Both Big Finish’s time-travelling archeologists are celebrating birthdays this year.
While Bernice Summerfield is enjoying her twentieth year in audio, we can’t forget her New Who colleague. Alex Kingston originated the role of Professor River Song nearly ten years ago. Since then we’ve watched her grow up, marry a few dozen times, regenerate (twice), celebrate Christmas, pretend to be a nun and work her way up the Doctor’s timeline.
The Diary of River Song – Volume Three
And so we reach the third volume of River Song’s audio series ‘The Diary of River Song’ courtesy of Big Finish. This time featuring a guest turn by the Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor. Not to mention Frances Barber as River’s erstwhile foster mother Madame Kovarian.
The Lady in the Lake by Nev Fountain
Just the first episode of this boxset feels like an entire series crammed into one hour. River Song must battle her way across a deathwish day spa to reach the closest thing to family she has left. Nev Fountain’s story has a lot going on but each element is blended neatly into one story and kept the focus where it needed to be. Kingston is at the top of her game with this script, giving River an emotional complexity we’ve never seen from her before.
As well as bringing a heap of original ideas, Fountain has also built on the arc of series six in a really inventive way. There was far more going on at Demon’s Run than we saw. With a large cast of side characters, captivating villain and the time travel element, this story could have so easily become convoluted. Especially since it uses a nonlinear structure. But some distinctive voice work, careful plotting and a one really brilliant twist make this both thrilling and easy to keep up with. The final scene is the only weak point I found but, since it leads into the next episode, this is easily overlooked. Not only a strong opening gambit for volume three but undoubtedly one of the best River Song stories in any medium.
A Requiem for the Doctor by Jac Rayner
A musical murder mystery in Vienna pits River, the Doctor and Brooke against an avenging apothecary. Jacqueline Rayner expertly keeps River at the centre of the story without the Fifth Doctor having to hang back. In fact, with River leading the investigation, the Doctor is free to do the heroics and it’s an opportunity Peter Davison is clearly relishing. Meanwhile, having Brooke along as the Doctor’s young companion adds a new dynamic to the usual Doctor/River meeting. It’s also nice to see River interacting with history having only ever really seen her digging it up or cosplaying as Cleopatra.
This story moves at a slower pace than the previous one, unfolding the mystery and following the characters through sleuthing and strategising. So much of Doctor Who involves the characters reacting and improvising that an occasional break from that is a breath of fresh air. The antagonist of the story is a really clever look at what revenge can do to a person. It also nicely mirrors the motivations of one of a returning villain later down the line. A well-crafted story taking the series outside its routine.
My Dinner with Andrew by John Dorney
You’re going to need a bigger flowchart when episode three gets underway. John Dorney’s entry is an all-out romp with time travel twists, mistaken identities and wonderful comic timing from the whole cast. The plot is, at its core, very simple: the Doctor is going for lunch. But, at a restaurant scenically located outside of all time and causality, the Doctor’s future shows up unfashionably early.
Davison gets to stretch his vocal muscles in a dual performance as both the Doctor and the titular Andrew. Jonathan Coote is fantastic as the unflappable Maitre D’ and sells the farcical nature of the story without taking you out of the moment. Frances Barber shines once again as Madame Kovarian, losing none of her sass in the move to audio. Single-minded zealots are pretty common in the Doctor Who universe, but Dorney has clearly done his homework and captured Kovarian’s distinguishing characteristics. Once again, a story with potentially baffling time travel element is deftly handled with clever structuring. A gleeful caper with which to set up the final story.
The Furies by Matt Fitton
Matt Fitton closes out this box set with a part space-opera, part soap-opera as River chases Kovarian across the stars while dealing with family matters. The story elements introduced in part one reaches a natural crescendo and Fitton clearly had fun developing these personalities for River to bounce off. Occasionally this can prove confusing, particularly during scenes of fast dialogue. But the entire cast, and particularly Francesca Zoutewelle in multiple roles, do a terrific job distinguishing themselves.
Kingston and Barber are a chilling combination in their scenes together, each bringing out sides of the other’s character that we’ve never seen before. Barber keys into this slightly maternal edge to Kovarian which she keeps just at the back of her voice. It never becomes overt but it was a nice touch and really sells the history these two have. Nina Toussaint-White’s casting, which surprised me at first, really works as the story unfolds and, combined with her sterling performance, couldn’t have been done by anyone else. The story ends on a dark but strangely positive note, perfectly capping off River’s arc for the series.
While the first two series of ‘The Diary of River Song’ each had a story arc, this is the first time River has a fully-realised emotional arc in audio. She comes out of the events of the first story in despair and spends the following three stories processing that grief. This was a wonderfully engaging way of handling the structure and it does all this by building on the elements that the TV series put in motion. For fan of links and references to the show, this is a belter! That said, I would have liked to see the relationship between River and the Fifth Doctor a bit more defined. The Sixth and Seventh Doctor’s both had very different opinions on River and that was fun to hear. The Fifth Doctor just accepts her at face value and was a bit underwhelming. ‘The Diary of River Song: Volume Three’ is a sparkling, complex and satisfying listen; absolutely the strongest set of River Song stories so far.
Blogtor Rating – 9/10
This title was released in January 2018. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2018, and on general sale after this date.
3.1 The Lady in the Lake by Nev Fountain
On Terminus Prime, clients choose their own means of demise. Something exciting, meaningful, or heroic to end it all.
But when River discovers that there are repeat customers, she knows something more is going on.
She begins to uncover a cult with worrying abilities. Its members can apparently cheat death, and that’s not all they have in common with River…
3.2 A Requiem for the Doctor by Jac Rayner
River has joined the Doctor and his friend Brooke on their travels, and they stop off in 18th century Vienna.
Brooke thinks history is dull. Until people start dying.
Mozart’s legacy is not just his music. River has more than one mystery to solve before a killer is let loose on the people of Vienna – and on the Doctor.
3.3 My Dinner with Andrew by John Dorney
Welcome, Mesdames et Messieurs, to The Bumptious Gastropod.
The most exclusive, most discreet dining experience outside the universe. For the restaurant exists beyond spacetime itself, and the usual rules of causality do not apply. Anything could happen.
It is here that the Doctor has a date. With River Song. And with death.
3.4 The Furies by Matt Fitton
Stories of the Furies abound across the cosmos: vengeful spirits hounding guilty souls to death. Madame Kovarian taught them to a child raised in fear, trained to kill, and placed inside a spacesuit.
Kovarian knows the universe’s greatest threat, the Doctor must be eliminated. An assassin was created for that purpose.
But if Melody Pond has failed, Kovarian will simply have to try again…
Written By: Nev Fountain, Jacqueline Rayner, John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Peter Davison(The Doctor), Ian Conningham (Kevin / Rindle), Julia Hills (Sharon / Rindle), David Seddon (Mr Quisling / Tarn 2), Leighton Pugh (Lake 2 / Dave / Tarn), Sophia Carr-Gomm (Lily), Joanna Horton (Brooke), Issy Van Randwyck (Giulia), Rosanna Miles (Antoinette / Maid / Constanze), Teddy Kempner (Viktor / Mozart / Stefan / Apothecary), Jonathan Coote (Maitre D’ / Chef / Assassin), Nina Toussaint-White (Brooke 2), Francesca Zoutewelle (H-One / H-Two / Mission Captain), Pippa Bennett-Warner (O / The Deterrent). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs