It's quite funny listening to the documentaries on the end of these Big Finish audio plays. Some guy who sounds almost exactly like Russell T Davies (but isn't) tries to think up questions to ask the actors in the plays. Guest stars repeat like a mantra that their kids will love them for doing it and it's given them much kudos; regulars will trot out - with all the enthusiasm you can imagine someone asked the same question for 25 years can muster - what it means to them.
And of course the directors, producers and writers all proclaim how absolutely super wonderful and lovely it was to work with X, Y and Z and how the latest effort is more or less the best thing written down on paper since cuneiform was first invented.
Peter Davison is always a bit more refreshing and candid when questioned (as anyone who's ever listened to any of his DVD commentaries will know). Did you know, for example, that he almost never reads the script before coming into the Big Finish studios? Or that he'll record three plays in three days?
Still, he can get away with it most of the time. The double-bill of The Mind's Eye and Mission of the Viyrans is really very good - quite old school, clever and strong on characterisation for the regulars. Yes, it's got Owen Teale hamming it up something chronic as an evil scientist and Rebecca Front as one of the most uncommitted baddies in recent history. But they both work pretty well.
Plot (did I dream it was on the Big Finish web site or was it all for real?)
The Mind's Eye (A Three-Part Story)
This is a warning to all space farers. You must keep away from this planet. It’s hostile, repeat, hostile.
On a planet with no name, the Doctor finds himself confronted by a faulty memory and some killer plants.
In a distant galaxy, Erimem leads a troubled empire.
Back on Earth, Peri tells her son about the good old days when she used to travel with a man called The Doctor.
Mission of the Viyrans (A One-Part Story)
The Doctor and Peri take a holiday on the planet Gralista Social, but soon discover they aren't the only time-travelling aliens in town.
Is it any good?
The Mind's Eye is essentially Total Recall - Peri and Erimem both end up in dreamworlds and the Doctor has to get them to realise they're dreaming and that they're not the pharoh of New Cairo (shouldn't that be New Memphis?) or going out with a dodgy city type.
For the most part, it's a chance for Owen Teal (from Vengeance on Varos - he played Maldak* - and the infamous Torchwood episode Countrycide) to be really, really Welsh frequently, quite subtle mostly, quite mental occasionally, and Brian Sewell repeatedly; and for Nicola Bryant (ah, Peri... Sigh) to stretch her acting muscles. Indeed, Mission of the Viyrans is almost entirely Bryant's play and shows what she can do when given something to work with.
But it's also used to give Peri and Erimem a bit of examination. Does Erimem miss being an omnipotent ruler? Does Peri secretly want to settle down, get married and have a family because of her own non-nuclear upbringing? The whole thing's quite nicely done - although caring about Erimem is still hard to do - and there are a few reality shifts to keep you on your toes.
Indeed, the play should be used as an example for other Big Finish writers about how to keep people guessing with alternate realities without boring them senseless (cf the Sapphire and Steel range) since it only messes with us for a few minutes before beginning to provide us with nice linear pay-offs. I was almost expecting elaborate double-bluffs, I've been so conditioned by other plays, but this time, simplicity is a virtue.
Also good is its depiction of the alien world, which feels Kinda-esque at times, right down to the hacked off solders led by Rebecca Front, who really can't be arsed to go to too much effort, by the sounds of it. Combined with the incidental music, the whole thing has a true fifth Doctor feel to it. Worth listening to, I reckon.
Mission of the Viyrans is marginally less satisfying. There are some nice ideas, but it's a little over-complicated and muddy. It took me a couple of replays and glances at the Internet to work out exactly what's going on, partly because the play's set after the next fifth Doctor play (The Bride of Peladon) - I got confused about whether the final Peri/Doctor exchange was the result of this play's events or not (it's not). Plus the ending of the play is actually after the end theme tune and I thought I'd messed up ripping it to my iPod.
Interestingly, this is apparently the first of several episodes to feature the Viyrans that will lead up to a big four-parter next year. Not sure I'm psyched yet.
Quite a good way to round off the year, if you're a fifth Doctor lover, and far more satisfying than Son of the Dragon.
How much should you have to pay for it?
Asking price: £14.99
Actual worth: £10.99 or you could barter an M1940 Luftwaffe Tropical pith helmet
Listen to the trailer (Windows Media Format)
The Mind's Eye
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Caroline Morris (Erimem)
Owen Teale (Hayton)
Rebecca Front (Major Takol)
Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Kyle)
Richard Laing (Ukarme)
Nicola Weeks (Andree)
Mission of the Viyrans
Peter Davison (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Peter Sowerbutts (Lawrence)
Philip Childs (Chris)
Writer: Colin Brake
Director: Barnaby Edwards
* I must confess to having won Maldak's keys in a competition when I was at university. For the interested, they were Allen keys with washers on the ends. For a while, I had many requests to display them to people who came a-visiting. That died off quite quickly. I gave them away. Oh woe.
- October 5, 2009: Review: Doctor Who - 124 - Patient Zero
A review of the Doctor Who Big Finish audio play Patient Zero