Mission to Magnus

The despised creature who owns every last woolly jumper on the planet.

Sil

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri face enemies at every turn on the planet Magnus. There’s the Time Lord bully Anzor, who made the Doctor’s life hell during his time at the Academy. There’s also Rana Zandusia, the matriarchal ruler of the planet, who seeks to prise the secret of time travel from these alien visitors. Also on Magnus is the slug-like Sil, still bitter from his defeat on Varos and seeking to make his fortune from the most potentially destructive ends. And deep within the planet, there is something else. Another old enemy of the Doctor’s. And the future is looking decidedly colder…

Preamble

It would be remiss of me, I feel, not to mention the fact that the writer of this story, Philip Martin, sadly passed away on 13 December 2020. Martin wrote two televised stories for Doctor Who, Vengeance on Varos and Parts 5 – 8 of Trial of a Time Lord, also known as Mindwarp. He also wrote The Creed of the Kromon and Antidote to Oblivion for Big Finish Productions and created the character Sil, who also had a spin-off in the Reeltime Film Sil and the Devil Seeds of Arodor, released in 2019. Vengeance on Varos is a high point of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor during his television run, and whilst I haven’t seen Mindwarp, I know that some hold it in high regard.

Outside of Doctor Who, Martin created the tv series Gangsters, as well as writing for Z-Cars, Tandoori Nights and Star Cops.

He sadly lost his battle with leukemia and will be much missed.

Review

Mission to Magnus is a story that has a pretty poor reputation amongst fans, which is a massive shame considering this writer’s other work, largely due to the misogyny and general sexism in this story. There are some interesting ideas at play here, but unfortunately it feels as though everything but the kitchen sink is thrown at this story which allows none of these ideas to really develop. The sound design and music feel authentically as though they could have from the 1980s, though, and there are some good performances.

There are so many ideas at play here: we have two rival planets, Magnus and Salvak, each ruled by women and men respectively, climate change, two faces from the Doctor’s past and the Ice Warriors. I feel like I say this a lot with Doctor Who, especially in the original run and I suppose it applies to these Lost Stories too, but whilst some of the central ideas are sound, it falls down when it comes to execution. The central idea of the two warring planets inhabited only by one gender is not bad, but it is characterised so poorly and generally paper thin – men are presented as war-like, whilst women are presented as rather gentler. It feels as though this is a bit of an afterthought, and ultimately the plot of this story sees one planet wanting to obtain time travel technology to prevent a rival planet penetrating their defences is a good enough driving force for a story without the added battle of the sexes element we have here. The ending also feels really awkward, with men from the planet of Salvak deciding that they will unite with the women, who have no concept of marriage.

We then have the character of Anzor, a fellow Time Lord and classmate of the Doctor’s from his days at the Prydonian Academy. Unlike some notable contemporaries of the Doctor, Anzor seems to be completely incompetent and a bit of a borish oaf, who obviously made the Doctor’s school days hell. I feel that Malcolm Rennie does a decent enough job here, and the idea of the Doctor facing off with a bully from his past feels as though it is ultimately abandoned towards the end of the first part, with a coda at the end of the story seeing him off. It is interesting to see a Time Lord like this, as whilst we have seen various different Time Lords, they tend to be knowledgeable and the Doctor’s equal, whilst Anzor is, at his heart a coward.

Then when we get to the Ice Warriors, who ultimately flip the axis of the planet to change the climate of the warm Magnus. In association with Sil, who is looking to make a killing selling warm clothing and equipment, they are looking to make it a more hospitable environment for themselves. Again, this is an interesting idea that could have profited from more time, especially as we don’t have very many stories with the Ice Warriors, and even fewer with them acting as the primary antagonist. The whole climate change subplot seems to fall by the side through the first part, so when they come back to revisit it in Part 2 and it becoming a central plot element means that it doesn’t really work as well as the story seems to think it does.

There are some good performances here, though. Nabil Shaban is superb as Sil and he feels just as slimy and unpleasant as he was in the show, thanks to some great vocal ticks and production. Sil flips between the Magnusians and the Ice Warriors with ease and has some great lines, especially when he is concerned about his survival once the Ice Warriors reveal themselves. Sil’s laugh is just as creepy on audio as it is in Vengeance on Varos. Colin Baker is good as the Sixth Doctor and it is great to see him encounter a figure from his past that brings up such feelings of fear that he has to hide behind the console and in turn, stand up to his school bully at the end of the story. Nicola Bryant doesn’t have a lot to do here as Peri, and probably suffers from being partnered with the child Vion, whose actor William Anderson gives a very one dimensional performance. His performance does not vary, which is really frustrating when he is in peril, such as when Vion and the Doctor are being chased by the Ice Warriors or Peri is being carried off – which feels all the more glaring when he’s acting opposite Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant.

Verdict: Some interesting ideas are let down by some sexist characterisation, poor acting by some actors and too many ideas. I have high hopes for the next Lost Story! 2/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Nabil Shaban (Sil), Malcolm Rennie (Anzor), Maggie Steed (Madame Rana Zandusia), Susan Franklyn (Jarmaya/Tace), Tina Jones (Ulema/Soma), William Townsend (Vion), Callum Witney Mills (Asam), Nicholas Briggs (Brorg/Vedikael/Grand Marshall/Ishka) & James George (Skaarg/Jarga/Hussa).

Writer: Philip Martin

Director: Lisa Bowerman

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • This story was adapted from a Target novelisation of a story intended for the original Season 23. If it had been produced, it would have been the first appearance of the Ice Warriors since The Monster of Peladon in 1974.

Cast Notes

  • Susan Franklyn also appeared in the Companion Chronicle The Library of Alexandria.
  • James George has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including The Condemned and The Guardians of Prophecy with Colin Baker.

Best Quote

Doctor? You have thwarted our plans before, have you not?

Once or twice. I’d rather like to do it again!

Grand Marshall and the Sixth Doctor

Previous Sixth Doctor Story: The Ultimate Evil

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day

What would be the point in going to a party on a space station when there’s a whole universe to explore?

The Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

A Christmas party that has been going on for three years. Strange silver robots who guard the Christmas decorations with lethal force. What is the secret behind the festivities on Tate Galactic?

Review

I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has a difficult job in this release, which I guess I can reveal now is an anthology rather than four separate stories. This serves the role of the first part of the two-part finales that we have become familiar with in the course of the new series, and starts to tie together some of the threads we have encountered in the previous two stories here. This story has to toe the line carefully to not reveal too much at once, instead dropping hints and it largely does this well, but it probably helps that the story isn’t trying to handle as weighty issues as the previous two.

Listening to this story in the midst of a global pandemic and various lockdowns, the premise of the story, a Christmas party that seems to have been going on for three years, has some added poignancy. Although I am writing this in December, days like this have felt a lot like Groundhog Day, spent with the same group of people. When you throw Christmas into the mix, it almost feels worse – as someone who loves Christmas, a part of what makes it enjoyable is that it is only a short period of time. To spend every day in the midst of a Christmas party would be pretty horrific, so it is fitting that the concept is ultimately revealed to be a prison for the Were Lords devised by the Earth government. Ultimately, the party was only supposed to be an initial ruse for them, but something has gone wrong with the mainframe.

This is a story in which the Doctor proves to be his own worst enemy and manipulated by his enemies into doing the wrong thing, despite having the purest of intentions. Especially in the original show’s run, the Doctor doesn’t really ever stick around to see the consequences of his actions and interference, and here he believes that those imprisoned on the Tate Galactic are political prisoners. Nine times out of ten in a Doctor Who story, the Doctor would be doing the right thing in helping Lord Lycaon and the other prisoners out of this psychological prison. Here, it is absolutely the wrong thing to do, and it’s interesting to see the Doctor put into this position. It is only when the Earth President confronts him about his actions that the Doctor even begins to question his actions and how badly he has misread the situation. There are clues as to the villains’ true identities through the deterrents used in the base, including mistletoe and the silver robots, but Lycaon comes across as a genuinely wronged party for a lot of this story’s run time, and Stephen Elder is a worthy adversary to Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor here.

This is also an important moment for Peri and Joe. The Doctor’s doubts about Joe’s suitability as a companion have been clear from the first story in this release, but here Joe expresses doubts about whether Peri is happy travelling with the Doctor. Joe has discovered that he has followers in the 59th Century, like a lot of pop culture icons do under the new belief system, and believes that he could have a lot of fun exploring the universe on his own terms. The emotional scars have not entirely healed for Peri from The Baby Awakes, and it feels as though this is heading for a collision course in the concluding part. Luke Allen-Gale and Nicola Bryant are good in the scenes that they share together and do come across as a real couple throughout these stories.

Verdict: A story that feels as though it is getting its ducks in a line ready for the concluding part, I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day is functional, but probably the weakest of the four stories in this release. 7/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Steven Elder (Lord Lycaon), Louise Kempton (Selene), Cliff Chapman (Robot Attendant) & Heather Bleasdale (President).

Writer: Andrew Lias

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • The writer’s name is a play on words on “alias”, for reasons which will become clear!

Best Quote

Act natural, drink, smile, pretend I’m saying something fascinating – which should be easy.

The Sixth Doctor

Previous Story: The Baby Awakes

The Baby Awakes

Why worry about arguing with your offspring in future years when you can choose a more agreeable child?

Cordeline

Synopsis

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?

Review

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.

Best Quote

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

Previous Story: Blood on Santa’s Claw

Blood on Santa’s Claw

Father Christmas doesn’t exist!

Well, he certainly doesn’t now.

Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor

Synopsis

The Doctor and Peri land on the planet Naxios, where they discover the body of a reptilian Father Christmas. Who killed him? The strange individuals dressed in Shakespearean costumes or the talking waist-coat clad animals working in the tunnels?

Review

Blood on Santa’s Claw kicks off a Christmas story boxset for the Sixth Doctor, Peri and her boyfriend, Joe. This mixes some interesting themes with lighter moments, which does give it a bit of a wobbly sense of tone, but it is a good listen.

This story has some interesting ideas at its core. The TARDIS has landed in the 59th Century, where organised religions have collapsed after science has proven every miracle to be possible. This leads to the Earth government decreeing that any belief in anything is a valid belief system and power is doled out to those beliefs with more followers, leading to this story’s central conflict between those following Shakespearean texts and those following Wind in the Willows. The disputes caused by this new system are arbitrated by a group called The Creed, a group described a “crack squad of psychotic Santas” and it is one of these who the Doctor and Peri find murdered in the tunnels of Naxios. The new belief system is well fleshed out in this story’s runtime, giving the listener enough information to understand the system well. The story is almost Classic Doctor Who down to a tee – the Doctor and his companion help the enslaved Ratty, Mole and Toad against Iago, Cordelia and the Witch – but this sub-plot adds something a bit more interesting. Followers can believe in anything they want, from television programmes to pop stars.

The tone of this story is probably the weakest element – having Santa Claus and characters from Shakespeare and Wind in the Willows does give this a heightened atmosphere and there are elements that make this feel a bit like a pantomime. After all, this is a story in which the Doctor and Peri dress up as Santa and an elf respectively! This all contrasts with the more serious subject matter of religious conflict and persecution. The Shakespeareans have forced the animals to work in their mines and as their followers have augmented themselves to become the actual animals from The Wind in the Willows, they are dehumanised and tortured by the ruling class and only counted as two-thirds of a person. Whilst this adds to the intrigue of the story, the juxtaposition can be a bit jarring, especially in the lighter moments.

I’m not in shock, I told you. I can do this, I just…I’ve got a thing about tunnels.

Well, that’s what we do, Joseph. We explore, we go down tunnels!

I just…don’t like tunnels, okay? I’ve got a thing about tunnels, I had a bad incident in Wookey Hole. I can get over it, just not today.

Joe Carnaby and the Sixth Doctor

Whilst this is the first adventure we have with Joe, he takes a backseat here, allowing Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant to really shine. The new addition to the TARDIS is not entire welcomed with open arms by the Doctor, with some seeming jealousy creeping in that there is someone else in Peri’s life other than him. It seems obvious to say but the scenes with Peri and the Doctor together feel really comfortable and they have a strong relationship. The exchange when they discuss how the Doctor introduces the TARDIS trio is really good, as it implies how uncomfortable he is with the change in dynamics. He has sussed Joe out as not being companion material, despite this only being their third adventure in the TARDIS, and, like the Tenth Doctor later would when Mickey briefly travelled with him and Rose, labels him as Peri’s responsibility. Bryant gives as good as she gets, and the bickering between them is more in tone with their other work with Big Finish rather than what was seen on television in the 1980s. Whilst he is not in a lot of this story, Luke Allen-Gale comes across as quite affable, maybe a companion in the mould of Harry Sullivan rather than other companions like Ian.

Verdict: Blood on Santa’s Claw is a good opening story for this set, with an interesting idea at its heart. It is let down by an uneven tone, but Baker and Bryant do a good job here. 8/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown), Luke Allen-Gale (Joe Carnaby), Heather Bleasdale (Cordelia), Cliff Chapman (Iago), Steven Elder (Rudolph), Dawn Murphy (Ratty), Roger Parrott (Toad) & Becky Wright (Mole/Witch).

Writer: Alan Terigo

Director: John Ainsworth

Behind the Scenes

  • “Alan Terigo” is the first of three pseudonyms for writer Nev Fountain, a play on alter-ego. The reason for this will become clear.
  • Joe refers to having encounter difficulties whilst filming in Wookey Hole. Doctor Who filmed in Wookey Hole for Revenge of the Cybermen, where they also encountered problems.

Cast Notes

  • Steven Elder previously appeared in Jubilee and Something Inside, as well as playing Siy Tarkov in Dalek Empire.
  • Dawn Murphy previously appeared in Antidote to Oblivion.
  • Roger Parrott previously appeared in The Settling, as well as making appearances in Gallifrey and Iris Wildthyme.
  • Becky Wright previously appeared in The Rani Elite and Ironbright, and would go on to appear in Plight of the Pimpernel.

Best Quote

You know, Peri, I’m getting quite comfortable in the red velvet. Perhaps I should get rid of “the coat” and keep this ensemble.

No, Doctor!

Oh?

I never thought I’d say this, but keep the coat! I’ve got used to it.

The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories is available from the Big Finish website.

The Ultimate Evil

Synopsis

With the TARDIS working perfectly, the Doctor and Peri use a gadget from the storage locker to find a holiday destination. On arriving on the seemingly peaceful planet of Tranquelya, they find that a hate ray is sweeping the continent, turning the civilians into rampant beasts and it can only originate from the other continent, home to their ancient enemies, Ameliarians.

Review

I came into this story with quite high expectations thanks to enjoying The Elite and enjoying The Nightmare Fair. Sadly, The Ultimate Evil feels a bit of a disappointment. Whilst the idea at the story’s core is a good one, it is let down by some poorly written dialogue and overacting.

One thing that is fantastic about this story is the sound design by Nigel Fairs, which does phenomenal work in evoking the Sixth Doctor’s television era. It is small things like this that really make a big difference to these Lost Stories and gives a narrative shorthand to where we are in the timeline of the Doctor and Peri’s relationship, for instance. In all of the Lost Stories that I’ve reviewed so far, the music and general sound design has been fantastic for establishing this. Helen Goldwyn’s direction also helps to recreate the feeling of a continuation from Season 23, and largely manages to keep the guest performances on the right side of overblown. That being said, she can’t do very much about the fact that Mordant

I think the biggest problem with The Ultimate Evil is that it feels pretty derivative of Vengeance on Varos, which, in my opinion is a far superior story. The very nature of having an antagonist who is watching the Doctor’s every move feels familiar and the general atmosphere of the story feels very gritty, which is both a plus and a minus. I’m not sure that Doctor Who, regardless of trouble behind the scenes, could have survived having two back-to-back Seasons with the tone of Season 22. Ultimately, the story feels so genuine Saward-era Doctor Who because the Doctor and Peri are absent from the main action for over thirty minutes of the narrative. It is no secret that Eric Saward was not in favour of the casting of Colin Baker as the Doctor, and the way he dealt with this was by keeping the Doctor apart from the action for as long as he possibly could. As much as I liked the Doctor’s outrage and feelings of betrayal that the TARDIS is working perfectly when he has nowhere in particular to be, the longer this scene goes on it just feels like a diversion. That being said, Daly’s story does having some interesting ideas. I like the idea of weaponising emotions like anger and fear, that Mordant is attempting to sell to the Tranquelans to restart the war with their neighbouring continent. I also liked the fact that when the Doctor visited them to warn them of the impending attack, the Amelierians were not the traditional peaceful society that we see in other stories, for instance Genesis of the Daleks. There are also ideas that aren’t developed fully, for instance, the fact that Peri is a doppelganger for Mariana, who dies at the beginning of the story. Despite being mentioned a couple of times and being given as justifications for the Tranquelans being so angry when the Doctor and Peri arrive, not very much else is done with this, and ultimately it feels pointless when it is revealed that Mariana is, in fact alive in the story’s closing moments.

The guest cast here are really quite similar and there are few stand-out performances. Mordant feels like rehash of Sil as well, which is ultimately disappointing and as he spends what feels like most of the story maniacally laughing, it is difficult to take him too seriously. Robin Sebastian does his best with what is essentially a one-dimensional villain who feels as though he is ultimately dispatched too easily by the Doctor. Guy Burgess does bring some feelings of distrust and sliminess to the character of Escoval, the traitor, but otherwise they are pretty non-descript.

Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant are pretty good here, even if the narrative sees them spend most of the story apart. They are both particularly good in the opening TARDIS scenes, which highlights how their relationship has become a bit more amiable. Colin Baker and script editor John Dorney reflect on how the character has changed in the interviews, highlighting elements like the Doctor’s tendency to repeat words getting more and more outraged as a shorthand to do this, which is something that I hadn’t really noticed before.

Verdict: Sadly, The Ultimate Evil is quite bland and derivative, which is a shame because it does have an interesting idea at its heart. It’s worth a listen but probably doesn’t have much replay value. 3/10

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri Brown/Mariana), Robin Sebastian (Mordant), Kim Durham (Abatan), Guy Burgess (Escoval), Jack Forsyth-Noble (Locas), Paul Panting (Ravlos), Issy Van Randwyck (Koreelya), Jack Myers (Shankel/Leader) & Wally K Daly (The Bird).

Writer: Wally K Daly

Director: Helen Goldwyn

Parts: 2

Behind the Scenes

  • Big Finish did attempt to obtain the rights for this story in the original run of Lost Stories, however, Wally K Daly was involved in adapting the story for a version for the RNIB. The story had previously been novelised for Target Books.
  • Had the story been made for television, it would have been directed by Fiona Cumming.

Cast Notes

  • Robin Sebastian has also appeared in The Masquerade of Death and Imperatrix.
  • Paul Panting has appeared in a number of Big Finish plays, including Revenge of the Swarm and Mistfall.
  • Issy Van Randwyck has appeared in Family Matters, Requiem for the Doctor and Carnival of Angels.

Best Quote

Look at this, Peri!

Hmm…an ostrich egg on a plinth.

You have no idea. Follow me!

The Sixth Doctor and Peri Brown

Previous Sixth Doctor Review: The Nightmare Fair