The Doctor, Peri and Joe visit the Ishtar Institute, where the term ‘designer babies’ takes on a new and sinister meaning. Will our heroes survive Christmas day?
After dealing with religious persecution and slavery in Blood on Santa’s Claw, the next story deals with another heavy topic: eugenics. This is a very Peri-centric story and she provides the emotional heart here and it is difficult not to be moved by her performance. The story takes a rather traditional approach, with the first part focussing on the weird circumstances the characters find themselves in and the second revealing the circumstances behind it.
The story centres around the TARDIS trio investigating the mysterious Ishtar Institute, which allows prospective parents to simulate their children through the usage of incubator robots. In the opening scene of the story, we see one of the simulations of Christmas day derailed by unruly teenager, discounting him from adoption. Joe and Peri pose as potential parents, with the Sixth Doctor as the amiable Uncle, but Peri becomes emotionally attached to her simulated children, insisting on having more simulations as Cordeline, one of the Institute’s staff, tries to get them to discard one of the children. As a concept, designer babies are nothing new, as Joe points out that the idea is hardly novel on 1980s Earth, but it is given a sci-fi tilt here. The idea of trying out children being something as normal as a streaming subscription service is a bit creepy and feels like something that would be at home in an episode of Black Mirror. When it is revealed that Balan, the head of the facility is in fact one of these robots and has been callously giving rejected embryos to the military for them to develop into soldiers, the gut punch is much worse when it is revealed that Shreela is one of those embryos, rejected purely for a poor performance in a school play.
As stated above, this story does really focus in on Peri, and like a lot of stories in the Sixth Doctor’s era, she does really get put through the emotional wringer here. Scenes like the beach one perfectly demonstrate why she is having such a difficult time choosing between her children, regardless of whether or not they are only simulations. When she and Joe decide to simulate their children to their teenage years, they mutate and attack the facility, something which Joe later states is due to Peri’s travels with the Doctor, further making her feel guilty for the destruction they have caused. To make matters worse, the Doctor and Joe seem rather blasé about these simulated children’s eventual fate at the end of the story, leading to a great emotional outburst from her at the story’s end.
The story’s focus is away from the Doctor, and he is doing traditionally Doctor-y investigations. He, like Joe, is rather taken aback by Peri’s outburst towards the end of the story, which feels very much in keeping with the character of the Doctor, especially during the original run, where characters were expected to shake off tragic events easily from one adventure to the next. We still don’t have much of a feel for Joe, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be as attached to the children as Peri and this story has certainly put their relatively young relationship under some strain.
Verdict: Another story with some dark undertones, The Baby Awakes is an excellent example of Nicola Bryant’s strengths as Peri and certainly packs a fair share of emotional moments. 9/10
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Roger Parrott (Balan), Dawn Murphy (Cordeline/Dorrit), Becky Wright (Shreela/Jana/Pip/Janey) & Cliff Chapman (Kren/Paul).
Writer: Susan Dennom
Director: John Ainsworth
Behind the Scenes
- The name ‘Susan Dennom’ is a play on the word pseudonym. The reasoning behind this will become clear!
- The name of Peri and Joe’s children, Michael, Paul and Janey, are the ones given by future Peri in Peri and the Piscon Paradox – before she is revealed to be lying about having children.
TARDIS. That’s your safe word, isn’t it Doctor? Say the word ‘TARDIS’ and everything goes away. Well sometimes, it’s not ‘all’s well that ends well. And sometimes Br’er Rabbit doesn’t crawl out of the briar patch and laugh at Br’er Wolf.Peri Brown
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