Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions
Writer: Nev Fountain
RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)
Release Date: October 2014
Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online
“Once, long ago, in a land of monsters and corridors, a fair maiden was captured, and placed in a deep sleep.
She was used to being captured, and she had a hero who rescued her on just such occasions. But this time the hero never came.
And the fair maiden slept on.
Eventually, a King rescued the maiden, and made her his bride, which many wise old women might tell you is just another way of capturing fair maidens.
And still the fair maiden slept on.
Then, the hero had another stab at rescuing the maiden from her prison, but he was too late. And, more importantly, he had forgotten the rules of fairy tales.
He didn’t slay the dragon.”
It feels like this story has been waiting to be told by Big Finish for a while now. Their fascination with a post-Trial of a Time Lord Peri goes way back to Her Final Flight, a subscriber special and one of those oft-forgotten plays which I always enjoy whenever I revisit it. We then change ranges and ping over to The Companion Chronicles with Peri and the Piscon Paradox, which is every bit as good as reputation would have it. Its writer, Nev Fountain, clearly really cares about Peri as a character and has given her ultimate fate a lot of thought, and Nicola Bryant has rarely been as good as she is throughout that play, squeezing the script for every drop of drama, heartache and laughter she can. It felt like a decent conclusion to things: open-ended enough to maybe exploit further down the line, but with the option to simply move on now and leave things as they are. (I am desperately trying to not spoil that play here!)
We then switch ranges again, this time to the Main or Monthly Range, depending on what it’s being called this week, and have the Sixth Doctor travelling with Flip, but his heart(s) belong to someone else: Peri. He simply has to see her; to know how she is doing. It was clear from the very off how that trilogy was going to end: farewell Flip, prepare for Peri.
And now we are here with The Widow’s Assassin: Peri is back, Flip is gone, the Sixth Doctor is patiently waiting for things to click into place, and Nev Fountain is back in the hot seat, writing the follow-up-in-all-but-name to Piscon Paradox.
The first question is: is it as good? The answer, predictably, is no. Let’s be honest though, it was never going to be. Peri and the Piscon Paradox is about as perfect a play as Nev Fountain, and indeed Big Finish, have ever done, so it was going to be hard.
The second question is: is it satisfying for Peri? The answer is… debatable. For Peri with regards to lines/action here and Bryant’s performance? Yes, it’s very good indeed. As a continuation of her tale? Not so much. It takes a rather easy way out, a way which avoids future complicated arguments between the Doctor and Peri about how things ended between them, and whilst that is perhaps understandable, it still feels like it robs us of some weighty drama further down the line. It just doesn’t feel right or fair after all this time and fanfare.
The third question is: is it a good play? The answer is yes, it is good. Not brilliant, but higher than average. It is good. Fountain is great at writing comedy and there are some genuine laugh-aloud moments across Widow’s four episodes, often in the guise of the hapless prison guards who so ineffectively guard the Doctor. Halfway between the two guards from children’s television classic Maid Marian and her Merry Men and Evans from The Web of Fear, they sing whenever featured, and a whole host of alien delegates do likewise.
As with Piscon Paradox, there are some twisty-turny plot elements involving time here as well, though I must confess that I saw some of the larger twists coming a while off this time. I think, in fairness to Fountain, that it is perhaps the result of a lot of twisty-turny plot elements involving time being prominent in the show on TV in recent years, not to mention in Big Finish plays such as Dark Eyes 2, The Light at the End and, indeed, Peri and the Piscon Paradox itself. It just makes them slightly easier to spot than would otherwise be the case.
Still, Peri is back, and Bryant seems to be having fun alongside Colin Baker. We’ve Daleks coming up next and the return of the Rani, so things look promising. Even better, the irksome cliffhanger ending regarding Flip is resolved with an off-hand comment near the end of this play, which genuinely had me cheering: the best move Big Finish have made for a while now!
I am not going to pretend I thought this was the best play ever; in some ways, it disappointed me a bit. It’s not Fountain’s finest, nor is it Peri’s, the Doctor’s or Big Finish’s. It is, though, another decent monthly release after the recent Seventh Doctor/Ace/Hector-Hex trilogy, and that bodes well for the rest of 2014.