The Headless Ones

Posted in Audio by - August 15, 2020
The Headless Ones

Released August 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

As Big Finish’s monthly Doctor Who range begins to draw to a close, the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctors who have been mainstays since the very beginning appear poised to break out into more diverse ranges that offer an even greater variety of storytelling opportunities. As a likely preview of what may be in store for the futures of these Doctors, The Sixth Doctor and Peri Volume One reunites Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant once more to revisit the earlier days of the Sixth Doctor’s life in four new adventures.

When a distress call imperils the TARDIS within the vortex, the Doctor and Peri arrive in nineteenth-century Africa to uncover the source of the ominous disturbance in ‘The Headless Ones’ by James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown. They soon stumble upon an expedition led by a determined explorer searching for a lost tribe of people without heads and with their faces in their chests, and dreams of finding a potential missing evolutionary link present plenty of potential anthropological, cultural, and scientific intrigue to excite the two time travelers who are much more convinced that the possible existence of these lost people is likely extraterrestrial in origin. Of course, the Doctor’s hunch ends up being correct, and so the story unsurprisingly follows many familiar beats as the truth of these aliens who have been stranded for so very long slowly comes to light; however, while the titular beings end up being more of a plot device to showcase the highs and lows of humanity until one tragic act lends an incredible air of solemnity to the entire affair, the intrigue always remains high as the sweltering and shadowy jungle vibrantly comes to life through sound effects and music as an ever-present character that drives the narrative forward as much as anyone.

This is a time where racism, misogyny, and colonialism were rampant, and the authors wisely ensure that these elements are prevalent to lend a greater degree of verisimilitude and even horror to this heightened tale. While the misogyny is perhaps accentuated a bit too much once the ultimate villain of the piece is revealed and his increasingly audacious and outlandish plan to create order through his own vision becomes known, the unrelenting and unapologetic darkness that humanity can unfortunately still display blankets the adventure with a palpable and oppressive sense of realism. Although the Doctor is reduced to delivering technobabble explanations and shrugging off the ensuing questions of those around him more than might be expected, Peri truly shines as she allies with a pair of strong female characters in Siyanda and Amanda Latimer. Nicola Bryant, Vivienne Acheampong, and Deirdre Mullins are superb throughout, and the intellect, pragmatism, and genuine emotion on display as the many truths surrounding this expedition and the lost tribe are revealed prove to be testaments to each of these actors’ considerable talents.

Despite the many plot elements on display, it’s easy to imagine a more concise version of ‘The Headless One’ that could have been part of an anthology collection. Each element by itself is effective and never fails to grasp attention, but there is quite a bit of padding that could have easily been excised without sacrificing any of the plot or momentum. Likewise, while the narrated journal entries of the expedition are an intriguing touch that flesh out certain thoughts and motivations to good effect, they do at times also create something of a disjointed experience and come and go in terms of prominence as the plot deems necessary and other characters come into focus. Despite its shortcomings, however, ‘The Headless Ones’ has plenty of genuinely fascinating strengths at its core, and it ably serves as an engaging introduction to the many adventures in whatever form they may take that still await this duo.

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