Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Memories of a Tyrant
It's been a while since Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant were last together at Big Finish as the Sixth Doctor and Peri. 2019 sees them reunited for a new trilogy of stories, kicking off with Memories of a Tyrant this month.
Written by Roland Moore and directed by John Ainsworth, Memories of a Tyrant is available at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 31st August. Here is the synopsis...
What if you’d committed a truly dreadful crime but couldn’t remember?
The Doctor takes Peri to the Memory Farm – a state of the art space station where hidden memories can be harvested and analysed. To their surprise, they find the station in lock-down and all its resources dedicated to probing the memories of an elderly man. Garius Moro may, or may not, have been responsible for the deaths of billions of people many years ago, but he simply can’t remember.
The assembled representatives of two opposing factions, each with their own agenda, anxiously wait for the truth to be unlocked from Moro’s mind. But when a memory does eventually surface, everyone is surprised to learn that it is of Peri...
I'll be joined in the review by regular Big Finish Doctor Who reviewer (and my son) Ben to discuss this latest release...
Baz Greenland (aged 38)
Going into this review, I need to admit that I'm not a fan of the pairing of Peri and the Sixth Doctor on screen. Not only did they suffer from some sub-par stories, their relationship veered from winey to borderline offensive. Fortunately, Big Finish offers something of a redemption for this duo. Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor has really had the time to shine at Big Finish, with some of the very best Doctor Who stories out there. And Memories of a Tyrant is another great story, serving both the Doctor and Peri very well.
As with many great Doctor Who stories, there's a strong moral debate running throughout the narrative and writer Roland Moore really captures the conflict arising from the interrogation of the old man Garius Moro (Joseph Mydell), who might actually be a genocidal dictator responsible for the deaths of billions. Now an old man, suffering with dementia, not only is he unable to remember who he is, but he faces punishment for crimes that he may not have even committed. The question arises - is it right to prosecute this old man if he doesn't even remember the crimes he is responsible for?
Memories - as you may suspect - play a big part of this story and there are some really imaginative twists on this theme, not just in unlocking forgotten memories, but forcing unwanted memories on others. The sci-fi trappings lend to this idea incredibly well, resulting in some surprising moments as our lead hero is led to believe he might actually be the monster everyone is searching for. From moral debate, to Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, there's a lot packed into Memories of a Tyrant in the opening two parts before everything is turned on its head for part three.
Bryant's Peri is given plenty to get her teeth into, conveniently hidden from the forced memories that have led everyone to believe the Doctor is the enemy and fighting to free his name. There's a real maturity and conviction to her character that demonstrates her ability to act as the Doctor's travelling companion.
If there's one key criticism of the story, it's that there's so much potential a few ideas - such as the Doctor imprisoned with a new identity- that feel glossed over far too quickly. And while there are some really strong players in the supporting cast - particularly Diane Keen as the Doctor's friend and amphibian alien Varish - it's a little hard to keep track of all the differing personalities as the story reaches its climax.
But these are minor quibbles. The Sixth Doctor continues to deliver the goods on Big Finish, Colin Baker offered the material he was never offered on screen.. Is he convincing as an evil genocidal dictator though? Perhaps not, but then it's always fun to see a Doctor play evil and Baker certainly doesn't disappoint. With Bryant offered some stronger, more mature material to work with two, I'm intrigued to see how their adventure continue over the next couple of months.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
For an iconic TARDIS team (regardless of whether you like them or not), and a company as big as Big Finish, it may come as a surprise that it has been five years since the sixth Doctor and Peri have been together for new stories. What people don't notice or at least say, is that yes Colin Baker has been given stronger material, making him one of my favourite Doctors, but Nicola Bryant is also given the opportunity to escape the whiney bickering Peri she played on TV.
In Memories of a Tyrant, Peri is given some of the meatiest action she has arguably ever had. This is more evident in the second half, but she always shines. The concept to this story is evidently simple, yet one of the best I have seen in Big Finish for a while. A station equipped with technology that can unlock any memory, even ones you don't remember used to help people in need. The whole aspect of it being devoted to discovering the identity of a war criminal is the main grab of the story which also leads to a fun, fast paced tale of twists and deceit. And when a memory surfaces of Peri, it instantly becomes more intriguing.
For a while it looks to be a mystery also related to some murders, but then the story is turned upside down and Colin Baker is given a chance to shine even more. While part three begins two days later, it is also confusing as to why no-one has worked out why the Doctor becomes a war criminal. I personally figured it out almost immediately, and was a bit distracted by the prison camp as I wanted to get on with story.
In the final part, it becomes a more typical base under siege plot which felt a bit rushed, but was delivered a good final act. The story itself is a fine addition to the adventures of Colin Baker's Doctor, and I always look forward to his releases. It just goes to show, even the most hated of TARDIS teams gets redeemed at Big Finish.
An eleven and a half-minute music suite sits between tracks two and three. Composer Andy Hardwick delivers an enchanting score that mixes dark, synth beats with wondrous epic moments that really taps into the mind-warping themes of memory in this story.
A trailer for next month's Emissary of the Daleks looks set to raise the stakes as the Doctor and Peri lead a resistance on an occupied world.
Finally, fifteen minutes of interviews with the cast and crew round of this release. There's some great insight from director John Ainsworth and writer Roland Moore delving into the ideas behind a war criminal and the justice he faces when he can't remember his own past. And Nicola Bryant is clearly delighted to be back and playing a slightly older Peri, suggesting that the off-screen time she travelled with the Doctor spanned a decade. It's insights like this that make the interviews as essential listening as the main story itself.