The Quin Dilemma

Posted in Audio by - March 25, 2024
The Quin Dilemma

Released March 2024


To mark forty years of the Sixth Doctor, Big Finish has created a collection of stories spanning his long and diverse lifespan that the audio medium has so wonderfully expanded beyond what his brief televised tenure allowed. Riffing on the title of his oft-maligned debut story ‘The Twin Dilemma,’ The Quin Dilemma through six interlinked tales tells the story of a Doctor pursued throughout space as identical quintuplets compete to earn the crown of their world.

In Jacqueline Rayner’s ‘The Exaltation,’ suggestions of temporal anomalies upon Arunopal have caught the attention of the Doctor and Mel. On this day that King Otho is due to step down as ruler of this world, he has devised a plan to determine which of his five sons should succeed him, scheming to send his children to points where the person who allegedly stole his wife away during childbirth so many years ago is reported to be with the task of bringing back his head. Unfortunately, while Carrie Quinlan makes a strong impact as Zeta who has had her horizons expanded so quickly by stepping outside of her protective mother’s gaze to the publicly ceremonial verve of this event, this introductory story as a whole falls somewhat flat. This primarily is due to the fact that the quintuplets are purposefully presented as rather dull and uninspired caricatures of royalty, privileged to no end and often unable to function in any meaningful capacity by themselves. Given that these individuals will ostensibly be leading the divergent pursuits of the Doctor going forward, this is hardly inspiring, the most egregious offense being one sibling’s willing belief that he must get to the backwards world of Earth by going backwards from wherever his tracker signal may point. Nonetheless, while it does strain belief that Mel would be able to so effectively stall King Otho’s plans with such frivolous statements and actions, Andrew Dunn manages to make a credible impact as a man still looking to do anything in his power to find any answers about his wife possible. Bonnie Langford likewise makes the most of her time to affirm Mel’s dedication to the Doctor even if she doesn’t understand just why he is under suspicion even as her own suspicions that it will be the Doctor who is wanted are confirmed.  Colin Baker doesn’t have much to do comparatively as his Doctor unsuccessfully looks for the source of the detected anomalies and then flees one sibling’s initial pursuit on this world, but he is very much at his most energetic and dynamic, helping to create an engaging if ultimately unfulfilling introduction to this fortieth anniversary tale.

In Chris Chapman’s ‘Escape from Holy Island,’ the Doctor, Peri, and HG Wells are set to uncover the truth behind the events of the eighth of June, 793 on Lindisfarne. Some historical reports suggest that Viking raiders burnt this locale to the ground while others suggest that fiery dragons flew over the sky, but time is running out for the travelers and denizens as decidedly non-Viking raiders approach from across the North Sea. Interestingly, this is a story that again has the companion taking a pointedly leading role, and Nicola Bryant easily assumes control of every scene she is in as Peri hides her own fear to help mobilize the monks to take action. The relationship on screen between Peri and Sixth Doctor immediately following his regeneration was often a fractious one, but Big Finish has successfully rehabilitated and deepened the obvious affection between the two characters to tremendous effect over the decades, and Bryant and Baker excel as their characters again work for the common good while piecing together the mystery before them. Like with the quintuplets in the preceding story, Sanjeev Kohli’s Brother Boyle here is presented as something of a caricature of a fearful and unwitting participant in events who would allegedly rather watch and cower as the inevitable end approaches, but Rhys Jennings as Brother Gladstone has a far more integrated and dynamic role as a man willing to fight and who is clear-minded enough to realize that what he sees approaching in the distance has ties to the past and a mysterious shooting star with uniquely powerful properties that have caught the attention of Arunopal from afar. With the Doctor here likewise being taken as a prisoner of sorts, there again is no meaningful resolution or conclusion as pieces continue to assumedly be put in place for later stories to pick up, but even with Philip Labey’s Wells being relatively superfluous despite some decent moments of characterization, this as a whole is a visual and much more engaging entry that again highlights the incredible passion that Baker still very clearly holds for this role.

Robert Valentine takes the Doctor, Constance, and Flip to the middle of the Geminusian civil war in the midst of a Sontaran invasion in ‘Sibling Rivalry.’ A society split and turning upon itself if always one rife for exploration, and though there is not a tremendous amount of detail put into the political and societal makeup beyond the fact that neither side will listen to the other in any meaningful capacity, the fact that Flip as a complete outsider with no allegiances who has inadvertently found her way into a position of influence can open a dialogue and create a unity against the common Sontaran foe is certainly an intriguing dynamic that brings forth the very best of her character. Intriguingly given that this is a set to celebrate the Sixth Doctor, it’s again a companion who very much steps into the spotlight, and while it is Lisa Greenwood as Flip who helps to drive the narrative forward most, Miranda Raison also shines while displaying the respectful but more playful relationship that Constance has developed with the Doctor. Dan Starkey once again gives a strong performance as the Sontarans who are looking to acquire the natural resources of this planet to develop their teleportation technology, and although the Sontarans are not exactly at their most formidable here, their mere presence conveys a more than capable threat that should unite the Geminusian divide. Elsewhere, however, the script falters somewhat more due to the presence of two of the quintuplets who were inexplicably sent together to follow this trace of the Doctor. Clarent and Dellan are anything but amicable as each looks to acquire the prize that will lead to his coronation, but their direct disregard of warnings that their actions will counteract each others’ without the intended effect leads to some rather unfulfilling narrative moments while showcasing their less than formidable nature. ‘Sibling Rivalry’ does its job in setting up an intriguing enough premise for the next story to directly continue on with, but both the two quintuplets as well as the Sontarans could and should have been presented as much more capable to truly exemplify the Doctor as a character.

Robert Valentine continues the Geminusian tale in ‘Children of the Revolution,’ rectifying some of the previous shortcomings of Clarent and Dellan after they once more cause each other to fail in their attempts to capture the Doctor by having them forge an alliance to present a more decently credible threat and presence that make the eventual capture of the Doctor more understandable. Unfortunately, the Sontaran threat becomes much less credible as a simple plan of dressing in Sontaran armour to fool other soldiers works all too effectively. It’s great that Flip is able to see an angle that even battle-hardened warriors have overlooked, but this is a comically easy resolution to this invasion plot that hardly resonates even if it is profoundly impactful for the Geminusians who erect a massive statue in her honour. As such, Starkey doesn’t have much meaningful work throughout this story, and it’s up to the Doctor to explain the Geminusian crystals’ properties that have drawn the Sontarans here to mine and experiment as well as to provide a conveniently simple fix that will render this world completely useless to the Sontarans with nothing but a simple crystal colour change left as evidence of his influence. Again, this is an ending that comes about relatively simply with little conflict or effort, and so this is a story that benefits greatly from the tremendous chemistry between Baker and Raison as well as the determination of both Flip and Constance as they look to help the native population in any way they can on their very separate paths. To this point in this set, however, the quintuplets have been very much background figures to the main stories being told, and that again creates a strange mixture in which this two-part tale is almost completely standalone except for the two quintuplets’ direct involvement in both episodes’ cliffhanger endings. With one more Doctor assumedly to be captured in the next story, the notion of all of these different Sixth Doctors coming together is certainly worth the wait, but to this point the journey has been a very uneven one that has circumvented so much of the genuine drama that could have featured.

Once every thousand years when the orbit of Zycros allows the most fertile soil in the universe to thaw for one twelve-month period, this world becomes the farming hub of the universe. In Chris Chapman’s ‘The Thousand-Year Thaw,’ the Doctor has brought Peri to watch the majesty of this thaw that will allow such a profound harvest that famine on countless worlds will be eliminated. Their plans go awry, however, when a much more nefarious quintuplet utilizing an engine system that has been outlawed in all systems but his own arrives in search of the Doctor, in the process threatening to throw off the incredibly sensitive orbit of this world and to threaten the entire harvest. There’s a certain callousness and mercilessness that Jonnie Broadbent portrays with this brother that actually makes him seem like a genuine threat with actual menace and ambition, and the utter disregard for anyone else in any capacity at the very least gives this antagonist a characteristic for the Doctor to comment on and act against as this plotline is very used much more thoroughly and effectively than for a simple cliffhanger as previously. However, while the first story featuring Peri in this set already highlighted how well Big Finish has softened and expanded upon the friendship of these two characters, this story perhaps takes that notion to the extreme as Peri waxes poetic about how much the Doctor means to her and why she has decided to stay with him even after his more violent start to this regeneration. Nicola Bryant is superb as she delves into Peri’s past, emotions, and genuine strength of character even as Peri begins to mull leaving the Doctor now that she has helped him, but although this is a most welcome exploration of her character, doing so in such a prolonged fashion does rather showcase the limited nature of the actual weather-based plot here. Still, Colin Baker is likewise on top form here as his Doctor is also forced to confront his past while standing up to pure greed in a scheme he knows nothing about, and it’s no wonder that the Sixth Doctor and Peri have since the beginning been amongst Big Finish’s finest pairings.

Jacquine Rayner concludes The Quin Dilemma with ‘The Firstborn’ as the action shifts back to Arunopol with the quintuplets having succeeded all too well with their given tasks. Strangely, there isn’t a tremendous amount of sibling strife or even any significant drama stemming from King Otho as the man he sent his sons after is presented before him in many forms. Instead, a quick trip into the past before the King’s wife and midwife disappeared reveals that none of the five brothers is actually the eldest and thus the heir to the throne, in the process developing the emotions of both Otho and his wife as the truth becomes known to all. This truth ties into the events of the first story rather well if quite conveniently, but the Doctor’s willingness to alter time is genuinely surprising given how many times he has proven averse to doing anything on even a fraction of the scale of what this entails. The story could have been resolved easily enough with the brothers taking the Doctors back to where they found them and being forced to confront their new truth, but the increasing influence of paradoxes and the Blinovitch Limitation Effect as the Doctor’s companions doggedly pursue their friend to Arunopol despite all odds certainly creates a visual and dynamic conflict that in many ways is more satisfying than anything the quintuplets alone provided. Simply hearing the Sixth Doctor list out the progression of his companions as he remembers them is a testament to just how much this incarnation has been through and developed, and while his friends do not have much time to feature meaningfully here, their importance to the Doctor and the Doctor’s importance to them are never in doubt. While this entire saga is a wholly uneven one that does well with the Doctor and his friends but that rather falters with truly resonant and emotional individual storylines and with developing the quintuplet threats at its core, the genuine change and happiness that the Sixth Doctor is able to bring about is nonetheless a testament to the character and a strong enough ending to these fortieth anniversary celebrations.

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