“Peri and the Piscon Paradox”

I want to begin my return to this journal with a review of Peri and the Piscon Paradox. It isdwcc0507_periandthepisconparadox_1417_cover_large such a gem of a story that I’ve been itching to write a full review of it ever since I listened to it the first time about two months ago, and it’s so good, I’ve listened to it a second time since. You see, there are so many Big Finish audios, both plays and audiobooks, that there just isn’t enough time in life to listen to them twice, but this one was worth it.

It’s impossible to discuss this story without spoilers and the twists in it are exquisite and a major part of what makes it fantastic, so I’m going to give a summary review here, and then the rest of this entry is spoilerific, so that if you think you might listen to the audio, you can read the summary review and avoid the spoilers.

Peri and the Piscon Paradox is a multi-layered story that explores Peri, her relationship with the Doctor, and her ultimate fate, all within an exciting adventure that’s in one moment thrilling, then the next moment will make you laugh out loud. At first, it seems like just a basic adventure, but as you get into it, it paints you a deeper picture of Peri than you’ve ever seen before, and really brings to life the personality, dreams, and motivations of a character that was just a shallow screaming companion in a tight leotard on the TV. You know how people say, “If you want just one taste of what the Big Finish audios are like, make sure you listen to this one”? I have about four audios I’d nominate for that, and this is one of them.

Okay, spoilers ahead!

PatPP is a story in the range called “The Companion Chronicles”. The primary performer is the companion, in this case Nicola Bryant, and the story is a hybrid of an audio play and an audiobook: it’s narrated by Ms. Bryant and she does the voices of many of the characters in the story, but other characters are played by other actors. The feel is more like an audiobook in that, as the narrator, Peri is explaining what’s going on and interjecting her opinions on things.

The story starts with Peri and the Fifth Doctor landing in Los Angeles in about 2009 to stop Zarl, a Piscon, a fish-like sentient, from stealing all of the water from Earth to take back to his home planet, which is drying up due to an expanding sun. While attempting to apprehend Zarl, they encounter Peri – a much older Peri, dressed in designer clothing and sporting a rhinoplasty new nose – who informs them that she works for the American government’s secret alien agency and that they’ve got Zarl all wrong. The Piscons discovered that when they die, they often reincarnate on Earth as humans, and Zarl is here because his wife is now human and he wants to join her by dying and reincarnating. However, Piscons cannot commit suicide, so he planned to lure the Doctor here with threats of invasion, hoping that the Doctor would kill him. She explains that the only way to stop Zarl is to kill him, and that in his eyes, it would be a mercy.

The Doctor, of course, refuses to do so, and after the usual chaos of an adventure, the older Peri grabs the gun that was designed to kill Zarl to shoot him. Younger Peri wrestles with her to get the gun away, but eventually loses and older Peri zaps not only Zarl, but his human wife as well. In the confusion, younger Peri manages to obtain older Peri’s pocketbook, and looking through it later, realizes that everything older Peri had told her about her future – that she’d gone back home and married her high-school sweetheart Davey and had three kids, etc. – was all a lie. Younger Peri deduces that older Peri had never returned to him, opting for a more exciting life as an alien hunter, turning her into the hardened killer she is now. She screams that she doesn’t want to become older Peri and vows to go home to her family when she finishes traveling with the Doctor and return to Davey. As older Peri calls after her, trying to fix things, younger Peri dashes into the TARDIS and leaves.

Now, except for not understanding why there’s an older Peri living on Earth, this might have been a great adventure if it ended here, but the story is only halfway done. The second half opens with the narrative from older Peri’s point of view. She’s gone on to get her doctorate in botany and, due to the buffeting of the winds of life, is now a celebrity relationship counselor talk show host in LA. The Sixth Doctor arrives, having only vague memories of encountering her and Zarl and absolutely certain that she had left him to marry Yrcanos on Thoros Beta and not returned to Earth to be a talk show host, and wants to figure out what’s going on. Through a freak accident, Zarl accidentally dies, and in order to prevent the paradox of his previous self not meeting Zarl from occurring, the Doctor dons a fish suit to play the part of Zarl. Things go awry, of course, and to save the situation, older Peri concocts the story of her working for the government and the whole history and philosophy of the Piscons, in order to convince the Fifth Doctor to kill him with a gun that the Sixth Doctor had tampered with to make it a teleporter. Thus, when older Peri “kills” Zarl and his human “wife”, they are simply teleported to the TARDIS.

However, this doesn’t explain how Peri could be here when the Doctor knew she had married Yrcanos and never returned to Earth. A Time Lord appears and explains that they had attempted to fix the problems in Peri’s timelines caused by the Sixth Doctor’s trials by forking her timeline so that this version of her leaves the Doctor after “Planet of Fire” and goes on with her life, having had just one adventure with the Fifth Doctor (exactly what they did with Jamie and Zoe in “The War Games”). This Peri, sure that going out into the world wasn’t for her, returned to Davey and married him, then divorced him later after he abused her so badly, she was left with a reconstructed nose and the inability to have children. Thus, her parting words to her younger self was to warn her to run with the Doctor as far as she could, to get out there and go get what she wants, and to not return to the sweet, blond-haired Davey who you would never suspect will turn psychotic and violent in an instant.

This story leaves you feeling like you’ve just been through a whirlwind, with a whole bunch of elements flying around in your head. Everything that seemed strange in the first look at the events, from younger Peri’s point of view, clicks into place in the second look, when older Peri explains it all. Your sympathies oscillate from the first Peri, who can’t understand how she could possibly turn into the amoral self she sees in front of her, to the older Peri, who is only floating through life, broken and exhausted, after surviving a horrible, abusive marriage. The story does not flinch from painting a realistic, brutal picture of what she’s been through, but neither is it too violent.

The thing that you’ll probably remember most vividly, though, is how the story is told from two different Doctors’ points of view: the Fifth Doctor trying to solve the situation by helping the villainous fish, and the Sixth Doctor trying to convince his previous self to just pull the trigger. In the scene where the two are face-to-fishface, you’ll laugh out loud as you feel the older Doctor’s seething frustration as the younger Doctor very pleasantly tells him to take as much of the Earth’s water as he wants, because he’ll just bring in an ice comet to replace it all, to “clean up after you”. For once, the Doctor experiences firsthand just how difficult it is to defeat himself.

Peri and the Piscon Paradox was written by Nev Fountain, who, I’ve come to discover, has written many of my favorite audios of all time: Omega, The Kingmaker, and the last story in the compilation Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories. I’ve found that his stories are masterpieces that involve lots of hilarity, time travel, and blindsiding twists, but also deal with deeper themes and character development. PatPP is one of his best – I’d rank it just below The Kingmaker, and you should go and listen to it right now.

Gone but not forgotten

It’s been a very long time since I’ve been to this blog – over a year, judging by the date of the last posted entry. There’s a number of reasons for this, but one of them is not a loss of interest in Doctor Who. Not at all. Though there are a lot of other things I do, it still consumes my life. I don’t get to watch episodes that often (and there are still many, many classic stories I have never seen), but I’m almost constantly thinking about the show in some way. I listen to audios to and from work. I write fanfiction. I discuss the show with friends, both local and online. I went to Gallifrey One this year and met some of the most amazing people, both fellow fans and people who work on the show.

Part of my inattention to this blog stems from having a sense of not having enough time to keep it up. It takes me a long time to compose even a short, simple post, and usually my posts are neither. I do love to organize my thoughts about different aspects of the show and get them down on paper (I’ve always loved writing), but, as you know, life changes and the time you used to have to devote to an activity evaporates. I would like to start keeping this up and I’m going to try, but I can’t promise anything.

Another large part of my absence has been caused by the show itself. One of my most recent posts was about my disappointment with Series 8. It was written before Series 9 was aired and expressed hopes that the upcoming season would be much better. Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Series 9 made many of the same mistakes I felt it made with Series 8. It continued to deviate from the adventure format that had served it so well for the previous fifty years and instead concentrated on the relationship and friction between the Doctor and the companion. What adventure that was there seemed to be contrived to make a point, rather than a story of conflict and solution that happened to have a broader point (best demonstrated by the terrible writing and setup in the Zygon episodes to push the characters to the final scene and the Doctor’s speech about the follies of war, but also by all of the episodes involving Ashildr). “Face the Raven” was an exploration of the kind of trap that must be woven to catch the Doctor and gave Clara a beautiful and fitting ending, and of course “Heaven Sent” was a masterpiece, but both were thrown away with the travesty that was “Hell Bent”.

I could go on, but I won’t – there’s no point other than to complain. Just like with Series 8, Series 9 left me angry and upset that the show that I loved so much was just so bad. The announcement that Steven Moffat was leaving after Series 10 and Chris Chibnall was going to be the new showrunner elated me, because I could hope that he will turn the show away from its current angst-fest direction and steer it back to a more story-driven course. Mr. Chibnall’s Doctor Who episodes have the adventure feel to them, even though some have been, well, terrible (I’m looking at you, “Power of Three”). And, of course, I’m a huge Broadchurch fan, and I’ve always loved “42”.

But back to my point. I stopped writing here after Series 9 debuted because I want to keep this blog to its purpose, which is documenting my explorations into the Doctor Who universe and fandom. While that does mean criticizing the show when it deserves it – and there are tons of episodes and audios out there that are just plain bad – I want to keep the tone of this blog positive; after all, I still love Doctor Who. There is, sadly, very little positive I can say about Series 8 and Series 9, and since, at the time, Series 9 was the only thing to really talk about, I had nothing to say here. And then, of course, I forgot about this blog for a while.

Hopefully, though, I’m back, to talk about all the things I love about Doctor Who. That means the classic show, the modern show from Series 1 through “The Day of the Doctor” (well… Series 7 was really shaky…), and the Big Finish audios. I think that a lot of my posts are going to be reviews, to jot down what I liked or didn’t like about things, especially the audios (there’s just too many of them to remember). And there’ll be a bit about the fandom itself, as I attend conventions, recommend some fan artists I like, and discuss DW fanfiction. There’s just too much to love!