The Peterloo Massacre (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 June 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Peterloo Massacre (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Paul Magrs
Directed by Jamie Anderson

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Hayley Jayne Standing (Cathy), Robbie Stevens (Hurley), Gerard Kearns (William), Philip Labey (Thomas Tyler), Wayne Forester (Walton/Roberts/Rev Small), Liz Morgan (Mrs Hurley/Sister)

Big Finish Productions – Released March 2016

Every once in a while, Big Finish release a play which stands out from their large catalogue of Doctor Who releases as being something rather special. ThePeterlooMassacre, based on one of the darkest episodes of early nineteenth century British history, is the most recent example of such a play. Paul Magrs, who is better known for slightly less serious offerings to TheWorldsofDoctorWho, has produced a script which brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the tragic events of 16th August 1819. The massacre itself, a mass demonstration for reform by more than 60,000 people in St Peter’s Square, Manchester which was attacked by local militia, resulting in 15 fatalities and 654 casualties, is not a subject which would automatically lend itself to a Doctor Who story. However, sometimes it is worth remembering that events like the Peterloo Massacre actually happened and that real people were caught up in them.

By concentrating on a small number of fictionalised characters caught up in the massacre, Magrs is able to do what a pure historical story does best and concentrate on the human aspect. At the centre of this story is Nyssa’s relationship with Cathy, a maid who wants to speak up for workers’ rights only to find herself directly affected by the tragedy. Sarah Sutton is able to give Nyssa genuine compassion which particularly shines through in her scenes alongside Hayley Jayne Standing as Cathy, particularly when the human cost of the massacre becomes horrifically apparent. Peter Davison, meanwhile, gives one of his strongest performances to date as the Doctor realises far too late that he and his companions have arrived in Manchester on the eve of one of the darkest days in the city’s history. His growing anger as he seeks to protect his companions from the inevitability of the unfolding events is truly something to behold. This story really showcases the Fifth Doctor’s full performance range. Even Janet Fielding’s Tegan manages to be less abrasive than usual even when experiencing nineteenth century inequality towards women at first hand.

The only slight incongruity is that Nigel Fairs’ music score is occasionally a little intrusive but this really is a minor quibble in a story which otherwise delivers for its listeners in spades. Undoubtedly, ThePeterlooMassacre will be considered as one of the best audio releases of recent times and is certainly the highlight of the opening trilogy of plays for 2016. Echoing my concluding comment on February’s Aquitaine, we can hopefully look forward to many more stories featuring the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan. This reviewer is delighted by the confirmation at the time of writing that these three will be returning for next year’s opening trilogy of main range releases alongside Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. On the strength of these plays, roll on 2017!