Peri Brown travelled with the Fifth and Sixth Doctors and was the first American companion in the series’ history. Or was she?
In the 1980s, producer John Nathan-Turner wanted to have a bona fide American Doctor Who companion to join the Time Lord on his travels, partly to capitalise on the series’ popularity across the Pond. And he succeeded – Peri Brown was indeed an American companion, and the first in the history of Doctor Who. But what about the actor playing her?
This fell to Nicola Bryant, a British-born actor who had been persuaded by her agent to audition for Doctor Who with an American accent. Speaking on the Season 22 Blu-ray box set, Bryant revealed that she thought this would be a temporary ruse; first she would convince the producers that she could do an American accent, then she would get the part, and then she would reveal all.
However, when she joined the programme (debuting in 1984’s ‘Planet of Fire‘) she was told by her agent that she had to maintain this pretence so as not to ‘rock the boat.’ This meant that Nicola Bryant not only had to adopt an American accent whilst playing Peri Brown, but she also had to adopt an American accent for playing Nicola Bryant – when she was on the Doctor Who set, that is. Even her co-stars Peter Davison and Colin Baker had no idea that she was actually British.
Indeed, it wasn’t until many years later when Bryant went for dinner at Colin Baker’s house that she started speaking in her normal voice. Initially, Baker thought she was putting on a British accent, until Bryant explained that it was her normal patter. But even then, she maintained the pretence that she was an American-born actor whilst on the Doctor Who set.
But what of Peri Brown herself? When she is introduced in ‘Planet of Fire,’ she is on vacation in Lanzarote, accompanying her stepfather Howard on an archaeological expedition. Peri Brown is adventurous and has a thirst for travel, and in the first episode she hatches a plan to go to Morocco with three Englishmen she’s just met.
Naturally, her stepfather is none-too-pleased with this idea and leaves her stranded on his boat. When she attempts to swim to shore and nearly drowns, she is rescued by the Doctor’s companion Turlough and taken to the TARDIS to recover.
It is over the course of ‘Planet of Fire’ that Peri Brown’s desire for adventure is satiated, with her experiences on the volcanic world of Sarn convincing her that the Doctor is a good person to spend the rest of her vacation with.
This is a decision that nearly proves fatal. In the following story ‘The Caves of Androzani,’ Peri Brown becomes indirectly responsible for the Fifth Doctor’s death, and indeed nearly dies herself. She comes into contact with unrefined spectrox – a toxic substance which, when touched, can cause a deadly fever and ultimately kill. But the Doctor and Peri don’t realise this when they first interact with the substance; Peri merely falls into a web of spectrox whilst exploring Androzani’s caves, and the Doctor gets her out.
Inevitably, the Doctor and Peri Brown see a sharp decline in their health, and the Doctor learns that the only cure for the toxaemia is the milk of the queen bat, which lives deep within Androzani’s caves. And whilst the Doctor does manage to acquire some, there is only enough for one person, which he gives to Peri.
Perhaps it was this heroic act that persuaded Peri Brown to stay with the Doctor. After his regeneration, he became somewhat unpredictable and unstable, and in a particularly dramatic moment in ‘The Twin Dilemma‘ he attempted to strangle his friend, believing her to be an alien spy who had been planted on board the TARDIS.
And whilst the Doctor does eventually stabilise, his sixth persona is a far cry from the sweet (or effete?) man that Peri Brown knew in her earliest adventures. He is critical, irascible and grouchy; to say that his relationship with Peri is fiery would be to put it mildly.
And yet Peri Brown sticks with the Doctor despite his ups and downs. Even when he offers to take her back to Earth, she refuses. She clearly enjoys her travels in the TARDIS – hair-raising and unpredictable as they can be. Perhaps there is a part of her that also enjoys the new role of ‘carer’ that she has adopted.
But of course, all good things must come to an end, even for the most stalwart of Doctor Who companions. Peri Brown ultimately leaves the TARDIS in the eighth episode of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord,’ sometimes known as ‘Mindwarp.’ She has been captured by the villainous Crosier, who plans to use her body as a vessel for the equally villainous Lord Kiv, wiping her mind and effectively killing her. And when her friend King Yrcanos sees what has been done to her, he goes on a murderous rampage and destroys Crosier’s lab and everything in it, including Peri’s repurposed body.
At least, this is how the Gallifreyan Matrix relayed these events during the Doctor’s trial. It later transpired that Peri Brown’s supposed death was a fabrication, and that the Matrix had been tampered with by the Valeyard and the High Council of Time Lords. Peri, it turned out, was alive and well and living as a warrior queen with King Yrcanos.
And this was the last the Doctor ever heard of Peri, at least in the TV world. But Doctor Who fans were given a tantalising glimpse into her new life in a specially-shot minisode called ‘The Eternal Mystery,’ which was made to promote the Season 22 Blu-ray Collection. In the film, Peri Brown is shown kneeling at the memorial shrine of King Yrcanos, who died many years previously. Subsequently, she has been living her life as an elusive warrior queen, aided in her adventures by a certain blue box…
It would certainly be interesting to see more of Peri Brown’s adventures as an older, war-bitten heroine. And with other Doctor Who companions such as Ace, Tegan and Mel having recently returned to the fold, it may only be a matter of time.
Until then, tell us – which is your favourite Peri Brown moment? And were you convinced by Nicola Bryant’s accent? Let us know in the comments below.