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Her Final Flight

Doctor Who: The Big Finish Audio Adventures #64-A
Richard Radcliffe

I usually do my reviews a day or so after the first listening of an audio. I forgot to do this one, so here I am 2 weeks after the initial listen, and racking my brains what I have to say about it! I should definitely go back and listen to it again.

Aha! Now I remember - it's the one where Peri is older, and an agent is out to get the Doctor. Oh, and it's also the one where everything is an illusion. It's also the freebie to Big Finish Subscribers - the 1st 6th Dr and Peri drama in ages, that is not what it says on the tin. Confused - well so was I!

The 6th Doctor and Evelyn on Audio have been that successful and interesting, that Peri has been shunted over to the 5th Doctor and Erinem. I was quite looking forward to this audio though, as I rather like the 6th Dr and Peri together - but as the play progresses, and I gradually realized the "truth" of the story - then disappointment clouded everything.

Was this really the best of the open submissions that Big Finish requested last year? If it really is (and I doubt that) then the collective imagination of fandom has faded massively over the years.

I was intrigued, at first, with this older Peri. She was much more sedate, and generally nice about things. I found the hate-filled Peri from Bad Therapy (another idea of where she went after TOTL) not very good. I liked better the Age of Chaos Peri. But the end of Peri should have been just that in TOTL - she should have died, and not been handed over like a trophy to Brian Blessed. That's the real problem with Peri after TOTL - she should be dead - that would be a better end.

I thought Star Trek set the Reset button too much, but recently DW has been at it too. It's pretty clear after a little while that all this is an illusion for the Doctor - but the question has to be asked of Why? I know its all a story anyway, and therefore not real, but this unreality within a fictional setting, where essentially what we are watching, reading about, listening to - is not real anyway - it brings a shake of the head numerous times to this reviewer.

Her Final Flight was supposed to be the bonus CD - the extra bit of adventure on top of the regular releases. I thought Ratings War was bad, but this is worse. Big Finish seriously need to review their selection policy for open submissions, if this is the best they can come up with.

I hate to trounce a freebie - but then again, it's just as well as I didn't pay for it - I would have felt far more aggrieved at that! 5/10

Paul Clarke

In theory, I shouldn't really like 'Her Final Flight'. As I noted when I reviewed 'The Next Life' I have a personal bias against stories that heavily rely on virtual reality and dream sequences, or artificial realities, and 'Her Final Flight' consists almost exclusively on such devices. It also boasts a variety of clichés both within and without the virtual reality in which the Doctor is trapped, including a stereotypical religious zealot. The story opens with a hammy conversation between assassin Rashaa and her first victim, as she gloats outrageously and triumphantly cries, "The bio-electrical implant was a success!" Then there is the perennial problem of creaky exposition as the Doctor arrives alone and proceeds to talk to himself, on top of which the plot is extremely predictable. Inevitably, the Doctor's mind is stronger than his abductor realises, and keeps breaking out of the illusion, and when the Agent warns Rashaa, "Even at this stage it is not too late to fall into one of his traps" this is of course exactly what she does. There are also plot holes; the Doctor is very fortunate that the TARDIS in the virtual reality is the actual real TARDIS and is able to detect the implant, plus the toxic effects of the environment he's really in, and this in turn raises the question of why Rashaa leaves the Doctor inside his TARDIS at all, since this rather conveniently allows him to free himself and defeat her.

And yet, despite all of these shortcomings, writer Julian Shortman achieves a rare example of a virtual reality plot within a plot that works extremely well. The clichés are obviously deliberate, right down to primitive folk worshipping a deity that turns out not to be a deity, whilst the chief and the high priest clash, and they work because Shortman's characters have a verve and conviction that makes them seem surprisingly convincing. This is undoubtedly partly due to the performances of the actors, with Eighth Doctor audio companion Conrad Westmaas putting in a superb turn as Damus, and arguing vociferously with Jonathan Owen's equally passionate Hamiyun. Rashaa explains her plan to break the Doctor's spirit to the Agent, telling him, "The situation will soon spiral out of his control. I will allow him every chance to overcome these circumstances so the wounds of defeat cut deeper" and this gives proceedings the feel of a tragedy, since we know from early on that everyone in the fictional world is doomed. The inclusion of Peri, post-'The Trial of a Time Lord', forces the Doctor to deal not only with his guilt at seemingly imperiling everyone on the planet, but also the guilt he feels for his actions on Thoros Beta, and Colin Baker rises to the occasion, making the Doctor sound utterly despondent and later frantic with desperation; when Peri is dying he sobs, "I don't think I can go through this again." In an amusing nod to 'Mindwarp', Peri asks him, "You don't remember turning against me?" to which he replies, "Yes… and no. How much I lost control I don't think I'll ever know." As planned by Rashaa, the circumstances reach a point where the Doctor's only recourse to save everyone is to jettison the TARDIS interior and sacrifice himself, since with everyone dying including Peri, his conscience gives him no other option, and as his unseen tormentor gloats, "A threat to her life has hastened his resolve to destroy his TARDIS". It is Shortman's acknowledgement of the conventions of Doctor Who that make this so successful a plot, with Peri telling the Doctor, "It must be more than a coincidence that these incidents started after you arrived." The Doctor is reunited with an ersatz Peri, who exploits his guilt over abandoning her. "You don't remember turning against me?"

'Her Final Flight' also benefits from a pair of memorable villains. Clichéd Rashaa may be, but she's impressively nasty and Heather Tracy imbues the role with a certain relish. Perhaps more notable however is Rashaa's employer the Agent, played with chilling conviction by Steven Bugdale, whose identity is merely hinted at. Intriguingly, he says of the Doctor, "Before he dies I would have him know that his death has given me new life" and he knows him well enough to warn Rashaa, "If you attack directly you will fail… you must prepare his path for death and give him every reason to follow it." He's also cunning and ruthless, retaining voice override control of the Nekistani time capsule and wasting no time in disposing of it and her when she fails him. 'Her Final Flight' ends with the Doctor not knowing who has employed his would be assassin, and the listener is left equally unenlightened, but my money, given what little we learn about him, is on the Valeyard. Either way, the Agent is crying out for a return appearance.

'Her Final Flight' is further enriched some other nice details, including the fact that the locals believe that Peri's ship was an egg that cracked and released here, which is rather a nice idea. There's also another nod to the conventions of the past as the Doctor is asked, "Do you mind dressing as an old woman?" and replies, "Well, it's been a while…" Amusingly, when the Doctor later stands up and bellows, "Damus, you must stop this!" the Priest roars back, "Sit down, Old Woman!" In summary, 'Her Final Flight' is not essential listening, but it is entertaining and well written and at two episodes is too short to out-stay its welcome.

Matthew Pinto

This has been a good month for Colin Baker fans with both "Catch 1782" as a regular release and "Her final flight" as a freebie. Although I didn't enjoy Colin's tenure on the BBC (mainly because I was too young to appreciate the darker edge he brought to the role) he has become my consistent favourite of the Big Finish Doctors. Although only on one CD, they have crammed a full 75 minutes of storyline onto the disc so the adventure is not much shorter than some of the regular releases like "Project: Twilight".

The adventure starts with an interesting pre-credits sequence of a feline mercenary testing some kind of device on a captive. The test ends with the captive's messy demise. The mercenary is satisfied and contacts her employer to let him know that the device works and she is ready to proceed against the Doctor.

The Doctor himself is alone in the Tardis at the start of the adventure. This would suggest it is either set before "The Marian Conspiracy" or between the Doctor's travels with Evelyn and Mel. The Doctor is grumbling about the Tardis' inability to make a decent cup of tea (a slight nod to the Hitchhiker's Guide which has just been released) when the Tardis is rammed out of the vortex.

Stepping out into an apparently frozen wasteland there is a moment of confusion when it seems the Doctor has been attacked. The Doctor awakens in slightly more comfortable surroundings to find that he is being cared for by none other than Peri! It turns out her marriage to Ykarnos didn't work out and she was trying to find her way back to Earth when her ship crash landed. It has been nearly twenty years since she last saw the Doctor and believed that he had picked up her homing beacon. The Doctor arrived three days ago and fell straight off an icy ledge. The Doctor however has no memory of the Tardis being rammed nor of what happened when he stepped outside.

As the Doctor recovers he learns that the local populace are in trouble. They have been worshipping the Tardis as a gift from their Goddess and have taken it to their temple. Since then they have been struck by a wave of mysterious miracles and curses. Some people have mysteriously recovered from injuries or illnesses while others have aged and died in a matter of moments. Their Priest believes it is the Goddess blessing the faithful and punishing the wicked but their Leader is less convinced.

While trying to gain access to temple to see the Tardis, the Doctor experiences a sudden vision of an icy wasteland with no inhabitants. When he recovers, he has no memory of what he has seen and Peri tells him he fainted. Together they manage to sneak into the temple in disguise to witness people praying for the Tardis to cure them. The Doctor is horrified to see that her outer shell has been fractured and realises that the Tardis is leaking chronon radiation. His suspicions are confirmed when one woman is cured of terrible sores, he realises that time has flowed backwards to the point before she became ill. However a young girl suffering from a fever is killed as the chronon radiation accelerates her illness.

The Doctor tries to prevent anyone else going near the Tardis but the Priest calls him a blasphemer and orders that he and Peri be burnt as a sacrifice. Fortunately another wave from the Tardis puts out the fire. The Doctor claims this is proof of the Godess's blessing and the Priest reluctantly frees them. The Doctor then collapses and again sees the icy wasteland, the voice of the mercenary is heard and then he falls unconscious and once again loses his memory. When he recovers he is back in the village with Peri but there is a problem. Many villagers are now suffering from a far more deadly version of the same fever that killed the girl.

The Doctor realises that the chronon radiation has accelerated the evolution of the virus into a more deadly form. He decides to try and synthesize a vaccine using equipment from the Tardis but suffers yet another vision. The mercenary comments that his mind is very strong before he finds himself back in the village. Some of villagers have tried praying to the Tardis for a cure but the further waves of chronon radiation have just accelerated the mutation of the virus to the point where he may no longer be able to synthesize a cure. Worse still, Peri has become infected is growing steadily weaker.

Desperate to halt the evolution of the virus, the Doctor decides that the only thing he can do is destroy the Tardis by jettisoning its interior. This will stop the chronon radiation but will also leave him and Peri marooned. Taking only a selection of medicines and a medical computer, the Doctor tries to sabotage his Tardis. For a while the ship will not let him but in the end he break the final connection and the interior dimension begin to slowly collapse in on themselves.

Outside, Peri is getting worse and the doctor realises there is not enough time to manufacture a vaccine. In desperation he injects himself with the virus hoping that his own immune system will be able to generate anti-bodies to save her but he is too late. The Doctor holds Peri in his arms as she dies, believing herself to be home at last.

Distraught, the Doctor uses the medical computer to scan his body to see if there are any antibodies present yet. He is shocked to learn that there are none and even more shocked to find no traces of the virus either. Instead he discovers signs of hypothermia and a strange implant in his head. The Doctor is able to use the medical computer to remove the implant.

Instantly the world around him vanishes and he finds himself back in the icy wasteland. The villagers and Peri were nothing more than an illusion created by the implant. Horrified, the Doctor realises that he has been tricked into sabotaging the Tardis. He hurries back into the rapidly imploding craft and is just in time to prevent her destruction. As the Tardis dimensions begin to recover, the Doctor goes outside to find out what is happening.

Near the Tardis he finds another time capsule with various weapons as well as a rifle that he realises was used to fire the mind control device into him. He is suddenly interrupted by the mercenary. There is a brief tussle in which the Doctor is overpowered. The mercenary mocks him that it is unfortunate that he ended the illusion early and now she must kill him swiftly instead of allowing him to die slowly. She then stabs him through the hearts. Already weakened by the long exposure the cold, the Doctor is unable to regenerate but begs her to tell him why she is killing him.

The mercenary replies that she was hired by someone who will one day die as a result of the Doctor's actions. He is therefore trying to pre-emptively attack the Doctor to save himself. The Doctor dies and the mercenary contacts her employer to tell him the good news. However to her surprise he is enraged by what he sees on the screen. He deactivates the brain implant and mercenary sees the Doctor's body vanish. Instead of killing him, he managed to inject her with the mind controller and faked his own death to find out what was happening. Furious, her employer orders the time capsule to self-destruct with the hapless mercenary still on board.

Meanwhile the Doctor promises the Tardis he will go somewhere quite while they both recover from the ordeal. He contemplates visiting Peri but decides instead to let her get on with her life in peace.

This is an excellent story and every bit as enjoyable as the full length ones. In fact it fits nicely into the 2-episode format rather than trying to pad it out. Colin Baker is excellent as always and his "reunion" with Peri following the events in "Trial of a Timelord" is rather sweet. Unlike "Ish" which tried to rewrite how their relationship was portrayed on screen, the story is simply moved on with both Peri and the Doctor being a little older and more mellow than when they were last together.

The identity of the Doctor's enemy remains a mystery and I cannot help hoping that they pick up on this interesting loose end later on. The character sounds interesting and it would be a shame to leave him as just a nameless voice.

The one thing I did not like about this story was the fact that the Doctor repeatedly catches glimpses of the real world as his mind tries to reject the illusion being projected. This means that the audience is aware long before the Doctor that nothing happening to him is real. This robs Peri's death scene of much of its poignancy. Both leads handle the scene brilliantly but the fact that the audience has already been told it is an illusion means that it does not matter the way it should and the way it clearly does to the Doctor.

It would have been far better if we had not found out until after Peri's death that the scenario was being manipulated. It would have preserved the drama of the preceding scenes far better. The moment where the Doctor realises that he has been tricked into killing his own Tardis however is brilliantly done. Colin masterfully portrays the Doctor's desperation as he tries to halt the collapse and also his tenderness as he promises the old girl to take her somewhere peaceful to recover.

Simon Catlow

“You must prepare his path to death and give him every reason to follow it…”

Considering that the Sixth Doctor spent almost all of his brief spell on television with Peri as his companion, its surprising that Julian Shortman’s Her Final Flight is only the third time the partnership has featured in five years of Big Finish’s Doctor Who series. And as this story’s anomalous production code hints, this is by no means a typical adventure for the duo either as it examines their relationship from a very unusual viewpoint.

Shortman makes it clear – far too clear – immediately that the Doctor is travelling alone and that the Peri he meets on Refiloe is an older and wiser person than the one he was forced to leave on Thoros-Beta nineteen to twenty years previously in her time. Since Peri’s unceremonious resurrection at the conclusion of The Trial Of A Time Lord, there have been many possible explanations in other media as to what she did next. These have ranged from the bizarre (Philip Martin’s novelisation of Mindwarp suggests she returns to Earth as Ycarnos’ wrestling manager) to the improbable (the matriarch of a warrior dynasty in the Doctor Who Magazine graphic novel The Age Of Chaos) to the more realistic, but clumsily done, resentful version depicted in Matthew Jones’ 1996 New Adventures novel Bad Therapy.

The Peri of Her Final Flight is shown as more rounded, with her maturity suiting Nicola Bryant well as she can play her character with a voice closer to her own without having to introduce the eager exuberance of youth that sometimes distracts from her performance in the Fifth Doctor and Erimem stories. If it wasn’t already obvious what the main twist of the play was, then Peri’s muted reaction to meeting the Doctor again may have been enough to give the game away as it’s so unlike her to be so accepting. Experience can temper a personality but can Peri really be so blasé about meeting the man who was responsible, even indirectly, for the course her life has taken over the last twenty years?

The sub-Medieval society of Refiloe is presented in very generic terms with its culture based around religious devotion to their goddess ultimately luring them into danger being very familiar and predictable. Shortman cleverly uses this typical characterisation with his village full of stereotypes as an important plot point and had he displayed a similar subtlety with the integration of the apparent reality with the real one as what lets Her Final Flight down is its obviousness.

The opening prelude is intriguing enough by itself, but it clearly establishes that there is a paid assassin out to kill a target (obviously the Doctor) and she plans to do it using some kind of device that induces hallucinogenic visions. With this in mind it doesn’t really require too great a leap of imagination to realise what the strange distortion effects surrounding Peri’s voice when she first speaks signify with regards to where the boundaries of reality are being drawn. As with Zagreus, the difficulty with putting characters into clearly defined artificial situations is that it’s very difficult to sustain tension and interest in the false situation when its synthetic nature is obvious. With the Doctor’s true fate being decided away from the apparent main narrative – something which Shortman repeatedly emphasises with Rashaa’s frequent intrusions – it’s difficult to really care for the plight of its people or indeed Peri which severely undermines the drama as the only question that really matters is when the Doctor will realise the real gravity of the situation.

With the ability to surprise conceded almost immediately, Her Final Flight is left as something of a character study of the Doctor to show how he would react in certain conditions and what he’d be prepared to sacrifice and endure to save the lives of others. It’s an interesting notion that the Doctor’s heroic qualities could be subverted, becoming weaknesses so that as he believes he’s helping the citizens of Refiloe, he’s actually sealing his own destruction. But for it to work to its full potential, we need to believe that the danger is real which is never true in Her Final Flight. You could argue that Shortman’s plotting is recognition of the universal factor in all Doctor Who stories that the Doctor will always survive to fight another day, but by doing so, it renders much of the story rather pointless which is a shame when there is clearly potential in the main idea.

The play’s suspense comes from witnessing the Doctor’s unwitting instigation of his own downfall, but, as ever when basing the plot around danger specifically to the central character, it’s only a matter of time before this happens. Once occurred, the play gathers momentum quickly as the Doctor acts quickly to stop what he almost sacrificed and discover answers about why he (and the listeners) has suffered this ordeal. Disappointingly, the answers to the latter never arrive as Her Final Flight is the latest Sixth Doctor Big Finish story to leave the plot unfinished for a hypothetical sequel just like Real Time and Medicinal Purposes before it. While the Doctor confronts and defeats Rashaa (who has conveniently gone walkabout when he wakes up, just at the moment of his demise) there is no attempt whatsoever to identify the mysterious Agent who has set everything up, which leaves things feeling very unsatisfying as there is no dramatic payoff.

The cast acquit themselves adequately with Baker displaying a wide range of emotions convincingly, as always, and Bryant delivering an ironically genuine performance when her character is not. Heather Tracy impresses as the Doctor’s foe, making a fair stab at the mission that “many people reasonably consider impossible” before bowing to the inevitable, while Conrad Westmaas shows good variation to make Damas a charismatic and imposing spiritual leader that never once reminds us of his other regular Doctor Who part.

What is so disappointing about Her Final Flight is that it is a story that clearly has potential that Shortman squanders because the Doctor’s situation is presented in such straightforward terms that leave no room for ambiguity as to what is actually happening. With a change of emphasis to create greater uncertainty, so the listener isn’t always ahead of the Doctor, this and a more conclusive resolution would have made this play far more satisfying. As it is, Her Final Flight is nothing more than a wasteful and unsatisfying curiosity.

Lawrence Conquest

Following belatedly in the wake of The Maltese Penguin, Her Final Flight is Big Finish’s second subscribers’ only freebie (though with an otherwise pointless barcode on the back I wouldn’t be at all supposed if this were made available for separate purchase a year or two down the line). Thankfully Big Finish have the guts to tell a serious story this time rather than a disposable comedy (take note DWM!), and for most of the running time this is an enjoyable and intriguing adventure. Yet, frustratingly, it turns out to be fatally flawed, and doubly disappointing, as it could so easily have been rescued.

The main guts of the story is fine: the Sixth Doctor has to make an emergency landing in the planet Refiloe, where he is mistaken for the servant of a god that lives inside the TARDIS. While on Refiloe he also meets up with long-lost companion Peri (this story being set some time after the confusing events of Trial of a Timelord). I can’t say I was hugely enamoured of revisiting this continuity point again, as we’ve already had the repercussions of the Sixth Doctor’s abandonment of Peri examined in the novels and a graphic novel (written by Colin Baker himself!), but while a little distracting and unnecessary this is ultimately handled smoothly enough that it fails to annoy overmuch. From this point on the story plays very much like a modern reworking of The Aztecs, with The Doctor and Peri desperately attempting to gain access to the TARDIS, while alternately helped and hindered by the local headman and high priest – what gives things an extra edge this time is that the damaged TARDIS is leaking chronal energy, resulting in random miracle cures or deaths for the locals as they are either sped forwards or backwards in time. We are left with the intriguing situation where for the good of the locals the Doctor has to consider destroying the TARDIS.

So far so good – but ultimately all this good work counts for nothing thanks to a horrendously bungled framing device.

Immediately before the story starts we are treated to a prologue where an assassin is hired to kill the Doctor, so coupled with the Doctor’s blackouts we immediately suspect that the situation on Refiloe is not as it seems, and sure enough the entire scenario turns out to have been nothing more than fancy virtual reality. Not only does Shortman totally ruin any element of surprise by showing his hand in the opening scene, he then fails to provide an ending. The Doctor escapes the trap, but we never learn who is trying to kill the Doctor or why, it’s left annoyingly wide-open, giving this single disc adventure the feeling that the story is one disc short. The virtual reality framing device doesn’t even work in logical terms – if the Doctor is so incapacitated that he can have surgery performed on his cranium, why didn’t the assassin simply kill the Doctor right there and then, and save all the trouble of constructing a fantasy world? You know something is seriously wrong when the virtual reality world is more interesting than what is ultimately revealed.

A real missed opportunity - had the framing story been cut away completely and Shortman stuck with the basic story of a disintegrating TARDIS on Refiloe, (or alternately, had an extra discs worth of material expanded the story of the assassin and the villains relationship with the Doctor), this could have been enjoyable stuff. As it stands Her Final Flight is a disappointing failure, a would-be fine adventure that has ended up so wrapped up in ambiguity and ‘…then he awoke and it was all a dream’ sequences that it becomes quite inconsequential. For completists only.