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Sunday, 6 April 2014 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Luna Romana
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Released: January 2014
ISBN: 978-1-78178-089-3
"Help me, Luna Romana! You're my only hope!"
Quadrigger Stoyn

Luna Romana marks the third and climactic chapter in The Companion Chronicles' "Stoyn" trilogy which, along with Big Finish's The Light at the End and the 1963 saga, celebrated Doctor Who's 50th anniversary in late 2013. For the uninitiated that have not listened to the earlier instalments (including this reviewer), Quadrigger Stoyn is the hapless TARDIS engineer who was inadvertently aboard the First Doctor's Ship when he and granddaughter Susan first fled Gallifrey in the audio The Beginning. Several lifetimes later, an embittered, maddened Stoyn returns to confound the Fourth Doctor and his Time Lady companion Romana – twice over . . .

According to author Matt Fitton in an interview in Doctor Who Magazine, Luna Romana was always intended as a three-hander play that would be told from the perspectives of Romana's TV incarnations, as played by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward respectively, and Terry Molloy's villainous Stoyn. However, as fate decreed, Ms Tamm sadly passed away in 2012. Fitton and producer David Richardson decided to continue with the story as a tribute to Tamm and ingeniously drafted in Juliet Landau (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) to tell Romana I's story. Landau, fresh from having portrayed a future version of Romana in the final season of Big Finish's Gallifrey saga, therefore narrates Romana I's account from the standpoint of her future incarnation while Ward directly supplies Romana II's side of the story.

Fitton is no stranger to drafting (in his own words) "timey-wimey" stories, as he so ably proved with The Wrong Doctors (which also saw the Sixth Doctor and Melanie Bush cross their own time streams), and Luna Romana is an equally clever and carefully plotted tale. The story begins with the Fourth Doctor and Romana I arriving at the Temple of the goddess Luna in ancient Rome in their search for the final segment of the Key to Time. The first act is substantially slower in pace than you'd normally expect of a Doctor Who tale and it is difficult to fathom at first exactly where the narrative is going as the Time Lord pair visit a Roman arena production of what is more familiar to modern audiences as the farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (the two Time Lords even meet the playwright Plautus). However, as the Doctor is heard to remark later, this is no coincidence, merely an instance of "spatio-temporal synchronistic serendipity"!

It is from mid-way through the first episode (this story is still structured like a four-part classic Doctor Who serial) that the drama really picks up pace. Episode two is particularly action-packed as Ward assumes the narrative duties from Landau. The story jumps forward a "season" (in TV terms) as the Fourth Doctor and Romana II materialise in what also appears to be ancient Rome. The jigsaw pieces gradually fall into place - although not necessarily in the right chronological order! - as Romana II finds herself reliving part of the adventure of her first incarnation, all whilst trying to avoid as little disruption to her time stream as possible and thwarting Stoyn's final roll of the dice in his grudge against the Doctor.

The three performers all excel in the storytelling. Landau magnificently conveys the sense of naivety, innocence, haughtiness and impatience that personified Tamm's Romana I, while Ward from the get-go contrasts Landau's performance with the more confident, comfortable and upbeat demeanour that typified her Romana II. Landau even does a passable impression of Tom Baker's Doctor, complete with booming voice and embellished oratory, while Ward uses a subtler authority in her voice to deliver the Doctor's dialogue. It is also a feature of good acting on Ward's part that she convincingly manages to spar with herself when expressing retorts between the Doctor and Romana II: "Well, they always did say I was ahead of my time at the Academy!" "No, they said you were always late - not the same thing at all!"

Molloy's talents are also put to very good use in this story, as he provides all the voices for the acting troupe of Plautus's Roman play as well as Stoyn. While some of his inflections inevitably remind you of his often-brilliant turns as Davros, Molloy for the most part manages to earn sympathy (from both Romana I and the listener) as both victim and villain. You naturally assume (given this is a three-hander) that Molloy also substitutes for a multitude of different voices amongst the acting troupe. It is therefore a pleasant surprise - and an inspired twist - when this proves not to be as obvious as it sounds! In the DWM preview of this story, Fitton rather spoiled the surprise. Needless to say, I'm not going to give a spoiler here - but it is a very smart use of sound to hide a major plot point. The surprise could not have been so easily hidden if Luna Romana had been recorded as a full-cast audio drama.

Long-term fans may question why half of the story is set near the end of the Key to Time season and not during Big Finish's second series of the full-cast Fourth Doctor Adventures, which sadly marked Tamm's last work as Romana I. I've personally always been a little irritated by past efforts by authors (notably David McIntee in the Virgin Missing Adventure The Shadow of Weng-Chiang) to shoe-horn their stories into the Key to Time saga, especially when it is obvious that a segment of the Key won't be recovered. However, I'm prepared to let Luna Romana off on this count for two reasons. One, I don't think the portrayal of Romana I would work as effectively without it being set in this timeframe (again, she is more naive in this tale than Tamm's portrayal in the Fourth Doctor Adventures). And two, it seems that there is indeed a missing piece of the Key - despite the Doctor and Romana I possessing five of the six segments and the sixth still awaiting them on Atrios! How could another segment of the Key exist in ancient Rome, you ask? The twist is simple yet nevertheless logical. We also eventually understand why the Doctor would prefer to watch a play in Rome, much to Romana I's chagrin, than complete their mission. It makes perfect sense and is consistent with the Fourth Doctor's eccentric character and moral code. He is, fittingly in the spirit of the story, not just playing the fool!

Luna Romana is an excellent chapter in The Companion Chronicles series and an entertaining Doctor Who audio adventure in its own right. Despite its small cast and longer length (at 120 minutes, it is twice the length of a regular Companion Chronicle), Luna Romana is a solid story and it has many memorable, emotive and witty moments that wouldn't always be captured in a full-cast drama. While the story may have been intended more specifically to celebrate Doctor Who's 50th anniversary, Luna Romana is ultimately a fitting mark of respect to Mary Tamm, "beautiful, brilliant, shiny" (to quote Landau's future incarnation) and for many fans (including yours truly) one of the noblest Romanas of them all.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Companion - 1781780897