Colin Baker famously refused his regeneration scene with the incoming Sylvester McCoy on TV, leaving it to the latter, an exercise bike and a somewhat underinspiring wig. And that, it was thought, was that.
But no! For Big Finish have produced a wondrous thing: a boxset that gives Ol’ Sixie the regeneration he deserves, without breaking the all-important exercise bike canon. (Completists will be disappointed to learn that the wig goes unmentioned.)
The Last Adventure is a series of four interconnected adventures spread across the Sixth Doctor’s life, each with a different companion, and each facing off – to a lesser or greater degree – with Sixie’s ultimate nemesis, himself (in the shape of the Valeyard).
First up is Paul Morris and Simon Barnard’s The End of the Line, a tale of parallel universes as explored through a misty Midlands’ railway junction. Meandering through some almost Sapphire & Steel plotting, before arriving at a far more sci-fi conclusion, The End of the Line introduces us to Sixie’s latest companion Constance Clark, played by Miranda Raison. Bravely, the story is written as halfway through her tenure, and no mention is made of who she’s in or where she’s from: it’s all a bit in at the deep end, for both listener and Mrs Clark. However, testament to the writing and Ms Raison’s performance, she very quickly feels like an old hand, and a companion in whom we the audience have the appropriate degree of trust.
Second story is Alan Barnes’s The Red House, a rather nice reverse-werewolf with India Fisher’s Charley Pollard as companion. Pollard is written particularly well here, especially in the fair number of scenes she shares with the Valeyard, and it’s all really rather wonderful. A definite favourite.
Matt Fitton’s Stage Fright is third: the Valeyard is playing out the Doctor’s regeneration scenes as theatre with luckless actors on Jago’s stage, leading to suspicious disappearances. Stage Fright is rather good too, pairing (actually, quadrinkling, I think) Lisa Greenwood’s Flip with Jago, Lightfoot and barmaid Ellie – a combination and juxtaposition that works well. There is some great and very witty dialog in this one, albeit with a somewhat obfuscated raison d’etre (I’m still not entirely sure why the Valeyard wanted to perform on the stage – a second listen is in order, I think).
Lastly, Nick Briggs’s The Brink of Death takes us, and Sixie, to the fateful final moment. A particularly satisfying story, with the Doctor trapped in the Matrix in what is effectively his last minutes of life – and a masterful turning of tables at the end, leading to that much-anticipated but consistently canonical regeneration. Still no mention of the wig, though.
Throughout, performances are great, and it’s a joy to see the arc pan across multiple seasons conceptually with the various companions, old and new. No Peri, sadly, and even more poignantly no Evelyn of course. Part of me wishes there could have been some audio found footage of Maggie Stables’s performance to edit in – but then again, maybe that would seem disrespectful.
Of the other characters, Michael Jayston’s Valeyard is immediately recognisable and decidedly evil. (Interestingly, Big Finish has taken the chance to explain this character’s existence far better than it ever was on the telly, which IMHO is a good thing – the woolyness of his relationship to the Doctor before never sat well with me.) To be honest, there’s really not a duff performance across the company.
But most credit has to sit, I think, with Colin Baker’s performance as the Doctor. This is not the last we’ll hear of him from Big Finish by any means – but it certainly felt like it was. More importantly, it felt as if he’d completed a journey at the end, from the brashness of ‘Change my dear’, to a far nobler, softer… well, cynic.
The Last Adventure is a fitting end to a story that’s not yet finished. Goodbye Mr Baker – can’t wait to see you again.
The Last Adventure is available from BigFinish.com.