Doctor Who
The Wishing Beast / The Vanity Box

Starring: Colin Baker
Big Finish Productions
RRP: £14.99
ISBN: 978 1 84435 284 5
Available 31 July 2007

What can it mean when the Doctor and Mel are drawn to an asteroid by a recorded message from the strange, elderly Applewhite sisters? The travellers are promised that their dearest wishes will come true when they enter the frozen forests of this benighted shard of a world. But the ghosts that haunt this place are desperate to warn the Doctor about the dangers of the sisters’ promises. Only the ghosts know the true nature of the legendary Wishing Beast that stalks the land...

In this serial, Mel (Bonnie Langford) finds herself at the mercy of a couple of dotty but deadly old ladies, whose offerings of tea and cakes are solely for the purpose of lulling her into a false sense of security before she herself gets eaten. No, this isn’t Paradise Towers but The Wishing Beast, the latest three-part Sixth Doctor adventure from Big Finish. The similarities to that far-from-classic Seventh Doctor tale are unfortunate, and it’s not just me who’s spotted them - Langford mentions them in an interview at the end of Disc 2.

Here the old ladies in question, the witch-like Applewhite sisters, are played to perfection by Jean Marsh (who has previously appeared in Doctor Who in The Crusade, The Daleks’ Master Plan and Battlefield) and Geraldine Newman (Ever Decreasing Circles). Whereas their Paradise Towers counterparts had knitted nets, kitchen knives and a toasting fork among their arsenal, Maria and Eliza make use of a different household implement, a lethal vacuum cleaner.

Writer Paul Magrs has penned a typically eccentric story, very much in the mould of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, complete with sinister witches living in isolation in a forest, ghostly apparitions and a ravening monster. A word of warning, though: I recommend that you don’t listen to the interviews at the end of Disc 1 until after you’ve heard the whole of this three-parter, as it might spoil one of the plot revelations for you.

The Wishing Beast has its moments, but even at three episodes the plot seems padded out. The ending is rather a damp squib, too, though the disappointment can be reduced if you move straight on to the bonus single-part story, The Vanity Box...

A strange beauty parlour has opened its doors in a dowdy Salford terrace in the 1960s. Monsieur Coiffure is the talk of the street with his fabulous makeovers. When the Doctor arrives, however, he realises that there’s been some unnatural titivation going on...

For me, The Vanity Box is a far more enjoyable affair. With its regional period setting and cast of gossiping female characters (played variously by Diana Flack, Christine Moore and Rachel Laurence), it spoofs the early days of the soap opera Coronation Street. Toby Longworth is also extremely amusing as the beauty parlour’s owner, Monsieur Coiffure, whose faux French accent keeps slipping.

Unlike previous single-part bonus episodes, this one leads straight on from the preceding three-parter, with the Doctor (Colin Baker) and Mel making explicit references back to their recent experiences in that tale.

I only wish The Wishing Beast had been as satisfying as this.

Richard McGinlay

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