Cast: Colin Baker, Lisa Greenwood, Tim Bentinck, Jenny Funnell, Tessa Nicholson, Rikki Lawton, Dan Starkey, Helen Goldwyn, Glynn Sweet.
There must be something about the Wirrn that can give dedicated listeners of Doctor Who delicious and nerve wracking nightmares. Add in the almost lonely, desolate feel that you get in William Gallagher’s script for Wirrn Isle and the creeping music that overlays the action and the play becomes a near pinnacle of Colin Baker’s time as the Doctor.
Set in the year 16127 and within the era of the Nerva space station, last seen within Tom Baker’s first appearance for Big Finish, Destination: Nerva, and the bleakness of Loch Lomond, Wirrn Isle captures the best and worst of mankind’s fears and hopes. The Doctor and Philippa ‘Flip’ Jackson transmat into a new adventure that, no matter how disturbing the idea of Davros and the Doctor exchanging bodies and minds in the first of the new series, overshadows pretty much everything Colin Baker has gone through before save the stories Medicinal Purposes and The Doomwood Curse.
The Wirrn are a complex adversary for the Doctor to deal with. Unlike the Daleks and the Cybermen whose entire being is dedicated to either destroying all that is not pure Dalek, (in some stories even that hasn’t stopped them) or enslaving and turning whatever race they come into contact with into versions of the cold men of steel. The Wirrn are not evil, not in the right sense of the word, they just appear so as they digest humans from the inside out, like any other parasite they are just doing what they need to in order to survive as a species.
The Doctor recognises this and like the parasitic wasps that inject their eggs into certain ants and bug nymphs knows they are just doing what they must. This however doesn’t stop the Doctor from trying his best to stop them attacking the human colonists on Nerva City or by the shores of Loch Lomond.
This is probably the most fascinating aspect of the Doctor. As with the television show in recent years the Doctor always gives you a chance to run away, to leave with your species intact and as he says in this play “I asked nicely”. To recognise that a species has a right to live is a rare quality and one that requires repeating time and time again.
The only point of the story that can be said to let down the story is the treatment of the character of Toasty Buchman portrayed by Tessa Nicholson. As with the previous story, the idea of a young girl being written in a way that shows so much adoration and little sign of personal growth could leave some fans shaking their heads. Even when Toasty stands up to her mother over the treatment of the Wirrn, the words seem false and lacking any type of strength.
Wirrn Isle is the last story fans of the Big Finish Doctor Who tales involving Colin Baker for a while as Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison and Paul McGann all have an arc of plays to come. It can only be hoped that Colin Baker has some part in the B.B.C.’s 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who next year as his performances in the Big Finish cannon have been nothing short of outstanding.
Wirrn Isle is available to buy now from Worlds Apart, Lime Street, Liverpool.
Ian D. Hall