Her Final Flight by Julian Shortman

This little freebie – handed out to Big Finish subscribers – has a reputation for being a story that doesn’t really have a reputation. Considering it gave us the first meeting between the Sixth Doctor and Peri after the trial ended you would think it would garner at least a brief opinion. But it just sort of happened and, like most free stories, it underwhelmed those who could be bothered to listen to it. Most just left it to gather dust. The only thing people tend to say about it is that virtual reality is a rubbish story telling device and Big Finish should stop – the hell – using it.

But I think that Her Final Flight uses VR well. It isn’t an excuse to do something deliberately wacky (stand up Zagreus) or as a way of avoiding giving your story a decent ending (The Last). For one thing we know it is virtual reality right from the start. We aren’t ever fooled into thinking that what we are hearing is real. The temptation to hide this and use it as a final twist must’ve been immense but to their credit they don’t. Now, this would appear to render the story null and void but it doesn’t. I found it (on second listen – the first time I dozed off) to be intriguing. They told us what they had done and what their aim was but we didn’t know how it would be done, why they were doing it or who they were.

This means that all bets are off as far as the story is concerned. Any manner of outlandish thing could happen. But it doesn’t – they keep the story small, tight and intimate. The use of Peri – though a gimmick I’m sure – worked in this setting. It was curiously appropriate that her "return" should be every bit as unreal as her departure. It was nice to hear Nicola Bryant playing a more mature Peri instead of the teenager she is stuck with elsewhere.

The fiction is created – and I was driving so I’m not entire sure whether the entire storyline was devised by the Doctor’s subconscious or if what we heard was a mixture of malicious construct and outpoured guilt. Certainly the story was one designed to make the Doctor suffer. He arrives and in doing so condemns an entire race to die. The people behind the plan intend that he should die at his own hand and he very nearly does. Injecting himself with diseased blood so his own immune system will create antibodies. He’s already killed his Tardis and Peri is on the brink of death. His own safety means nothing to him.

Which brings us to the pay off and I think it is another piece of quietly brilliant writing. The Doctor scans himself for the antibodies he should’ve produced. He finds nothing. He broadens the scan looking for any signs of activity. He still finds nothing. He broadens it further and begins to notice physical signals which could not possibly have been caused by this disease. Further investigation reveals the bio-electrical implant which has been controlling his thoughts.

The footnote is a grateful thanks to them for not feeling obliged to answer every single question. We don’t know who the woman was who trapped the Doctor, we don’t know who the man was that hired her. We don’t know why he wanted the Doctor dead (other than the Doctor would allegedly kill him some time in the future). All we heard was his departure in what sounded like a Tardis. It was nicely enigmatic rather than irritatingly unsatisfying. Had they tried to tie it in with a TV story or an audio or a book it would’ve weighed it down.

So, if you’ve got it and not heard it, or if you dismissed it as freebie rubbish, give it a try. There is a lot more to it than I thought. It was better than a lot of paid-for stories over the past couple of years and actually longer than one that I won’t name (Scaredy Cat… oops). Good stuff.