From humans to reptilians to Time Lords, the long history of Doctor Who has featured plenty of remarkable women; characters who have won our hearts with their bravery and heroism as they have been caught up in the Doctor’s universal exploits.
Luckily, many of those former companions and friends have found an afterlife of adventure on audio, stepping out of the Doctor’s shadow to become the stars of their own adventures; to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, this box set brings together a clutch of the Whoniverse’s brightest and best to entertain us with stories not only starring, but written and directed by women too.
Continuing her glorious romp through the Doctor’s back catalogue, River Song’s latest exploit sees her posing as the Gallifreyan delegate at a Galactic Heritage convention, and instantly finding Leela on her trail. Naturally, while River is there to have an indecent amount of fun – and there are some lovely comic moments at the convention (think ‘Milliways’) she is also on a mission to foil a kidnapping and that action spirals out of control with devastating consequences.
Writer Lisa McMullin, who has also written for Survivors and has a host of other Big Finish scripts in the pipeline, brilliantly captures both her lead characters and the unusual dynamic between them. River is in full show-off mode, knowing all about Leela while the latter has no idea who she is.
With such a well-matched pair, and superb performances from both Louise Jameson and Alex Kingston, it would be impossible choose who takes the lead here. Leela’s instinctive honesty takes the edge off River’s flamboyance and we adored her pep talk.
The Big Blue Book
Lizzie Hopley, writer of last year’s excellent Torchwood: The Dying Room, gives us a story for Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) from the Virgin New Adventures era. Seemingly abandoned by the Doctor in the unfamiliar world of the 1990s at Liverpool University, Bernice has set herself up as a visiting professor, while Ace is posing as a cleaner and a stealth student.
The story plays with some vivid ideas, including a very unconventional university library with a rather odd custodian played by Rosemary Ashe. Naturally, it is not long before Benny goes missing and Ace is on the trail, with her own companion of sorts in tow – the bookish Harvey (Orlando Gibbs) who carries a torch for Benny.
A Seventh Doctor adventure, sans Doctor (save for a cameo at the end), this is great fun and probably the most fantastical of the four stories in the set.
Inside Every Warrior
The third tale brings us the long-awaited reunion of “The Paternoster Gang”; the trio who aided both the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors on screen. While two of the actors have reprised their roles on audio in the five years since Deep Breath – Neve McIntosh as Vastra in The Churchill Years and Dan Starkey in Jago & Litefoot & Strax – this is the first time Catrin Stewart has returned to the role of Jenny Flint.
From the start, the camaraderie between this investigative trio is still evident and a monstrous mystery soon ensues, with writer Gemma Langford providing both comic moments and plenty of heart as her story considers their unconventional bond. The trio are supported by a strong guest cast, with Nigel Fairs putting in a big performance as the thoroughly misogynist Dr Cornelius Pinch and Julie Atherton as his put-upon servant Hodge.
While this may be the first Paternoster tale, it augers well for the four upcoming box sets of Victorian era stories and promises to be a worthy successor to the much loved Jago & Litefoot – with a theme tune very much in keeping with that series too.
Finally, writer Sarah Grochala, a well-established playwright although new to Big Finish, brings us an adventure for the modern UNIT team led by Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave). Stepping past the events of The Zygon Inversion for the first time, Narcissus features two Osgoods (one human, one Zygon, both Ingrid Oliver) who are struggling to work together.
The story begins with spirited journalist Jacquie McGee (Tracey Wiles), one-time thorn in Kate’s side and now a UNIT ally, who brings her a multiple missing persons case with a sinister twist, one it transpires that their own Captain Josh Carter has fallen victim to. With themes of identity and self-belief, this is a thought provoking look at the team and at society’s obsessions with notions of beauty.
As a function of the characters chosen, all but one of these tales are necessarily Earthbound, albeit set in different eras. There are further commonalities though, with a kidnapping of sorts in all four stories and the draining of some form of life-force or essence in three. All twists on a theme maybe, but we did come away with a sense of repetition from the box set. We hope a further volume might cast the net wider for story ideas.
Regardless, with assured direction from Helen Goldwyn and the usual high standards of sound design and music, these four stories are all tremendously entertaining in their own right and, for three of the four, offer a taste of the individual ranges. It is great to hear much loved, capable heroes rising to the occasion without a Time Lord to rally behind and unlike previous collections, no grand linking narrative is required. That seems entirely appropriate though, these characters are bold and brilliant, and we should be celebrating them every day.