The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure Review (Part 1)
Gustaff Behr and Josh Oren review the Sixth Doctor’s Big Finish regeneration story.
If you thought Paul McGann had a long wait for his regeneration, coming in at seventeen years, try Colin Baker. The poor man has had time to raise children AND grandchildren. For twenty-eight years, the cause of the Sixth Doctor’s regeneration has been a joke amongst fans and actors alike. The ‘bump on the head’ which feels like another way of saying ‘tripped over a brick’ is one of the biggest mistakes Doctor Who has ever made, and that’s not even touching relationships with pavements.
Thankfully, as with many of the things they undertake, Big Finish has chosen to rectify this. They’re killing the Sixth Doctor, but they’re making sure his swansong is one fans will easily grow to recognize as his true regeneration story. Colin Baker is going out in style and here’s why:
The End of the Line
Gustaff’s verdict: Big Finish might have done wonders for Colin Baker’s Doctor, but I don’t think I’ve ever listened to a Sixth Doctor audio that burst onto the scene with so much vigor and robustness as this one. The opening story throws set-up out the window and simply dives into the thick of it. It is one of the strongest box set openers Big Finish has ever produced.
End of the Line feels like the Big Finish equivalent to Midnight, but only in the sense of the ramped up paranoia, hysteria and utterly insane things we hear happen. It is truly something else to behold. It also includes a blast from the past in the villain department and no – I’m not talking about the Valeyard. How this character X is utilized and explained within the story manages to fit together perfectly with the other elements combined with even more continuity references to explain how they are able to… oops. Can’t say too much, now can I?
Onto the Valeyard! He isn’t as prominent in this opener, but the scenes he does participate in set him up as someone who means business. If you thought the Valeyard was cunning during the trial, the short scenes we hear him in should instantly show him in more radical, no-nonsense light. He’s expecting this box set to be a grudge match.
Remember the new girl Constance Clarke? No? Well that’s because she’s pulling a Mel on us: Sharing an adventure with Old Sixie before we’ve even met her yet. Thankfully Six has and their ‘onscreen’ chemistry is clearly noticeable from their first scene. Amazing how that happens.However, Constance isn’t explored much. What we hear is what we get. This isn’t a bad thing since her backstory is likely to be explored nextmonth in Criss-Cross.
There is just one obstacle that prevents me from scoring this story a perfect ten (which is rare) and that is down to Constance slipping into a ‘oh Doctor, save me’ persona near the end of the tale. Other than that – one of the very best – if not the best Sixth Doctor story out there!
Rating this story: 9.5/10
“That’s enough to rewrite the textbook on megalomania.”– The Doctor
Josh’s verdict: This story introduces a new Big Finish exclusive companion, Constance Clarke, who will also be in the upcoming trilogy for Old Sixie, beginning with Criss-Cross, due out next month. Constance is a welcome addition as the Doctor’s plus one and leads her portion of the story with as much intrigue and interest that any other memorable companion could. While she doesn’t do too much to make her stand out above the rest, she eases my reservations about her dynamic with the Doctor, and I can’t help but want to see more of her.
There’s nothing timey-wimey about this story, but there is something rather spacey-wacey. We’ll also add in a couple of twists even I didn’t see coming (except for maybe one, and it was just a matter of when) just to set the bar even higher.
When the first mystery popped up, I immediately suspected time travel shenanigans were involved, but was pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn’t the case. It’s complicated but very simply explained, and Big Finish could’ve left it at that, but they go the extra mile and dig even deeper into the details. So deep in fact that it may even start messing with your mind. Big Finish is at their best when they can do this with just a couple of new ideas: exploring the surface level before going deeper into it to really make you think. The plot and motivation is so loony that you’ll think the Doctor is understating it by simply calling it ‘mad’.
It would be amazing to see this spectacle take place on TV, but the true virtuoso is how Big Finish is able to produce it with sound alone, making it perhaps even more immersive than a series of images. A great ride with a great introduction to a new companion; this truly is a great start to a box set.
Rating this story: 8.5/10
The Red House
Gustaff’s verdict: I admit I wasn’t looking forward to ‘werewolves on motorcycles’ or ‘werewolves in suits’ when I heard this part of the trailer for the box set and after listening to how high The End of the Line set the bar, I knew Alan Barnes would have a tough time topping it. Unfortunately I was correct, and then some.
The Red House tries to stand out as exceptional by incorporating a variety of strange and disagreeing ideas. Regrettably, this distinctive combination of plot components come across as strident more so than entertaining which is a shame as this story is part of the Sixth Doctor’s ultimate swansong. It’s strange, but even Big Finish’s previous attempts at incorporating werewolves fail to deliver which leads this author to believe that Big Finish should just stay away from werewolves in the same manner that New Who should steer clear of Cybermen.
One of the story’s strongest points conversely has to be the Sixth Doctor and Charley Pollard. Big Finish wastes no time throwing out the references, getting us into the Six/Charley spirit; not that there was any need to go to such measures. In this case, clunky continuity references are clunky. However, their estranged, suspicious relationship is something that Alan Barnes manages to capture to the letter, reminding us why this particular partnership works so well.
Moving onto the Valeyard, he and Charley share a couple of scenes together which is another one of the finer portions of this story. There is a clear ‘two of a kind’ vibe between them as they discuss the Doctor and his blind meddling. I’m also pleased that the Valeyard is given more time to shine and move onto phase two of his plan, which at this point still remains a mystery to the viewers.
Rating this story: 5/10
“Well, it does seem rather remiss of me to not mention it until now…” – Charlotte Pollard
Josh’s verdict: One of the stories was bound to be the weakest link, and here it is without question. It’s not all bad, and there was even some good progress for a while, but there just wasn’t enough to save it in the end.
The companion for this story is Charlotte Pollard, most famous for being the 8th Doctor’s first audio companion. She is rather daft in the middle segment, serving only to make things convenient on the villain’s side of things. At the very least, she acknowledges how unusual it is to simply forget things, and the only thing done about her mistakes is Six reassuring her how she’s not a silly little human, but rather too trusting. A poor attempt at explaining Charley’s daftness, but better than no explanation at all. Thankfully, the writers didn’t fall into the trap of making the Doctor scold her and berate her for his shortcomings, a tempting thing to do with the Sixth Doctor. What we get instead is a moment of compassion from him, while subtly still expressing his minor disappointment. There are loads of better Six/Charley stories out there, and it’s a shame that this couldn’t be among them.
There’s a clear tie to the overarching plot and it’s the only relevant aspect this story has to the box set. There isn’t a lot of development for Sixor Charley and removing the links to the overall plot, all we’re left with is a mediocre story. In the end, the story has potential that starts out great, with a fun twist on a legend of werewolves, but falters in its final half, an ending that, while plausible and fair, is too convenient and rushed. There are worse stories out there, but when you’re portraying the Doctor’s relationship with Charley, this one just doesn’t do it.
Rating this story: 6/10
Continues tomorrow with the final two instalments.