Released July 2007
‘The Wishing Beast’ is another three-part story from Big Finish, pitting the Sixth Doctor and Mel against a living fairy tale as they land on an asteroid soaked in radiation to search for the source of a mysterious welcoming message.
The issue with ‘The Wishing Beast’ is that it never decides if it wants to be a lighter or grimmer fairy tale, and the dissonance in tone can sometimes be rather jarring as the rather intriguing tale unfolds. The Doctor and Mel work their way through a dark forest to find a cottage inhabited by the very welcoming Applewhite sisters who have been awaiting the travelers’ appearance for a very long time. But as the Doctor and Mel soon learn, there is a creature far in the forest beyond the ghosts who can grant an individual’s wish, a creature who has inexplicably been longing to grant Mel’s wish in particular.
The Applewhite sisters come off as far too over the top to be believable, venturing into annoying parody territory rather than as a sinister threat. Jean Marsh and Geraldine Newman are both strong actresses, but whether making the sisters sillier rather than scarier was the performers’ choice or the writer’s, it simply does not work in the more traditional and darker fairy tale staples of ghosts, beasts, and parables. The ghosts being the remaining fragments of souls of those who have confronted the Wishing Beast is chilling, and even the witches returning for tribute is suitably disturbing, but the tension is completely ruined when the witches exuberantly pull out their vacuum device for souls. That shift in tone is a recurring problem, though, and it’s not until the very end when the Doctor must make a noble sacrifice when the truth of the Wishing Beast is revealed that the story firmly commits to its darker tone. Even then, the resolution as the Doctor decides to leave the Wishing Beast on the asteroid where nobody will come across it again is unfulfilling and bland.
Colin Baker and Bonnie Langford give good performances here, and the Doctor gets his standout moment at the end where he fills with fear and rage after a lighter outing altogether, but unfortunately Mel is reduced to a companion with seemingly no common sense, one who will willingly tag along with the Applewhite sisters and even let them into the TARDIS despite suspecting that there is something suspicious about them. She serves to move the plot along, but ‘The Wishing Beast’ in general is a huge disservice to her character and the monumental progress she has made with Big Finish.
In the end, ‘The Wishing Beast’ is a story full of differing tones as well as actors who can’t quite decide on what the tone should be. Trimming a few scenes one way or another could have helped to resolve the tonal dissonance, and though there is still an interesting story to be had, it’s a jarring one that could have been much stronger.
‘The Vanity Box’ is the one-part story to supplement the main release, and as a one-part story it works quite well. The titular Vanity Box itself ties in with ‘The Wishing Beast’ indirectly, and it presents listeners with the strangely comedic visual of the Sixth Doctor in drag as he tries to pass himself off as a 1960s housewife while investigating a beautician. The investigation seems like something that could have been included in the main release quite well, but it’s still an intriguing enough concept for a story on its own as well. Still, it never quite manages to come together fluidly into one strong outing, much like with ‘The Wishing Beast’ despite Toby Longworth’s best efforts in both.