It seems there is no such thing as a quiet month for Big Finish!
After the excitement of January’s River Song and Churchill audio debuts, February saw the return their impossibly glamorous home-grown heroine Vienna Salvatori, as well as Eve Myles back as Gwen Cooper to round out Torchwood’s first audio season with ‘More Than This’.
For the Time Lord himself, the high profile release was the second trilogy of War Doctor stories in the ‘Infernal Devices’ box set. The main range however offered a clever puzzle of an adventure for the Fifth Doctor with Nyssa and Tegan, the Fourth Doctor and Romana had a vampiric encounter in 1980s Budapest while Nicola Bryant related a Short Trip for Peri and Six.
Main Range #209 ‘Aquitaine’
From The Scarifyers and Jago & Litefoot stalwarts Morris and Barnard, this second adventure in the current Fifth Doctor trilogy brings the TARDIS to an all but deserted spaceship orbiting a black hole.
The research vessel Aquitaine is maintained by a genial, if somewhat absent minded, AI named Hargreaves who presents as a variety of robotic avatars. Despite the absence of its multinational crew, for which he is at a loss to explain, Hargreaves endeavours to keep up standards; polishing the cutlery, serving the meal and ensuring there is constantly a wide range of tea on offer.
Wasting no time, the TARDIS crew are soon presented with ghostly voices, temporal displacements and a dangerous infection – courtesy of the perilously overgrown botanical gardens.
While the rest of the guest cast, including Nina Sosanya (W1A), are all excellent, there is no doubt that Matthew Cottle’s Hargreaves steals the show. Perhaps best known for his sitcom work Game On and Citizen Kahn, he perfectly inhabits the role of the fussy computer who sits at the heart of the story and provides a perfect companion to the Doctor.
Chock full of strong ideas, ‘Aquitaine’ manages a fine balance of comic moments and great scares, all wrapped within a well-layered central mystery. There are plenty of twists and turns on the way to the tremendous final act – while we would not dare spoil it, the cliff hanger ending to part three grants Peter Davison as heroic a moment as he ever enjoyed on screen. With all the trumpeting of the high profile box-sets, it is great to see the main range hit one out of the park like this.
Short Trips 6.02 ‘Prime Winner’
This month’s Short Trips story involves the Sixth Doctor and Peri and is read by Nicola Bryant. As ever the TARDIS arrives somewhere unexpected and before long they are involved in a mystery involving Peri’s stepfather, something wrong with time and a severe case of mistaken identity.
So far all standard fare. Adding in the setting of a luxury space liner casino (and we have had a few of those recently) gives some sparkle but the heart of this story is another angle on the complicated relationship between Peri and the Sixth Doctor.
Nigel Fairs is the writer of this tale and he brings his usual skill at finding an emotional resonance even if the trappings of the story are far more sci-fi than his normal fodder.
Nicola Bryant is on top form and with Peri we have the bonus of a character whose voice if very distinct from Nicola’s natural English accent, meaning the story feels far less like a reading than it might otherwise do.
The ending may have few surprises in terms of the plot mechanics, but as usual Nigel Fairs hits the spot in capturing the characters of both Peri and the Doctor, adding to their relationship and showing its development.
4th Doctor Adventures 5.02 ‘The Labyrinth of Buda Castle’
Eddie Robson’s ‘Labyrinth of Buda Castle’ promises vampires and vampire hunters, along with a group of soldiers, dungeons, monsters, ancient evils and the maniacal Zoltan Frid!
Add Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor to the mix along with Lalla Ward’s Romana and the stage is set for a Hungarian treat. This story delivers its potential with plenty to spare and comfortably fills a single disc leaving the listener satiated.
The cast of characters is strong and different. Mark Bonnar plays the villain Zoltan Frid to perfection and the part balances some vampire tropes with many novel twists.
The secondary characters all have meaningful things to do from Peter Barrett’s Guard-Major Priskin to script editor John Dorney’s Ensign Kanta. To balance things out we have would-be vampire hunter Celia Soames (Kate Bracken) who most definitely is not proto-Buffy. The interchanges between her and the Doctor are just on the dramatic side of humorous and this adds to the realism of the character. The final ingredient is an academic, Anita Keriki (Anjella Mackintosh) who is at the heart of Zoltan Frid’s plans.
Action is split between the castle labyrinth and various locations in the city itself. There is a good mix of the horrific, the self-serving and the heroic and the final resolution fits within the story and not everybody has a happy ending, though may get the ending they deserve. It’s always a pleasure to see Eddie Robson’s name against a Big Finish title, and this is up there with his best.
What was your favourite Doctor Who release from Big Finish this month? Let us know below…