The Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure Review (Part 2)
Gustaff Behr and Josh Oren review the Sixth Doctor’s Big Finish regeneration story.
Gustaff’s verdict: The Doctor decides to take Flip Jackson to the theatre and meets up with Jago and Litefoot for an adventure. Heck, the four of them could be discussing the weather for an hour and I’d still rate it at least an 8/10. I mean come on – it’s Jago & Litefoot!
As most of you will recognize, each and every time the infernal investigators are involved in a Big Finish story, be it in their own series or as guest stars, the tale just takes delivery of an auxiliary increase in quality. It is not too dissimilar here and Stage Fright delivers exactly where The Red House failed to.
One of the things I love about Jago & Litefoot is that their presence creates a light atmosphere even in the darkest of stories without diminishing that blackness and the same is true here. Flip and Jago make a wonderful pair, Big Finish playing their usual Jago gag on the Doctor’s assistants and likewise, the Doctor and Litefoot fit together like a pair of gloves.
The Valeyard has decided to incorporate a rather bizarre, if useless and theatrical stunt to help bring his plans to fruition. It is in no way lackluster to listen to though. In fact quite the opposite. Once the reasoning behind this move is explained, it takes on the traits of a rather cruel joke which inflicts just the right amount of pain to work.
Colin Baker continues to give it his all. He knows just how important these stories are, but teamed up with Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin, it sounds as though he is enjoying Stage Fright just a little more than the others. This is no doubt because the trio work remarkably well together, both in studio and out.
Flip Jackson is one of those companions who took a while to grow on me, but by the end of her first trilogy, she’d won me over and it is a delight to listen to one of the Doctor’s more reckless companions. She is an example of what happens when the plot doesn’t protect you and her faults come back to bite so soon after the fact that it sometimes feels as though karma itself is out to get the poor girl.
Overall, this is one of the stronger stories in the boxset. Like The End of the Line, there is one small matter near the end involving Flip and the way the climax is resolved that irked me, coming close to being narm-ish. It is so bad, it’s bad.
Rating this story: 8/10.
“Theatre is joy, uniting people in a catharsis of morality, collective emotion, and experience. Yes, there may be pain, there may be grief. But it is a burden shared.” – The Doctor
Josh’s verdict: Being a story that relies much on the stuff that attentive fans would be aware of, Stage Fright runs the risk of looking like a terrible, heavy-handed fanfiction, where the focus would be on nods to the Doctor’s past rather than the story at hand. Thankfully, what we’re presented with instead is much better. Stage Fright uses the portrayal of the Doctor’s previous iterations on stage to tie into the theme of theatrics whilst beautifully bringing Flip’s character arc to the foreground. I will admit that it’s a little cheesy what she does, but it is done for a very good reason and is pulled off well enough that you probably won’t even care. Honestly, it was such a profound character moment for both Flip and Six that you can’t help but feel the emotion that Six feels towards Flip.
And Flip gets some of the best character development in the whole boxset (beaten only by the man in the rainbow coat). We dive more into her backstory and a phobia that she developed at the age of 8.
The villainous scheme is a bit clumsy and megalomaniac, almost to the point that the villain might as well laugh maniacally with an honest-to-god handlebar moustache to twiddle as he runs away. But again, it works when you consider the story is about theatre and melodrama, and the reason the baddie is so “clumsy” is made very clear.
Rating this story: 9/10
The Brink of Death
Gustaff’s verdict: Nick Briggs joins a select group of writers who have penned a regeneration story, while Colin Baker finally joins the Regeneration Club by getting the swansong that he should’ve gotten back in the 80s.
The Sixth Doctor’s swansong is unusual in that it’s a fast-paced romp filled with timey-wimeyness. It’s not so in your face as some of Steven Moffat’s stories, but it works nonetheless. I will however stress that the title is almost too on the nose and it doesn’t take long for the listener to realize why, but since we’ve had three stories leading up this final battle, Nick Briggs wastes no time jumping right into things. There is no ‘100 pages before the real story starts’ feel here. The tension, the confusion, the thrill comes right out and punches you in the face. This swansong means business.
Colin Baker is phenomenal in this. It is clear that he has been secretly waiting to perform this story since the 80s and every trait that makes the Sixth Doctor such a larger than life character, from his mood swings and arrogance to his sharp wit and deep passion shines through every word he utters. He manages to put the listener into a clear mental image of what is going on around him.
And as with all swansong stories, The Brink of Death borrows elements from other regeneration tales;in this case, there are shades of The Tenth Planet, Night of the Doctor, The War Games, The Caves of Androzani and The End of Time in here.
As for the Valeyard, he ends up being a worthy foe that succeeds in pushing the Doctor… if you’ll forgive me… to the brink of death. His scenes with the Sixth Doctor always stood out as one of the highlights during the Trial of a Time Lord arc so naturally they would be equally entertaining and engaging here. The Valeyard also manages to rattle the Doctor in a way that few others have managed. For instance, it took almost the whole episode for the Eleventh Doctor to admit he was scared in Hide. It takes the Sixth Doctor about six minutes to be put in the same mindset.
Rating this story: 8/10.
Normally this would be my concluding paragraph, but instead of telling you what I think, I’m just going to say ‘click play’ and hear from someone who says it better.
“Change, my dear… And not a moment too soon.”– The Doctor
Josh’s verdict: It should come as no surprise that the Valeyard is in the mix and hearing him made me realize what I took for granted while watching Trial: Michael Jayston is a great actor to play the Valeyard. The man doesn’t squander a single moment and sounds completely ruthless every time he speaks; even when he’s being deceitful, you can virtually hear the underhandedness in his voice.
What I find peculiar is how underutilized Melanie Bush is in this story. It feels as though she’s only in this because she happened to be the companion who was with the Doctor when he regenerated on screen. Instead Genesta is introduced as a new character, helping the Doctor in his final struggle. You might as well call her a companion as she makes herself very likable and willing to challenge herself and is compassionate and selfless towards the Doctor’s cause, which is amazing considering they only get minutes to know each other. It helps when she has ambitions that draw parallels to the Doctor’s – when he set out long ago to explore the universe. You might as well call her a companion at this point, which is a shame because the story kind of limits her to just this story.
And of course, there’s the Doctor. Throughout this final story (and even the whole boxset), there’s a sense of despair, knowing Six’s final moment is drawing closer. He’s at a constant disadvantage against the Valeyard and is continuously grasping for control in Brink, but much like The Caves of Androzani, the Doctor is doing his best to be a hero for his companion and himself and it’s this valiant stride on the Time Lord’s part that you truly admire. It’s just weird that he’s doing it for Mel only to not see her in this story very much. What he ultimately does is selfless and I can’t help but beam that they decided to make this his final act, contrasting with the crass and pompous, arrogant jerk persona he is often perceived as on TV.
The last moments of the Doctor are very fitting, and his final speech is definitely more memorable than “Carrot juice! Carrot juice! Carrot juice!”. If it weren’t for the odd overshadowing of the companion and the questionable state of the new one, this might have been the best story of the lot. Regardless, it’s a solid tale that wraps up the set and ends on a good note.
Rating this story: 8/10
An interesting thing to note is that Baker was willing to do his regeneration on TV as long as there was a full story that led up to his departure. The producers didn’t want to go that route and planned on regenerating him right off the bat. As a result, he declined to come back, hence the odd McCoy-with-a-wig moment that never really fooled anybody.
Is this regeneration story better than the one on TV? Definitely! Keep in mind that what is shown on TV is still true, but the events leading up to it are finally given a proper story. It’s a little odd, considering that Baker will be around to do more stories, so the feeling that this is his last isn’t present, so there’s not as much emotional longing that may be felt with TV regenerations. On the plus side, that helps to see the story for what it is, rather than fluffing the quality on sentimentality. As a box set of three solid stories and one flawed one, it really is worth your time to listen to. I’d go as far as to say that the box set as a whole would give some of the TV regeneration stories a run for their money. It may have taken 28 years to happen, but Six finally got the send-off he deserved and not a moment too soon.