As has been discussed before, Big Finish are in a dilemma with these Lost Stories. Just how authentic should they be to a half-finished script that never saw the blessed red of a script editor’s pen? Should they improve them or give the fans exactly what they want – a word-for-word identical version of the script as is, no matter what state it’s in?
In the case of MIssion to Magnus, they went with the wrong choice: they left it as was and served us all a great big pile of rubbish. But Magnus did have a virtually complete script. Paradise 5 is a different matter.
Written by He Who Must Be Hallowed, the creator of Sapphire and Steel PJ Hammond, Paradise 5 is an awkward lost story since it was originally intended for the The Trial of a Timelord season in the slot that ended up in Pip and Jane Half-Baked’s Terror of the Vervoids. It was going to have lots of Time Lords in it, lots of trial stuff and the companion was going to be Mel, as played by Bonnie Langford.
Big Finish couldn’t afford that. There was no way they were going to get Lynda Bellingham and Michael Jayston to reprise their roles, for one thing. Bonnie Langford’s stopped doing the Big Finish plays, now she’s having fun dancing – and proved her point that it wasn’t her, it was the writing of Mel that was the problem.
So they stripped out all the Time Lord stuff from what there was of PJ Hammond’s scripts, which left just three episodes. PJ Hammond wasn’t free to adapt the rest of the story into an audio play, so they got Andy Lane to write an intro episode, convert Mel to Peri – since Nicola Bryant was well up for some more Lost Stories – and polish it all up. He also ‘updated’ it so that it was less 80s, which he reckoned wouldn’t wash these days.
So given all of that, do we have a PJ Hammond Lost Story now or simply a shiny new sixth Doctor and Peri story that’s a bit PJ Hammond-esque in places?
The Doctor and Peri visit the planet Targos Delta to check in on old friend Professor Albrecht Thompson, only to discover that he has vanished. He was last sighted taking a shuttle to the holiday resort of Paradise 5, then never seen again.
The Doctor’s curiosity is piqued. They must investigate, but they must do so stealthily… Peri will go undercover on Paradise 5, while the Doctor hides in the shadows. Because paradise holds a terrible secret beneath the white marble and golden trimmings. The mute Cherubs have a story to tell. And the Elohim are coming.
Is it any good?
Philosophical musings aside, Paradise 5 isn’t half bad. It’s not brilliant. It’s way too close to Terror of the Vervoids at times. But it’s definitely better than average and has more than a few good points, even if it has Andy Lane’s New Adventures-writing fingerprints all over the denouement.
Episode 1, which is wholly Andy Lane’s, has Peri and the Doctor deciding to try yet again to have a holiday. This gives us the bickering Doctor and Peri of season 22, but with a slight twist – we have a delightfully world-wearing Peri desperate for a holiday that doesn’t turn into one of the Doctor’s adventures (and in a nod to Big Finish continuity, talks about how they haven’t had a break since his regeneration). When they decide to visit yet another of the Doctor’s old friends, it turns out he’s disappeared while on holiday at Paradise 5.
They investigate, Peri getting a job as a waitress at Paradise 5, the Doctor stowing away in the hold. For most of the rest of the story, it’s Peri who does the investigating, while the Doctor lurks around behind the scenes, occasionally bumping into the Cupid-like slave race, the Cherubs.
Slightly problematically, the use of the first episode to introduce us to Paradise 5 actually gives too much of the game away. We’re introduced to the ‘Paradise Machine’ and it’s immediately obvious what’s going on with the holiday camp in the stars. The rationale for it isn’t, but all the investigating in episodes two and three feels a bit redundant afterwards.
Episode 2, which is all Hammond’s, is pretty conventional set-up for a Who episode, with episode 3 mostly Hammond’s and incorporating some dark ideas – this is the one that starts giving us the good stuff. Episode 4 is almost all Lane, and takes Hammond’s original ‘slave race’ plot and gives it a very sci-fi twist that’s both Hammond-esque and yet way too ‘sciencey’ for our PJ – it’s a good idea, but certainly not season 23.
Does it work?
Most of Hammond’s darkness is visual, and this play fails to capture that darkness – I simply think it would be impossible to do properly in audio, so that’s not BF’s fault: Hammond’s aliens are disembodied skulls floating in golden light, while the Cherub’s were supposed to be mute. How are you going to do all that justice in audio?
Nevertheless, by the end, you’ll have had a reasonably good time, although you’d probably have had a better time if director Barnaby Edwards hadn’t let all the actors have such an obviously good time – this really needed a harder edge. The villains (Alex Macqueen from The Thick of It, and James D’Arcy from Master and Commander) are a little too OTT and unconvincing; the Cherubs actually sound like Itsy and Bitsy off Paperplay in this, so aren’t in the least bit frightening. And all the cast, particularly the supporting cast, clearly have their tongues in their cheeks the whole way through.
Probably the highlight though, as Andy Lane intended, is that Peri gets something to do. We get her musing on how she used to be an A student at high school and was going to go down the Amazon and discover new flowers that would be named after her, but has somehow wound up as a waitress in outer space. She does plenty of investigation, uses her initiative and is generally bold and daring (personal favourite scene: her doing a Kirk with some robots to convince them to give her some food and drink). We also get costumes that would never have worked on TV, with Peri ending up in bikinis and in garters, according to the dictates of the Paradise 5 organisers – and Lane, who classes it all as in-joke reference to Planet of Fire.
It’s a little awkward, a kind of halfway house between PJ Hammond, more traditional Who and the New Adventures, but it’s interesting and occasionally thought provoking. Not bad, but not a compulsory purchase.
Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Nicola Bryant (Peri)
Alex Macqueen (Gabriel)
James D’Arcy (Michael)
Helen Goldwyn (Stella/Bella)
Andree Bernard (Lorelei)
Teddy Kempner (Mr Gelter/Mr Bliss/Elohim Voice)
Claire Wyatt (Ms Aht)
Richard Earl (Mr Tapp/Mr Winterbourne)
Writer: PJ Hammond and Andy Lane
Director: Barnaby Edwards