Released January 2006
Robert Ross assumes writing duties for Big Finish for the first time since ‘Medicinal Purposes’ with ‘Pier Pressure,’ two stories that share a very similar style and that both succeed and fail in similar fashion by providing a jagged combination of humour and horror.
Lacking in any of the clever ideas from his first release, ‘Pier Pressure’ instead relies on ages-old cliches. Ross does a good job in building an engrossing environment and atmosphere, the home of a dead magician at a deserted pier in Brighton providing a great setting for the piece. Doctor Who stories are, for the most part, built upon the strength of the foe at hand, but unfortunately the aliens possessing people in ‘Pier Pressure’ are quite dull and never really given much definition. These beings who feed off of emotion are built up by the Doctor as an apocalyptic threat, with most essential information being given in one lengthy dialogue-driven scene, but their defeat by a piece of wire undermines their credibility. The bigger issue, however, is that there just isn’t much natural buildup to the underwhelming denouement. Though there are some nice sentiments about the human spirit, the predictable sacrificial climax fails to compensate for what is overall a strictly average script and plot. Overall, there just isn’t enough plot to sustain this release for a full two hours, several scenes clearly being padded to extend the overall length.
As a distinct positive, however, the cast of ‘Pier Pressure’ is excellent throughout. As Professor Talbot, the victim of the alien possession, Doug Bradley is fantastic portraying a lonely and scared man who is being driven to commit such atrocious acts. Despite the limitations of the script and the alien’s plans not being the most concise or thorough, Talbot remains a sympathetic and well-meaning villain who was persuaded to join the wrong side. Similarly, Roy Hudd is superb as comedy legend Max Miller, bringing a nice combination of ego and witty likability to the character. Although the script often reduces Miller to little more than a caricature, he is still written with a cunning intelligence and and insight that allows him to succeed and to hold his own when paired with the Doctor.
Of course, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor and Maggie Stables as Evelyn Smythe are superb as always, though bringing Evelyn back so quickly after her dramatic farewell in ‘Thicker Than Water’ is a bit abnormal. Rather than allowing Baker to travel with an entirely new companion or to feature in some missing adventures with Mel or Peri, the decision to bring back a character who had literally just left the TARDIS for a missing adventure of her own seems an odd choice. Having her role reduced more to just following the Doctor around and being the one to explain things to Miller hardly showcases her strengths as a companion either, no matter how strong Stables is in the role. The Doctor, by necessity, carries the brunt of the action in this tale, and though he gets some sparkling dialogue throughout, there is an air of pomposity that seems a little more in line with the early Sixth Doctor beside Peri than this later Sixth Doctor beside Evelyn and the mellowing he experienced.
It’s a shame, then, that the strong supporting cast, excellent lead actor combination, and the great setting of Brighton do not come together to create something special given all of the potential. However, the script simply fails to capitalize on its potential, faltering in fleshing out its menace and relying on cliches and padding to drive its plot along.