What's it about: The Doctor and Flip visit Victorian London, where investigators Jago and Litefoot explore theatrical performances that have echoes through the Doctor's past lives...
Softer Six: The Doctor is trying to offer Flip a little history and culture, like a father trying to get his child into history. Because his latest companion is from 21st Century Earth he is willing to make pop culture references but it clearly pains him to do so. The Doctor tends to bring a fresh perspective to a grisly murder. In a multitude of realities there must be some where the Doctor did succumb to his darker impulses. A wardrobe featuring hundreds and hundreds of the Doctor's coat? He's mocking the Doctor, as good as waiting outside the TARDIS and squirting a water flower in his face. If it is emotions that the Valeyard is feeding on, can you imagine an incarnation of the Doctor that was more suited for the larder? It suddenly makes sense of the Doctor's erratic behaviour during his Trial. The Valeyard was deliberately providing him with as much fuel for the fire as possible to set him off like a powder keg. The more he emotes, the more it nourishes his nemesis. It will make me watch season 23 in a whole new light. All the Valeyard understands is corruption and degradation of everything the Doctor holds dear. He threatens to tell the Doctor what becomes of Flip. Stage Fright reaches a fine conclusion about why the Doctor will always best the Valeyard. Because he has friends to support him. If that sounds remarkably twee then don't worry, it's played out in an uplifting, can't get the smile off my face way. He ponders what he must do that makes the Valeyard (who is essentially the Doctor) hate himself so much. The Doctor knows the Valeyard will find him when he is ready.
Flipping Heck: 'Lad! Oi whiskers, d'you wanna wear that pie?' I think the best way to describe the reaction to Flip has been mixed. She's appeared in eight adventures in total, only two more than Mel did on the television, and it looks like after the cliffhanger of Scavenger and the reveal of what happened to her in The Widow's Assassin her story has been pretty much tied up. That's not to say that further adventures cannot be written, it would seem that some time passed between the end of her first trilogy (Wirrn Isle) and the beginning of her second (Antidote to Oblivion). This is not a companion in the mould of Evelyn Smythe who took the sixth Doctor on a journey of discovery, she's more like a companion of old. A mate, somebody to tag along on adventures and bring some danger and derring do with her. Whilst that might be underselling her slightly, Flip's biggest salvation comes in the form of Lisa Greenwood who plays her with infectious enthusiasm and brings a bit of street cred to the sixth Doctor's tenure. The relationship between her and Sixie is more akin to that of a father and child than I have seen in Doctor Who, the age gap between Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood is a factor but so is the fact that Flip is so reckless and like a frustrated parent the Doctor is often heard berating her for it. I thought they were a fun combination and I would have welcomed some more adventures but ultimately I'm not entirely sure where Flip could have taken us if there wasn't that much of her character to explore beyond 'street wise.' However her inclusion in this set is very welcome since we are covering a lot of ground in Sixie's Big Finish tenure. Flip recalling her trip to the London Dungeon is hilarious, it is exactly that sort of (sorry) flippant remark that made her so funny. She has no hankering to tread the boards herself, it isn't really her thing after the year three talent show where she got terrible stage fright. The Doctor is surprised, he didn't think she was afraid of anything. Somehow Flip manages to boil down the enormous concept of the Valeyard down to a single pop culture reference: he's Darth Vader. The Doctor, if he turned to the Dark Side. When it comes to calming the Doctor down, Flip provides some really terrible entertainment to shake him out of his rage.
Theatrical Fellow: You would think that Jago & Litefoot would be synonymous with Tom Baker's fourth Doctor but after paring the dynamic duo with Sixie for a series of their own range and then two trips in the TARDIS with him too the man with the rainbow coloured coat has taken the lead with them. Jago's pockets are ladened with coins at the moment and it is having a transformative effect on his character. Described by the Valeyard as providing effusively entertaining and eruditely epigrammatic introductions to his stage shows. Jago considers the plot of Planet of the Spiders 'a bit far fetched.'
Posh Professor: Just as the Doctor adopts a parental role towards Flip, Litefoot often has to assume that role for Jago who is a man of extremes and needs them tempered on occasion. He receives the highest of accolades from the Doctor; there is no ailment so serious and no death too macabre that the good Professor Litefoot cannot diagnose. The Doctor and Litefoot spend more time around death than is healthy for any soul.
Standout Performance: Jayston finally gets the chance to swish his cloak again and give the audio performance of a lifetime. I'm not sure how he is going to top what he achieves here in The Brink of Death. In the latter half of Stage Fright I would go as far as to say we've not heard such masterful villainy in many a year.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'My society is divided between various houses. It follows you all the way through the Academy' 'What like Hufflepuff and Slitheren?' '...I suppose.'
'These scenes are all echoes of how I died.'
'You can maketh yourself whatever the heck you wanteth!'
Great Ideas: Why is the Valeyard staging the Doctor's deaths on stage in Victorian London and then claiming the lives of the other actors? The Palace Theatre has been closed all month, paid for upfront by a mysterious benefactor. A vanity project, perhaps? The Valeyard is trying to get the Doctor's attention by killing his victims and carting them off to the morgue dressed as friends of his. Litefoot has the concept of regeneration explained to him in detail by the Doctor and an explanation of who the Valeyard is...the foreshadowing begins. The Valeyard has been bleeding these kids of their life force to prolong his own obscene existence.
Audio Landscape: Rats, cobbled streets, pub atmosphere, ruffled paper, doorbell, a tiny explosion pipped by an enormous one.
Isn't it Odd: It seems that the Valeyard has taken a leaf out the Master's school of pseudonyms. He's calling himself Mr Yardvale, a name so tough to crack it might just take the Doctor to the end of time to decipher its meaning and uncover his foe. Although to be fair to Matt Fitton, the Valeyard is rather trying to get the Doctor's attention so perhaps that was the idea.
Standout Scene: The staging of the climax of The War Games by the Valeyard with Flip as Zoe. Impulsively fun.
Result: 'Our courtroom confrontations were pure ambrosia for me!' The sixth Doctor, Flip, Jago & Litefoot might not be your first choice of top trump team but the chemistry that exudes between them is ridiculously addictive. Sixie all piss and vinegar, Flip with boundless enthusiasm and wit, Jago dropping alliteration bombs and describing everything to the hilt and Litefoot keeping everyone in check and attempting to solve some grisly murders. I don't exaggerate when I say this is the best Flip has ever been and it makes me quite sad that we wont see her in the near future since Lisa Greenwood has really found her groove. Her earthiness fits in very well in the Victorian London setting. However Michael Jayston steals the show from under everybody's feet in Stage Fright, the Valeyard re-enacting the Doctor's deaths in his own, twisted, theatrical ways. Jayston is allowed to step out of the shadows and lock horns with the Doctor head on and it's a healthy reminder of the fantastic rivalry that was brewed between him and Colin Baker in Trial of a Time Lord (say what you will about it, the acting was frequently astonishing) before their real tussle in the sixth Doctor's curtain call. It seems very appropriate that in a box set that not only celebrates the sixth Doctor's life but also his entire life to that point, that certain pivotal moments of his life should be played out in his penultimate story. If you can call this a celebration, it is a dark one where the death of the Doctor is championed and his forthcoming regeneration is foreshadowed in a dramatic and creative way. I also really like how the one major criticism about the sixth Doctor - his emotional attitude - is worked into the plot with such class. It could be his downfall. We've had an unnerving horror cum high concept jigsaw, an outer space morality tale and a theatrical delight so far in the Last Adventure box set...what on Earth are they saving for the climax? Without featuring the pivotal companions of the sixth Doctor (Peri & Evelyn without a doubt) we have been treated to a fine celebration of his audio era; complex storylines (the Charley arc), wonderful friends (Flip, Jago & Litefoot) and a fascinating future (Constance) with all shades of the sixth Doctor on display. Add in the Valeyard and it feels remarkably comprehensive. We've had some fun...now it's time to die. Stage Fright skipped by in a heartbeat and provided some magical entertainment. I was pretty much hooked throughout: 9/10