A thoroughly entertaining box set; continuing to run with the clever idea that since numerous monsters have been introduced into the new TV show which The Doctor has claimed prior knowledge of, here’s how he got his prior knowledge.
Apparently, the idea for this series was Steven Moffat’s. If in the many years ahead when he probably won’t be writing for the TV show anymore, he wants to scratch his DOCTOR WHO itch by giving interesting notions to Big Finish, I’d say more power to him.
I listened to them in order over the last couple of weeks. Here’s my thoughts on each. Although, be warned, the below is quite spoiler heavy:
A story set in a deserted amusement park always has problems for me. Obviously there’s the cliché of Scooby Doo, but even beyond the obvious stumbling block of building something scary and gripping on top of a cartoon, there’s the fact it’s been done so many times before.
Having said all that, Night of the Vashta Nerada isn’t bad at all.
Undoubtedly it’s helped by the fact that it wears its setting lightly – there are a few skeletons, a few Douglas Adams-esque robots, but it in no way falls into the trap of resting on the setting rather than a decent plot. Certainly – and thankfully – there’s no conclusion on a giant rollercoaster.
What really makes this tale though is The Fourth Doctor at full gusto. I’ve been critical in the past of Fourth Doctor stories, as the Tom Baker of today doesn’t really sound like the Tom Baker of 1974 or 1981. Yet here – through whatever means – he does. It’s great as rather than being jarred from the story by the sound of an obviously older man pretending to be young, one can really engage.
It’s The Doctor’s first encounter with the piranhas of the air. A good yarn, with maybe one too many characters and an oddly tragic conclusion.
Empire of the Racnoss feels like the stereotypical Fifth Doctor story. There are two warring factions, The Fifth Doctor finds himself caught in the middle of them, and despite his best efforts, the two sides end up killing each other. The Doctor is left to once again rue that he’s lost less badly than all the others.
There has to be a better way, but this Doctor has the hardest time finding it.
If I’m honest, the thought of listening to an hour of Racnosses hissing away didn’t fill me with any kind of glee. They seemed pantomime and over the top for even a DOCTOR WHO Christmas special, but actually the story works surprisingly well. It helps for the main part that the focus tends to only be on one Racnoss at a time, as prolonged dialogue scenes between them would be absolutely insufferable.
Holding it down though is Peter Davison who gives a great performance of dynamic desperation, trying with all his might to find a compromise, a route to peace, but failing each time.
I’ll be honest, this was the one villain whose name I didn’t recognise as I scanned through this box set’s contents. Not that I have anything against The Shakespeare Code, I just didn’t recall that that they were called The Carrionites. Which is odd in a way as this is a villain who derives their power from the sound of their name and from the vagaries of language. As such this is the perfect meeting between Doctor and villain as Old Sixy’s perspicacity is the perfect foil for them. More than any of the others so far this is a sequel to what was shown on the TV. Or maybe a prequel, as The Doctor is earlier in its timeline, but facing what seem to be exactly the same Carrionites who showed up on the TV episode.
Oddly though this is the third story in a row where the doctor ends with not quite a defeat, but not a win either.
Even though Night of the Vastra Nerada was the one set in the amusement park, this is the one that bears more of the hallmarks of JURASSIC PARK. There’s the genetic manipulation, the repeated line that “Nature finds a way” and the Wayne Knight equivalent character – i.e. the one whose greed causes the chaos to happen – is here called Dendry as opposed to Nedry.
Listening to it, I was struck what a great TV episode it would make. That’s not always the case with Big Finish, which I don’t mean in any way unkindly, more in the sense that after all their years doing this they have the audio format down pat. Here though with The Doctor and the diminishing crew under threat from all sides, writer Matt Fritton plays arounds with the nature of these creatures: from a huge Vastra Nerada to Vastra Nerada who exist in the light rather than dark. This is a visual and suspenseful adventure which I really wish could be seen rather than heard.
Jacquline Pearce’s Cardinal Ollistra is a welcome guest from John Hurt’s WAR DOCTOR series, but once again this is a story where The Doctor loses as much as he wins. It almost feels like this is meant to build up to something, but this is the last tale in the series and surely any new volume would be months away, by which time all impetus will be lost.
Yes, these are all villains The Doctor will fight again and so if each tale ended with them utterly vanquished from the universe that would be a tad odd. But then, The Doctor has claimed final victory over The Daleks (as the most obvious example) numerous times and they’ve always come back – why not give him at least one moment of triumph now?
It’s all most curious.