Big Finish Folly, Part 71 – The Wormery, by Paul Magrs & Stephen Cole
Bianca’s. It’s a nightclub with a Certain Reputation: only those with an invite can get through the doors. Scientists, politicians, soldiers – they all come here for whispered conversations, strong drink, and the charms of the eponymous hostess. The Doctor doesn’t have an invite. Neither does Iris Wildthyme. Oh dear: that spells trouble. Hold on to something – but not the Doctor. He doesn’t like that.
At this point in the Sixth Doctor’s timeline – just past Trial of a Timelord – my arbitrarily-determined “Audio Seasons” call for a sequence of unrelated standalones, mashing Main Range, Companion Chronicles, and odd half-hour episodes together. For Old Sixey this is an appropriate way to round up the strange corners of his too-large-for-its-boots incarnation. Frobisher, Peri, Iris Wildthyme… a very odd bunch indeed.
And none more odd than Iris Wildthyme. Still very much a Marmite character, she tends to land buttered side down for me. Her appearance in Excelis with Five was excruciating; this time around she flails a bit less even though the story depends more upon her. Magrs and Cole have given the character a lot more depth however, making Iris more than just a Costa Del Gallifrey Timelady.
The perils in this story, taken each on their own, are a bit daft: worms, shadows, Tequila, Cabaret and wormholes – but somehow they do all build together into a mostly coherent plot. A lot of that is to do with the framing device (that the story itself is being told to the mysterious Mr Ashcroft by one of the other characters). Without that framing device I think the story would flounder beneath the weight of its own ridiculousness.
Colin Baker’s Doctor is a more thoughtful, regretful person in this play, suiting his post-Trial persona. He seeks peace and quiet now, though with Iris about he is unlikely to get it. While both he and Iris are more muted than before, some of the supporting cast are chewing the scenery as hungrily as they can: Mark Donovan in particular as the almost Mexican Revolutionery-style German officer. Maria McErlane’s Bianca meanwhile brings to mind a raddled Liza Minelli, but doesn’t quite manage to channel a Valeyard-ish Wildthyme.
A romp, perhaps, but not the all-out historical romp that it could have been (a straighter – if there can be such a thing – take on ’30s Berlin would have been a fairly amazing tale for such colourful incarnations of these characters). Enjoyable chaos, even with an unhealthy dose of Wildthyme, but not top drawer.