Released July 2013
Following the success of UNIT: Dominion, Elizabeth Klein returns to the Big Finish main range, this time alongside her own assistant, Will Arrowsmith, and a Seventh Doctor nearing the end of his regeneration. ‘Persuasion’ very much acts like the first part of a trilogy, with the pros and cons that that entails, but the overall result is flawed one that never quite manages to find its footing.
The singular most unfortunate aspect of this story is that it doesn’t take full advantage of Klein as a character. Here she is essentially relegated to the role of asking the Doctor what is happening and acting frustrated, especially frustrating since the events take place in Nazi Germany after the war. The previous trilogy featuring Klein and the Seventh Doctor saw the Doctor trying to soften Klein’s incredibly supremacist views with mixed results as his own morality often got in the way, and UNIT: Dominion made good use of Klein’s logical practicality in the presence of the Doctor’s commitment to optimism and ideals, but neither of these characteristics is exploited here.
Christian Edwards’s Will Arrowsmith is likewise a missed opportunity. Clearly Big Finish is looking to put on display a socially awkward individual who is far out of his depth, but the higher-pitched tone Edwards uses paints Will as an over-the-top caricature that sometimes grates. The character has some decent moments and there is certainly potential for him in future stories, but ‘Persuasion’ is hardly a strong introductory story and does little to create a true sense of empathy for Will.
Even with shorter episodes than usual, ‘Persuasion’ seems like it suffers from too much padding as little actually happens despite a lot of dialogue and as characters initially refuse to help before later on changing their minds. With Klein not nearly as distrustful of the Doctor as in previous stories, it’s strange that the Doctor repeatedly proclaims almost gleefully that he knows much more about the situation than he’s willing to say. It’s an odd approach to the more mysterious and shrouded nature of the character that isn’t wholly successful, and the alien Struwwelpeter, another extraordinarily powerful alien race built up to be a fantastic menace, are disposed of rather easily by an unsuspecting Doctor, undermining that threat. There is a tendency to write the Seventh Doctor’s foes as something akin to almighty beings from the beginning of time, but overusing that angle on beings that are so casually defeated takes away from the dramatic potential.
Still, Sylvester McCoy does well in portraying a wearier, more focused Doctor nearing the end of his days, and guest stars David Sibley and Jonathan Forbes are quite strong as Nazi scientists who begin to experience reservations about their orders and actions. However, with a tone that somewhat haphazardly shifts between serious drama, lighter comedy, and even magical myth, and with neither the Klecht nor the settings of Minos and Dusseldorf being used to full effect, ‘Persuasion’ is an uneven affair from the beginning to its cliffhanger ending. McCoy and Childs are again superb against each other as the Doctor and Klein even if Klein is only a shadow of her former self, but ‘Persuasion’ never quite manages to become the epic it so clearly wants to be. Still, the introduction of Schalk and the Persuasion machine that can bend others’ wills to match its controller’s is an immensely intriguing concept that hopefully pays bigger dividends in the upcoming two stories.