"So what! I'm Perpugilliam Brown, and I can shout as loud as you can!"
The year is 1984, its Season 21 in the Doctor Who universe and The Doctor is losing companions left right and centre! The fourth story of the season, Resurrection of the Daleks, saw the departure of Tegan (no comment required) and The Doctor is about to lose both Turlough and Kamelion by the end of the next story (Planet of Fire). In addition to this distressing turn of events Peter Davison had announced his intention to leave as well, Caves of Androzani is scheduled as his regeneration story. So the program needs an entirely new set of main characters. We already know that Colin Baker will helm the Tardis as The Sixth Doctor but who will accompany him?
Enter Perpugilliam Brown (or Peri to her friends) a young, attractive girl in her early twenties played by the actress Nicola Bryant. When we first meet Peri she is studying botany but is clearly unhappy with the path her life is taking. She encounters Turlough in the most dramatic of occurrences as he saves her from drowning during the opening episode of Planet of Fire. After Kamelion is deleted, to use a modern cybernetic phrase, and Turlough returns to his people Peri decides to travel with The Doctor to "see the universe". Thus begins, arguably, one of the most abrasive relationships that the Tardis and The Doctor have ever experienced.
You see, Peri isn't just a pretty girl (and she is very very attractive) she is headstrong, intelligent and not the sort of companion who will merely decorate The Doctor's arm. Lets face it she needs to have her wits about her. The Doctor's regeneration from Fifth to Sixth is anything but smooth! Unlike the calm and peaceful Davison, Baker's Doctor is moody, prone to abrasiveness and at the start thoroughly unstable. He may go down as the first Doctor in history to actually try and kill his companion, something which he later on is thoroughly remorseful for!
Not a great start for a new Doctor/Companion relationship you will agree! Yet, once The Doctor has settled into his new regeneration, this relationship becomes touchingly close. I love the scene at the beginning of The Mysterious Planet, the first story in The Trial of a Timelord season, where Peri and The Doctor are walking arm in arm across Ravolox. Their conversation and body language convey two beings that are exceedingly close and, for the most part, enjoy each others company. It's true to say this touching scene is soon after ruined by The Doctor's inability to show empathy with Peri's distress that Ravolox is Earth. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that their relationship works so well. Dispite The Doctor's frustrations with Peri's "silliness" and Peri's annoyance with his pig headed, sometimes brusque, attitude they clearly have a lot of respect for each other.
Cynics among you may suggest that this closeness was being emphasised to further underline the hard hitting exit Peri has at the end of Mindwarp. It certainly does do that! Peri's execution at the hand of King Yrcanos was certainly shocking. I remember watching in disbelief as the companion, who if truth be told was my first television crush, was brutally murdered. This seemed to shock Colin Baker as well, its his fault that Peri's exit was re written to end with a rather, unbelievable, marrying of Yrcanos (Brian Blessed- really??).
Peri is also well known for wearing exceptionally skimpy and revealing outfits, to appeal to the father and teenage boy viewers no doubt, and lets be honest it worked. Historically, female companions have, for the most part, been pleasing on the eye but (like Sarah Jane Smith and Liz Shaw) before her, Peri has also the brains and intellect to match. Her verbal sparring with The Doctor is some of the best in the programs history to date and is what, in my view, elevates Peri to a top companion spot!
By the time we reach Timelash, Peri's outfits have been made considerably more conservative. John Nathan Turner is on record for stating that she was cast to add more sex appeal but this doesn't diminish because her clothing is increased! Indeed, it is my view that a feisty companion who is not afraid to speak her mind is far more attractive than mere eye candy. The Doctor needs someone who can keep him in check sometimes and this is something we see with the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond.
So to conclude, Peri is a fantastic companion who compliments Baker's Doctor perfectly, Nicola Bryant is a tremendous actress who has gone on to reprise the role through Big Finish audio productions on more than one occasion and still to great effect. As Nicola tweeted @thedoctorwhobar herself when asked what her favourite story is:
"That is for you to decide"
Please watch the winning Peri story in our Peri Poll on Saturday. Bar opens at 7:30pm and we press play at 8:00pm. Bikini or beach wear optional