The Last Adventure: The Brink Of Death

Doctor WhoIn the blink of an eye, the familiar, curly-haired, colorfully-clothed form of the Doctor’s sixth incarnation vanishes, replaced by the gaunt face of the Valeyard. The TARDIS travels onward, and Mel notices nothing.

The Doctor finds himself trapped in the Matrix, the repository of all Time Lord knowledge, as a fading echo of his own consciousness – the fate of all Time Lords when they meet their final death. A young Time Lady, Genesta, has found him in the Matrix and is able to reinstate his corporeal form, but he has very little time until even that is erased. The Valeyard has found a way to do what he hoped to do at the Doctor’s trial: to eliminate the Doctor and his future incarnations, and take the Doctor’s place. The Doctor can prevent this from happening with the time he has left, but only at the cost of bringing about events that will cause his next regeneration.

Order this CDwritten by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Howard Carter

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Michael Jayston (The Valeyard), Liz White (Genesta), Robbie Stevens (Coordinator Storin / Nathemus 1), Susan Earnshaw (Lorelas / Nathemus 2), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor)

Notes: Past Big Finish adventures have shown the Valeyard to have a near-obsession with rewriting the Doctor’s past, including (also in The Last Adventure box set) Stage Fright and the Doctor Who Unbound story He Jests At Scars… Though billed as the sixth Doctor’s regeneration story for Big Finish’s purposes, there had already been two regeneration stories for the sixth Doctor in print, the BBC Books novel Spiral Scratch, and the posthumously-finished charity novel Time’s Champion, co-written by the late Craig Hinton. All three tell, naturally, completely different stories, and in any case, while this plants an endpoint for the sixth Doctor in the audio world, it’s certainly not an end to Colin Baker playing the Doctor for Big Finish.

LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green

Review: Oh dear. The Last Adventure box set had been so good up to this point. The Brink Of Death lacks something that every other installment of The Last Adventure had in spades: heart. With Mel relegated very much to the sidelines, the Doctor has to make do with a promising proto-companion here, but the result is that we’re robbed of the emotional familiarity between Doctor and companion that’s vital to any regeneration story, old or new. Much of the mood of Logopolis is down to the rapport between the fourth Doctor and Adric. The same goes for The Caves Of Androzani, even though Nicola Bryant had just joined the show during the previous story. Or Ben and Polly’s concern for the Doctor’s worsening condition in The Tenth Planet. Jamie and Zoe’s tearful farewells in The War Games. The fantastic rapport between long-time recurring sideline character Wilf and the Doctor in The End Of Time. Clara and the Doctor in Time Of The Doctor. The companion’s knowledge – or in some cases lack of knowledge – about what’s about to happen is a big part of what makes a regeneration story work. This could have been Mel’s finest hour too.

The Brink Of Death also sees the Doctor thwarting the Valeyard largely by very technical means, influencing his own timeline to ensure, basically, the death of the sixth Doctor that we see at the beginning of Time And The Rani. But the stakes are never really spelled out. I could intuit that the Valeyard will use the Doctor’s TARDIS to spread mayhem across time and space, but nowhere do we ever really see that happen. In every appearance, the Valeyard has been an abstract threat. He’s a threat to the Doctor’s existence, and perhaps to the Time Lords in general, but his obsession with doing away with those two parties is so all-consuming that never, in the realms of audio or TV, do we see him doing anything else. He Jests At Scars… gave us a Valeyard who was a threat to the universe around him, though any harm he did in that context was done as a side-effect of trying to erase the Doctor’s legacy, and none of it happened in the proper timeline anyway. Why bring any of this up? It makes the stakes of this story seem small. The Doctor does away with the Valeyard more or less out of self-preservation.

As much as I’ve enjoyed some segments of The Last Adventure, it’s this final story that makes me question the wisdom of having the Valeyard be the cause of the sixth Doctor’s regeneration. This Doctor was at his best against other enemies, including audio-only characters; ultimately, in either TV or audio form, a face-off against the Valeyard was oddly unsatisfying.