Review: The Widow’s Assassin

Big Finish’s new audio release sets the bar pretty high: How do you address one of the most nagging and least-liked outcomes in Doctor Who history? Quick refresher: At the end of Mindwarp (part of the knotty Trial of a Time Lord), the Sixth Doctor’s first companion, Peri, is either – take your pick – abandoned, mindwiped, and killed OR rescued by a barbarian warlord and becomes his queen.

As Bugs Bunny would say, “Would you like to shoot me now or wait until you get home?”

The pleasant surprise is that The Widow’s Assassin wildly succeeds, doing for Mindwarp what X-Men: Days of Future Past did for X-Men: The Last Stand – cutting the original tale’s Gordian knot and spinning gold out of the pieces. Writer Nev Fountain waded into Mindwarp’s mess once before, in the clever Peri and the Piscon Paradox. Here he tackles the problem head on, coming up with an answer that not only maintains continuity but clears the path for a new, refreshing wave of post-Trial Sixth Doctor and Peri adventures.

The tale kicks off with the Doctor traveling to Krontep, seeking forgiveness for betraying and abandoning Peri. But the bride-to-be is not in a forgiving mood. The fairy-tale/murder-mystery mashup that follows is full of drama, sadness, marvelous timey-wimey, and lots of humor. (I really did laugh out loud in spots.) There are a couple of jaw-dropping shocks, plus moments of giddy revelation, as we see the Sixth Doctor playing the Long Game in shrewd, scheming ways we’d associate with the Seventh and Eleventh Doctors.

Excelling throughout are Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. While their TV relationship was sometimes maligned as one of the most unpleasant Doctor/Companion pairings, The Widow’s Assassin shows us where their relationship could have – and should have – gone. The Doctor’s abrasive personality has been mellowed by years of traveling, and dire circumstances have forced Peri to adopt a more mature outlook on life. Baker wonderfully conveys the Doctor’s earnestness and confusion when he first approaches Peri. (He also contributes to the story more than you think.) Bryant gives us a confident yet sad Peri who reveals new layers to her personality – in more ways than one.

The Widow’s Assassin jumps straight into the Top 5 releases of Big Finish’s Doctor Who line. After listening to this, you’ll finally be able to rewatch parts of Trial of a Time Lord with a smile on your face, which is probably the highest praise that a Doctor Who fan can give. It’s available on the Big Finish website.

–Ken

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