PARTS 1 AND 2 OF THIS
AUDIO BOOK TAKE PLACE
BETWEEN THE BIG FINISH
AUDIO DRAMA "THE
CHAOS POOL" AND THE
TV STORY "THE CAVES
BIG FINISH 'COMPANION
CHRONICLES' CD 5.07
RELEASED IN JANUARY
The Doctor and Peri
journey to LA, 2009,
to do battle with a
Piscon. His name is
Zarl, and he's a fish
of utmost evil.
Zarl’s going to steal
Earth’s WATER and
sell it to the highest
bidder. Or blow up
the planet. Or some-
thing like that. He's
a bit vague on that
Fortunately, to stop
him there’s help from
an unexpected source:
Peri FROM 2009. THIS
FUTURE VERSION OF PERI
knows Zarl’s secret.
But should thIS Peri
be on Earth at all?
fishy – and it's not
Peri and the
As the readers of this site know all too well, I love a bit of alliteration. I’ve also a fondness for Nicola Bryant’s Peri, Old Sixy has long been one of my favourite incarnations of the Doctor, and highly-praised humorist Nev Fountain is able to claim authorship of two of Big Finish’s most arresting productions to date. It’s probably not all that incredible, then, that Peri and the Piscon Paradox penned by Nev Fountain and performed by Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker is one of the most compelling Companion Chronicles that I’ve ever heard or am ever likely to.
This story is more than twice the length of a typical Companion Chronicle, despite not being envisioned as such. Originally conceived as a two-part tale of men in monster suits, pouting piscine, temporal tomfoolery, and a Doctor desperately trying to provoke himself, Fountain’s dense narrative refused to be squashed into a single CD’s worth of sound – in fact, it threat-ened to spill over the edges of two. This is because it’s not a story – it’s two, or at least two very different sides of one.
The first two episodes are told from the point of view of teen Peri, who is presently travelling with the fifth Doctor. The Doctor has used an intergalactic blog to reel in Zarl, a Piscon water trader who can’t resist the urge to spill his plans to rob the Earth of its oceans online (Zarl’s planet is devoid of water, the disaster that destroyed the Pescaton’s planet having also had disastrous ecological effects for neighbouring species). Tracking the fishy fiend to LA, 2009, the Doctor and Peri each find themselves face to face with their personal futures – only one of them doesn’t know it yet…
Before Peri has had to chance to recover from the culture shock of finding herself in a world twenty-five years ahead of her own – “…how do they get so fat? How do they get so thin…?” – she’s accosted by a frosty, fly-shades sporting “forty-several” year-old version of herself, who is purportedly on the payroll of a paramilitary organisation and hot on the heels of Zarl. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds that the provocative Piscon in question seems less concerned with purloining the Earth’s water and more with having the Doctor murder him - purportedly so that he can be reincarnated as a human being and reunited with his late wife who, like all Piscon, was reborn as a human after she’d “swum upstream”. Even with Fountain’s flair for the fanciful, it soon becomes clear that there’s more going on here than meets the ear – as the blurb so delightfully puts it: “Something smells fishy – and it’s not just Zarl.”
The second disc’s episodes rehearse the same key events as the first’s, but this time from the perspective of the elder Peri and her partner in crime: Zarl - better known as the sixth Doctor in a suitably unconvincing rubber suit! With Thoras Beta now long behind him, the Doctor has decided that he should find out how his former friend ended up on 21st century Earth working for a UNIT-style outfit when, to the best of his knowledge, she was married off to a bombastic alien warlord. To his bewilderment, the Doctor discovers that Peri isn’t an über-cool secret agent at all – she’s the “Worrier Queen”, a resentful relationship counsellor turned chat-show celebrity who has no memories of him beyond their opening adventure together on Sarn. Whilst trying to puzzle out the palpable paradox, the Doctor inadvertently causes Zarl’s demise, leaving his younger self with no villain to defeat and thus threatening the stability of his own timeline. Fortunately the Worrier Queen has a plan – a plan involving some oversized sunglasses, the Piscon hereafter, a fish suit and a woman who, thanks to the tender ministrations of LA’s finest plastic surgeons, has started to look rather like a fish, particularly around the mouth area. “Fun-filled frolic” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
But here’s the thing about Peri and the Piscon Paradox - its paradox, if you like. For over a hundred and thirty minutes it’s a rollicking, rampant romp. By turns hilarious and whimsical, Fountain’s incisive wit dismantles contemporary culture, all the while harbouring more fan-friendly winks and nods than is probably sensible. But in its last ten minutes, humour turns to heartbreak. Apparently innocent references to floppy-haired jocks and a cosmetic surgery culture take on altogether more disturbing connotations - suddenly a nose-job isn’t a symbol of shallowness, but an indicator of a violent marriage, internal bleeding and a barren womb. Nicola Bryant gives the performance of her Doctor Who life as she screams at the departing TARDIS, her younger self going naively on, destined to make the same mistakes that she did. Destined to be dead inside.
Or so you’d think.
As the production hurls itself
over its emotional crescendo,
the many myriad fates of Peri
are revealed and reconciled.
The cop-out conclusion to The
Trial of a Time Lord left “a lot of mess left behind”, and Peri
and the Piscon Paradox goes some way towards clearing it up. We learn that the demise of Gallifrey’s government after the Doctor’s trial prompted a number of revisions to Peri’s timeline, all of them botched, thus
giving rise to not just one unique future for her in this quantum universe, but five or more. Not only does this neatly clear up any inconsistencies between Peri’s post-Trial appearances in the spin-off media (such as in Colin Baker’s Age of Chaos and Matt Jones’ Bad Therapy), appeasing many a continuity buff (including this one), but it draws a painful parallel between each and every one of them. Whilst Peri’s destinies are all different, they are principally the same – either Peri is dead, or she’s dead inside. Either she’s a Warrior Queen, or she’s a Worrier Queen. The Peris’ fates echo each other in subtle and silly ways, and when it comes down to it they’re each as sad as all the others; each borne of the same. The Doctor let Peri down, and no amount of Time Lord retconning can change that.
Indeed, the most impressive thing about this story is, without doubt, the shocking poignancy of it; the almost underhandedness of its script. In the same way that affable, floppy blonde-haired men can transform into unstable, violent ones in the blink of an eye, the same is true of The Piscon Paradox. It lures the listener into a false sense of security and then kicks them in the stomach. Hard.
When I saw the promotional material for this release, it felt a little discordant seeing Nicola Bryant’s name up in lights and Colin Baker’s sat silently beneath it. However, having heard Peri and the Piscon Paradox, I fully appreciate why. Baker’s unprecedented presence lends this release both zest and gravitas, but he isn’t its star. This isn’t even a straight two-hander like The Suffering. Bryant recites over two hours’ worth of words here, carefully vesting each with the appropriate measure of playfulness or pathos. She even turns her inability to mimic Peter Davison’s Doctor to her advantage. If truth be told, I don’t think that there’s ever been as persuasive performance in a Companion Chronicle before – there certainly hasn’t been one sustained over such length.
For me then, Peri and the Piscon Paradox is the apotheosis of the range; a spectacular success that outshines even the magnificently redolent Find and Replace. The argument could be made that any story able to have two Peris compare tits over an espresso had an unfair advantage over its peers, but I say if you’ve got it, flaunt it – and Peri and the Piscon Paradox flaunts it all.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
For the fifth Doctor, this adventure takes place shortly prior to the television story The Caves of Androzani – the second episode concludes with the TARDIS on course for Androzani Minor. For the sixth, it takes place some time after his trial. Given that The Age of Chaos sees him looking to find out what happened to Peri
after Thoros Beta (as he explains here, his memory has been a little unreliable since his regeneration, and he’s only recently remembered about the events in Los Angeles, 2009) then the events of this story, for him, must take place later. We therefore feel that this adventure is best placed after the audio drama Her Final Flight, which saw him encounter a fake Peri. Indeed, it may have been the events of Her Final Flight that triggered the sixth Doctor’s memories of Los Angeles and reminded him to look into how Peri could be on Earth in 2009 having apparently married King Yrcarnos and become a Warrior Queen.
For the ‘young’ Peri, this adventure also takes place immediately prior to the television story The Caves of Androzani. The Peri living in Los Angeles in 2009 was returned to Earth by the Time Lords at some point after the Doctor’s trial, her memories of all but her first adventure with him erased (“standard procedure”). However, this story establishes that this “Worrier Queen” (sic) Peri is not the only post-Trial Peri in the universe; indeed, there are at least four others. The first of these four was assassinated by King Yrcarnos (as depicted in Part 8 of The Trial of a Time Lord). The second married him (as depicted in Part 14 of The Trial of a Time Lord) and went on to become the version that appeared in the Colin Baker-penned graphic novel The Age of Chaos. The third did the same, but went on to become the vengeful “Queen Gilliam” that the seventh Doctor encountered in Bad Therapy. Nothing is known of the fourth (I think...)
It’s important to note that these numerous post-Trial Peris are not “parallel universe” Peris – they are each the real thing, native to the Doctor’s quantum universe and borne of the Time Lords’ botched post-Trial tidy-up.
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