Big Finish Productions
Pier Pressure

Written by Robert Ross Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2006
Continuity Between The Trial of a Time Lord and Time and the Rani

Starring Colin Baker and Maggie Stables

Synopsis: "Ere, listen listen, I've got one for you. There once was this bloke, you see. Good-looking sort of chap. Lovely, brightly coloured coat. No rubbish. Quality gear. Never bought a drink neither... or so they say. But his name wasn't Miller. Oh no, there'll never be another Cheeky Chappie, lady, there'll never be another. They broke the mould when they made me you know. No, this bloke called himself the Doctor. Doctor who you ask? And may well you. Don't know me self. No one ever knew. Funny that. He was a real strange one. Odd things happened when he arrived. Mind you, them were dark days. No one was laughing. And these were my people. My public. It was like playing first house at the Glasgow Empire. Just like the entire town was cursed it was. Cursed by something not of this world..."


Waves crashing over... by Joe Ford 3/4/06

Pier Pressure has a production to die for. There are very few Doctor Who audios that reach these heights with everything coming together perfectly to create an atmospheric treat. Gary Russell's direction is astonishingly good with a great deal of excellent comic work being performed between his actors and the sound effects (the rolling sea and shifting pebbles) and music (especially the enjoyable goofy sax playing over the Maxi scenes) all combine well. Pier Pressure comes alive around as you listen.

So why oh why is it such a chore to listen to? I was mentally listing all the great things about this audio whilst I was getting more and more bored, confused with why I wasn't being swept away. Rupert Ross has to take some of the blame for what is an extremely dull plot, full of loathsome cliches and the sort of scenes we have heard over and over again (He's been possessed by an alien evil! She's not the woman you knew... we must kill her! KILL THE DOCTOR! KILL THE DOCTOR!). Whilst I genuinely feel that Big Finish is showing signs of coming out of its doldrums (certainly we are in a much better place than we were this time LAST year), the biggest hurdle they need to jump is getting some challenging, interesting scripts produced. Over the past year (aside from one or two exceptions like Live 34 and Dreamtime... and they were both pretty awful!) there has been an astonishing lack of originality (you've got the cod Davros story The Juggernauts, the cod historical The Council of Nicea, the cod runaround claustrophobic thriller Three's a Crowd) and Pier Pressure is probably the most formulaic story yet. It's a bog-standard tale of a good-sapping alien popping to Earth and taking control of some weak humans and causing a spot of bother for the Doctor. At no point in this story was I shocked, it just rumbled on from one Doctor Who plot point to another before coming to a perfectly predictable climax.

What makes this doubly annoying is the fact that Rupert Ross (who similarly showed little originality in Medicinal Purposes) is clearly the ideal sort of writer for audio as much of his dialogue is genuinely excellent, wasted on a really obvious plot. There were a number of terrific monologues in there, especially the Doctor's haunting ruminations about sitting quietly by the sea, the sort of quiet reflection Colin Baker portrays so well. Not just that he has characterised much of his cast superbly with Max coming across as a hoot and holler and Evelyn being much more fun than she has been for ages (their chemistry together is fabulous as they flirt, argue and laugh with each other). His smaller characters like Emily and Albert are also well served for with some decent pathos injected into their relationship after she is taken over by the alien intelligence.

You can tell that the cast have had a ball making this and all got on fabulously together and it does help to brew up an atmosphere of fun. Whilst I feel Colin Baker is wasted in this sort of archetypal story he gives his all as usual and gets to show a wide range of emotions, from petulance to anger, from quiet contemplation to outright disgust, all of which he pulls off with his usual elegance. The marvellous Maggie Stables is still Big Finish's biggest assets and I'm glad her leaving story (Thicker than Water) did not mean that we could not still enjoy more stories with her in the interim. She attacks her dialogue with relish, clearly enjoying her reunion with Roy Hudd and together they create an entertaining partnership. Hudd himself is the star of the audio, imbuing Max with some believability whilst still being able to portray an OTT legend at the same time; he cuts some marvellous digs at the rest of the characters in the story. A special mention has to go to Doug Bradley whose alien voice is one of the most sinister things I have ever heard and on my walk home in the dark from work was enough to put the willies up me (down boys), despite the embarrassing dialogue he is given ("Ahh the female of the species! So much deadlier than the male or so I've been led to believe!").

Why then are we forced to listen to endless scenes of nothing as these clearly well-thought-out characters stand around and do nothing (at one point they play I Spy in the TARDIS!!!). I'm not saying it isn't fun but with nothing to sink your teeth into it gets remarkably dull very quickly, with no real surprises there is nothing to keep you hooked. And when it came to ridiculous, predictable scenes like Evelyn and Max turning on the Doctor with the chant of "KILL THE DOCTOR!" (I'm sorry, I know I keep repeating myself but I can scarcely believe they had the nerve to include it), I was ready to turn the thing off.

I am so glad to hear that Alan Barnes is taking over as story consultant and I hope that the writer of the genuinely astonishing Neverland starts commissioning some more challenging, original work. These nods to the past are nice every now and then, but works of the calibre of Pier Pressure are becoming the norm these days and such conventional material just doesn't cut the mustard.

This has annoyed me more than any Big Finish since Live 34 and for mostly for the same reason. This is a outstanding production, sparkling with witty performances and excellent direction which all comes to nothing in the bog-standard plot.

Such a waste of talent.

A Review by Brian May 6/12/11

Pier Pressure isn't that good. To be fair, I wasn't anticipating much, but what I did hope for was an average, or slightly above average escapade that would be both entertaining and distracting. I knew that a story of a haunted pier and all the cliches contained therein should never have lofty expectations made of it. It shouldn't be able to disappoint, for the basic reason it would never try to be something it wasn't.

Unfortunately, it does disappoint, for a completely different reason; it fails at entertainment. The story is incredibly boring, walking around in circles, going nowhere and ending with a dull, incomprehensible showdown with an unmemorable adversary. The second episode is particularly tedious and overlong (36 minutes!!) and should have undergone extensive trimming. (Evelyn and Max Miller in the TARDIS, bored out of their skulls and playing I-spy, only reflect the listener's frustration.) Unless I have a defective copy, there's a scene missing in part two: Evelyn doesn't meet Talbot on the pier's edge before the Doctor hurriedly leads her away. Maybe this moment was never recorded, or perhaps it was cut, but it should have happened as it's an important and potentially gripping one. Why couldn't we have had this instead of those interminable TARDIS scenes? In part three, Albert separates himself from the others in order to confront Talbot, although there's no definite indication of this, nor of the Doctor, Evelyn or Miller noticing he's gone. Sloppiness like this is incredibly irritating.

A few issues on the acting front: first, a very poor possessed rasping from Doug Bradley. In the actor's defence, he's fine as the regular Talbot, but his alien effort is dreadful, especially when you compare it to vocalisation such as Wolfe Morris (Padmasambhava in The Abominable Snowmen). Well, it just doesn't compare at all! Roy Hudd is apparently an authority and enthusiast on all things Max Miller, and it's obvious he's relishing playing his idol. I'm not quite an expert, so I take it on trust he's got the voice and mannerisms correct, so therefore we get a good performance as Max Miller the entertainer, but that's all we get. It might be fine for a tribute show, but not when being a character, as opposed to just imitating one, is called for. Thankfully, the rest of the acting is better; not remarkable, but serviceable.

The dialogue is bog standard and desperately padded at times, especially in the second episode, as per my musings above. However, I did like the charming soliloquy about the watchmaker and the ocean, and also the line about the BBC in part one, only because Colin Baker gets to deliver it, as it's a fair comment on their treatment of him. I've said it before and I'll say it again, Big Finish has given the actor the ultimate second chance at the role, playing up to his strengths and providing decent stories. But Pier Pressure isn't one of them. When I can't even get enthused by Colin Baker and Maggie Stables (and they don't seem too enthused either), and when the highest praise I can bestow is its technical competence, you know a story's in trouble! 2/10

Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer True by Jacob Licklider 24/3/21

Why do I get the vibe that Pier Pressure may have originally been to be an audio adaptation of the famous Season 23 opener The Nightmare Fair, but was changed vastly because Robert Ross couldn't get the rights from Graham Williams' estate to do so? I mean, look at the plot of the opening two episodes where a faceless, all-powerful villain is possessing people in Edwardian Brighton, which was originally meant to be Blackpool, and the villains have a grudge against the Doctor for something he did in his past. It really feels that, after Medicinal Purposes didn't have the best critical response, Robert Ross decided to pay homage to the famous lost story in an attempt to make his story better in the eyes of the fans, but fails to do so. Ross actually has the problem of making his story worse as a result, because he attempts to make the final two episodes in the darker style seen in Medicinal Purposes, which causes another example of tonal whiplash. The first two parts, while they do have their darker moments, are, outside comparisons to The Nightmare Fair, really just this tribute to the beginning of British television and almost the vaudevillian style of acting seen in those early days.

This is seen through the character of Max Miller played by Roy Hudd, who, along with the villain, is the only character that stays as a delight throughout the second half of the story. Miller is an actor who, much like actors of that time, were famously pretty impoverished whenever they were between jobs. He of course cures this poverty by getting extremely drunk, which is honestly hilarious in so many ways, but then you realize the main flaw in the character. He's a carbon copy of Henry Gordon Jago from The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the Doctor is written as George Litefoot. That story is a great example of an author who thinks that reminding us of better stories will make us like his story a lot better. This is just something that cannot be done without the repercussions of making the story seem a lot weaker on the whole. This has nothing to do with the actors, however, as Colin Baker and Roy Hudd are both doing their best at making the script a lot better. Colin Baker does this in every Doctor Who project he is involved in, and it feels like his performance is bringing the other actors' energies up from the depths of mediocrity, especially with Hudd and the villain.

The villain of the story is the Indo, which is an entity that inhabits people, turning them into their zombie puppets in what I think should be a horror-style Doctor Who story but really falls flat in an attempt to possibly be an homage to the Universal Monster Movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Their main puppet is Professor Talbot, played by Doug Bradley, who should go down among the greats of crap Doctor Who villains. He's up there with Zaroff from The Underwater Menace, Solded from The Horns of Nimon, the Borad from Timelash and Kroagnon from Paradise Towers in levels of corny enjoyableness in Doctor Who history. He has this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on, which is honestly hilarious to listen to and helps you get through the second half of this story when the plot gets extremely thin. The plot is basically people are turning into zombies after falling off a pier and into pressurized waters and we have to stop them. Seriously, that's really all that we have to go on for this story.

It's funny, as Robert Ross' first audio drama had its highest creativity in its plot, while some of its characters suffered; here, it is almost the opposite, except both the plot and characters suffer. Emma, the first victim, is just that, a victim, and has nothing to do except receive exposition and die and come back to life. Also, the plot ends in a complete deus ex machina. There is also one point in this story that really bugs me. To try and create drama, Ross has the villain state he has rigged the TARDIS to explode if he tries to take off. Then, two minutes later, Evelyn calls this out on how stupid the villain is taking them for, as, even though it is an all-powerful being, it has no idea how the TARDIS works, and, because it is isomorphic, the Indo can't have it rigged to explode. Other than the brilliant acting from Maggie Stables, this just highlights how bad the story is. The holes are so big even the characters inside the story are pointing them out to the audience.

To summarize, Pier Pressure has some things going for it in the tributes to an early form of acting and trying to be a story that pays tribute to classic monster movies, but the story really doesn't get itself off the ground. The villain is corny and hokey beyond belief, which is so bad it's good, while other characters are ripping off other stories and the plot itself is trying to be a story that never was. 40/100