We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re continuing our look at 2011’s Short Trips, Volume 3 with Wet Walls, featuring the Fifth Doctor and Peri. Written by Mathilde Madden, this story is read by Peter Davison, and takes place during a sometimes-controversial series of Five/Peri audios set between Planet of Fire and The Caves of Androzani. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
Shropshire, 1903, and the rain is pouring down on an old manor house, when the TARDIS arrives. With Peri, the Doctor rings the doorbell; the woman who answers tries and fails to send them away. However, upon hearing that he is the Doctor, she mistakes him for a medical doctor, who has coincidentally been summoned; and she lets them in. She introduces herself as Gretchen, the housekeeper; and she leads them through the dilapidated house to the rooms of the lady of the manor, Lady Catherine. She explains that Lady Catherine is raving mad.
The bedroom is shuttered, lit by candles; Lady Catherine lies in bed—young, pretty, but in her own state of neglect. She is weary, but speaks to the Doctor of children—but there are no children present, and Lady Catherine has never had any. The woman continues babbling, and insists that the walls are wet, but only at night.
Gretchen insists that the walls are not actually wet, but the Doctor insists on staying overnight to investigate further. As the day turns to night, the rain stops—but the peace is broken by a scream from Peri’s room. Peri insists that the carpet and walls are wet—not just to sight, but to touch—but the Doctor cannot feel it. To him, everything is dry. The Doctor has her touch the liquid in the carpet and taste it; reluctantly she does, and realizes it is both warm and salty. They are interrupted by a scream from Catherine’s room; they find her in a state of panic over the wetness that only she—and now Peri—can see. Gretchen is also present, and scoffs; but the Doctor insists that it may not be a delusion after all. Meanwhile, Peri insists that the situation is worse in this room, with walls dripping and oozing—and there is a sound, like a heartbeat. Catherine is rocking in time with it; and, Peri insists, there is something under the bed. A red, pulsing pipe sticks out from under the bed, according to Peri. She insists it is some bloblike animal—perhaps a fetus of some sort.
The Doctor theorizes that some alien entity is using the house to gestate its young, with a zonal shift to keep it out of phase with the inhabitants, but not quite perfectly. Perhaps Peri and Catherine sense it because they are female—but then, Gretchen does not. One thing is clear, though: Catherine is at the focus of the phenomenon, and if it isn’t stopped, it will kill her. Working on a hunch, he suggests finding the creature’s father—and what better place to find an expectant father than pacing in the corridor outside?
They follow the pipe—now suspected to be an umbilical cord—into the garden. When Peri looks back at the house, she sees it covered with a membrane, and pulsing. Against her disgust, she follows the cord into some nearby bushes, and finds a small spaceship. The Doctor knocks, and it opens onto a jellylike alien inside an artificial exoskeleton. He demands an explanation. The creature tries to refuse, but the Doctor doesn’t let it withdraw. He explains to Peri that the creature is a citizen of a planet called Calopia; the Calopians are a single-sex race, ostensibly male, though they wouldn’t view it that way. They usually breed and gestate their young inside damp caverns; but why is this one here, on Earth? The creature reluctantly reveals it had no choice; it needed a copilot to fly its ship, and its first one died in an accident—it seems they stole this ship for a joyride, and crashed here. Its offspring will be mature enough to serve as a copilot in about three hours—but that’s little consolation for Catherine, who may be irretrievably insane by then!
They are interrupted by Gretchen, who is pointing a pistol at the Calopian. Before the Doctor can react, Gretchen shoots the Calopian. The Doctor snatches the gun and tosses it away—but then Peri says that the house…is hatching!
The Doctor scoops up the hatchling, and places it in the now-vacant pilot seat. Peri objects that even with its parent’s memories, it can’t fly the ship alone—but, a second creature emerges. Twins! And conveniently so, as the Doctor points out, placing the second creature in the ship.
Catherine stumbles out of the house and falls on Gretchen, asking if it is over. Gretchen’s words are lost…but it seems to be so. She escorts Catherine to the house, then returns to see the Doctor and Peri off. Peri asks why she and Catherine could see it when Gretchen couldn’t; and Gretchen admits, with some chagrin, that “she” is not a woman. “She” is secretly a man, a former footman in Catherine’s father’s household—and Catherine’s lover. They would never have been permitted to marry; and so, when Catherine inherited the manor, they adopted this ruse in order to quietly set up house together. Peri is stunned by this news; and before the situation can become any more awkward, the Doctor pulls her back to the TARDIS to depart.
It’s beginning to seem as though the unlikely combination of body horror and silliness is uniquely the domain of the Fifth Doctor. First there was The Deep, his contribution to Short Trips, Volume 1, which saw the TARDIS turn into a whale (and nearly mate with the native whales!). Things got a little better with Sock Pig in Short Trips Volume 2, where we traded horror for sadness. Now, however, we’ve come full circle in Wet Walls. Here the Doctor finds that a manor house has been turned into an alien womb; but only Peri and the lady of the manor can see the proof. (Yes, that is a spoiler, but it’s almost unavoidable; I’ll keep the ending a secret.) Yes, it is exactly as bizarre and disgusting as it sounds.
I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the way this story—and The Deep before it—handle the Fifth Doctor. Certainly the Fifth Doctor is very different from his other incarnations; he’s famously self-effacing and sometimes passive, and it’s popularly claimed that the Sixth Doctor’s bombastic personality is a direct response to the Fifth Doctor—implying that even the Doctor doesn’t like the Fifth Doctor very much. Still, one almost gets the impression from these stories that the writers are punishing him for it, by placing him in the most unlikely, garish, and silly situations they can imagine. No other Doctor has gotten this treatment in this series (so far, anyway, but as they say, the night is young). Personally, I like the Fifth Doctor; he, more than any other, embodies the idea that there are more ways to solve a crisis than violence. I prefer to see him get a serious—or at least believable—story.
I do appreciate that Peter Davison conducts his own readings in these early volumes, as does Colin Baker. Most of the time, his performances are good; I’ve heard other commenters claim that he sounds different from his television appearances, but so far I disagree. One glaring fault with his performance here, however, is his portrayal of Peri. He goes out of his way to mimic her accent and intonation, but only manages to parody Nicola Bryant’s performances. It’s painful to listen to, and I’m glad Peri only gets a few lines here. It would be much better if he would just read the lines in his own voice and leave it to imagination. Peri also features in the next entry, with the Sixth Doctor; let’s see if Colin Baker can do it any better.
Overall: My least favorite entry in this volume so far. We’ll brush this one under the (wet) rug and move on.
Next time: We’ll join Peri and the Sixth Doctor in Murmurs of Earth! See you there.
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.