Sunday, 20 September 2015

192 - The Widows Assassin

Cast your minds back to 4th October 1986, it’s one of those days I remember very well. Doctor Who was back after it’s 18 month hiatus, and Trial of a Timelord was in full swing. 4th October 1986 was the date of the broadcast of Episode Five, or if you like Episode One of Mindwarp.
It was a warm early Autumn day, and what makes it so memorable was the continuity announcement before the story. I was upstairs in my Grandfather’s house, watching on a black and white portable TV and the continuity announcer said something like “Now the return of an old enemy for Doctor Who”.  Now remember, in 1986 we had no internet, fanzines were beyond me, and I didn’t subscribe to Doctor Who Magazine, so this announcement fired my imagination and became the one I really remember. For those brief few minutes, the possibilities were endless – old enemy meant, Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen! Or in this case, as my disappointed 14 year old self found out a few minutes later, old enemy meant Sil and the Mentors. These weren’t an old enemy, they had only been introduced the previous season! I was cross, very cross indeed, but over the next few weeks I was enthralled by episodes 5-8 or Mindwarp. It was a deliciously macabre dark story with a cataclysmic ending and to top it all it starred SIR BRIAN BLESSED. The confused ending left me confused at the time, but it was a fabulous exit for Peri, a real blaze of glory, until it was revealed she had actually been rescued by King Yrcarnos and yes, Peri was going to marry SIR BRIAN BLESSED and become a warrior queen of the Krontep.
Hmmm.
That makes no sense at all, and this months main range story from Big Finish “The Widow’s Assassin” carries on Peri’s story. For those who have not seen Trial of a Timelord, go and watch it now…
Are you back? Then I will begin.
This months story could be renamed “What Peri Did Next”. The story is beautifully framed as a fairy story – we meet up with Peri on her wedding day on the home-world of the Krontep. The Doctor turns up for the wedding, is given short shrift by Peri and is incarcerated in the dungeons.
Turns out that the Doctor has been feeling lonely since his companion Flip left him and he wanted to find Peri to ease his guilt at leaving her on Thoros Beta. The Peri he finds is much changed, cold, aloof, hurt and betrayed by being left behind. The world building is superb a sort of Gilliam/Pratchet/Pythonesque world with larger than life caricatures all giving a turn rather than going for realism, it stays just the right side of camp and is very much in keeping with the overall tone.
The story itself is a murder mystery which uses two very overused tropes, time travel and mind-scapes. I groaned when yet another virtual world was conjured up, but was completely wrong-footed, because this mind-scape actually gives a wonderful amount of character development for the Doctor.  The “lonely little boy” touched on in The Girl In the Fireplace is referenced again here, but this lonely little boy is The Doctor, and how he dealt with his loneliness is central to the story and to its resolution.
The supporting cast are again very Gilliamesque  – the first and second guards are actually called Guard One and Guard Two and their boss has been gene spliced with a sheep! It’s funny, but it’s also tragic and grotesque, imagine a Jabberwocky sort of look and you get the idea
So a great reunion of Ol’ Sixie and Peri – will there be more adventures for them? Spoilers sweetie, I am afraid… Suffice to say this was a joy to listen to, camp, silly, horrific, exciting, sad and moving – everything you could want from a Doctor Who story.
Highly recommended – a bit of a classic, really – and a well deserved 9/10.