River Song ends her grand tour of all Doctors past in four new full-cast adventures, intersecting with the first four Doctors. Technically River has already met the Fourth Doctor in this series, but who’s counting? In this sixth (and at least one more is coming) set of stories, the team of writers has excelled themselves by folding River into stories from each Doctor’s TV adventures. It’s a great idea, it means we meet more of our favourite characters, but does it work in practice?
An Unearthly Woman
Matt Fitton takes River Song back to the very first episode of Doctor Who in a piece set in and around Coal Hill School. Enter supply teacher Professor Song, an unusual student at the school and more than a little flirtation. The story invokes the show’s roots and brings into play the recast first Doctor team of Claudia Grant (Susan), Jamie Glover (Ian), Jemma Powell (Barbara) and David Bradley’s Doctor. It avoids nostalgia and if River’s presence in 1963 appears contrived, it’s a great story with plenty of pace. Listeners unfamiliar with this TARDIS crew casting will be impressed at how well the characters are recreated. It’s a great start to the set.
The Web of Time
On to the second Doctor’s era and John Dorney brings River to the London Underground of The Web of Fear. The story centres on River’s interactions with Captain Knight (Ralph Watson) a figure who has a specific role in the events shown on television, so must be kept alive at all costs. This, then, is about protecting the web of time, and dealing with the Great Intelligence (Samuel Clemens). There’s a mix of characters amongst the looters and soldiers, and it would have been interesting to have them explored further. That aside it’s a cleverly constructed adventure and shows a lot of River’s personality. She very much isn’t the Doctor, and has her own moral code.
Peepshow was the original working title for the third Doctor story Carnival of Monsters. This Guy Adams story brings River to the heart of the miniscope and encounters with creatures unaware they have been shrunk and placed in artificial environments for entertainment. Guy Adams rolls out Sontarans (Dan Starkey) and Ogrons (Guy Adams himself) in a cracking tale, brimming with energy if a little contrived in places. And there’s an Easter Egg!
The Talents of Greel
It all ends in Victorian London. In the days before the fourth Doctor and Leela would investigate the mysterious machinations below the Palace Theatre, River Song takes to the stage under the watchful eye of Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin). Paul Morris takes great care to allow River room to explore and deal with Magnus Greel (Angus Wright). While the story (just about) avoids breaking the continuity with the TV story, one of the ways it does this is by constraining Jago perhaps a little too far. It’s a bittersweet tale and in the end doesn’t feel as whimsical as the Jago & Litefoot series.
There’s a lot to like in this set but for some listeners the contrivance of River Song finding excuses to meet every incarnation of the Doctor is perhaps wearing a little thin, and it would be interesting to hear River in a different context. Alex Kingston brings tremendous energy to the part and we hope we get many more outings in the future.