Three very different adventures for the Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen feature fiendishly clever plot twists alongside beautiful character work in three thrilling different, but equally brilliant, tales

The Eighth Doctor returns for more adventures alongside his best friends Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair in Doctor Who: Connections. The three one hour stories in this appropriately titled box set feature examples of both interlocking plot points and the web of interpersonal relationships. In fact, there’s a certain irony to this set. By the end you might feel you know some of the TARDIS crew better than after four series of Stranded. As a result they shine all the brighter and feel more compelling than ever.

It’s more Drax, more trouble, in Here Lies Drax

Connections bursts to life with the fast paced comedy thriller Here Lies Drax. It’s another return appearance for the wheeler dealer Time Lord who first appeared in 1979’s The Armageddon Factor. But more than that, it’s an almost direct sequel to the previous Big Finish audio The Trouble with Drax, by the same writer John Dorney. And one word of warning, while Here Lies Drax doesn’t require having heard Trouble, it does pretty comprehensively spoil it. The Doctor’s memory of being badly caught out by the earlier play’s twist ending casts a long shadow here, with McGann’s constantly second guessing if Drax is pulling the same trick again.

In fact, it’s almost impossible to even review Here Lies Drax without spoiling The Trouble with Drax’s ending. So if you don’t want to know more you might want to skip ahead to Blogtor’s review of Love Vampires below.

 

Here Lies Drax reunites EastEnders Shane Ritchie and Nina Wadia as the late, lamented con man and his widow (c) Big Finish Productions Doctor Who Connections
Here Lies Drax reunites EastEnders Shane Ritchie and Nina Wadia as the late, lamented con man and his widow (c) Big Finish Productions
Rather than repeating himself, writer John Dorney delights in using his previous Drax story to keep listeners guessing

Still here? Well then, this time out the Doctor receives word of Drax’s death and a legacy. Though that’s a little too grand a word for a strange collection of useless bric-a-brac left to him for safe keeping. The Doctor also attends the funeral, as much to make sure the inveterate reprobate is really dead as anything else.

Trouble revealed that Drax’s life is one big multi-Drax adventure, playing out as a series of Drax’s Thirteen heists with a team made up of his own various incarnations. So naturally, the Doctor is more than a little suspicious of everyone else who attends. These range from Strax’s widow, to his lawyer. Yet they seem even more concerned as the Doctor to ensure Drax’s corpse is just that. However, before long one attendant unveils themselves as Drax and leads the Doctor, Helen and Liv on a race across time and space as they try to stay one step ahead of the deadly Quantum Assassin and a way to get him off Drax’s back.

Shane Ritchie is perfect casting, nobody quite minding as his lovable scoundrel schemes and double crosses his way through life… and death

The engine that really powers Here Lies Drax’s sense of fun and chaos is Shane Ritchie as Drax. The Doctor’s cheeky, roguish, former classmate is the type of role that comes naturally to former EastEnder Ritchie. It’s a deceptively difficult part, too, requiring reservoirs of charm and charisma – enough that even as he squirms and weasels his way through the story, both audience and his fellow travellers don’t seem to mind his inevitable betrayals too much. But Ritchie is just top of a guest cast list that really sells the humour and mystery. There’s Ritchie’s fellow EastEnder Nina Wadia’s as a carelessly murderous femme fatale, and Hugh Ross’ fantastically pompous and avaricious Stern. This is a story that soars on the wings of its marvellous character work.

But it’s all in service to another script showing off Dorney’s status as one of Big Finish’s wittiest story structure engineers. Rather than retreading Trouble, Here Lies delights in the Doctor playing ‘Spot the Drax’ to no avail. It all leads to some climactic twists that manage to be novel and surprising, while remaining oh so very Drax.

 

The Eighth Doctor Adventures team of Hettie Morahan (Helen), Paul McGann (the Doctor) and Nicola Walker (Liv) (c) Big Finish Productions Doctor Who
The Eighth Doctor Adventures team of Hettie Morahan (Helen), Paul McGann (the Doctor) and Nicola Walker (Liv) are back for Connections, better than ever (c) Big Finish Productions

Love Vampires allows a rest break for some simple straightforward vampire hunting, but still provides real emotional punch

In contrast, James Kettle’s Love Vampires is extremely straight forward. But that’s no bad thing, with its tale of invisible vampires stalking the corridors of a space ship around a dying sun instead focusing on emotion. These particular vampires like to bring their victims to a state of bliss before a bit of loved up necking. So they pick off the crew on a time, subjecting them to hallucinations of old loves to seduce them into accepting the vampire’s kiss.

It’s the addition of the Doctor, Helen and Liv to the station’s hunting ground that gives Love Vampires its power. One by one, they too are subjected to the vampires’ entrancing illusions. Liv is reunited with Petko, a former lover on Kaldor who had died before they could fulfil their dream of travelling the stars together. While previous hints about Helen’s sexuality finally come fully into focus as she’s confronted with a girl from her schooldays. And for Helen in particular the danger is real, as a whole previously untapped side of her own needs hits her with full force.

The final scenes deliver another nicely played prestige of an ending, while confirming just how dangerous this Doctor can be

It’s a former classmate who pours poisoned honey in the Doctor’s ears too. Rather than the power hungry Master, the amorally scientific Rani, or even the previous episode’s petty criminal Drax, the story adds the cynical Realist. An intriguing creation, the Realist stands as the Doctor’s opposite in her own distinct way. His memories of her are of arguing about people’s true nature under Gallifey’s starry skies. His optimism about their potential good humouredly battling her less forgiving view of their flaws and failings. It’s a little hard to imagine what a teenage romance for the Doctor would look like, but somehow this feels just right.

For most of its runtime Love Vampires trades plot complexity for emotional strength. But it also follows Drax’s lead with a delightfully witty and clever resolution. All in all, the middle story makes for a pleasingly break in pace, with gently creepy villains and lovely moments for our characters. If it has a flaw, it’s the Doctor’s slightly baffling hunt to find some wood on the space station. It’s as if he’s forgotten that this era’s console room contains more wood than a small national park.

 

Barnaby Jago guest stars as Helen's long lost elder brother Albie in Albie's Angels (c) Big Finish Productions Doctor Who Connections Eighth Doctor Adventures
Barnaby Jago guest stars as Helen’s long lost elder brother Albie in Albie’s Angels (c) Big Finish Productions

Albie’s Angels brings Connections to a close that’s a fitting reminder of just how powerful Doctor Who can be

It’s tempting to say Connections saves the best for last with Albie’s Angels. But that would be to deny the sets great strength of hitting three very different tones over just three hours. But there’s no denying just this final story brings this trio of stories to a very satisfying close. And with Weeping Angels, timey-wimey shenanigans, and a focus on a companion’s family, it’s in many ways the most modern of the stories in the set. And yet at times it feels even more daring and true than Doctor Who has typically allowed itself to be.

Starting off in 2025, the focus soon shifts to 1963 where Helen encounters her older brother Albie. With Helen still a child when he left home, and her travels meaning she’s now older than him, Albie doesn’t recognize her, but Helen seizes on the opportunity to reconnect even as his new friend. But, with echoes of Father’s Day, Helen is aware of a tragic fate for Albie. But will she try to avert it or not? And how will she live with herself if she doesn’t?

Hattie Morahan’s sometimes overlooked Helen is quickly emerging as the most valuable player in these new Eighth Doctor Adventures

It’s a dilemma Roy Gill’s script brilliantly navigates, while Hattie Morahan’s portrayal of Helen rises to new heights in response to the material. Doctor Who has rarely been more powerful than Helen’s ice cold barbs for a homophobic landlady. It’s a moment that successfully outshines Ace’s similar, but more muted, disapproval of casual racism in Remembrance. It presents Helen as a woman from the 1960s who has seen the 2020s, with all its problems, and set-backs, but crucially progress towards social justice, and revels in it, unable to go back to seeing anything in her native time as ‘just the way things are.’

In doing so, Helen totally embodies the notion of travelling with the Doctor changing you for the better. More so even than the likes of Rose Tyler. It also provides a timely contrast to ongoing storylines in the Sixth Doctor Adventures, in illustrating exactly why the Doctor does, or doesn’t, choose certain people to travel with him.

 

The Weeping Angels stalk the streets of Soho in Albie's Angels Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures Connections
The Weeping Angels stalk the streets of Soho in Albie’s Angels
The Weeping Angels continue to terrify, with each new encounter somehow finding new ways to make them even more dangerous

All this sits at the heart of a story as satisfyingly intricate and scary as you’d expect from an appearance by the Lonely Assassins. Angels are operating in both 2025 and 1963, making them more dangerous than ever. This time they, not the Doctor, have the benefit of reading a preview of the script ahead of time. While multiple generations of the Harper family are playing a game of their own. Though their playing with pieces of such cosmic power in pursuit of such petty goals would almost be funny if Robert Whitelock’s performance as both Jack and Jase didn’t give them such vicious delight in their cruelty.

In what’s a running theme for Connections, the climax wraps things up in a cunningly neat bow. It’s also one that carries a real emotional resonance; one that seems certain to be followed up in future Helen stories. And with the strength of both Connections and the previous What Lies Inside? it makes the wait until next November for the next set seem achingly long.

 

Doctor Who: Connections. Cover by Rafe Wallbank (c) Big Finish Prouctions Eighth Doctor Paul McGann Liv Chenka Helen Sinclair Nicola Walker Helen Morahan Weeping Angels Shane Ritchie
Doctor Who: Connections. Cover by Rafe Wallbank (c) Big Finish Prouctions

Doctor Who: Connections

The Doctor (Paul McGann), Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan) are out in the universe, picking up missing pieces, and finding lost connections.

After a package entangles them with shifty Time Lord Drax, the TARDIS crew are haunted by past loves on a space station, before Helen encounters somebody she believed long gone…

Doctor Who – The Eighth Doctor Adventures: Connections is available to own for just £19.99 (collector’s edition CD box set + download) or £16.99 (download only).

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.