Monday, 17 August 2015

The Last Adventure: The Brink of Death written and directed by Nicholas Briggs

What's it about: The Doctor and Mel must face the final confrontation with the Valeyard - and the Doctor must make the ultimate sacrifice...

Softer Six: 'I hope the footprint I leave will be light, but apposite...' We enter his final adventure with the Doctor in full heroic flow, beaming in to rescue his companion and performing a death defying stunt to get them out of danger. The beauty of improvising is that sometimes things can go right. He's back at the same location that his darkest hours took place - back on the CIA Trial ship and he is genuinely haunted by the prospect. It's easy to see why Genesta might think that the Doctor is dead, a Time Lord echo left swimming about in the Matrix. Otherwise why would he be trapped in there? Genesta reminds him of himself, a youngster who slipped away from life on Gallifrey to pastures new and funnily enough they both ended up on Earth. Before he takes his final bow the sixth Doctor gets to do what he does best, butt heads with the Time Lords (I wish he would head butt one of them) and points out their hypocrisy (loudly). Somebody has to do it. He's willing to take his complaint all the way to the High Council where I wish he would recapture some of that season 22 attitude, brandish a weapon and force them to get off their arses and act against the Valeyard. There's a tenseness running through this story as the Doctor's time bleeds away each time he leaves the Matrix. It's not quite the 24 ticking clock but it does reminds us that his eleventh hour is approaching. Would the Doctor do anything to stop the Valeyard? Even break the Laws of Time? Ultimately when the time comes for the big climax the Doctor is alone with no friends and his greatest foe taunting him. And he's still defiant. When it comes to it, the Doctor is willing to murder himself to save the Time Lords - those perfidious, interfering, morally questionable meddlers. The sixth Doctor is the only Doctor to have the nuts to (metaphorically speaking) put a gun to his own head and pull the trigger in order to do the right thing. What a fucking guy.

Computer Programmer: Always a pleasure to hear Bonnie Langford back in the role of Mel and its a pleasing double hit given she is currently enjoying a three story stint with Sylvester McCoy over in the main range at the moment. A much criticised character on TV, Mel has truly come into her own on audio in the hands of writers that are willing to take risks with her and an actress who can look back at how she used to play the part and temper her excitable excesses. The net result: a maligned character that people are often begging for more of. What a turnaround. It's unexpectedly enjoyable to hear the Valeyard and Mel off having adventures together, a surprise given it is reminiscent of He Jests at Scars (brrr boils just broke out all over my body writing that). When a seer threatens to tell Mel secrets about the Doctor that she doesn't know she starts to question just how well she does know him.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker, of course. Perhaps they deliberately gave Michael Jayston such a starring role in Stage Fright so that Baker could own his last adventure. What a masterful turn from the most consistently excellent Big Finish Doctor. 

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I will stop you even if it is the last thing I do!'
'He's a diminished, shrunken parody of me!' So much for Colin Baker to get his teeth into...

Great Ideas: The climax of this adventure is set up in the first couple of minutes. Somebody has been aiming radiation bolts at the TARDIS from the Lakertyan system. Now I wonder what Dynasty reject with mad hair, a nose stud and hands that rarely stray from her hips that could be? Genesta is a great character, immediately likeable and down to Earth. She's a demolition expert from the Capitol here to destroy the derelict Trial ship and instantly that is an arresting setting. Genesta did a field trip to a planet called Earth when she was very young and was afflicted with a Yorkshire and colourful slang terms as a result. The ultimate Matrix tinkerer (you know leather fetish, retarded lexicographer) has been at it again, adjusting the facts so that the sixth incarnation of the Doctor is reborn in his image. Was the Valeyard created by a Black Ops weapons department of the Time Lords? As a weapon? With the sum total of all Time Lord knowledge. The Valeyard has inserted something into the symbiotic nuclei of the Doctor's TARDIS, the Nafemos. He rescued them from the moon of Plestinius and they have been feeding off the Doctor's mind ever since the Valeyard left them in there all those years ago. Through the symbiotic nuclei of the Doctor's TARDIS the Nathemos have a direct link to the Matrix, they are transmitting mental impulses of the Valeyard directly into the Matrix. Just as he replaced the Doctor he wants to replace every living Time Lord, perhaps even Rassilon himself. He wants to fashion the destiny of the Time Lords in his own image. That batshit darker version of the Doctor is probably the one who gave the Master the idea in The End of Time.

Audio Landscape: Crickets, a skimmer out of power, the Doctor and Mel screaming as the ejector blasts from the skimmer, a bazaar atmosphere, whispering voices.

Musical Cues: Howard Carter, let me count the ways I love thee. I'm so often used to him providing robust backup for the Jago & Litefoot range that it is rare for me to lavish praise on him in a Doctor Who release. They need to toss him over to the main range where he would no doubt work his magic there too. His music and post-production throughout this box set has been nothing short of phenomenal, conjuring a myriad of locations atmospherically and switching styles musically like he has barely broken a sweat. Listen to the wistful, brooding music when the Doctor first spots the Valeyard in The Brink of Death, capturing the moment in a way that took my breath away.

Isn't it Odd: Mel has to be involved because she was there at the end of The Ultimate Foe and she was there at the start of Time and the Rani but it feels like she is more of an afterthought than a necessary requirement. She's usurped by Genesta and I think I would object more strongly if Liz White wasn't as stunning as she is in the role.

Standout Scene: Was the Valeyard Genesta from the very beginning? He asks if it matters which is probably the most evil thing he has ever contemplated. The Doctor has grown close to her, enjoys her company, has relied on her. He wants to take her on adventures when this is all over. It's a murder that has impact because the Doctor had grown to like her. And so had I.

Result: 'It's far from being all over...' I find it extremely apt that the sixth Doctor should sacrifice his life in order to save the Time Lords. If you watch throughout his televised era they are built up as ultimate villains of that point in his life - placing him on Telos in Attack of the Cybermen, framed for the massacre on Space Station Chimera, setting up a farce of a Trial to cover up their mistreatment of the Earth and doing a deal with the Devil to keep it all hush hush. They have become an intolerable, corrupt menace in his life. But they are still his people. And ultimately no matter what damage they have done, no matter how much they have mistreated him, he is still the Doctor and he will do anything - even if that means resorting to bending the Laws of Time and murdering his foe - to save them. That's the actions of a hero. To do what he knows is right even if every fibre of his being is begging him to do otherwise. The Brink of Death wasn't what I was expecting at all. Perhaps I have been tainted by the saccharine regeneration stories on the TV (which have grown steadily sicklier until I physically wanted throw up all over the console in The Time of the Doctor) but I was expecting more of the same. Nick Briggs doesn't take that route. Instead he goes for a more disquieting, high concept affair. More Logopolis than The End of Time. Rightly he places the Doctor centre stage and affords Colin Baker the chance to show a whole range of emotions from moral outrage to terrorising fear right the through to blazing heroism at the climax. He must have been delighted when he read the script and he delivers a pitch perfect performance. Throughout there is a feeling of time catching up with the Doctor; his ship is stripped of him, his companion, his allies and finally even his time. It's that unsettling tone of despair that makes the final ten minutes so riveting with the sixth Doctor rising from the nightmare scenario he is in and making the ultimate sacrifice. Is this is climactic as Lucie Miller/To The Death? In a very different way, yes it is. It touches on the best of the character and gives him the chance to go out kicking and screaming and sticking one finger at the odds. Which is just how he exploded into life. I'm not sure if the first half an hour wasn't a little too quiet for a finale but Briggs more than makes up for it come the climax. An epic Masterplan foiled by an intimate sacrifice: 9/10


Catbark said...

Just finished listening to this one myself I completely agree with your review Joe. Outstanding production work and Colin Baker has never been finer - by the end I was almost moved to tears. Even knowing the Sixth Doctor will continue in the main range, this felt like losing his version of the Doctor in a way that the televised 'regeneration' never did. Excellent stuff!

Anonymous said...

I have yet to listen to this, but your review has wetted my appetite big time!
Do you remember that ludicrously ridiculous concept set in the NAs taht the Sixth Doctor sacrioficed himself to allow the Seventh to become Time's champion? (give me a bucket!). Eat your heart out, Paul Cornell!! He sacrifices himself allright, but for more heroic purposes it seems :)

And I agree with you with the saccarine regens of the new series

dark said...

Well I'll admit this was a special release for me, and to do so I'll have to share a slightly personal story.
For reasons I will not discuss, I have in recent times been in a very dark place with myself. That dark voice I have called "shadow"
In a dream I had, I heard a voice arguing literally with Shadow, telling me to get up and sort myself out, that I was stronger than I thought I was. That voice was the sixth Doctor.

I admit then, to here Baker delivering lines in this one like "you are just a spector, a shadow of me" to literally be at the mercy of his own shadow and then finally sacrifice himself to defeat it, ---- -I'll freely admit I cried.

I'm actually really glad other people like this, sinse with the big gulp of continuity, from the sixth doctor's greetings to his past companions (I love the warmth in his voice when he mentions Evelyn), to the Doctor's timy wimy solution to the Valeyard's equally grandiose plan, there is a lot here, and I wondered if people would find it too much, I'm pleased others haven't sinse I will go as far saying for above stated personal reasons this is probably one of the most emotional experiences I've had with Bf.

Hurrah old Sixy! here's to more adventures, but at least your story ends on a high.