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11 January 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Chris Chapman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"It's 1793 and the Reign of Terror is slicing through the elite of Paris - but not if the Scarlet Pimpernel has anything to do with it! With a very British pluck, and daring bravado, he rescues French aristocrats from Madame Guillotine's embrace. But who hides beneath the Pimpernel’s mask? And isn’t the Scarlet Pimpernel just a fictional character?

At Highmoor House, in England, Peri plays lady of the manor while the Doctor tends to the strange wounds of her ‘husband’, Sir Percy Blakeney. As Peri prepares to host a lavish ball in Sir Percy’s name, French agent Citizen Donat, and a sinister alien force are uninvited guests, both intent on unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel and putting an end to his heroic escapades, forever!"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Big Finish’s schedule in 2020 has very much been dictated by what actors have been available and able to record from home, and what has been waiting in the wings. Trilogies were discarded, a deluge of middling-to-poor Tenth Doctor plays were released, and certain writers must surely have sore wrists from all the scripts they’ve been typing. I think the shake-up of the trilogy formula has worked in the monthly range’s favour, and the technical prowess to pull off the remote-recorded plays is nothing short of brilliant. Whatever my feelings on some of the quality of the releases, I will never fault Big Finish’s gritted teeth and determination.

December gives us two releases recorded remotely according to Big Finish’s website, the first of these being Plight of the Pimpernel by Chris Chapman. Set during the Reign of Terror, the Doctor and Peri go undercover and try to work out how the Pimpernel, a fictional character, appears to be all too real and present, and just what gave Sir Percy Blakeney his nasty wound, because it looks like nothing of this Earth.

First things first: Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker are on top form in this play, and the cliffhanger to Part Three is one of the best his Doctor has had for years now. Long-time readers of my reviews for this website (if there are any long-time readers of my reviews) will know that I’ve enjoyed Chapman’s scripts but have often felt they are one draft or script-edit away from being as good as they could be, but I couldn’t lobby that criticism here for the most part.  This is a finely-tuned and fun script which is bolstered by the leading actors really gunning for it, not to mention Jamie Parker and Anthony Howell giving great supporting performances as Sir Percy and Citizen Donat respectively.

The play is nearly let down by the wide array of very bad French accents throughout the play, which may be supposed to be poor at times but just wind up being huge distractions. There are a couple of slightly fudged scenes along the way as well, such as the Doctor and Peri having a long conversation about things they themselves already know just so we the audience can get up to date, and Peri trying to be the Pimpernel and save someone’s life, only the rescued civilian is then killed… and never mentioned again! These are two blips in an otherwise very tight script, easily Chapman’s best.

Where it really succeeds, beyond the central mystery of who, or why, the Pimpernel is being quite a good one, is in how Chapman writes the Sixth Doctor. He, this most literary of Doctors, desperately wants to be the Pimpernel and buys into the strangeness around him, so much so that he turns a blind eye to the niggling issues around it all and the fact that deep down he knows something bad is afoot. It’s a really believable portrayal of this incarnation, showing how well Chapman knows him and enjoys writing for him, and it’s readily apparent in Baker’s acting that he appreciates this, too.

Sometimes, I find that I enjoy a release from Big Finish but cannot recall much about it weeks down the line. This won’t be the case here I am sure as it hasn’t been the case with any of Chapman’s stories.  Years on in some instances, I can still recall performances or beats or plot points, a sure sign that he is doing something very right, even if I’m not always entirely won over by the overall results.  Here with Plight of the Pimpernel we have a play worth remembering and we continue our run of strong monthly plays near the end of the monthly releases as we know them. Viva la Big Finish Revolution!

+ Plight Of The Pimpernel is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

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