By Owen Quinn author of the the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
Once again we scour the Doctor Who universe for those you may know or may not but all of which helped make the Doctor the Timelord he is today…
Perpugillian Brown, Peri for short, was the first American to travel in the Tardis and one of the few companions to oversee a Doctor’s regeneration.
With the growing success of the show in the States, then producer John Nathan Turner saw an opportunity to appeal to the American audiences and would-be investors by adding an international flavour to the Tardis for the first time ever.
In reality, in over twenty years, the Doctor’s companions had all been Scottish, English, an alien that spoke with an English accent or a robot. Ok, we know it was made in the UK and was on a budget but it was a natural progression and did the programme’s profile no harm at all. However, Nicola Bryant, the beautiful actress chose to play Peri, was actually English and had to pretend to be an American for the public eye.
A botany student, Peri was introduced in Planet of Fire, both Turlough and Kamelions’ final stories (bar hallucinations in the impending regeneration) so she had to make an impact and who better to put her up against than the Master? Her stepfather was an archaeologist diving for relics off the coast of Lanzarote. He disapproved of Peri’s plans to go off travelling with two boys she had met, so he trapped her on his boat. Unknown to him, she was not to be stopped and taking something that she thought was valuable from his treasures – little did she know she had just taken an alien artefact, one that was sending a signal.
That signal had brought the Tardis to Lanzarote. Turlough saved Peri from drowning bringing her aboard the Tardis. At the same time, the Master had taken control of the robotic shape shifter, Kamelion, who was living aboard the Tardis. Suddenly finding herself kidnapped, Peri was alone on an alien world chased by a mad robot that kept changing form until she discovered the Master had been shrunk and needed the healing flames to return to normal.
But the gritty murderous people of Androzani and her fatal poisoning left its mark as the Doctor gave up his life for Peri. She watched as he regenerated right before her into someone a lot more brazen than the mild mannered fifth Doctor.
Confused by this new face, back stage mismanagement caused her and the sixth Doctor to have a tumultuous relationship, something both Colin Baker and Nicola were unhappy with. Why would you travel with someone rude, arrogant and who had tried to kill you?
But there was a definite chemistry between the two and despite what critics said, I feel there are several classics in the first season. After the Attack of the Cybermen, Vengeance on Varos saw the introduction of the slug-like Sil who became an instant hit with his penchant for marshminnows and ruthless business streak. Peri more than stood up for herself despite being turned into a bird hybrid and almost becoming lunch for the cannibalistic Androgums (although they aren’t really cannibals; they only look human).
Peri was often reduced to the screaming companion via poor writing and again the Borad tried to turn her into a half human and half Morlock to breed with. Even though she was constantly dressed in shorts and tight tops – there was no doubt Peri was eye candy for the dads, emphasised by that famous bikini scene in Planet of Fire where the camera for some reason seemed to stick on her, em, boobs. Strange that.
But by Revelation of the Daleks, Peri had covered up. But the resulting cancellation of the show, or suspension, as the official line goes, plans to pit Peri against the ice Warriors and the Celestial Toymaker went up in smoke. However Big Finish changed all that and the adventures finally took place last year. Peri was also one of the few companions at that time to do an actual radio play outside of the Big Finish range.
By the time Trial of a Time Lord returned, Peri and the Doctor were best buddies, happy to travel together where she was his number one priority. But it was in the next story that Peri’s finest moment was to come and sadly her final one.
In Mindwarp, Peri was murdered, her body possessed by Kiv, another of Sil’s kind. His body was dying and Peri became his host. Her head was shaved and brain wiped to sustain this new personality. Too late to save her, the Doctor was sucked out of time by the Time Lords and she is shot to death by Brian Blessed’s Lord Yrcanos who had fallen in love with her. It was by far the best exit ever for a companion but in the final episode, it is revealed her death was a trick to secure the Doctor’s guilty verdict by the Valeyard. In reality, she married Yrcanos and became his queen. Yet strangely the Doctor never went back to see if this was the life she really wanted or was she just making the best of things? Colin addressed this in a graphic novel he wrote and the New Adventures series saw her finally meet the seventh Doctor and return home under a cloud disliking the Doctor for abandoning her.
However as is the trend these days, Big Finish took up the story and Peri had extended adventures with both the fifth and sixth Doctor which, as with every surviving character, explored and deepened the character of Peri including another possible ending for her adventure after Mindwarp.
Having been part of one of the most turbulent eras of Doctor Who, it is a credit to Nicola that she still loves the show and is immensely proud of her time in it. Having met her a couple of times, I can tell you Nicola is as beautiful and graceful in real life as she was on the Tardis. She is honest and proud about her time on the show and she and Colin have proved that, with proper writing, the two of them soar and things could have been a whole lot different.