Title: The Wrong Doctors
Written By: Matt Fitton
Team TARDIS: Sixth Doctor, Melanie Bush
Adversary: Mr. Petherbridge
Originally Released: January 2013
Range and Number: Big Finish Main Range, #169
Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
With Evelyn gone, the Doctor sets course for his destiny... in the form of his first meeting with Miss Melanie Bush, a computer programmer from the village of Pease Pottage, currently busy rehearsing with the local Amateur Dramatic Society – and blissfully unaware that her future is on its way, in his TARDIS.
Make that two TARDISes. Because at that very moment, a slightly younger Doctor is flying into Pease Pottage, too – returning his future companion Melanie Bush to her rightful place and time, after they were flung together during the course of his Time Lord trial.
Time travel is a complicated business – the iguanadon terrorising Pease Pottage being a case in point. But how much more complicated could things possibly become, if the wrong Doctor were to bump into the wrong Mel?
Six and Big Finish. Seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. Ketchup and french fries. Shoes and socks. Fred and George Weasley. Melanie Bush and Pease Pottage.
(Sorry - not going to sing Grease. Just... no).
Choosing a Sixth Doctor audio story to review was hard. And not because there aren’t any good ones. Actually, pretty much anything that Big Finish does for the Sixth Doctor is going to be good (granted, I haven’t heard everything, but I’ve listened to a pretty good sampling and I haven’t found a stinker yet - *mandatory disclaimer about personal opinion and such*). It’s common knowledge that Big Finish has allowed Colin Baker to flesh out the Sixth Doctor in a way that he was not allowed to do on television. If for nothing else, Big Finish deserves all the praise and patronage fans can give them (but there are other reasons to throw money at Big Finish - some of which I’ve covered and some that I’ll get to later). While I did warm up to ol’ Sixie through his TV run, it was Big Finish that solidified him as a personal favorite.
There is always a thrill at the prospect of having past Doctors come back, even so many years later (doesn't matter that Peter Davison is so much older and doesn't look much like he did when he last played the Doctor, my fangirl senses go nuts every time I see "Time Crash"). It's partially nostalgia, but also fun at seeing the Doctor meet his past or future selves. But we often get bogged down in thinking that the Doctor has to meet Five or Six or Seven or Eight or whoever and sometimes we miss the obvious - why not have the Doctor meet himself earlier or later in the same regeneration?
TV could conceivably do it. Special effects are such that it can be done. But having the Doctor meet himself in audio? That just takes some clever work on the part of the actor (and some very clever writing).
The Sixth Doctor is an interesting choice for this because of how much he has changed since "The Twin Dilemma." That was always by design from the start. The Sixth Doctor was supposed to start out as a patently unlikeable guy (chalk it up to regeneration gone wrong) and then over time would smooth out the rough edges and he'd become more... mature, I guess would be the word. Of course, the Powers That Be had other plans and that never came to pass on TV.
If you've never heard any Sixth Doctor audios and just want to know how this Sixth Doctor compares to the one you know from TV - "The Wrong Doctors" is an excellent place to begin. All you have to know is that he's traveled with a few other companions and he's mellowed out a bit. This story is a prime example of how the Sixth Doctor has changes during this regeneration and it also explores the long-term plans that were in place for the Sixth Doctor originally - for him to go from this brash, unlikable person to someone more kindly and (for lack of a better term) “squishy” - but still have that underlying edge that marks him as the Sixth Doctor. But, in reality, he's just a big teddy bear.
(Hey - there's a marketing idea! A Sixth Doctor coat for Build-a-Bear! Even better - a Build-a-Bear range for every Doctor! Get someone on that!)
This story sees the Doctor right after the events of "The Trial of a Time Lord" when he is taking Mel back to her home in Pease Pottage (despite her protests that she didn't meet the Doctor in Pease Pottage - but he's too much of a know-it-all to listen). This story also sees the Doctor right after Evelyn Smythe (an original-to-Big-Finish companion, whom I'll get to soon enough) has left. The contrast between the two versions of the Sixth Doctor could not be more striking - and it's not just down to his decision to wear a much more toned-down blue version of his costume. Doctor 6.1 is still pretty gruff and shouty, but Doctor 6.2 is more reflective and he makes the conscious decision to go find Mel - figuring that it's time that she takes the stage in his life. Things go wonky when they figure out that Pease Pottage is a the scene of some Time Distortion Shenanigans involving a time energy being harvested through some weird time bubble (the mechanics of which I don't quite understand beyond "Some weird shit is going down and the Doctor needs to fix it." Usually, that's all I need to know). It's unclear whether or not the time bubble caused there to be two Sixth Doctors or what the deal is, but hearing Colin Baker play off himself as the 1980s Doctor and the 2012 Doctor is just so brilliant that I quit worrying about it after Doctor 6.1 got after Doctor 6.2 for wearing Necros mourning colors.
There is also a marked difference in Mel - who there is also two of. Because the Doctor dropped Mel off when he did, there is a younger Mel trapped in the goofed-up Pease Pottage and there is an older Mel that has traveled with the Doctor... yet, not traveled with him (the wibbly-wobbly timeline of "Trial of a Time Lord" has just mucked everything up - sometimes it's just better to smile and nod and go with it. And I'm not explaining it very well - but it is really good, trust me!)
I love that Big Finish is taking the time to explore what we never got to see on TV. I love that it's tackling these difficult snares in continuity - which, there are few bigger snares than when Mel joined the Doctor and how the events of "Trial" are supposed to work out. I love that we get to see the Doctor's personality smooth over and how he matures. It's almost like Six was a petulant child (sometimes - not all the time) at the beginning of his regeneration, but his companions each have a marked effect on him in their turn and he becomes so much more than the scary, disturbed Doctor that tried to strangle Peri in "The Twin Dilemma" (he's never going to live that down - though he is trying). It's like how the First Doctor was gruff and distrustful and suspicious at the very beginning, but Ian and Barbara brought out the good in him over time and by the time they left, he had this mischievous twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin and you can't help but love him. It is such a joy to see how the Doctor's companions influence him for the better. It's like he's recognized how much better he is with an entourage - not necessarily just to have someone to pass him test tubes and tell him how wonderful he is, but to point out when he's making mistakes and show him how much better he could be. And he wants to be a better person, but he just needs someone to show him how to do that. Once he gets the hang of it - it's a brilliant piece of work.
Anyway - Sixth Doctor and Mel. Cute as can be. I don't think any other Doctor/companion team has been so well-matched. Not just the fact that their hairstyles are a '80s-Curly-Hair-Extravanganza - but they play off each other and their personalities fit like a dream. I love Six and Mel. There is a scene (kind of a crucial scene, so I won't spoil it) but Mel says that she misses the Doctor's old Coat of Many Colors (like I said, he's taken on the more subdued blue by this time) and the Doctor promises to go back to wearing that coat for her because she liked it so much. It's such a sweet moment and beautifully written (and the fact that it fixes that particular bit of continuity is just an added bonus at the end of the day). But it is cute that the older Mel calls Doctor 6.2 "Indigo Jones."
"The Wrong Doctors" is just a fun and fantastic celebration of the Sixth Doctor and one of the best outings for Big Finish. It acknowledges that something went very wrong in one of the Doctor's lives (both in-story and in the messy world of television production) and sets out to make it right and knocks it out of the park. Colin Baker is having a blast playing the Doctor and I get to have a blast listening to his performance. And there is nothing wrong about that.
I found this audio clip of Colin Baker talking about the Sixth Doctor and he particularly mentions this story, but also about the ideas behind the Sixth Doctor's personality and where things were supposed to go. I thought it be appropriate to include in this review, since I've had some of the same thoughts and ideas about the Sixth Doctor and it's quite nice to hear the Doctor himself give voice to some of those thoughts - "The Sixth Doctor was a Brave Idea"
(And here, I must cheer and applaud and whoop at the fact that the Sixth Doctor is "not just the embodiment of his costume." That statement made me very happy ^_^)
Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 6.03 - Watch Out, History! Here Comes Evelyn Smythe!
Review 6.01 - Telling Conventional Fan Wisdom™ Where To Stick It