Something Fishy?

Big Finish Folly, Part 77 – Peri and the Piscon Paradox, by Nev Fountain

507-periandthepisconparadox_cover_largeThe Fifth Doctor and Peri have come to Earth to defeat the bizarre machinations of the evil Piscon Zarl, who intends to take the planet’s entire water supply. But it appears that Zarl actually wants the Doctor to defeat him. He’s desperate, in fact. Now that’s odd enough, but watching  from the sidelines is another Peri – older, wiser, and jaded, and apparently working for an anti-alien paramilitary organisation. So what’s going on? Why is Peri here, in the 21st Century, when she ought to be happily married on a far-off world? Why is Zarl such a wuss? And why does he look exactly like a man in a fish costume?

This, one of the long-running Companion Chronicles, is reckoned to be one of the touchstones of Big Finish’s released products. Listening to the first disc, it’s difficult to understand exactly why that is – Nev Fountain’s script has some good jokes, some timely jabs at canon, the Doctor himself, modern life, and the ditzy nature of Peri’s early character, but it is hardly classic stuff. Zarl is a bad joke, everything is light and fluffy until the end of the second episode, and the listener gets the idea quite quickly that something is missing.

At the risk of spoiling it all, that missing something is the second disc. The first half of the story is Nicola Bryant playing Peri as a teenager; the second half is narrated from the point of view of the older, earthbound Peri: sour, bitter, envious of her younger self. And everything that was missing from the first disc is here in spades – pathos, wibbly timelines, genuine depth, and even more jokes. And, above everything else, we not only discover what happened to Peri, and why there is more than one of her, but Peri actually gets to turn her back on the Tardis and say goodbye.

Why is this listed in the “guest star” season of Sixth Doctor releases? Well, Zarl really is a man in a fish suit, as it turns out. This is a Doctor frustrated by his previous incarnation’s pacifistic nature, yet unable to commit himself to the level of violence required to get Five to really fight back against him, and that really bugs him. He’s a compassionate, yet slightly comic man, bouncing off Peri’s hard edges.

For me this is a rather long play, slow to build up and slow to pay off – but so well constructed that when it does drop the other shoe, it drops it right on the button. It’s a lot for Nicola Bryant to carry on her own, so it’s a relief when Colin Baker finally picks up his part in the second half. Having said that, Nicola does a very good impression of the Fifth Doctor’s too-mannered “Englishman in LA”. It’s a brave release, and a play that deserves both repeat listening and a wider audience, but with the proviso – stay with it, it ain’t half as daft as it first appears.
****¾

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