Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Peri & the Piscon Paradox written by Nev Fountain and directed by John Ainsworth

What’s it about: The Doctor and Peri journey to Los Angeles 2009 to do battle with a Piscon. His name is Zarl, and he's a fish of utmost evil. Zarl is going to steal all the water of Earth and sell it to the highest bidder. Or blow up the San Andreas fault. Or the planet. Or something like that. He's a bit vague on that point. Fortunately, to stop him there’s help from an unexpected source: a future version of Peri. She knows Zarl's dark secret. But should the future Peri be on Earth at all? Something smells fishy – and it's not just Zarl.

Young Busty Babe: This story is the ultimate Peri experience and Nev Fountain clever uses his tale to explore her past, her present and her possible futures. Its is definitely worth mentioning in the review of her best story that Peri has been served extremely well by Big Finish and my appreciation for the character has improved tenfold since she started appearing in these audio adventures. Perhaps televised Who does not quite have the space between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani to squeeze in the fifteen or so adventures the fifth Doctor, Peri and Erimem had but I’m sure glad they took the risk anyway because it confirmed what we all thought all along that there was a great number of stories to be had with Davison’s Doctor and his new American assistant. The Peri/Erimem sisterly relationship was a joy to listen to because Peri was finally let off the loose allowed to be the wild sister with the crazy ideas whilst Erimem was always trying to rein her in. Then at some very dramatic junctures (one of the best also being a tale written by Nev Fountain) Erimem would reveal her darker morality and it would be Peri who was appalled. It was an interesting relationship and it was a shame it was cut short in the changeover between Gary Russell and Briggsy just as it was getting really exciting (the run of stories from The Council of Nicaea through to The Bride of Peladon was extraordinary). Not content with that we have also had a number stories featuring the sixth Doctor and Peri which for the most part have taken place between Revelation of the Daleks and Trial of a Time Lord (where there is clearly a large gap where adventures can be slotted in). With some terrific writing and a focus on the two of them working together as a team, this duo simply sing together on audio and Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant have a very natural chemistry that is a joy to listen to. If you honest feel that the Sixie/Peri combination doesn’t work give …ish and Recorded Time a try. Finally Big Finish also gave Peri a homecoming story where we get to meet her mum and friends and see how she doesn’t quite fit in with them anymore. The Reaping is an extraordinary tale and it left me gasping with emotion by the end. Throughout all of these tales Nicola Bryant has supported the character with breathlessly energetic, charismatic and thoroughly charming performances. Then in a moment of insane genius Big Finish decided to bring to life the missing season 23 that we never got when Doctor Who was taken off the air for 18 months and it transpired to be a spot on bridging gap showing how the relationship between Sixie and Peri mellowed in their second season. Not only that but there were absolute masterpieces (Point of Entry, Leviathan) and some real duds (The Hollows of Time, The Macros) so it felt like a real Doctor Who season. Throughout Baker and Bryant shine. Add Piscon Paradox to her list of triumphs, this is by far the script that asks the most of her but she injects it with sassiness, humour and great pathos. Of all the companions that was transplanted from the television to Big Finish I would say that Peri (by some margin) has been treated to the most development. I think she’s rather wonderful.

Peri feels that she had to run away with the Doctor because her mum and her stepfather were both trying to be backseat drivers in her life. If she had to be honest the main reason she ran away was Davy Silverman. Davy was her guy back home, floppy blond hair and a sweet smile but he wasn’t the brightest guy. He wasn’t interested in the world outside of the States and when it came to college Peri had decide either the big wide world (leaving Davy behind) or the little piece of dirt she came from. Of course she took the former option – who would turn away from a chance to roam in time and space? Coming to 2009 is the nearest she has gotten yet to going home (not that she wanted to) and she wonders if this trip home could combine alien hunting with shoe hunting! She doesn’t get an awful lot of evil monsters asking after her welfare but she better prepare herself for a number of slavering horny aliens treating her very delicately! When Peri learns that her future self does marry Davy Silverman its almost enough for her to leave the Doctor and resume the life she has put on hold – not of course realising that this isn’t her self after she left the Doctor but a completely different Peri Brown. Every time she leaves the TARDIS in heels optimistically hoping not be chased by monster and every time she ends up running for her life and her ankles screaming out for flats – what a marvellous piss take off Peri’s outrageous fashion sense! When Peri has to put on the screaming long lost daughter act to her older self it didn’t take much of a stretch! She finds herself jealous of her older self because she treats and is treated like an equal to the Doctor and is appalled that her solution to the Zarl problem is to murder him. Peri wonders if her own morality has changed since travelling with the Doctor since she has been hunting with her father but the idea of holding a gun now seemed wrong. Her father left her before she was ready to say goodbye. I loved Nicola Bryant’s excited delivery of the fight scene where you can really tell the younger Peri is getting a kick out of fighting dirty with her older self. Peri turns on herself and scathingly criticises her life, saying that she denied her children by leaving Davy and they were the one thing she desperately wanted in life. Peri doesn’t understand regeneration when the Doctor starts babbling about it but he tells her not to worry about it and that he will explain it later – or hopefully he wont have to. Perhaps they should have had that conversation before the events of The Caves of Androzani. When the older Peri sees the younger one for the first time she is appalled at what she is wearing – high heels, cut off shorts and a leotard! She thinks she looks like she has been dressed by a committee on an internet chat room. Turns out our Peri didn’t look too hard at the older Peri’s ID when she tried to persuade her that she is a secret agent because she only flashed her Blockbuster membership card.

Older Busty Babe: Peri describes her older self who remained on the Earth in less than salubrious terms. Sunglasses hooding her eyes like a giant fly, oil black hair falling around her face which was sculpted by unnatural cheek bones and extreme dieting. When she first sees herself she recognises it as a face she used to look at every day but has changed beyond recognition, like seeing an old TV actress you used to watch when they were younger as an older woman. She holds herself like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Peri is clearly a playful sort of gal as she tries to convince her younger self that she works for the American version of UNIT that deals with alien insurgents. Peri’s children are Micheal who is an aid worker, theatrically inclined Janey and Paul wants to cure cancer and make other medical breakthroughs. Young Peri always thought that she would abandon the quiet life and settle down but her older self says she clearly doesn’t know herself very well because once she got a taste for it she couldn’t turn her back on the universe. Her younger self is more savvy than she gives her credit for and she can see through the lies about her children – she knows that the older Peri has made them up from her dreams as a child of what her children should be. Her describes herself as Doctor Perpaguilliam Brown, forty several years old and she is currently resting between her third and fourth marriage and ninety first and ninety second diet! She’s one of the few relationship counsellors who can point to her doctorate on the wall and say ‘yep that’s me!’ but she doesn’t put it on her wall because she is a Doctor of botany! She’s got her own agony aunt show akin to Jerry Springer and by the sounds of it just as stimulating! It’s the number one show for its time slot on cable and is famed for getting celebrity couples to come on a work out their marital issues. Peri compares the Doctor’s ability to regenerate and become a completely new person to Madonna!

An English Gentleman: There is a very interesting parallel with the Doctor and Davy – Peri has swapped one floppy haired, blue eyed bloke for another. Except this time he did want to see the world and beyond. He’s an alien but he likes to drink tea and play cricket, he talks like Prince Charles and pretends he’s English. Brilliantly the Doctor has an outer space Facebook called his Vortex Page in which he has tagged many aggressive aliens in the hope that one of them would vlog about their evil plans! Peri calls his half moon specs his ‘granny glasses.’ Killing is not in his nature and he can’t murder Zarl no matter how much he wants him to. He admits he is slightly envious of how human beings know that when they get older they know roughly how they will turn out but he never knows what his next persona will be.

Softer Six: Whilst the fifth Doctor might be more quietly charming this story reveals that the sixth Doctor is far more hilarious and poignant than his predecessor. The older Peri describes the sixth Doctor as having a blond perm, dressed in a horrible coloured coat, yellow trousers, waistcoat and spotted neckerchief – the spitting image of her Aunt Mona! As tactful as ever the Doctor tries to get into Peri’s good books by complimenting her plastic surgery: ‘Nice nose by the way! I’ve had several new ones myself!’ He stands next to the console proudly and strokes his lapels like a Dickens character. The Doctor cannot tell her how they parted but he does say that she didn’t end up on 20th Century Earth – nice way of getting out of an awkward explanation involving death by brain transplant and marriage to Brian Blessed, Doc! He suggests sneaking up on Zarl and discovering what his plan is but can’t help bellowing his name in indignant fury when he sees him. When confronting his former self in his Zarl suit he can’t resist saying ‘we meet again, Doctor!’ Irritatingly he is lumbered with his amiable, helpful fifth incarnation who tries his very best to co-operate with him and make Zarl’s plans as easy as possible. Cue some very funny scenes as the sixth Doctor has to try and avoid his previous selves very obliging suggestions. His former selves capacity for reasonableness really gets to him! When Peri suggests changing Zarl’s motive the Doctor agrees that he has come across villains that have changed their plans at the drop of a claw! He scoffs at Peri’s faith in him to come up with brilliant ideas just as he comes up with a brilliant idea of how to beam back to the TARDIS at the point that the Doctor kills Zarl. When even the suicide plan fails to convince his earlier self he goes for the one tactic he knows will rouse an action from his placid fifth incarnation – attacking Peri. In all his incarnations preservation of his companions is his absolute priority. The Doctor looks pained at the memory of Peri’s supposed death on Thoros Beta, it really affects him to hear that she genuinely did die. He finally gets the chance to say how sorry he is for what happened to her – his people have messed about with her timeline so much and he feels awful about it. He asks the older Peri to travel with him again, he doesn’t want her to walk away from him with so much unsaid.

Standout Performance: Nicola Bryant really sells the idea that there are two different Peri’s in this tale with one bright, enthusiastic and full of life and the other older, heavier and unhappy with how her life has turned out. It stretches the actress in all the best ways and when she has to play scenes with herself there isn’t a moments pause where you think that there isn’t two Nicola Byrant’s in the studio. Saying that once you reach the second episode it is delightful to hear the chirpy, effervescent tones of Colin Baker who attacks the superb material with his usual vigour.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ll never say cricket is boring ever again! At least until you make me watch it.’
‘It’s the people that you miss that help you make sense of yourself.’
‘Something happened here Peri. Something that gave you two futures…’
‘He wont even try to defeat me! He even offers to clean up after me! I’m dressed as a fish and I’m fighting an even wetter fish!’ – the sixth Doctor on the fifth Doctor’s geniality.
‘How can I tell her that the Doctor isn’t always there to save you?’

Great Ideas: The TARDIS has a console room which is two parts NASA and one part gameshow studio! Piscons are like Pescatons only less violent and they both originate in the star system of Pikos. The Pescaton planet was destroyed by an exploding sun and the Piscon planet was only slightly luckier, turned to desert. They head around the universe finding water and selling it to themselves. Naturally this means that the Earth, which by a total co-incidence happens to be around 70% covered in water, is in danger again. I loved the idea of an American shopping mall in 2009 being described as something trying too hard to be happy like someone smiling so hard they look insane. Peri figures there must have been a dreadful epidemic when she left the Earth and the TV advertisers are forced to used gaunt, stick thin models because there are no healthy ones left! I adore the idea of telling the same story twice from two different Peri’s point of views – I’ve seen shows which have retold the same story from various cast members points of view after the event but never the exact same story told in real time back to back. The very idea that Zarl who was menacing the fifth Doctor and Peri in the first two episodes is actually the sixth Doctor in a monster suit fulfilling the role because he accidentally killed the creature is wonderful. The Piscon paradox is the sixth Doctor defeating Zarl before his fifth incarnation has a chance to do so – he can still remember defeating Zarl in his fifth incarnation so he has to make sure that he still remembers it that way! Most life bearing planets have a lower gravity than Earth and any alien visiting this planet would most likely look like a man in a big sweaty monster suit. The zipper up the back is exactly the place where the Doctor would put a universal translator. He can see out of the mouth and his eyes are mostly obscured by cheese wire! This is very funny, fourth wall breaking, stuff. He doesn’t know how people can wear monster costumes for a living considering his feet are pooled with sweat and he can barely see where he is going! Zarl’s odd suicidal plan in the first half of the story suddenly makes sense as Peri and the Doctor conspire to have him killed in the only way the fifth Doctor would deem acceptable – suicide! We thought that the older Peri was a an amoral alien killer in the first half but actually she shoots Zarl aka the Doctor because his earlier incarnation calls his bluff and blatantly refuses to shoot him! Even small moments like Peri kicking her younger self and breaking her tooth and finally getting the explanation for how that happened is very clever. During the Doctor’s trial there was some confusion over the fate of Peri – in the first instance she was seen as inconvenient to the plotters, a corrobative witness that could have derailed their show trial and her death was perpetrated on Thoros Beta. It was a policy of assassination and she was killed. Some of the conspirators were scared the Doctor would hunt them down and they adjusted events, rescued her and let her live her life as the Warrior Queen to King Ycarnos. Then there was another order from the incoming President – Romana decided that Peri being married to a Warrior Queen was a fate worse than a fate worse than death. The CIA wiped her mind save for her adventure with the Doctor and put her back where she came from like Jamie and Zoe. It was a very chaotic time on Gallifrey and Peri was not taken out of time once but several times and every botched retrieval created its own separate time stream hence no temporal; shorting when the two Peris came into contact during this adventure. There are now five Peris in existence – one of them stayed on Earth and wound up in a violent marriage with Davy, one died on Thoros Beta, one married King Ycarnos and turned up again in Bad Therapy and the who knows what the other two are up to. Perhaps one of them wound up travelling with Sixie and Frobisher in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine.

Audio Landscape: The bustling shoppers in an American mall, smashing through a café window, fishy feet clumping along, a car screaming to a halt, a torpedo shaped spaceship rising from the sea and blasting into the clouds, squelching Peri’s fighting in the mud, clapping studio audience, the crashing ocean, the Doctor inside the monster suit, police siren, crackling electrical fire.

Musical Cues: There is some wonderful comedy music during the first half of the story as the Doctor and Peri try and pursue Zarl in his evil schemes to half inch the Earths water. The music in the Are You Being Served themed café is sleazy jazz which seems about right! In the second half the music gets better and better as the older Doctor and Peri try and improvise a plan to make sure the first half of the story plays out as they remember – the music is funky, fun and really suits the sparkling mood of the piece. When the Doctor is attacked by the Piscon party the music is almost cinematic in its scope. There is an astonishing theme for Peri’s final speech to her younger self, seething with emotion.

Isn’t it Odd: What’s intriguing about Peri & the Piscon Paradox is that it only works as a two disc story with all the most satisfying material coming in the second half once the first half has cleverly set itself up. Not that you realise that the first half is set up, it feels like a quirky piece that sees Peri’s future and under other circumstances would make a mildly enjoyable if unremarkable companion chronicle in its own right.

Standout Scene: For a second Doctor Who touches on domestic violence in a very bold and exposed way. The assertion that the Doctor went from being a fun floppy haired guy to a violent and abusive bully when he regenerated just like Davy did when he married the Peri who stayed on Earth is a jaw droppingly shocking parallel. Nicola Bryant plays both the furious younger Peri and the heartbroken, defeated older version in a confrontation teeming with strong emotion and its my favourite ‘acting’ moment in any Big Finish audio. We learn that the reason Peri has a new nose is because Davy beat her so badly he smeared it across her cheek. ‘To hell with the Web of Time! I’m telling you now girl – run! Run away! Get in that TARDIS and run as far and as fast as you can! Don’t come back home! Davy’s not your answer! He’s only the answer if the question is who just through me down the stairs? Keep on running or you’ll find out what I did. Cute blond guys have a habit of turning into unstable violent guys real quick! And they can do it right in front of your eyes!’

Notes: Its great that the Doctor recounts not just the monsters from Peri’s televised stories (Sil, the Borad) but also the ones from her Big Finish Missing Adventures (the Ice Warriors, the Tractators).

Result: A magnificently written comedy masterpiece that probes deeply into Perpeguilliam Brown and ultimately has some very deep things to say. Peri and the Piscon Paradox is my favourite companion chronicle because it takes the format of the range and turns it on its head brilliantly, not only breaks down the fourth wall but obliterates it and walks through to shake your hand (the sixth Doctor notes he is an underrated performer!) and offers more surprises, cheats and twists than a whole series of stories. The dialogue sparkles for its entire running time with too many laugh out loud moments to mention but what really impressed me was when the comedy was stripped away and we focus on the awful realisation of what has happened to the older Peri. Some of my most favourite Big Finish scenes occur during the course of this audio and they brought to life with absolute conviction by Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker who once again prove themselves to be one of the strongest pairings on audio. Few stories can claim to tie up messy continuity threads from twenty years ago with this degree of success but we finally hear what happened to Peri after the Trial and Fountain pleasingly leaves all the alternatives untouched. Imaginative, clever, silly, serious, hilarious and thought provoking, Peri and the Piscon Paradox has it all: 10/10

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