Big Finish has done what no other medium of Doctor Who has ever been able to do; they filled the void while no TV Who is on air. I’m not just talking about in between seasons– they took over the reigns while the show was nowhere near our TV screens for six years. To me they were a lifesaver, giving me something that TV could never do. They brought back not only my favorite show in a very exciting fashion, but also brought back Paul McGann.
The 8th Doctor won me over from day one. Say what you like about the TV Movie, Paul McGann was brilliant. But how can you sweeten the already perfect pot? By bringing back some of the best ideas from the past.
In his latest adventure Paul and his current companion Lucie Miller face the Sisterhood of Karn, not seen in the Who world since the Tom Baker’s story The Brain of Morbius.
As always they try to bend the uses of the characters and aliens they bring back. There’s no point in telling the same stories over and over again, and the Big Finish crew do this masterfully. The Sisters have moved on in the world, they have grown in their ways and they have a plan.
Of course they are not the only characters in this story. There is the mysterious Zarodnix, buyer of worlds, but what could his interest be in the planet Karn? This story also sees the return of Time Lord CIA Agent Straxus–last seen in series one of the BBC7 audio plays made by Big Finish–and a new alien race called the Trell.
The latter is quite interesting because it allows the story to hit upon something that they don’t touch on much in Doctor Who and that is racism. When Lucie first meets the Trell they are hostile, so naturally when she meets a police officer of the same race she is unsure if she can trust him. Her comments are hard to hear coming from a companion, yet at the same time you can understand her frustration. Thankfully this is not a true reflection on the character of Lucie, which becomes apparent as the story unfolds.
Lucie also seems to be the heavy hitter in this episode, almost as if the Big Finish crew is trying to emulate the new series even further by having Doctor-lite stories. But unlike some of its TV counterparts the Doctor’s absence is not as noticeable because the story situation and character are very engaging, making you not notice the time spent without him. They seem to have found the perfect balance.
While Lucie is out on her own in the universe we get to see a side of her not previously known to us. She is not so much the loud-mouthed tough girl she appears to be. Although those aspects are still present she clearly has a soft side and a soft spot for the Doctor, though not in a Rose sort of way.
When the Doctor does reappear we get a fun scene of characters that believe that they know the Doctor as well as we, the viewers, do but they could not be more wrong. With every regeneration there comes different facets to the character’s personality, so when the Sisters are laughing in the face of the hero expecting that they know his every move and every reaction they are quickly thrown off track when the Doctor demonstrates just how little they truly know him.
Paul McGann plays these scenes brilliantly. His portrayal reminds me of the intense genius and cunning of Sylvester McCoy mixed with the clever act of false dim-witted moments of Patrick Troughton. Had this character’s life not been tied up by rights issues in the US we may have seen some of the best Doctor Who in all of the show’s history on TV during the 90s, but again, that is what makes Big Finish what it is. It is often said that the Daleks made Doctor Who a success on TV back in the 1960s, and if that is true then Big Finish should be called the Daleks of Audio.
Sisterhood of the Flame does exactly as it was supposed to do. It turns 45 minutes of your life into an enjoyable escape from reality and one that leaves you anxious to hear more.
If I had one complaint about this story it would be that I have to wait a whole month to find out what happens in part two!