Well, it couldn’t be as simple as knocking himself out on the console, could it really? Nor did it have to be quite as convoluted as Gary Russell’s highly enjoyable novel Spiral Scratch with its multiple versions of the Doctor and his companions converging. Nor was it a plan by the Machiavellian Seventh Doctor to get rid of his less ruthless predecessor (an idea implanted in the New Adventures universe, for those who don’t recognise it).
No, things are both more complicated and more straightforward than that. The four-story conclusion to Old Sixy’s era jumps about within his own timeline, featuring companions past and future – an introduction by Paul Morris and Simon Barnard to the redoubtable Constance, as played by Miranda Raison; India Fisher’s Charley Pollard (although there is – correctly, but confusingly for some – reference to her by the name by which the Doctor eventually remembers her in the final story); a real mix of companions with Lisa Greenwood’s far too short-lived Flip Jackson meeting up with Henry Gordon Jago and George Lightfoot; and then Liz White’s rather wonderful Genesta, a character whom I really hope returns to a Sylvester McCoy story somewhere down the line. And of course, Bonnie Langford’s Mel, who gets to spend more time acting against the box set’s main guest star, Michael Jayston, reprising his role as the Knacker’s Yard… er, Valeyard, and whose timeline we follow.
The Valeyard isn’t the only returning presence from the Doctor’s past: Morris and Barnard’s The End of the Line sees a very clever resurrection of another former foe, with a neat explanation for his presence. Director Nick Briggs has assembled a strong cast for the set, with this opening story seeing Anthony Howell and Chris Finney in particular giving layered performances. Alan Barnes’ The Red House is a strong Sixth Doctor tale, with Charley’s creator giving India Fisher plenty of opportunities to show why the character became so popular. Matt Fitton’s Stage Fright is a solid Jago & Litefoot tale that uses the strengths and weaknesses of the characters to good effect – and I’m not just referring to Henry and George in this.
Nick Briggs wraps it all up in a surprising way with The Brink of Death, providing Colin Baker with the epic heroic end that his incarnation of the Doctor deserved. Baker and Liz White work really well together, while the inevitable confrontations between Baker and Jayston have the moral zeal of the best bits of The Trial of a Time Lord combined with the more reflective – and, it has to be said, more mature – elements introduced by Big Finish. There are plenty of places where Baker could have let loose considerably more, but the performance is all the more powerful for the restraint that he shows rather than succumbing to the Blessed school of acting.
Howard Carter’s music and soundscapes are as spot-on as ever, with the return of some familiar sounds from the C. Baker era, and Briggs gives each of the very different stories the pacing they need, rather than allowing a funereal feel to permeate the set – or at least, not doing so until it’s clear, even to those involved, that this really is the end…
My only regret about this story is that there was no way to incorporate one of the Sixth Doctor’s best companions. No, not Frobisher – Evelyn Smythe; however since I suspect the only way to have done that would have been to recast, I’m glad they didn’t. We know there are more adventures coming for the Sixth Doctor – in the next few weeks! – but as a capstone for his era, I think it would be hard to find one that serves both the actor and the character as well.
Verdict: A totally fitting and heroic end for an incarnation who has been served so much better on audio than he ever was on screen. 9/10