Audio Review: Doctor Who – The Diary Of River Song Series 4

River Song has been busily flowing up her husband’s timestream in her audio adventures. Having encountered the Eighth, the Seventh and Sixth, and most recently the Fifth Doctor, her latest box set grants her a meeting with the Fourth Doctor as well as an original race of villains to cross swords with.

Time In A Bottle

Called in by her alma mater, River encounters an old student rival who is now a professor with a specialism in a lost solar system. With an offer she cannot refuse, River is persuaded to lead a perilous mission where they encounter the devilish Discordia, time twisting villains who use their temporal technology to ensure that they always come out on top.

With a superb antagonism crafted between River and Jemima Still (Fenella Woolgar), Emma Reeves and Matt Fitton’s story also introduces companions for River; Gammarae the ant-like Formidian assassin (Adele Lynch), and Spod, a studious Cyborg (Josh Bolt).

As well as the multiple agendas layered within this gang, we loved some of the big ideas at play here such as the Formidian’s pheromone communications and how River projected a time bubble into a temporal dead zone so they could interact with the environment.

Kings Of Infinite Space

Through a series of brightly drawn comic-book worlds, Donald McLeary’s story sees River and her new friends hoping through time and space with her vortex manipulator, pursued by the relentless Discordia. Calling a story “a romp” be a touch hackneyed, but it is spot on in this case.

This particular romp treats us to some fabulous images, from an urbane giant rat to a flight on the back of a dragonfly and guest star Ewan Bailey provides a multiplicity of voices throughout. The Discordia are dangerous, stupidly so on occasion, but they also have a unique insight into River’s plans which kept us thoroughly entertained throughout.

Donald McLeary may be relatively new to Big Finish, but he is a great comic talent and possibly best known for writing and performing in BBC Radio 4’s long running sitcom Fags, Bags And Mags which often enjoys a Doctor Who gag or two and has even enjoyed Sylvester McCoy as a guest star.

Whodunnit?

Script editor Matt Fitton has River don her Melody Malone persona for Whodunnit? as she is immersed in baffling murder mystery. With a surfeit of potential murderers, each of whom appears to be based on a famous literary detective, this is a wonderfully confusing tale (deliberately so), not least for the inclusion of Franz Kafka (Tim Bentnick) who lurks in the library and is there for our heroine to touch base with on occasion.

Inventive and demanding of multiple re-listens, the remainder of the guest cast, which includes Alex Tregear, Christopher Naylor and Shvorne Marks, create a range of colourful characters… and potential victims.

Someone I Once Knew

To conclude, John Dorney brings us the main event; River Song meeting the Fourth Doctor. Offering a different slant on pairing of River and her husband, all subterfuge is thrown to the wind as this incarnation not only knows who she is, but already holds a great affection for her.

Framed as a love story, in an altered universe where the Discordia have attained supremacy through their manipulation of time, the story follows the ambitious (and amorous) General Dante (Nicholas Asbury) who plots to succeed the Discordia’s ailing Emperor.

This script coxes a remarkably difference performance from Tom Baker; gentler and more mature, and his Doctor in love is both earnest and vulnerable, all the while maintaining his usual quick wit and infectious charm as they grapple with the threat of the thuggish Discordia at its source.

With the Doctor falling in with a rebel faction, we particularly enjoyed the character of Galerayna, as played by Nathalie Buscombe (from BF’s own ATA Girl) and also the suggestion that River might, in this timeline at least, have been responsible for the captured Second Doctor’s lap of honour too.

Summary

We have praised it before, but it bears repeating that Howard Carter’s bombastic theme is excellent with more than a pleasing nod in the direction of James Bond. It really suits River who always felt like a leading lady in her own right, even within Doctor Who, and certainly is one now as she leads these stories, with a terrific performance from Alex Kingston throughout.

It was pleasing to hear River recruit her own companions this time too with the Doctor feeling very much like a guest star, a factor naturally built into the story as she endeavours to keep the Discordia away from him. That said, the paring of Alex Kingston and Tom Baker is simply delicious, and we could have happily savoured four hours of them simply flirting in the TARDIS.

Love it or loathe it, River Song is the apotheosis of Steven Moffat’s “Timey-Wimey” take on time travel and the Discordia are a perfectly designed threat for her. With their built-in conceit being as temporally challenging as she is they feel entirely consistent with the Eleventh Doctor’s era.

So where might River flow after this? Big Finish have companion actors ably voicing the first two Doctors and an excellent portrayal of the Third from Tim Treloar. While we would love to hear encounters with these incarnations, we imagine the recently announced celebratory crossover mini-series The Legacy Of Time might tick those boxes. Meanwhile, her next series excitingly promises a trio of Masters, plus Missy too, and we are pleased, for as fun as it is for River to catch up with the Doctor’s past, she surely has earned the right to go it alone in her adventures by now?