Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor Adventures PURITY UNDREAMED Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Big Finish: Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor Adventures PURITY UNDREAMED Review

Tony thinks impure thoughts.
The first instalment of the new Sixth Doctor adventures, with Ruth Madeley’s Hebe Harrison joining Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford as Sixie and Mel, took the team to a handful of watery worlds, to explore the variety of aquatic life that could be found in a wild and wonderful universe. That was by way of introducing marine biologist Hebe to a set of wider, if still wet, horizons.

The second set of stories to feature this team acts more as a dip back into Hebe’s previous life, expanding her background, her set of friends and colleagues. It also features what feel like callbacks to some Classic-era stories, and seeds trouble to be met in future box sets.

In The Mindless Ones, by Paul Magrs, we’re off to university in Sheffield, where Hebe and her poet friend Elise (Cherylee Houston) had studied, and where now, Elise is rising up the academic ranks.

But something is distinctly not right on campus. When Hebe catches up with Elise, for one thing, she’s married to the distinctly unprepossessing Ron (played by the always prepossessing Toby Hadoke). And for another, she’s ditched her goth cred for mindfulness, sunshine, flowers and above all, personal betterment.

This is betterment in the glib, motivational meme sense – all rainbows, quotations, and above all, an absence of intellectual thought. And it’s in this area that Paul Magrs, frequently one of the most sharply satirical writers working within the Who-space, sets his tale and goes to work. A new, smugly horrible building on campus, and the arrival of Mr Betterment (Yes, really), played by Paul Hertzberg with a kind of puritanical zeal, signal a case of, if not mass brainwashing, then at least a mass rinse cycle for the intellects around, leaving them beaming, effective, productive, and the kind of human being that most normally adjusted human beings want to punch in the face.

Along with this promising idea, we’re introduced to Professor Patricia McBride (genius anthropologist, and ex-wife of Ron), played by the always superb Imogen Stubbs. Stubbs is reason enough on her own to buy practically anything, and that holds true here too. Teaming her up with Cherylee Houston, Toby Hadoke, Paul Hertzberg and Ruth Madeley, along with Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford, should be much more than enough to make Purity Undreamed fly off Big Finish shelves.

But there’s at least one caveat. The core idea of Paul Magrs’ script is interesting and satirical – in fact, there’s the potential equivalent of an Orwellian blockbuster for our age locked somewhere in the premise of human vacuity not as an inevitable consequence of the self-esteem movement, but as a contrived, deliberate intervention to create more stupid humans.

But here it feels shoehorned into the constraints of an already fairly busy Doctor Who story, with an alien threat that, when you boil it right down, is really, truly, a bit naff. Great start, interesting character developments, cool, if expected, reveal – rubbish alien plan, defeated with altogether too much ease.

In a sense, that explains the title of the story, because it follows the same emotional progression as Patrick Troughton’s The Faceless Ones, so having the Mindless Ones be revealed as a bit naff and easily defeatable actually carries notes of black and white nostalgia. And again, the central idea would be great for SOMETHING satirical – it just never entirely convinces as a Doctor Who plot. But it does the fundamental jobs it has to do, introducing us to Elise, Ron, and particularly Patricia McBride, who will go on to become recurring characters in this set at the very least, and hopefully more to come.

Reverse Engineering, by Jonathan Morris, has the whiff of Pertwee-era Who all over it. A top secret Swedish clinic and spa run by eccentrically accented geneticist, Killian Holm, played by Stephen Riddle. Some deeply unethical temporal tampering with a big machine at the heart of it. A bigger danger under the surface, that’s only revealed halfway through and immediately becomes the primary focus of the story. A deeply corny name for the whole project – it may not quite be at TOMTIT levels of cringe, but it’s close when you discover what’s really going on. It’s where Pertweean Who meets Roger Moore Bond, essentially, with a touch of The Underwater Menace’s Professor Zaroff thrown in for extra loopiness. There are lots of fun elements, including a head of security who’s a very reliable thug (played by the now almost ubiquitous and always reliable Homer Todiwala), some comedy with Mel being eminently forgettable to everyone she works with, and a reveal with some Neanderthals that you’ll get long before it becomes public knowledge.

Patricia McBride gets roped into the action at the express invitation of Holm, and she calls in the rest of the Tardis crew because it’s quite clearly Their Sort Of Thing to deal with. Things grow progressively more tonto as the story unfolds, though they do it in a way that – especially if you’re a fan of Jonathan Morris’ writing – you’ll find intuitive before the beats land. And what you end up with is a story that’s full of Classic Who elements and pacing, pushed at least to the boundaries of fan-credibility, and just once or twice, potentially beyond them.

Importantly, this is where McBride finally figures out that the Doctor and his crew are not just extremely clever potential space travellers and aliens, but actually time travellers to boot – and, given that she’s an anthropologist, she starts angling for a trip in the magic box. In a sense, in Reverse Engineering, McBride acts almost as a Liz Shaw figure to the Doctor – independently-minded, brilliant, and more than a match for his occasional flights of ego. Taking her into time seems, by the end of Reverse Engineering, the least he can do to thank her for her help in uncovering the temporal shenanigans at the heart of Holm’s clinic.

Sometimes, you really shouldn’t do the least you can do.

Chronomancer, by Robert Valentine, is probably, pound for pound, the least shackled and the most enjoyable of the three stories here. While the first two have jobs to do in terms of getting Patricia McBride into the Doctor’s circle, and then into his confidence, Chronomancer kicks off in the middle of a battle between two powerful individuals, and hardly lets up from there. It’s a battle over access to a particular piece of Time Lord technology, and when the Tardis crew – now including McBride – accidentally intervene, things ramp up as ‘the good guy’ is wounded and has to be healed on 21st century Earth, while ‘the bad guy’ continues his search for the MacGuffin that will, he believes, unleash his trapped band of interventionist time-sensitive scumbags, to start wreaking havoc on the universe.

If anything, Chronomancer feels tinged with Seventh Doctor energy – a bit of Battlefield, a smidgen of Delta and the Bannermen – but all powered along by a very Sixth Doctor central performance.

But while all this is going on, there’s an important strand of character development underway. Because the Doctor takes McBride into the future. The big, wide, marvellous, various, all-embracing future. And her reaction to that future sets her on a path to a parting with the man in the rainbow coat. To revealing some things about herself that mean even Hebe Harrison can’t accept her. And to a dangerous future as her brilliance and wit are subsumed beneath a fear of a changed world she can’t accept.

Doctor Who has often dealt with tragedy extremely well – from the innocent deaths of Katarina and Sara Kingdom in The Daleks’ Master Plan, to the shock of Adric, to the death of Donna Noble’s expanded universe, to Clara Oswald’s incantation of “Let me be brave” as she went out to face the raven. It’s rarely delivered the Doctor’s crushing disappointment as well – think Adam Mitchell in The Long Game, and whether you especially cared that his choices made the Doctor turn away from him.

Here, Robert Valentine and Big Finish take us on an emotional rollercoaster of despair and resurrection, while delivering a rip-roaring space and time adventure in the foreground. It’s extremely powerful stuff, and it sets us up for more adventures in future sets. While she may not survive the Purity Undreamed arc unchanged by its events, there seems little doubt that Professor Christina McBride will be back. Just possibly not as you might expect.

While it would be hard to argue that the Purity Undreamed set works quite as well as Water Worlds did, there are lots of nostalgic Classic Who notes here, building – sometimes by force – the rise, fall, and resurrection of Christina McBride in the Doctor Who universe. She’s something fairly new – someone who could so easily be an epic-level companion, and who, for at least two out of the three stories here, is on the side of right, but who cannot free herself of her most deeply buried fears and loathings. Given access to time, space, and the potential for power, that’s a dangerous failing, and one that makes us want to hear how her journey continues.

Purity Undreamed is not a perfect box set, but there are quality performances here, striving to render the under-story character development that is the anchor of the set. That they’re just occasionally overwhelmed by the story-beats required to deliver that development is unfortunate, but should at least free the cast of future sets to focus on both character and story in the triumphant way that we know Big Finish can.

Doctor Who: The Sixth Doctor Adventures: Purity Undreamed is available to purchase from the Big Finish website..

Tony Fyler lives in a concrete cave, somewhere on the edge of the sea, with his wife, who exists, and the Fictional People In His Head, who don't as yet. A journalist and editor by day, he has written Some Books, and is more or less always writing another. One day, he may even get around to showing them to people. In the meantime, he's Script Editor and occasional Executive Producer at Third Time Lucky Productions, and a proud watcher of things no-one remembers they remember until they remember.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad