Hard on the heels of his adventures with Flip (as played by Lisa Greenwood)¹, The Doctor sets off to scratch an itch that has been bugging him, more or less, ever since the TV story Mindwarp. Just what did happen to Peri? Did she really marry Brian Blessed? Did they live happily ever after? Do their children also shout like a mountain with toothache? Is Gordon alive?
Ahem. It’s time to find out. Come with us, on the most ambitious and spectacular adventure ever committed to my ipod.
Big Finish Folly, Part 120 – The Widow’s Assassin, by Nev Fountain
It’s no secret that Nev Fountain writes brilliant adventures for the Sixth Doctor and Peri. Hell, he even wrote The Kingmaker, which put Shakespeare and Richard III firmly in their places. If you’ve heard Peri and the Piscon Paradox, then you might already know what to expect. But, obviously, you’d be wrong.
We’ve already referenced Mindwarp in Antidote to Oblivion, a few stories back, in which Sil gleefully pointed out the Doctor’s poor history with companions. Perhaps that is playing on his mind as he reappears on Thoros Beta, ready to apologise for being carted off to his own trial by the Timelords and thus leaving Peri on her own to deal with Yrcanos. Naturally, Peri isn’t really that happy to see him, and promptly has him locked up. At which point, Yrcanos drops dead, poisoned. And that’s just the first couple of minutes.
There’s an understandable awkwardness to the reunion, fused with and offset by trademark Fountain humour: the palace guards have broad Welsh accents and are named Guard 1 and Guard 2, and apologise politely for having to punch the Doctor in the stomach… and best of all, Constable Wolsey, played laconically by Tim Chipping. Wolsey has been converted into a sheep by Yrcanos, for no better apparent reason than that since he now has four stomachs, when he has a gut feeling about something, he’s never wrong. Absolutely brilliant, and a character that could only ever work on audio. This play would get five stars simply for that alone.
But obviously Wolsey is just one of the highlights, as Fountain creates a mindbendingly timey-wimey detective story in the Doctor’s hunt for an assassin who has by now managed to poison Peri as well. Along the way there is the very marriageable Princess Dirani, who is receiving her suitors in a manner more akin to an audition for The Voice, an ill-matched duo of belligerent alien suitors who could be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern if they stopped trying to kill each other (and everybody else), their toadying henchmen, who vanish into thin air as soon as the plot hots up, and the singularly odd Harcross the Ever-Patient, an unrequited stalker who gets the girl he didn’t want. Not to mention The Prince Most Deepest All Yellow, who has eyes everywhere. And Mandrake, the Doctor’s oldest adversary…
Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant have a hell of a lot of work to do in this script, and they throw themselves into it with gusto. This is real voice acting, believe me. I’ve never heard anything like it. If you think Colin Baker playing the part of a fish hell-bent on world domination was a stretch of the imagination, you surely ain’t heard nothing yet.
The Widow’s Assassin bears repeated listens on many accounts. There’s far too much to take in, far too many details and plot twists – and rather than feeling overburdened by them, the extended running time really does fly past. It’s tempting to say that Nev Fountain can’t possibly top this one, but I’m sure I’d be 100% wrong. This one goes on the shelf as an Essential Listen, alongside the afore-mentioned Piscon Paradox.
¹Meanwhile, for anybody who wants to know what happened to Flip – her fate is tossed out casually by the Doctor en passant. Back at Fresh Foods, and married to her boyfriend – but there’s scope for more adventures set between Scavenger and The Widow’s Assassin: after all, how did she get back to her own time from 2071…?