Released December 2004
Normally, science fiction stories involving virtual or alternate realities amount to little more than an interesting diversion with little true impact for any of the main characters. However, despite its own set of shortcomings, the free Big Finish release ‘Her Final Flight’ uses its purposeful inclusion of clichés to its advantage to craft a surprisingly poignant and resonant tale that forces the Sixth Doctor to confront his past while facing imminent danger in the present.
Once the story is able to get beyond it rather awkward exposition in which the Doctor lands and talks to himself following a scene in which a stereotypical zealot declares that her bioelectrical implant is ready for the Doctor, events move at a brisk pace and easily fill the seventy-five minute running time without any lag or lull. In fact, even though the world itself is known to the audience to be fictional due to the prologue, the entire story itself wonderfully takes on the form of a tragedy since Rashaa clearly states that everyone within the story is hopelessly doomed. Jonathan Owen’s Hamiyun and Conrad Westmaas’s Damus are incredibly passionate figures and lend a needed counterbalance of determinism and fact to the confusion the Doctor experiences, fleshing out the culture marvellously with minimal dialogue or time needed.
However, as the Doctor is faced with unknowingly putting an entire culture into jeopardy, it’s the guilt he has to face when confronting Peri following the events on Thoros Beta that truly elevates the drama to more emotional and profound heights. Writer Julian Shortman is able to exploit the Sixth Doctor’s guilt wonderfully, both when attempting to recall events from The Trial of a Time Lord and when once more making the Doctor face the potential death of Peri among the masses as he must decide whether or not to jettison the interior of the TARDIS to save everyone and everything around him. With such global consequences front and centre, Nicola Bryant provides the perfect voice to create a more personal motivation for the Doctor to act, even if those actions ultimately feed into Rashaa’s plan perfectly.
As strong as the character study of the Sixth Doctor is, though, ‘Her Final Flight’ also benefits from sterling performances from both Heather Tracy and Steven Bugdale as the villains of the piece, the former as the afore-mentioned Rashaa and the latter as the altogether more sinister and mysterious Agent. Rashaa is a clichéd character through and through, but she serves her purpose without ever treading into pantomime territory even as she succumbs to the Doctor’s willpower after moments of questionable judgment and warnings against falling into his trap. Plot conveniences are a necessity given the short running time, however, especially with the realism of the created world around the Doctor, but the occasional gaps in logic are quite easily glossed over given the quality of the acting and the production in general.
‘Her Final Flight’ is surprising in that it starts rather unsure of itself before quickly and confidently findings its way once beyond the exposition phase. By looking to the past to further flesh out the Sixth Doctor, the story hits upon a rarely-seen emotional core to the most boisterous incarnation of the titular Time Lord. And although the identity of the Agent remains a mystery, his claims that the Doctor’s death gives him new life is intrinsically fascinating and hopefully something that will be explored further in the future.