Doctor Who – The Brink of Death Review (or ‘The One Where The Sixth Doctor Finally Regenerates’)

I was recently asked if I’d be interested in going back and reviewing all the Doctor Who Big Finish audio adventures.

To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t, and there are a few reasons for that.

For one thing, it would be too great an undertaking, as there literally hundreds of stories to get through.

And not just that; I actually find them quite difficult to listen to. What I mean is that if I put on a Big Finish last thing at night, I only stay awake for a matter of minutes before falling asleep. If I try to listen to one in the living room in the evening, I’ll find my attention wanders. Really, the only times I can properly enjoy a Big Finish are on long journeys or first thing in the morning.

Most of all though, I wouldn’t really want to. As high quality as Big Finish can be – and stories like The Holy Terror are as good as any episode of Who that has graced our screens – there’s also a hell of a lot of dirge in there as well. It would be unfair to say that the standard of writing is perhaps not what it once was on these stories, but it’s certainly a valid point to suggest that after sixteen years of these releases and 10 years ofsixthdoctorthe_last_adventure_image_large the TV show being back on the air, there lacks a freshness about their output.

And that’s my biggest problem with Big Finish; the lack of imagination that seems to plague it now.

A quick look at the recent releases show that there have been some Rani stories, another E-Space Trilogy, a Cyberman one and of course plenty of Dalek releases. The latest Dalek story seems to be one about how they’ve gone back to 1987 to take over the computer games industry. I mean…what? It could be Doctor Who at its finest for all I know, but it’s a far cry from the Daleks’ Master Plan in terms of scale. This genuinely is Pudding of the Daleks territory (Pudding of the Daleks being my idea that having explored every other Dalek avenue, there will be a story where the Doctor goes for lunch somewhere and they are in control of the kitchen).

Then there’s this idea that they come up with their stories by spinning a wheel and hoping for the best. That certainly seems like the most plausible explanation for why there are stories involving The Fifth Doctor, Steven & Vicki or the Seventh Doctor & Jo.

Plucking some names out of thin air, I could say that there might one day by a story involving the Sixth Doctor, Mike Yates and Leela where they have to team up with Group Captain Gilmore to battle against The Nimon in London in the Swinging Sixties. And you wouldn’t be hugely surprised if that turned out to be scheduled for release in 2016.

I get it though; Big Finish are a business, and they have to create what sells. Despite its obvious quality, the aforementioned Holy Terror was one of its lowest sellers because it didn’t involve any marquee names in Doctor Who.

So while I can forgive them for what they do, I don’t have to enjoy it.

But having said all of that, I am going to write a Big Finish review today.

After all, The Brink of Death is the one where the Sixth Doctor finally regenerates…

Doctor Who – The Brink of Death Review: What’s This One About?

Replaced in time by The Valeyard and stranded as a ghostly image in The Matrix with only six minutes to live, The Doctor faces a race against time to save not just himself, but the entire Time Lord race.

Thoughts

This is a story that you’d imagine both Colin Baker and Big Finish have wanted to do for some time, both for creative and financial reasons. I’ve written before about how Baker got a bit of a rough time of it in how he was written out, and so I think it’s good to see him get this chance to bring some form of closure to his character.

And that’s what this is all about; closure. It bridges the gap between The Ultimate Foe and Time and the Rani, it offers a final confrontation between the Doctor and the Valeyard (and even manages to rejig the lore behind that character to make more sense in a world where we know he wasn’t a version of the Doctor between the 12th and 13th regeneration) and it explains the circumstances behind the Sixth Doctor’s demise.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. When you take a moment to think about it, the writer of the story – and I’m sure you’ll be shocked to discover that the person chosen by Big Finish Head Honcho Nick Briggs for this prestigious task was Briggs himself –  is boxed into a corner from the start. No matter what he writes, it has to end up with the Doctor dead on the TARDIS floor on the planet Lakertya. So what leads up to the regeneration has to explain why they are there.

To be fair to him, I think he manages it without it seeming tenuous, so he deserves credit.

Is it the best story in the world? No. Without its significance – i.e. if the Doctor simply defeated the Valeyard and lived to fight another day – I doubt many people would go out of their way to recommend it. But it’s good enough. It held my attention, it wasn’t overly complicated and it had a small cast who all did a good job with what they were given.

If I had any real criticisms, they would be twofold.

Firstly, it seems as though Bonnie Langford is in it because she has to be. Mel makes only a fleeting cameo appearance, which I find disappointing because she’s actually very good in these audios.

The second is the way it finishes. What you’ve got to remember about this being his ‘regeneration story’, is that he doesn’t actually regenerate in it. That happens in a pre-credits sequence before the start of episode one of Time and the Rani. So this audio actually ends before the big event. If it was me, I would have gone out of my way and paid what I needed to pay to have this story finish with audio from that television episode. If it had ended on the line “Leave the girl, it’s the man I want”, the coolness factor would have gone way up for me.

Alas it was not to be, but as it turns out, someone on Youtube has had the same idea. I won’t link to it,  but it’s easy to find.

Should You Listen To The Brink of Death?

Put simply, for the historical significance alone, you should definitely listen to The Brink of Death.

It’s a decent story that flows well, and Nicholas Briggs does a good enough job considering the constraints he was working under.

At last, Colin Baker is allowed to send his Doctor off in a way that is fitting of a man who has poured his heart and soul into making these audio adventures over the last 15 years.

So give it a listen, even though there are better Big Finish audios out there.

Calls to Action

Remember to…

a) Like Stuart Reviews Stuff on Facebook or Twitter

b) Read about my books – focussing on reviews of Doctor Who from the very beginning – here

c) If you appreciate my sense of humour, go ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 

 

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