodes, and such mixing methods weren’t as heavily relied upon, or applied in quite such heavy-handed a manner, it also became far less of a problem as the story progressed. Admittedly, it is also one of those things that will likely bother some people more than it will others.

Speaking of the sound mix, I felt that the music was often a little too bombastic and overbearing for my personal tastes as well. Once again, that may actually be more to do with its frequent overuse in being so often brought to the forefront as yet another time filler, rather than any lack of quality in the actual score. In other words, it’s more to do with how the music was used, rather than the music itself. Though honestly, given the way in which it was often used, I found it a bit hard to differentiate the two.

The story continues to lumber along, while most of the cast do their level best to inject some life and energy into the proceedings. That they manage to do so to any significant degree is probably as fine a testament to their abilities as anything, frankly. And thankfully, the final two episodes do at least pick up a little, at least in pacing and general entertainment terms, if not exactly depth or unexpectedness of story.

 

“I’ll keep it close to my hearts.”

Episode 3: The Doctor has uncovered the truth behind the origin of the sound creature, but it’s motives are decidedly less clear. Meanwhile Peri makes a startling discovery of her own.

With the third episode, at least the plot seems to be moving along at a slightly better pace, and though there is little here to surprise, what we do get does seem a touch less obtrusive in it’s padding and sound design. And more entertaining it is for it too.

One thing I have thus far failed to mention is that all the cliff-hangers in this story are actually rather naff, as well, with the third episode not only continuing the tradition, but even managing to up the stakes. To which I momentarily put on my Mighty Hat of Dramatic Clichés (tm.) and scream “Noooooooooooooooooooo!

 

“It’s what you say that’s important, not how loudly you say it.”

Episode 4: As a result of his efforts to stop the rampaging sound creature, The Doctor gains an unexpected ally. And the true extent of the conspiracy is finally revealed.

And so it ends. And in a decidedly paint-by-numbers manner, at that.

One of the biggest problems with this story for me, other than those I have already outlined, is the sheer fact that Justin Richards’ script lacks even the smallest of surprises. Even the one twist that it actively tries to pull, which would be largely impossible to try to do in a more visual format, is so entirely predictable (and oddly inconsequential) that you are literally waiting for it to finally happen. Being so far ahead of the story and characters is just another curse that this audio must endure, and is yet another thing that makes the excessive padding of the earlier episodes a bit of a chore to get through.

It also doesn’t help matters that the ending, featuring the final fate of one of the lead characters, seems so violently shoehorned in at the last moment that you can almost smell its giant, misshapen foot pushing extra hard in an effort to make it all work. And it even seemed to have a bit of a tin ear to boot.

However, despite all I have said above, this isn’t a bad story, per se, and I didn’t outright dislike it either, much less hate it. It is simply a decidedly mediocre tale that has been stretched way too thin, and not at all to it’s benefit. And in many ways, that in itself is disappointment enough. The odd thing is, at the same time it feels very much like an early Colin Baker TV story, though more for it’s lesser attributes, rather than it’s fewer positive ones.

Still, it is not as if every Big Finish Doctor Who audio release was going to be a winner, and hopefully better things are soon to come.

 

Next up: Peter Davison returns in The Land of the Dead

Cover art for the BBC Doctor Who DVD release Timelash.

Yes, I own this on DVD. Yes, I have watched it more than once. Yes, I actually admit to liking it. And yes, I am now going to stand before you all and shamelessly defend it…

 

What can I say? I like it. Yep, I like Timelash.

I get why a lot of folks don’t like this story, or find it mediocre. I don’t quite get the rampant level of bile that it so often gets showered with however, nor it always being placed so high on fans “worst ever” lists. For example, in the 2009 Doctor Who Monthly fan poll of all episodes made up until that point, Timelash placed 199th out of 200, with only The Twin Dilemma being judged as worse. But hey, I guess that will just have to remain a mystery to me, fan who actually likes Timelash that I am.

Contrary to rumours that may suggest otherwise, I’m not blind. Or crazy. Well, I’m not blind. There is admittedly a lot here that you could take aim at, and so if you want nits to pick then you’ll admittedly have a few to choose from. But at the end of the day, for me, it all boils down to the very simple fact that I just find it all rather fun. I love Paul Darrow’s much maligned performance. Yes it’s hammy, but it’s delightfully hammy, not obtrusively so. And while his acting choices may seem bat-shit crazy, he fully commits to it, and for me it just works. Plus he’s wearing a cape. For no conceivable reason at all, and against all other perceivable fashion on the planet. But he doesn’t care, because fuck them all, he has a cape, and it is awesome. And it makes me smile.

I also think that while Nicola Bryant is woefully underused in this story, and just plain poorly treated even when she does have some screen time, Colin Baker is actually quite superb here, and I just really enjoy his blustering Doctor, who for my money was often far better than the scripts he was often lumbered with. And in this regard, Timelash is no different. Once again Colin Baker gives it his all. And while the script could be called, if you were in a particularly generous mood, ‘patchy’, when Baker is on screen he manages to make it work, or at least help make you not care too much about any of the rougher edges. Also, despite Timelash’s shoddy reputation, there’s actually some decent support here as well. Robert Ashby as The Borad was more than solid, as was the late, great Denis Carey as his human image, and Eric Deacon as Mycros. And again, though not a particularly popular opinion, I rather enjoyed David Chandler’s enthusiastic performance as ‘Herbert’ as well. The rest of the cast however range from merely serviceable, to, well, let’s face it, not even that, so probably best to just move swiftly along at this point.

Which brings us to the oft-ridiculed production design. But once again, I honestly don’t find it notably awful compared against where Doctor Who was at the time. Especially when you consider that these were the lowest budgeted episodes of an already ridiculously low budgeted show from an era where they had now endured years of ever slimming budgets versus ever increasing basic expenses. Yes, the Timelash chamber is very naff, and the use of tinsel never did anything any favours whenever it showed it’s shiny face in an episode of Doctor Who. And yes, while the cavern beastie isn’t very convincing at all, I’d argue that the head was actually decently sculpted at least, so if they had smoked up the caves a bit and lit darker it might have had a bit more impact…or not. But hey, at least it’s not The Myrka. And sure, I admit that the blue faced android rates quite high on the cheese factor as well. In fact it may well spend most of it’s off hours living on top of a cracker. But again, the actor in question was at least fully committed…or maybe he should have been. But regardless, for some crazy reason these things just don’t bother me all that much in Timelash for whatever reason. They’re all just part of the crazy. And I guess it rings true as my kind of crazy. Besides, I’d argue that the Borad make-up was actually quite good, by any classic Who standards. The snake-head ambassador puppets, yeah, okay, I’ll concede the point on that one, and once again just swiftly move along.

Let us face facts, the real problem here is the script. It’s unfocussed, very padded, and pretty flatly directed for the most part to boot. It also has more holes than a sieve with extra holes in it, if you’re mad enough to examine it too closely. But again, even knowing that, it doesn’t really bother me too much, outside of the under use and, frankly, plain poorly written treatment given to Nicola Bryant’s Peri, who as I already stated above definitely deserved better than she was granted here. That, more than anything, is my one major and lasting bugbear with this show. Most of the rest I can go with. And some of it, as I’ve explained, I can actually and truly do crazily enjoy, but the tied and screaming Peri factor is a legitimate and lasting complaint against the whole proceedings, and one deserving of no defence from me whatsoever.

As to the ending, which so many fans seem to hate, and even positively take offence at, I always found it kind of funny to be honest. To dismiss the importance of exactly what happened, by way of a throwaway joke line, well, that just always seemed like a very Sixth Doctor thing to say and do. And so for me, it works. Which is ultimately all that matters, really. And any behind-the-scenes machinations that led to such a, shall we say non-traditional, ending is, to me, largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of things.

Look, I’m not arguing that Timelash is some lost and abused classic here, but the worst of Classic era Who? No, I’m sorry, but that I simply can not let stand unchallenged. Even with it’s flaws, it’s not even close to being the nadir of the classic Who catalogue.

In fact, I quite like Timelash. And a lot of it just makes me smile.

And sometimes, that’s enough.