Bug in the System

Big Finish Folly, Part 130 – The Brink of Death (Last Adventure: 4), by Nicholas Briggs

And at last the Valeyard’s scheming comes to fruition – rising, with new power, from the dark places where he has been lurking, he has fooled Mel into believing that he is the Doctor, while the Doctor has been stranded in an off-shoot of the Matrix. An off-shoot that is about to be decommissioned and wiped by junior Timelord technician Genesta…

Everything before now has been leading to this moment. The slow rise, throughout the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor, of the Valeyard, who has been gathering his power and strength, moving all his pieces into place. The machine he stole from the Red House, which he was using to draw power into himself during the last caper with Jago & Litefoot, has given him the strength to re-enter the Matrix and make changes – not least of which is the ability to invade the Tardis, remove the Doctor into the Matrix, and make Mel believe that nothing is wrong at all.

(If that sounds slightly familiar then remember that the Monk did much the same thing during The Secret History earlier in 2015, though without the Matrix element.)

The Doctor, threatened with imminent shutdown and formatting, has only a matter of minutes to stop the Valeyard. And so this final episode of The Last Adventure is a race against time, albeit a race that we already know the Doctor will not win. As other writers have said before, it’s all about the journey.

It’s a journey of a different flavour this time, knowing that the Doctor won’t live to fight another day. Colin Baker goes for just the right tone as a character who is realising that this time he can’t bluff his way out. Mel is sadly under-used, but given the fact that in the Seventh Doctor’s first TV appearance she was pretty freaked out by the regeneration that’s fair enough. The main battle has to be between Michael Jayston and Colin Baker.

It’s a test of wills to the last of course, with plot devices and disposable alien races that have infected the Tardis since Trial of a Timelord so that the Valeyard can keep track of the Doctor. It’s a good thing the script moves along at a fair old pace, because you don’t want to think about the intricacies of the Valeyard’s plot for too long. There is however a neat vulnerability at the heart of the Valeyard’s fixation with this particular incarnation of the Doctor, and it’s this vulnerability that drives the onset of the regeneration scene.

All else aside, this is what the audience has come for, so what you want to know is: is it any good? Have Big Finish done Ol’ Sixey proud? Is this a regeneration that suits its place in the canon? Well, complicated plot devices aside, yes, it fits in with the idea of the Doctor as a self-sacrificing hero, and it is just the sort of thing you expect Colin Baker’s Doctor to do. Hearing a regeneration is, again, a different sort of thing to seeing it onscreen, and the shift between Baker and McCoy will take a couple of listens to appreciate after the sheer pace of the rest of the episode, but yes, Big Finish have good reason to be proud of what they’ve achieved here – something that Michael Grade would not allow the BBC to do back in the 1980s (Grade, remember, hates science fiction and fantasy. He cancelled The Tripods as well as Doctor Who. As Terry Pratchett said, “Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”)

Yet as part of a box set of adventures, The Brink of Death is still overshadowed by End of the Line. Nothing personal, but that episode kicks it out of the park.
****

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