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“He’s probably not even a real doctor.”
“I’ll say!  Not dressed like that…”

The Colin Baker Doctor and new companion Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) land aside the Kettering Junction train station, where a very strange stopover is in progress…

“You’re proposing to lock me in the toilet?!?

Why have all the passengers’ watches stopped? Why are all the train windows smashed? And why are there so many Daves?

“Dave one, who was apparently murdered in the fog, Dave two, who was killed in the toilet, and Dave number three, who most likely died not five minutes ago, while we all stood here and did nothing.”
“I’m glad I’m not called Dave.”

Vaguely reminiscent of a particularly odd Sapphire & Steel episode from back in its televised days (and to a lesser extent, the Steve Gerber Man Thing, Stephen King’s Langoliers and a Nick Briggs-starring episode of The Stranger!), Simon Barnard and Paul Morris work the old parallel universe theorem in tandem with an eerie neo-metaphysical atmosphere that’s quite appealing.

“Some of the alternative realities will be very nice places, like the one you and I are from.  Others…not so.”

While there’s hardly a Howard the Duck or peanut butter barbarian to be found, this unplanned trip to a decaying dimensional nexus proves an engaging one, complete with altering personas and the eruption of siege mentality among the unfortunates trapped in this unusual situation.

Of course, things change radically towards the end, with a plot twist that brings in an old enemy and ties this story in to the rest of the set.  Somewhat akin to the jarring shift experienced in the televised Stones of Blood, we go from a vague gothic horror feel directly to the realm of the more familiarly dry and scientific.

Will The Doctor sacrifice himself…and give his greatest foe free reign over the entirety of reality, to save his friends?

And is this merely the beginning of his final test?

“You’re showing your class, Miss Pollard…you know, sometimes I wonder if calling you “Miss” Pollard isn’t a terrible breach of etiquette.  Would “Milady” be more appropriate, or would a simple “Ma’am” suffice?”

Next, “Old Sixie” travels once more with Edwardian adventuress Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher) to a village where they ring the curfew bell and lock the shutters at dawn…

“Werewolves on wheels?”
“Will you lot please stop yapping?  It’s like being stuck in the lavatories at a
debutante’s ball!”

Even beyond the hippies vs. Dr. Moreau element to the script, there’s a fair sight of comedic interplay and begrudging banter between our two leads, reminding regular listeners just how much missed the Baker/Fisher pairing is…

“I won’t stand by while you massacre these…well...people is pushing it, but you know what I mean!”

Touching on topics of politics, eugenics and the ethics of imperialism, author Alan Barnes taps into serious thematics while remaining essentially comic, in particular with respect to our leads (whether jointly or separately).  The light touch helps the harder to digest material go down smoothly…

“Flip, eh?  You’re of an acrobatic bent, perhaps?  I knew a contortionist once, used to tie her ankles round her neck while reciting all the kings and queens of England – Alice, the Allsgate Amazonian.”

Then Matt Fitton brings us back to Victorian times, where the intrepid
investigators of infernal incidents Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) and Prof. George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) join our hero and Flip (Lisa Greenwood) to investigate a series of murders…of some very strangely dressed people.  People whose outfits only The Doctor would recognize…

“Happens to the best of us.  My old muck up, Danvers Carlisle…face like a Michaelangelo…memory like a leaky bucket.  Usually had the rest of the cast saying his lines for him by Wednesday matinee!  Mind you, he did like a gin…”

Third Eye readers are doubtless well aware of our longstanding affection for Messrs. Benjamin and Baxter and their ongoing pairings, not to mention their travels alongside The Sixth Doctor (Voyage to Venus and Voyage to the New World) and entanglement with a certain Professor Dark (Jago & Litefoot Series Four).  So this one’s sort of a given.

Even the child-level impulsiveness and eternally unleashed id of Phillipa “Flip” Jackson doesn’t sour the mix overly, with series regular Ellie Higson (Lisa Bowerman) and a certain character essayed by Michael Jayston rounding out the cast and keeping matters moving at due pace.

“I’d have thought Star Wars a little old hat for you, Flip…”
“Me?  No, I love Jar Jar.”
“(disgustedly) oh…”

While The Red House was perhaps wittier and End of the Line was (at least for the better part thereof) more atmospheric and gothic, Stage Fright certainly delivers the goods on both fronts, with a strong and lively (not to mention fairly large) cast of leads bolstering the affair considerably.

“Your friend the knackers yard…”
“Why did you call him that?”
“Just a joke, sorry.  Didn’t think you’d mind, seeing as he’s nicked your life…”

Finally, Nick Briggs brings things home for The Brink of Death, where “Old Sixie” and Mel (Bonnie Langford) reunite for a final face off with a very familiar foe…

The Doctor winds up a few stones lighter in The Matrix, Mel gets to travel with a surprising incarnation and Sixie gets a new de facto companion (‘Genesta’, Liz White).  You get some travelogue of a very spacefaring sort with a very Arabic-style marketplace on a far off planet, there’s a grand Timelord scheme unveiled, an infestation of mind parasites, a special cameo from the Sylvester McCoy Doctor and you’re about to experience the longest six minutes in history…

“Sometimes, the slightest bit of difference is all that’s needed.”

While there are obvious echoes of both The Deadly Assassin and Trial of a Timelord herein, this one’s something of a different animal.  The pace is significantly sped up, Mel is more or less sidelined to a slightly bigger than cameo appearance, and the title of the set comes into play with something of a heroic ending.  I can’t help but think “Old Sixie” should have gone out on more of a bang, though…

Reasonably quiet for a Briggs-scripted and directed adventure, there’s still plenty of bombast and New Who-isms to be found herein, particularly evident in the scoring and presence of a larger than usual number of explosions throughout.  It’s not as George Lucas as all too many of his Dalek excursions tend towards, but the rather modernistic, revisionist stylistic flourishes do feel a tad out of place in a Classic Who story – even, as it would appear, a “final sendoff” story.

Overall, the set is a bit quirky for a four part “final adventure” for the Colin Baker Doctor.

Broken down into individual stories, they all hold up well enough, and the companions both old and new prove likeable enough (though it must be said, Genesta felt very much of a piece to Flip, just a bit more reserved – which would make her the first “repeat personality” companion in Who history).

But taken as a unified whole, things feel somewhat shaky.  While it’s nice to see many of his past companions (and a pair of old enemies) trotted out, there’s a feeling of flimsiness to the construction – a relative lack of dramatic heft given the occasion.

Do the stories really tie together in any major respect?  Would the werewolf tale or the jaunt through Jago’s theatrical exhibition really qualify as the sort of “Earth shattering events” that typically mark a beloved character’s final act?  Do they bear that level of gravitas, the sense that without his action, his ultimate sacrifice, evil will prevail?

To be fair, the first and final stories do indeed work that territory, but the middle acts, as enjoyable as they are for their own respective merits, feel sort of tossed off, better suited to a more typical monthly installment of the main range than as part and parcel of the final days of a Doctor.  It’s as if he took a few days off for tea and crumpets in the middle of a war…

Further, while the obvious absence of the late Maggie Stables is something of a given, and we can arguably forgive the omission of Det. Inspector Menzies (Anna Hope)…where was Peri (Nicola Bryant) in all of this?

The likelihood of real world scheduling conflicts aside, it further strikes the listener as a bit odd – we get Mel, Charley, Flip, Jago & Litefoot and two new companions…but not the (still with us) one with whom he’s most associated?  And if we’re talking specifically Sixth Doctor foes, where is Colin’s oft stated favorite opponent, Sil (Nabil Shaban)?  Again, it just feels off, somehow.

All that duly noted, it’s one of “my” two main Doctors (the late Jon Pertwee being the other) in tandem with many of his audio and televised companions in tow to some extent or other, facing off against two of his greatest foes.

There’s atmosphere and comic banter to be found herein…just ignore that feeling that something essential is missing from this particular dramatic farewell.