Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 7/31/17 11:20 am
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In the third story of the set, The Carrionite Curse, the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) arrives in a sleepy Midlands town to find a witch trial in 1980. Appalled, he attempts to put a stop to it, only to realize he might've been better off keeping his mouth shut, as the witches terrorize the town. Together with local resident Katy Bell (Maya Sondhi), the Doctor must work to figure out just what these witches are and whether or not they actually do have magic powers. The Carrionite Curse is the first knockout story of the set. Producer David Richardson very wisely chose to have Colin Baker face off against the Carrionites, as the most prolix of all the Doctors, and it pays off with one of the best Sixth Doctor stories in recent memory. Acted beyond well by Colin Baker, and joined by an excellent guest cast, including the wonderful Maya Sondhi and the delightfully evil AndrĂ©e Bernard, the cast of this story was rock solid, and stood in stark contrast to the previous story. Simon Guerrier, one of my favorite Big Finish writers, really did an amazing job with this story, which was a perfect fit for Ol' Sixie. It was a simultaneously funny and heartbreaking story, one of Guerrier's greatest strengths. Overall, it was one of my favorite releases of the year so far, and one of the strongest Sixth Doctor stories in recent memory.
Colin Baker stars as the ever prolix Sixth Doctor in this story. His Doctor is a perfect match for this story, as the Carrionites are monsters who use words as power; who better to match them than the most grandstanding, verbose Doctor of them all? Baker uses words to their full extent, relishing the story. He sounds like he's having the time of his life in this story, and that energizes the entire story. A particular favorite scene of mine is the scene where he's shouting down the Carrionites with some of his favorite words, because you can tell that Guerrier and Baker collaborated a bit on that scene and that Baker is having an absolute blast. His performance is authentic; that's not a phrase I throw around too much with my reviews, but Baker really is absolutely authentic here. There's nothing in this story but Baker sounding like he's having the time of his life, continuing to make excellent audio dramas, over 30 years on from when he first played the role.
The guest cast for this story is one of the strongest of this set, and certainly one of the best guest casts Big Finish has had in recent memory. The cast is really led by two key players: Maya Sondhi as Katy Bell, and AndrĂ©e Bernard as Mary Sissinghurst. Sondhi plays the recently returned daughter of the sleepy little town who yearns for adventure beyond the Midlands. Sondhi plays Katy with a twinkle in her eye, playing her mischievously and with a deep wit. Her introductory scene, hyping up the Doctor to the evil goings on of the town, only to reveal that she simply thinks the town is boring as all hell is a brilliant little moment. But beyond that, she's able to portray a more sensitive person too; when caught by the Doctor taking a children's book from the TARDIS, she is apologetic and yearns to try and be better, but she also doesn't really apologize for it. She wants to see the future, making her death hit all the harder at the end of the story. Joining the cast too is AndrĂ©e Bernard as Mary Sissinghurst, eventually revealed to be the head of the Carrionite cell on Earth. Bernard seems to relish in the chance to be evil here, doing a really bang up job of it throughout. She was extremely menacing in her role as the leader of the Carrionites, taunting the Doctor throughout the story extremely well, and managing to be extremely unsettling, while simultaneously showing the restraint needed to avoid being an over-the-top villain.
Simon Guerrier did a great job delivering an engaging, funny, and interesting story with The Carrionite Curse. His story used the Sixth Doctor fully, making use of Baker's love of the verbose to make a match made in heaven with the Carrionites. Guerrier has always excelled at writing stories that have a humor drier than the desert, while maintaining a lot of heart in his stories. This story is no exception; spinning a hilarious tale with the Sixth Doctor using words against the Carrionites is a recipe for hilarity. But mixed into that tale was the yearning of Katy to go to the future and, at the end, the sorrow of her friends and family at losing her to the Carrionites. The moment at the end where the Sixth Doctor offers to stay behind and respect Katy's last wish to watch her father is a lovely little moment between the Doctor and the Reverend Bell (Michael Fenton-Stevens). Another small, but poignant thing to note is the references to a certain Professor George Litefoot throughout this story, and his book on the paranormal. While it's a neat little continuity reference any other day of the week, given the death of Trevor Baxter, Litefoot's actor, last week, the small moments take on a more poignant meaning given his death. It's a small reference, but I found that it resonated a little bit, as a lovely little epilogue to a wonderful career at Big Finish.
The last thing I'd like to mention in my review is the excellent cover artwork throughout this release by Tom Webster. Starting on the next story, I feel that I've had a chance to look over the whole set's artwork and make a statement that this is one of the prettiest releases cover-wise in a long while. My personal favorite covers are the story for Night of the Vashta Nerada and the cover for this story. The color choices are bold and bright, and it really adds a little flair to each story. While I do have a slight annoyance with the fact that the Eighth Doctor on the cover of the set is clear and crisp while the other three Doctors are a little blurry, overall it's still one of the best sets of Big Finish covers in a long while.
Overall, The Carrionite Curse has been my favorite release of the set so far. It was extremely well acted by Colin Baker, who sounded like he was having the time of his life with this release, as well as members of the guest cast like Maya Sondhi and AndrĂ©e Bernard. Guerrier really pulled out all of the stops for his script here, crafting a story perfect not only for Colin Baker, but a story that typifies his works. It was funny, it was irreverent, it was exhilarating, while also having a strong emotional backbone. It was one of my favorite stories of this year, and easily the best story of this set so far.