Released December 2012
Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton reunite for Big Finish’s 2012 anthology release, a series of tales that Nyssa must tell a sultan who holds her captive in order to save the Doctor and herself.
‘1001 Nights’ proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve, and the framing device puts Sarah Sutton boldly in the spotlight while allowing all of the actors to give a little more due to the imperfect narration that isn’t beholden to strict fact. Accordingly, it’s never a certainty that every little detail happened as presented, that some portions of the accounts may be pure fiction. Still, the uneasy chemistry between Nyssa and Alexander Siddig’s sultan is remarkable and easily carries the main narrative, Sutton once more proving how strong Nyssa can be as a solo companion.
Although the framing device does take precedence given the Doctor’s imprisonment, the stories being told are full of fascinating ideas as well. ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ finds the Doctor and Nyssa at another prison where a lone warder eternally torments a lone prisoner. The split personality of the Myaxa puts an intriguing spin on a trusted concept, creating an interesting tale with a satisfying resolution despite its brevity. ‘The Interplanetarian’ is Doctor Who’s take on a demonic possession tale, using an engaging Victorian mansion setting to tell a fairly straightforward tale that is high on tension and intrigue but not necessarily focused on the characters themselves. It’s telling that the Sultan claims that the resolution to this story is a bit underwhelming, prompting Nyssa to continue further. ‘Smuggling Tales’ is the most fascinating of the tales, hinting at the complexities and power of stories and their cultural and economic value while skillfully tying into the framing device.
However, the important of the framing device has the inadvertent effect of having the short stories take on more of a throwaway nature than likely intended. Because of the necessary brevity, there are also some fascinating concepts that aren’t explored as thoroughly as would be possible with a longer running time, the split personality playing out on such a cosmic scale the most glaring example. The second tale comes off as a bit odd as well, not only because the Doctor makes resolving the situation much more complicated for himself that it should have been, but because Nyssa’s absence until the end inherently means that she is recounting another’s account rather than giving a first-hand account. The rather generic tone of the second and third pieces and the brevity of the third weigh down strong concepts, creating a satisfying but ultimately mixed result.
Fortunately, the framing device itself is superb, and the introduction of the Shanaki who can literally become someone else’s physical identity when given enough information about a person is immensely intriguing. As events play out, eventually the imprisoned and unkempt man incessantly proclaiming he is truly the sultan takes on much more meaning as the Shanaki’s desire to become the Doctor and gain access to the TARDIS becomes evident as he asks Nyssa for more information about the Doctor. ‘1001 Nights’ has the ability to at times subvert expectations and to play on the full range of emotions, but ultimately this is a sequence of stories that isn’t quite able to make full use of its intriguing ideas despite very some engaging performances.