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Audio Drama Review
Once, long ago, in a land of monsters and corridors, a fair maiden was captured, and placed in a deep sleep. She was used to being captured, and she had a hero who rescued her on just such occasions. But this time the hero never came. And the fair maiden slept on. Eventually, a King rescued the maiden, and made her his bride, which many wise old women might tell you is just another way of capturing fair maidens. And still the fair maiden slept on. Then, the hero had another stab at rescuing the maiden from her prison, but he was too late. And, more importantly, he had forgotten the rules of fairy tales. He didn’t slay the dragon...
We never saw Peri’s departure from Doctor Who. We saw her apparently killed in a supremely dramatic moment during The Trial of a Time Lord… but later in that story we were informed that it had been an illusion, false evidence planted by the Valeyard, and that in fact Peri had gone off and married a warrior king played by Brian Blessed. It wasn’t a very satisfying ending, and it was all the more frustrating because it was never made clear exactly which bits were illusions and which were not.
As a result, writers of licensed fiction have made various attempts to provide closure over the years. In the epilogue to his Trial of a Time Lord novelisation Mindwarp, Philip Martin had some repentant Time Lords return Peri to Earth, accompanied by King Yrcanos, where the latter became an all-in wrestler, with Peri as his manager – but that is even more implausible than the television version. In the Marvel Comics graphic novel The Age of Chaos, written by Colin Baker himself, the Doctor visits the grandchildren of Peri and Yrcanos – which begs the question, why didn’t he visit an earlier age? In the New Adventures novel Bad Therapy, by Matthew Jones, Peri finds her way back to Earth via a time rift. In both this and the Doctor Who Magazine short story Reunion, written by David Carroll, Peri blames the Doctor for abandoning her. Nev Fountain, in his audio play Peri and the Piscon Paradox, resolved these contradictions by revealing that rival factions of Time Lords have made adjustments to the former companion’s timeline, resulting in at least five different versions of Peri’s fate.
He goes a stage further in The Widow’s Assassin, by having the Doctor finally decide to call on Queen Peri. It was with a degree of trepidation that I listened to this audio drama. Though I have greatly enjoyed much of this writer’s previous work, my worry was that with there being so many accounts of Peri’s later life already, would this one merely add to the confusion? As if to reassure me, the production opens with fairy-tale narration, which provides an initial sense of doubt as to whether these events are real, thus offering the possibility of an “it was all a dream” get-out clause, should the plot prove unsatisfactory. That is not the case, however, and fortunately no such distancing is necessary. I need not have worried, for this is a highly satisfactory follow-up to The Trial of a Time Lord.
The characters and events of The Widow’s Assassin feel very true to the peculiar worlds created by Philip Martin in Trial and other stories, with squabbling factions of loud-mouthed warlords; a half-man, half-sheep law enforcer (Tim Chipping); the low-key voice of the common people, as represented by a couple of guards, who really are named Guard One and Guard Two (Andrew Dickens and John Banks); lots of weird aliens, including a birdman and a sentient sponge; and a reality-show-style selection process for the hand of a beautiful princess (Fiona Sheehan). Fountain even manages to make a storytelling virtue out of the previous uncertainty over Peri’s fate.
I saw straight through one particular aspect of the plot – which recycles a story element from Peri and the Piscon Paradox – but then I think I was supposed to. It successfully distracted me from a much bigger reveal. The aforementioned narration, part of which forms the back-cover blurb (quoted above), also helps to keep one guessing. On the face of it, the blurb gives nothing away in terms of the story, but reading it back again after the fact, I find that it is full of clues.
The cliffhanger ending to the third episode (of four) adds one more twist to the tale than is really necessary (a development that makes me wonder whether a certain performer was unable or unwilling to reprise his role), but that’s the only real weakness of this delightful story.
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