I want to begin my return to this journal with a review of Peri and the Piscon Paradox. It is 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.