The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring David Tennant, Alex Kingston, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Mina Anwar, Sam Benjamin, Timothy Bentinck, Joe Jameson, Barnaby Kay, Glen McCready, Anjli Mohindra, Joe Sims, Emma Swan

Written by James Goss, Lizzie Hopley, and Jonathan Morris

Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Released by Big Finish - November 2020

River Song made her debut on TV alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, but the two-parter in which he first meets her (but as we all know is not when she first met him) would be their only adventure together.  Tennant left the role not long after, and the bulk of her adventures under showrunner Steven Moffat would be with the Eleventh Doctor (and a single adventure with the Twelfth as well).  Of course, her whirlwind timey-wimey adventures with the Doctor have now extended beyond TV and even without the Doctor, as she leads her own series on Big Finish.  But the stars have finally aligned, and now we get a boxset exploring the Tenth Doctor and River together.  This is basically the early days of the two having any sort of adventures together.  She is very familiar with him, but he still has no idea who she is, or how he should feel about this alleged friend from his future. 

This dynamic is perfectly explored in the opening adventure Expiry Date, in which the Doctor is basically trying like hell to avoid getting sucked into any of River’s misadventures.  The bulk of this story is told via letters between the two, as she tries to coax him into some shady sound scheme, and he writes back continually declining.  Unfortunately, some of her letters end up mixed up, and her plan to get the Doctor to be more interested backfires when the Fifth Doctor ends up slightly obsessed with her.  This is a fun and light comedy to launch the set with, with both Kingston and Tennant chewing it up. They have few moments actually together here, but the idea that the Doctor is trying to avoid the friendship developing makes so much sense from his point of view.  Hell even the first time she appeared alongside the Eleventh Doctor he initially tried to avoid falling into her plans.  

The second story, Precious Annihilation, feels like the weak link of the set.  It isn’t a total waste of time, but I did find myself less interested in the overall story.  That said, Tennant and Kingston play well off each other, and I would happily listen to more adventures exploring this dynamic because even in this mediocre story, they are a fun pair together.  

The set closes out with Ghosts.  The Doctor is summoned by River to a planet full of ghosts, or are they just holograms...and there is a mist that is somehow killing everyone and turning them into ghosts.  Although I don’t want to get too deep into it, as to not spoil the fun, I rather enjoyed the concepts in this one.  I felt it built up nicely and had a satisfying end, with a lot of neat ideas scattered throughout.  

I must say this is a part of River’s story I have long wanted to explore just a little bit. It is very clear that while her Doctor is very much the Eleventh when she saw the Tenth Doctor she had clearly spent time with him.  Had Tennant stayed on for even a single year when Moffat took over and the River storyline could really unfold, we may have had a chance to see that.  But as it was, we only had that one adventure between the two, and only seeing her ending with the Tenth Doctor feels like we are missing a crucial part of the story, his earliest encounters with her, her final encounters with him, and knowing that when she is saying goodbye to him, she knew that face well.  I like getting a taste of it...here is hoping for more. 





The War Master: Hearts of Darkness (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Hearts of Darkness (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: David Llewellyn & Lisa McMullin

 

Director: Scott Handcock

 

Featuring: Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Seán Carlsen, George Fletcher, Sam Hallion, Sandra Huggett, Alex Jordan, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, Colin McFarlane, Tanya Moodie, Henry Nott, Julia Sandiford, Amanda Shodeko

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

I have found that when it comes to Big Finish, and maybe just anything Doctor Who related, the things I am looking forward to most are the next instalments for the Eighth Doctor and the War Master.  I have long enjoyed McGann’s interpretation of the Doctor...but the evil machinations of Derek Jacobi’s War Master have been really great to listen to.  Luckily, we get the two brought together again here in this latest War Master set. I can say I recommend the set, but if you want some more details I will have some SPOILERS AHEAD:

The set begins with the Master being tasked by the Celestial Intervention Agency with tracking down and capturing the Doctor, who is allegedly up to something the Time Lords are frowning upon.  In the opener The Edge of Redemption, the Master begins his search by putting together a ragtag team to get to a remote planet and find the Doctor, but in order for the pilot to take the Master there, they must steal back his ship.  This is essentially a simple heist story, but it is a great way to launch the story and introduce the new characters.  

The Master and his pilot are on the way to the Doctor but are boarded by Space Pirates.  The leader of the Pirates wants to kill the Master as he played a heavy role in her downfall.  This episode, titled The Scaramancer after the lead pirate, ends in a great big twist.  I had been thinking that usually in the War Master sets, he plays the good guy for a good chunk until it no longer serves his purpose, but even then you can usually tell he is scheming. I had this weird sense that he was seemingly being too good this time around and that maybe Big Finish was starting to make him seem too much like the Doctor, they were lacking that underlying sense of evil that usually comes with the character.  And then they drop the bombshell...he isn’t the Master at all...but the Doctor. 

The third episode, The Castle of Kurnos 5, goes back and explains how the Doctor ended up looking like the Master.  In essence, the Master is planning to get some sort of grand weapon created by a long-dead crazy Time Lord scientist, so the Master resurrects his mind on a planet where the Time Lord once set up shop, but the Doctor is on his tail trying to figure out what he is up to. But the Doctor snooping around was all a part of the Master’s plan.  He intended for the Doctor to find him, swap bodies with him, which while the Time Lords wouldn’t be fooled for long, would at least give the Master enough time to get away and make his way to the weapon.  

The set closes with The Cognition Shift which has the Doctor (in the Master’s body) finally catching up to the Master (in the Doctor’s body) and finding a way to put a stop to the Master’s evil plan...which is one of his bigger and more mad ideas.  The true joy of this finale is McGann having a go at playing the Master, while Jacobi gets a chance at the Doctor.  Both are always so good in their usual roles, it is no real surprise that they can also nail swapping them for an episode.  

Honestly, I don’t think a Big Finish series has been more consistently good than the War Master.  I love McGann as the Doctor but even I can admit that his sets and ongoing stories aren’t always top-notch.  I usually end up liking them for nothing more than his portrayal as the Doctor.  But the stories in the War Master sets have been so fantastic.  The evil of the Master showcases the horrors of the Time War far better than the Time War sets focused on the Doctor can.  Even the John Hurt sets had to keep the Doctor firmly in the role of hero, but having an utterly evil bastard at the heart of the Time War makes the stories far more engaging than any other foray Big Finish has had into that era of the Doctor Who lore. I can’t recommend this enough.