Since October 2013 I have been reviewing Big Finish audios for www.planetmondas.com - and now all my reviews are collected here, please take your time to have a read.
Sunday 20 September 2015
The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure
I would like, if I may, to start with some music. Ever since this release was announced back in February, I have associated the song This Is the One by The Stone Roses with this release, and here it is. Give it a listen – it says it all for me, because this really is the one I have been waiting for.
Colin Baker, Doctor Number Six, Old Sixie –the most underrated of Doctors, cruelly denied the one thing all his fellow Doctor’s were given: the chance to be at his best; the chance to be utterly heroic, stoic, heartbreaking and self-sacrificing for the good of all. He missed out on a regeneration scene. Until now, because twenty-nine years later Big Finish have finally put things right by giving Old Sixie the swansong he truly deserves. After twenty-nine years of waiting we finally have The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure – and what an adventure! A final lap of honour for this most operatic, avuncular, verbose and moral of Doctors. For continuity aficionados, everything makes sense, it ties in perfectly with the beginning of Time and the Rani, and no longer will the cause of the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration be “falling off an exercise bike”. Absolutely not – Colin gets the regeneration he deserves, a stoic acceptance of this is how things have to be, noble and understated. But I am getting ahead of myself…
Such an epic momentous story needs an epic and momentous foe, and they don’t come more momentous than The Valeyard. A distillation of all the Doctor’s negative impulses taken from somewhere between his penultimate and final regeneration. Interestingly, the episodes in this story are set at varying points during Old Sixie’s era, but for the Valeyard they happen consecutively – a sort of Valeyard’s master plan – and what a plan it is. But again, I am getting ahead of myself…
Being a special release, Big Finish really have really pulled out all the stops to give Colin a fitting final hurrah. The story is broken up into four different chapters, each with a different companion, each giving us a little insight into the Valeyard’s plan and each edging the Doctor a little closer to his fate on Lakertya. Also as this a special release my better half Hayley will be adding her thoughts and musings to the proceedings.
The End of the Line by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris.
An interesting place to start. We are introduced to new companion Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) with whom the Doctor has been travelling for a while, but this is the first time that we meet her, similar to meeting Mel for the first time in Terror of the Vervoids. Constance is a Wren from Bletchley Park during the Second World War and is a no nonsense, capable and independent woman. The story sees a broken down train lost in the fog and has a tense claustrophobic base-under-siege feeling. Tensions really start to rise when a murder is committed, or is it two murders – or three? The tension is fantastic, a real classic whodunnit feeling, for a while at least. And then the rug is pulled out from under you not once but twice. The emphasis and the tone of the story changes. Any more would be way too spoilery, but you will know what I mean when you hear it. As I said an interesting and brave place to start a story, introducing a hitherto unseen companion and also sowing the seeds of the Valeyard’s plans. Very good indeed.
The inevitability of this release made it a tough listen. I was eager for the journey, but reluctant to see it end. The opener was wonderfully uncomfortable – a familiar setting taken to the unfamiliar and distinctly sinister. Passengers on a train lost in an unfathomable fog gives it a very claustrophobic atmosphere and their sense of bewilderment and fear was palpable. There are plenty of open-mouth surprises along the way and there’s a great addition of a new companion in Constance. It’s almost irritating when the Doctor has a new companion and it all needs explaining again – bigger on the inside, blah, blah, blah. With Constance we’re starting on the tenth date (so to speak), she knows the Doctor and she knows the form, so we’re spared the introduction for now. It also gives us the hope we need, that Old Sixie will be back with new adventures – albeit retrospectively.
I was delighted to hear Michael Jayston return as The Valeyard. I didn’t expect it as I went into this without reading the synopsis . I remember him well from the Trial season (yes, I am that old) and always enjoyed the relationship between the two very different aspects of the Doctor.
A fab start to the end. The Red House by Alan Barnes
The most frothy of all the stories. This one takes place whilst the Doctor was travelling with Charley Pollard. They land on a planet where the laws of Lycanthropy have been turned on their head. The denizens are Werewolves pretty much all the time, but transform into violent thuggish humans when exposed to sunlight. Police Officer Werewolves go about in daylight in what sound like Red Riding Hood costumes to protect them from the transforming power of the sun. Add to this the mix of an amoral Doctor experimenting on the Werewolves to extract their essence, the Valeyard making a further move in his master plan, Hippy Werewolves having illicit parties where they indulge the transformation into humans, and you have a bit of an odd melting pot of tomes and ideas – but it really works. The scenes where Charley verbally spars with the Valeyard are exceptional, and again the tone completely changes when Charley realises (with a little prodding from the Valeyard) that the path that the Doctor is taking will lead to disaster. It’s one of those stories where the Sixth Doctor’s morality and desire to do right could be everyone’s undoing.
I’d almost forgotten that Charley travelled with Old Sixie. I’ve always liked Miss Pollard with McGann’s Doctor so it was nice to hear her featuring in Sixie’s swansong. This started well (I love a curfew!) and gave us a different take on lycanthropy, where the wolf state is preferable to being human, as well as cruel experimentation and further plotting of the Valeyard. An enjoyable story with great pace.
Stage Fright by Matt Fitton
They are Back – oh yes indeed! The premier practitioner of pathology, Professor George Litefoot, and the jocular genial gent Mister Henry Gordon Jago. The Doctor, now travelling with Flip (Lisa Greenwood) decides to take her on a trip to the New Regency Theatre, however it is closed so they make their way to the Red Tavern and meet the investigators of infernal incidents. They discover that Jago’s theatre has been hired by a certain “Mr Yardvale” to practice a play – obviously such an obvious pseudonym is a trap, and our heroes rush in to investigate.
The Valeyard is recreating scenes of the Doctor’s former regenerations on stage and absorbing the emotions which are being generated. The re-enactment of the Third Doctor’s regeneration with Jago playing the part of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) playing Sarah Jane Smith has to be heard to be believed! The whole story revolves around using negative emotions, and the denouement is actually very sweet, relying on one of Flip’s most frightening times as a child. It is always a pleasure to hear Jago and Litefoot, and they are never better than with Colin. I really hope that they make Flip’s acquaintance again as Jago and Flip make a really excellent double act. I was sad when this ended, as inevitably we reached the final chapter…
I love Messers Jago and Litefoot. I have a tremendous fondness for them – the best of the spin offs! They work so well with Sixie, as we heard during their fourth season. Sixie seems very at home with their their particular style of avuncular adventure and this episode is a joy to listen to. A dark story tempered as always by the good humour of George and Henry, it shows the Valeyard at his most cruel, using people and dispensing with them like rubbish. This was my first foray into the the match of the Sixth Doctor and Flip and I didn’t warm to her immediately – too street – but so much happens in this episode that it allows for great character progression, and eventually young Flip grew on me.
My favourite of the four, but with George and Henry, how could it not be?
The Brink of Death by Nicholas Briggs
And here it is, a Time Lord who’s time has run out… The Valeyard enacts his plan, leaving the Doctor with only six minutes to live, and he is determined to go down fighting aided by Time Lord demolition expert Genesta (Liz White) who really plays the part of companion in this story as Mel is in the TARDIS with the Valeyard (who she thinks is the Doctor). The Fateful name Lakertya is mentioned a few times in the narrative so fans will know the end is near – and what an ending! Colin nails it perfectly, he absolutely gives it his all, and has a true Sydney Carton moment – he really does do a far far better thing. It’s not the bombastic railing against the dying of the light you might expect, it’s more stoic, quieter and more dignified. Colin Baker, I salute you sir.
“Shall we listen to the last part?”, asked Ed. I knew it was coming but wasn’t sure if I was ready for it. Like Ed re-watching Logopolis – if he watches it often enough he hopes that Tom will hang on in there - I thought if I avoided it then Sixie would hang on in there too. Time to get a grip and say goodbye to the Doctor that I remember with the most clarity from the classic series (forgive me). It’s always hard to see the Doctor not being in control and showing fear; usually you know that he’ll triumph and fly off to his next adventure, but this time you feel the fear with him, because the end is coming. He bows out with dignity and bravery – just as he lived.
So there we have it, an end for Old Sixie, and most definitely the end he deserves – but also a few new beginnings… a whole new life as Doctor Number Seven and a new friend to get to know in the form of Mrs Constance Clarke. But we will always have Old Sixie… from a far too brief era of the classic TV series, Big Finish have helped Colin propel his Doctor right up there with the greats. In my mind Tom is the “other Baker”, Colin is the real deal. This is one of those releases that shows Big Finish at it’s best. They have done Colin, the era, and the fans proud, and I can do no more than to score this a much deserved 10/10.