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REVIEW: The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1 – A Triumphant Debut for the Victorian Detectives

The Paternoster Gang - Heritage 1 (c) Big Finish)

The Paternoster Gang are reunited once again! They’ve made their triumphant debut together on Big Finish across three brand new stories in the opening release; The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1.

Since Vastra, Jenny and Strax were seen together in ‘A Good Man Goes To War’, fans have yearned for a spinoff series. Indeed, out of all the characters that Steven Moffat introduced us to, one wonders why this trio didn’t get more onscreen adventures. But thanks to Big Finish fans have finally gotten what they wanted. The Victorian adventurers are finally back in three brand new audio adventures.

1.1 The Cars That Ate London! by Jonathan Morris

From the opening moments it is clear that this is going to be a strong pilot adventure. Morris keeps the gang separated for the first few scenes making sure each character gets enough to do on their own before bringing them all together for the remaining bulk of the adventure. Morris has a fantastic handle on the gang. It feels so effortless that he seems to have been writing for them for years. Each character feels exactly like they did on television, as if no time has passed since we last saw them in ‘Deep Breath’. The situations are all familiar. Strax in punch-ups. Jenny infiltrating another dodgy organisation. It all feels exactly like things these characters would be doing.

The central mystery is a fun one. Using robotic cars there are a few nods towards the Transformers franchise as well as a hilarious line which includes a mention of the Human League song, ‘Together in Electric Dreams’. It is a fairly light-hearted story which doesn’t feature high stakes. That just makes the whole thing much more refreshing as we become reacquainted with these characters again. Amid the robot-cars and laugh-out-loud moments there is also a clear-cut message about using fossil fuels and the damage that we are doing to our planet. The final line feels a little on the nose but that is a minor quibble when the rest of this story was such a blast!

1.2 A Photograph to Remember by Roy Gill

Thanks to his work on ‘The Omega Factor’, we know that Roy Gill has a real panache at looking at slightly morbid topics and crafting fun and fascinating stories out of them. Here, he explores the strange way that the Victorian’s used to take pictures with or of, their dead loved ones, made up to look like they were still alive. It is a such a morbid notion that it is surprising that the ‘Doctor Who’ universe has never tackled it before. We’ve got the exploration of this bizarre Victorian practice as well as zombie rampages, throwback lines and references amongst a genuinely strange mystery at its core.

With Jenny and Strax enjoying an afternoon off, the pair run across an exhibition showing off real ghostly photographs. It doesn’t take long before everyone finds themselves embroiled in strange events. Gill manages to compare and parody the idea of The Paternoster Gang with the equally strange Bloomsbury Bunch, which includes a Sontaran called Stonn played brilliantly by Christopher Ryan, a Silurian called Vella, played by Beth Goddard and a human photographer Tom played by Adam Hughes. It’s fun to hear Dan Starkey and Christopher Ryan having a Sontaran reunion of sorts. Ryan has never lost that Sontaran voice and even though only being in one adventure onscreen, his voice is instantly recognisable as one of the warmongering potato-heads.

With a brilliantly strong guest cast and a tight script, ‘A Photograph to Remember’ is another strong entry into the debut boxset. The main characters are used brilliantly and it ends with a promise of more from the Bloomsbury Bunch. Fantastic Stuff!

1.3 The Ghosts of Greenwich by Paul Morris

Over the years Paul Morris has given us a number of spooky tales. Whilst this one explores and mentions some of the clichéd horror-genre tropes early on, Morris quickly switches things up in the second and third acts resulting in an audio experience that feels completely unique. As the third and final story in the set, the stakes get gradually higher and higher. Much of the fun and games are out of the way by the third act. This is particularly clear in the character of Strax who can sometimes be reduced to comic relief. While there is nothing wrong with that, both Dan Starkey and the listeners have a blast hearing a slightly more serious side to his character. To give away what happens to members of the cast here would spoil an awesome reveal but Starkey and Catrin Stewart clearly delighted in it.

While the real villain is clear from the outset, half the fun in this story is waiting for the Paternoster Gang to work it out. Vastra saves the day in a way the Doctor would be proud of, prompting another fantastic performance from Neve McIntosh. Morris also chooses to tackle another social issue, one that shouldn’t still be prevalent today but sadly is; the treatment of women. With Jenny and Charlotte Mayfly trying to get into an observatory, owned and run solely by men, we get some great scenes where Jenny and Charlotte lay down the law to those with sexist attitudes. It isn’t in anyway heavy-handed and for that Morris deserves lots of praise!

Overall, this was a great way to end the first run of stories!

Catrin Stewart, Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey (c) Big Finish

The Paternoster Gang

If you’ve been wondering why we’ve not really mentioned the main cast up to this point it is because they deserve a passage of their own! What a comeback this was for Neve McIntoshDan Starkey and Catrin Stewart! These stories feel like they could have quite easily been the soundtracks to missing television adventures!

Neve McIntosh is excellent as Madame Vastra. She plays the Doctor role whilst being a Silurian born sixty-five million years ago. Vastra can therefore express interesting viewpoints on the various topics and situations that the Gang explore. McIntosh breathes an intelligence into the proceedings and her flirty wedded relations with Jenny manage to feel a lot less heavy handed on audio.

In ‘The Crimson Horror’ Jenny was shown as the ‘Emma Peel’ of the group and it is nice to see that continue here. In each adventure she gets stuck right into the action, not side-lined or stuck in the background. Catrin Stewart has a great chemistry with McIntosh and in a rarely seen dynamic, Jenny forms a great double-act with Strax.

Dan Starkey continues to be hilarious as Strax. Unsurprisingly his reintroduction is in a scene where he engages in fisticuffs with a bunch of ruffians. These more comedic violent tendencies continue to great effect. His constant shouts of “SONTAR-HA” work brilliantly well, as do his descriptions of weapons they’ll need for different missions. But Starkey gets to do something slightly different in ‘The Ghosts of Greenwich’ which he clearly enjoyed, and it shows us that Strax is just as great as a serious character as he is a comedic one.

It is clear how much fun the reunited trio had here. Hopefully the energy they brought to this set will continue with the future sets already announced.

Overall

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1’ is a triumph from start to finish. Not only does it boast some truly amazing performances from the main and guest casts but three strong scripts that have set the bar high for the remaining sets to follow. There is also an excellent new theme tune from Joe Kraemer which epitomises the fun this series has perfectly.

Ken Bentley is one of the strongest directors at Big Finish and that trend continues here. He never drops the ball once through these three adventures. Bentley keeps things moving at a brilliant pace, letting the stories breathe when they need too and accelerate along when they need too. He has also assembled an amazing cast for these adventures and every one gives a stellar performance.

When this series was announced, there were comparisons drawn to the ‘Jago & Litefoot’ series which had only recently ended. But both series stand on their own feet and hopefully the adventures of these Victorian detectives will continue for a very long time to come! We can’t wait to hear more!

The Paternoster Gang – Heritage 1 (c) Big Finish)

Synopsis

Victorian London harbours many secrets: alien visitors, strange phenomena and unearthly powers.

But a trio of investigators stands ready to delve into such mysteries – the Great Detective, Madame Vastra, her resourceful spouse, Jenny Flint, and their loyal valet, Strax.

If an impossible puzzle needs solving, or a grave injustice needs righting, help can be found on Paternoster Row.

But even heroes can never escape their past…

1.1 The Cars That Ate London! by Jonathan Morris

The advent of electric carriages on London’s streets causes a stir – until they start careening out of control. Elsewhere, factory workers lose their senses, while a brand-new power plant suffers mysterious outages.

Genius industrialist Fabian Solak has a vision of the future – free from pollution, running on clean electricity. But Madame Vastra knows such ideas are ahead of their time…

1.2 A Photograph to Remember by Roy Gill

The Paternoster Gang are shocked to discover a rival group on the streets. A Sontaran, a Silurian and a human – only their intentions are not quite so noble as Madame Vastra and friends.

And when the recently-photographed dead begin to return home, strangely altered, will this ‘Bloomsbury Bunch’ be more of a help or a hindrance?

1.3 The Ghosts of Greenwich by Paul Morris

Strange things are happening to the people of Greenwich. Phantoms of the living appear, while others are aged beyond their years. A cloaked figure stalks the streets, and time is out of joint.

Vastra, Jenny and Strax find all clues point towards the Meridian Line. Beneath the Royal Observatory lies a secret – something terribly ancient and horribly dangerous…

The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1 is available now from the Big Finish website. The title is priced at £24.99 on CD and £19.99 to download. The Big Finish App, available on Apple and Android devices, also makes listening even easier. It is a free app to download, just search in your app store.

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