Monday, July 06, 2009

Reassessing Peri

I was an avid Doctor Who fan as a child, but I stopped watching the program midway through the Peter Davison era. So when I resurrected my fandom as an adult I was unpleasantly surprised by Colin Baker's incarnation as a clownish, brash, bullying, smug, but somehow impotent know-it-all.

Far worse, though, was the huge-breasted presence of Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown, the Doctor's assistant. She simpered and bounced and bitched a lot. She had a range of exactly two emotions: stuttering fear or eye-rolling sarcasm. And her American accent sounded weak and terrible, sprinkled with incorrect word usage and lapses in pronunciation. Every time she appears in a scene I want to scratch my ears out.

I developed a serious Nicola Bryant hate-on.

But like many of the more obnoxious aspects of that era -- the pantomime acting, the crap-synth music, the Doctor's outfit -- I've slowly begun to realize that Bryant wasn't really the problem. All of these failings started at the very top of the hierarchy -- John Nathan-Turner's potentially-compromised vision for the program -- and trickled down to the poor people like Bryant and Baker who didn't have any real say in the matter. Colin Baker HATED his coat and he was BAFFLED by what he was told to do. And, likewise, Nicola Bryant was simply Doing What She Was Told.

It was Mindwarp that really changed my mind about Bryant, first because she does some really first-rate villain acting, and second because the Peri/Yrcanos love story is so ridiculous that it spells the whole issue out for all to see: the Peri character was poorly scripted, not necessarily poorly acted. What's more, during the commentary for Attack of the Cybermen, Bryant specifically mentions Peri's incorrect American word usage, and reveals that she was told to speak that way so British viewers would understand her.

Well blow me down.

So even though I get annoyed every time Peri Brown gets stuttery and out-of-breath, my respect for Nicola Bryant has actually grown, and I can see moments -- usually funny ones -- when she managed to REALLY act in the role. I feel a bit sorry for her being written as T&A eye-candy "for the dads." I can still hate Peri...but I can finally appreciate Nicola Bryant.

And she's great on the commentaries, by the way.

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