The Quin Dilemma proves less a celebration of the Sixth Doctor than of “Oul’ Sixey,” but still provides a fun chase through time full of lively adventure

Big Finish are celebrating another big Doctor Who anniversary with what else – a multi-Doctor story. But The Quin Dilemma is marking 40 years of the Sixth Doctor with a twist: it’s a team up between four Sixth Doctors! Across the six episodes we’re introduced to Colin Baker’s incarnation at different points in his life. Naturally, he’s also accompanied by various companions to boot. So here he is travelling with Peri and Herbert after the events of TV story Timelash, but also with Flip and Constance, with Mel, and once more with Peri. The threads of time enmesh all four TARDIS teams in a sequence of events that leads to one colossal mashup.

Those threads that tie everything together take the form of the titular Quins. The five heirs to the throne on the planet Arunopal, the squabbling siblings have been a constitutional time bomb their entire lives. Because nobody witnessed their birth the same strange night their mother disappeared, and so nobody knows which was born first. This quin dilemma powers the main arc, as the five must instead compete for the crown by being the first to bring their father… the head of the Doctor!

 

Four linked stories revisits the Sixth Doctor, and his various companions, at various points in his patchwork history

The princes split up in their pursuit of the Time Lord, their hunt weaving in and out of three of the Doctor’s adventures before they return home. In Chris Chapman’s Escape from Holy Island, the Doctor, Peri and Hubert are in ‘just save someone’ mode. They attempt to help the monks of 8th century Lisdanfarne defend their abbey from invasion. But while their destruction is a historical fact, the gigantic inter-dimensional sky dragons responsible are not. So perhaps there’s just enough wiggle room to make some small difference.

In the two part Sibling Rivalry/Children of the Revolution by Robert Valentine, the Sontarans have interrupted an alien planet’s civil war with an invasion of their own. But Flip just might be the hero the divided world needs to unite them. Then the Doctor and Peri visit the source of the universe’s most powerful fertiliser in Chris Chapman’s The Thousand Year Thaw for, well, a bit of a stroll and a chat actually.

 

Doctor Who: The Lovecraft Invasion - Miranda Raison, Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood (c) Big Finish Flip Ramon Constance Clarke Sixth Doctor
Doctor Who: The Quin Dilemma reunites Miranda Raison, Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood as Constance, the Doctor, and Flip (c) Big Finish

Sontaran invasion story Sibling Rivalry/Children of the Revolution provides a highlight starring one of Big Finish’s most charismatic original companion teams

For the most part, the quins hang around the margins of these stories. In both Holy Island and Sibling Rivalry/Children of the Revolution they mainly observe events bad-temperedly before one crucial, but almost accidental, interference. It’s only in Thousand Year Thaw that one of the quins drives the plot itself. Everything is blissfully tranquil, in fact, until his attempts to capture the Doctor inadvertently threaten the entire planet.

While this creates a sense of the Quin arc being tacked on to ideas the writers already had, it’s not much of a problem. The Sontaran two-parter is a particular stand out. The trio of Sixey, Flip and Constance forming a charismatic team not quite like any other in Doctor Who. Dan Starkey’s Sontarans are in fine form too, dancing that perfect line of being faintly ridiculous but completely dangerous and sadistic. And when quins Clarent and Dellan finally do impact the story it’s a genuinely fun and clever way.

Ironically, the side story in which a quin plays the most significant role, Thousand Year Thaw, is also the weakest in the set. Though that’s because it takes so long for really anything at all to happen. Mostly it’s the Peri and the Doctor discussing how far Oul Sixey has come from his days of strangling Peri on the TARDIS floor. It attempts to square the Big Finish and TV versions as the same person. But it depends too much on pretty much the whole television run as a period of post-regenerative trauma the Doctor now hardly remembers. It also builds up to being a natural conclusion as a ‘final’ Six and Peri story. But then it backs away from that natural conclusion because of course, it’s not.

 

There’s lip service to the idea that this Doctor has evolved over time, though ultimately Colin Baker plays all four versions identically

This reflects the main issue with The Quin Dilemma. The concept gives an opportunity to see how the Sixth Doctor has evolved over time and compare the four different versions of him when they collide. However, Colin Baker plays all four exactly the same. More importantly, there’s precious little in the writing to reflect such changes either. Combined with the discussion in Thaw, the result is an anniversary set that’s less a celebration of 40 years since the harder edged Doctor blustered his way on to our screens, but rather an attempt to bury him once and for all in favour of Oul Sixey.

Sixth Doctor Adventures producer Jacqueline Rayner provides The Exaltation and The Firstborn herself. These opening and closing episodes provide the framework for The Quin Dilemma. She keeps things light and fun in a plot that has clear echoes of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, with its seven unpleasant princes competing for their father’s crown and distinctly similar twist to the succession dilemma. There’s some attempt to give the five quin princes distinct personalities (the timid one, the psychotic one, the arrogant one, etc.) But there’s so much overlap between them that, coupled with them all being played by Jonnie Broadbent, you’ll soon give up trying to tell them apart.

 

The Doctor and Peri... 40 years on! (c) Big Finish Doctor Who Sixth Doctor Adventures Quin Dilemma Colin Baker Nicola Bryant
The Doctor and Peri… 40 years on! (c) Big Finish

Conclusion The Firstborn provides a fun runaround where the love and enjoyment of cast and crew is audible

But such minor issues are easy to overlook in a story full of such brio and wit to it all. Everyone in the team seems to be have an infectiously good time, particularly Baker and Bonnie Langford. Carrie Quinlan as their new local friend Zeta is also such an instantly natural fit for the team, full of bright bushy-tailed energy, that for a moment you might think you’d forgotten one of the litany of the Sixth Doctor’s Big Finish companions. (Indeed, in one of The Firstborn’s best gags comes when the eldest Doctor lists them all in order… “Peri, Peri and Frobisher, Mel … Evelyn, Evelyn and Thomas Brewster, Frobisher again, Jason, Crystal, and Zog … Peri again…” and gives his youngest self a headache.)

The Quin Dilemma is a qualified success, but a success all the same. It awkwardly steps around being the 40th anniversary of a story nobody involved actually seems to like. But it’s a lovely celebration of the version of the Sixth Doctor that Big Finish and Colin Baker have reimagined in the decades since. After all, that is the Doctor. Whether you like it or not.

 

Doctor Who: The Quin Dilemma. Cover by Sean Longmore (c) Big Finish Sixth Doctor Adventures
Doctor Who: The Quin Dilemma. Cover by Sean Longmore (c) Big Finish

Doctor Who: The Quin Dilemma

To celebrate forty years of wandering through time and space in style, the Sixth Doctor and some of his best friends are about to find themselves in the adventure of his lives…

Doctor Who – The Sixth Doctor Adventures: The Quin Dilemma is now available to purchase for just £22.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £18.99 (download only) exclusively here. The collector’s edition CD box set is strictly limited to 1500 copies and will not be repressed.   

 

 

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