Home Big Finish REVIEW: The Paternoster Gang: The Casebook of Paternoster Row

REVIEW: The Paternoster Gang: The Casebook of Paternoster Row

The Paternoster Gang: The Casebook of Paternoster Row. Cover by Rafe Wallbank (c) Big Finish

The Casebook of Paternoster Row opens for three often hilarious tales where nothing is as it seems

Welcome back to Victorian England. But this is no simple sunlit upland. From the stately piles of the rural aristocracy to the deepest sewers under the metropolis, shadows are falling upon the innocent. Who can save them from such devilish forces, if not the heroes to be found at 13 Paternoster Row? Yes, the great detective Madame Vastra is back at Big Finish, alongside her right hand woman Jenny, and thumb headed butler Strax. The second boxset in the Trespassers sequence sees them open The Casebook of Paternoster Row. Among its pages are recounted three more cases, as they save lives and right wrongs. Though along the way they’ll leave an astonishing amount of pulverised crockery in their wake. Well, in Strax’s wake at least.

The first Trespassers set left listeners on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Vastra and Jenny finally had a formal wedding ceremony in front of friends, family, and even the Doctor. But someone in the wedding party isn’t who they seem to be. Will the trespasser be unmasked? Can their victim be rescued? Will Strax get to obliterate something? People hoping for immediate answers will have to wait a bit longer. Casebook largely puts in a pin in such questions for the moment. However, it does mean this is a set that people can easily pick up and enjoy without having heard the earlier stories. Alternatively, you could skip ahead to December’s Trespassers 3 while still following the central plot. However, that would probably be a mistake, given this set’s trio of fun and engaging mysteries.

 

From planet eating eggs, to an army of incompetent thieves, the Casebook is packed with fun and intriguing ideas

Casebook picks up the story a few days later, as the newlyweds cut short a disasterous honeymoon. No sooner are they through the door then Vastra elicits Strax’s assistance in reviewing some old cases from their casebook.

In Anne of a Thousand Light Years, the trio go undercover in the household of Warminster to investigate signs that someone there is signalling an alien ship en route to Earth. They find there a familiar tale of a young woman falling for the stable boy. Naturally, too, her mother is already set on a rather more suitable match. But writer James Kettle gives it a twist suitable for the Doctor Who universe, with a superbly grotesque ambition at its gloopy green heart.

Next Pater Noster by Gary Russell dives below the streets. The trio enter the sewers to hunt a spectral monster preying on the homeless. But this creature may be linked to one of Vastra’s old cases – very old, as she resumes a mission from before the Silurians went into hibernation. Arthur Conan Doyle by way of Brian de Palma, with just a dash of Robert Holmes, it’s the closest the set comes to a genuine psychological thriller. Though the denouement may have you reaching for your Neil Patrick Harris “Well that’s all right then!” gifs.

 

Vastra and co encounter a man who makes Bertie Wooster look like Einstein, and it all gets sillier from there in The Gentlemen Thieves

Finally, The Gentlemen Thieves features a cricketing jewel thief in the style of the vintage Raffles stories. But the real mystery is how he can be in so many places at once. This time it’s Strax’s turn to be particularly invested in the action. He actually grudgingly expresses an emotion or two beyond the usual hate, anger, and grumpiness. Writers Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle are most associated with their terrifying folk horror tales for the Torchwood range. With Gentlemen Thieves they try their hand at farce with great success. Though the story does underline how deceptively hard it is to write for Strax, some of his lines not landing as well as in his truly hilarious turns in other two stories.

But elsewhere the high comedy is on ripping form, as Vastra deals with some very silly men indeed. The deeply stupid English gentleman is a well worn cliche, but it’s pushed to new heights here. The evil scheme of the day is a wonderful reveal too: so ludicrous and ill thought out, it momentarily leaves everyone speechless. But it’s all done with tongue firmly in cheek, you’ll be laughing along.

 

The Paternoster gang unmasked! (c) Big Finish
The Paternoster gang unmasked! (c) Big Finish

As always, the key delight of the Paternoster stories are the gang themselves as they bring their mix of refinement and chaos everywhere they go

As usual, none of the stories in the Casebook hang together as detective stories very well. There are too few potential suspects, and too clear an idea of exactly what’s going on is established within a couple of scenes. But as with many of literature and television’s most loved detectives, it’s really about their unique personalities and methods. And the Paternoster gang are nothing if not unique.

It seems natural that compared to the average Doctor Who story, we spend much more time focusing on the gang themselves. Scenes like Strax’s delight at locating a house’s “weapons dump” (gun room) and declaring war on the territory’s ancient enemies (partridges) are really what the Paternoster Gang is all about. While Neve McIntosh’s easy charm as Vastra, all katana steel wrapped in velvet, and Catrin Stewart’s perky yet sarky Jenny, are as delightful as ever. If BBC Two snapped up the trio for a gentle documentary series of meandering around the UK by train while staying in B&Bs it would a pleasant enough to spend your time. So, really, the amorphous alien progenitors, sewer dwelling serial killers, and armies of idiot clones are just a bonus really.

 

Linked by a theme of shapechangers and imposters, this second Trespassers set points the way to drama and violence this December

“Just a bonus” also neatly sums up Tom Baker’s contribution to the set. Despite his name and face appearing on the cover, the Fourth Doctor’s appearance is really little more than a cameo. It’s a fun couple of scenes with all the Mad as a Box of Frogs levers pushed to 11, but it barely impacts the plot at all. Though it’s well worth it, if only for how Vastra’s bemusement with the Doctor blends into Neve McIntosh’s clear amusement at the bonkersness coming over her headphones. As exercises in ticking those ‘has X met Y yet?’ boxes go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more charming one.

More significant, perhaps, in the crossover stakes, is a subplot running through The Gentleman Thieves suggesting the gang’s world is about to collide with another key aspect of Whoniverse victoriana. One that might well make their lives very uncomfortable indeed.

As the three stories play out, a linking theme becomes apparent. There are shapechangers and impersonators of various sorts throughout. Though not Rutans. “It is never Rutans, Strax!” insists Vastra so strongly that you have to wonder…

It all leads to a deduction which sets the stage for the next phase of Trespassers. The time for games, afoot or otherwise, is past. Paternoster Row is going to war. And Strax, for one, couldn’t be happier.

 

The Paternoster Gang: The Casebook of Paternoster Row. Cover by Rafe Wallbank (c) Big Finish

The Paternoster Gang: The Casebook of Paternoster Row

In Victorian England, the Great Detective, Madame Vastra, her resourceful spouse, Jenny Flint, and their loyal valet, Strax, solve conundrums, fight injustice and capture criminals – but an enemy has taken up residence undetected.

Vastra believes trespassers are close at hand, and seeks out clues in some of the Gang’s previous cases…

The Paternoster Gang: Trespassers – The Casebook of Paternoster Row  is now available to own as a collector’s edition 3-disc CD box set (+ download for just £19.99) or as a digital download only (for just £16.99), exclusively from Big Finish here.

NO COMMENTS

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.

Exit mobile version