Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nothing Fishy Going On Here, Guv

As you know, myself and the Prof are fans of Big Finish. I have to say that the Prof is far more versed in their productions than am I, seeing as I am still very much a happy dabbler rather than an aficionado. Its something I keep meaning to rectify and now the weather’s improving, I have determined to listen to a few on the walk to work of a morning (and evening, obviously; it’s not like I sleep there or anything, despite what my students might think).

Having talked to Nev Fountain at Dimensions last year about his (then) upcoming Companion Chronicle, I decided to pick up “Peri and the Piscon Paradox”. For those of you interested in chronology, it takes place somewhere between Peri’s first meeting with the Fifth Doctor and also a bit after the mess commonly known as “Trial of a Timelord”. In it, Peri and both the Fifth and Sixth Doctors have to battle a fish-alien by the name of Zarl who, as you would expect, is up to no good on Earth in 2009. Problem is, there’s two Peris, one from the past and an older one who really shouldn’t be there at all…

Now I’m not a fan of Peri; originally I only saw her in “The Caves of Androzani” (having given up on the show somewhere around Omega’s search for happy flapjacks in Amsterdam) and was not impressed. She was whiny and annoying and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why everyone was determined to get themselves killed on her behalf. Nothing I’ve seen since has made me change my mind. So that makes this Companion Chronicle a bit of an odd choice then, really, doesn’t it?

If it hadn’t been for the fact that Nev had written it and I’m a big fan of “Kingmaker” (no matter what my illustrious podcast companions might say, its fab), I freely admit that I would never have looked at this. My dislike of the character did make the first disc difficult to get through despite the quality of the story, as Nev and Nicola Bryant have done far too good a job of catching young Peri’s voice. The Companion Chronicles rely on the person chosen to be able to pull off a reasonable impersonation of the Doctor they’re travelling with and even though there’s a joke about how rubbish she is at it in the script, Ms Bryant really doesn’t convey a sense of Davison at all well. That said, it’s the only misstep in an otherwise excellent production.

Things really get going in the second half of the story, told from old Peri’s point of view. It’s helped by the appearance of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor (quite unusual for a Companion Chronicle, I’m told), doing sterling work as ever in these things, and the fact that older Peri is a far more sympathetic character. You can hear in her voice that all of that irritating brashness has been knocked out of her the hard way. Parts of the story were very painful to listen to, and if you know us and you’ve heard this production you will know why, but they were handled superbly by both Nev and Ms Bryant (proving here that she really can act her socks off, given the right script). Nev may be known as a comedy writer, but his ability to deliver tragedy is heartbreaking; let’s just say, I was grateful that there weren’t any dog-walkers about that morning to see my trying not to cry all over my iPod.

The wrap up is cleverly timey-wimey; even though I haven’t seen the episodes to which it refers, I know enough about them to get and appreciate the way the denouement deals with a particularly thorny fan problem. Yes, the underlying story is a bit daft when you look at it closely, but then, aren’t a lot of Doctor Who stories? It’s what’s going on between the lines that makes it. I’m never going to be a big fan of Peri, but all in all, I went away glad that I hadn’t let my age-old prejudices stop me from listening.


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