Before you panic, don’t worry; this review isn’t about the Fifth Doctor’s toilet being brutally attacked by the plunger of a Dalek like you might think from the title of this story. (Peter-loo, get it?) Instead it’s the concluding part of the Fifth Doctor trilogy that kick started 2016s monthly Doctor Who range from Big Finish, even if he’s back next month to begin The Two Masters Trilogy; anyway, on with the review!
“They say there’ll be thousands pouring into Manchester tomorrow. From all over the county, north and south. It’ll be a piece of history. People will remember this!”
Lost in the smog of the Industrial Revolution, the TARDIS crashes four miles south of Manchester, in the grounds of Hurley Hall – a grand mansion belonging to a local factory owner, a proudly self-made man. But while Hurley dreams of growing richer still on the wealth of secret knowledge locked up in the Doctor’s time and space machine, his servants hope only for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. His young maid Cathy, for instance, whom Nyssa learns is looking forward to joining the working people’s march to St Peter’s Field, in the heart of the city. There’ll be speeches and banners and music. It’ll be like one big jamboree…
Or so she thinks. For the city’s establishment have called in their own private militia, to control the crowd. One of the darkest days in Manchester’s history is about to unfold – and the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan are right in the thick of it.
There’s nothing like starting a story with the TARDIS crashing into something, somewhere at sometime. This is quickly followed by the Doctor saying seven words that I always assumed were reserved in Doctor Who for the companions to say; “I seem to have twisted my ankle”. Who knew Time Lords ankles were twistable? Thank you Paul Magrs for reversing the role of that infamous problem that happened in a lot of Classic Who. “Oh Doctor, I’ve fallen over awkwardly.”
Hurley, the owner of a local factory and who resides of Hurley Hall, is played brilliantly by Robbie Stevens as a man who takes no nonsense, knows how the world works and is willing to play the game of life. From his introductory scene in the first part of The Peterloo Massacre, it’s apparent that it’s more than likely that Hurley isn’t the most likeable chap in Manchester; but he certainly seems like the type of person who will thrive.
Right out of the bat, I have to say that The Peterloo Massacre has some of the most beautifully haunting vocal led music that I’ve ever heard from Big Finish to transition the passage of time; it seems like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Tenth or Eleventh Doctor story at all.
There’s a slight bickering between Tegan and the Doctor (when isn’t there?) about the reality of servants during the Industrial Revolution that I thought was really interesting; Tegan was very against the idea that people could be treated so poorly and seemed to sympathise with them; I really thought that this idea of Tegan’s philosophy was very believable because in a way, I think that Tegan being an Air Hostess, she might think was the equivalent job in her time. What really interested me though, was how she brought the Doctor into the argument, accusing him of being a ‘posho’ too, as he’s a Time Lord and from what she’s heard about Gallifrey. To me, this is the reason why I love how broad Big Finish can be; they can add beliefs and reasonings to the characters we’ve seen on screen, but as we get to spend more time with them on audio than we ever would on TV, we get to explore these Classic Who characters more as people than as plot devices.
One of my favourite types of villains, especially in Doctor Who have to be the misguided humans who aren’t moustache twirling super villains but instead are just trying to make their way in the world; exactly like Hurley. There’s a scene at the end of the first part of the story that really hammers home just how ruthless and powerful Hurley is, and how little compassion he has. It might sound awful; but I love it.
The second part starts with Tegan and William, Hurley’s son, arguing about how the richer part of society thinks in regard to the lower classes. Tegan then learns that William is part of the local militia who are seemingly preparing for the rally of the working classes to keep them in check. Meanwhile, Nyssa is with Cathy, a servant for the Hurley’s who has been asked to do a speech at the rally. Personally, the character of Cathy seemed a bit too self-confident and occasionally comes across as arrogant. I don’t know whether or not we’re meant to feel that way, but I do.
In the second part of the story, it seems that all the characters are being put into place, ready for whatever happens in the third and fourth acts; Nyssa and Cathy are part of the march, the Doctor ends up with William and are going into the city to go to the barracks of the militia, which is where Tegan has been kept prisoner overnight.
When the third part opens; on the day of the Peterloo Massacre, the Doctor and Tegan are reunited as they realise that the militia are getting ready to go to war with the common folk of Manchester. With 80,000 civilians taking part in the march; it’s up to the Doctor and Tegan to try and find Nyssa amongst the crowd. Like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Once we’re introduced to Reverend Small, the catalyst of the events that unfold, everything seems to go to hell; the peaceful march was declared a riot, meaning that the Manchester Militia were allowed to start the slaughter of the ‘rioters’, who were unknowingly officially rioting. I have to confess that when I listened to this story, I was totally unaware of the Peterloo Massacre; but from what I’ve learned from this tale, it’s frankly frightening and ghastly to think that these type of things were ever allowed to happen. Doctor Who is at its greatest when it’s not necessarily a three eyed alien that’s the problem; instead it’s the human race that can be the most monstrous. I think that’s why stories like The Zygon Inversion were so popular and well received; because sometimes it takes the Doctor to remind us that we can be the monsters too.
Hearing the massacre was haunting and was accompanied by the vocals from the first part of the story; considering the cast for this story were only nine strong; the sound designers once again have done extremely well to give the impression that there are hundreds is not thousands of voices crying out in terror, fear and carnage.
Peter Davison’s portrayal of the Doctor in this story is absolutely stellar; even though he left the show in 1984; he still portrays the Doctor excellently on audio. If you were used to a more serene Fifth Doctor on the TV, The Peterloo Massacre will show you the fury of the Time Lord that we rarely saw in Davison’s Doctor. Seeing such a mellow Doctor snap at humanity really helps emphasise just how passionately he feels about the events of the massacre.
The final moments of the third part of The Peterloo Massacre might well be some of the most upsetting and darkest that Big Finish has ever done; I won’t ruin it for you, but I have to admit that I was surprised that Big Finish added a detail like that in it’s story; it did work though, and it really knocked me for six like no other form of Doctor Who ever has.
During the final act of this story, we get to hear the Fifth Doctor absolutely furious at Hurley and all that he’s done; and I think it totally fits the characterisation of the Doctor; an ambassador for peace, fairness and equality. It’s these moments that I think really shows the undertones of the Doctor’s darker side that we really get to see in the War Doctor box sets.
I have to admit that during the opening part of this story; I wasn’t instantly enthralled like I was in Aquitaine, however the story of The Peterloo Massacre grew on me more and more as the story progressed; it is a moment in history that I think is often overlooked and deserves to be remembered, in honour of everyone that lost their lives in the massacre. The Peterloo Massacre isn’t a story that I’d let young children listen to, as some of the themes are incredibly dark and complex; however for anyone who wants a shock to the system of how barbaric humanity can be, I highly recommend you listen to this story.
The rating system on the GallifreyArchive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Peterloo Massacre, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase The Peterloo Massacre, it’s currently available both physically for £14.99 and as a download for just £12.99, which you can purchase by clicking here!