Big Finish gave listeners an excellent Christmas present – volume two of ‘The Diary of River Song’ released early than expected.
Alex Kingston returns as the time-travelling archaeologist in four new adventures, joined by a husband or two for good measure.
The Unknown by Guy Adams
If you’ve seen the cast list, you know that it’s only a matter of time before Sylvester McCoy shows up. In volume one, the appearance of the Doctor (a real one, anyway) was held back until the final story. Sensibly establishing River’s clout as the hero before calling in the hubby. This time, Guy Adams wastes no time throwing Mr and Mrs right into the fray. The story has an excellent conceit to give their relationship a fresh spin. We see the pair on a more even-footing than usual, which prevents River’s classic Doctor dealings simply retreading volume one. The plot is pretty straightforward and efficiently lays down the rules of the timey-wimey to come in the next story.
Five Twenty-Nine by John Dorney
John Dorney’s first entry into the series is a quiet, intimate story that contrasts well with the action-packed opener. Investigating her recent discovery, River happens upon an island where time is running out. It’s a race against the clock to outrun 5:29. Despite time literally being against them, the story lacks any sense of urgency. Though I suppose that’s inevitable if you know exactly when a disaster is going to strike. But what it lacks in tension it more than makes up for in character. We’re introduced to a sweet old married couple and their synthetic daughter, Rachel (played by Kingston’s real-life daughter, Salome Haertel). Their family dynamic comes through so naturally that the trials they’re put through in this story is utterly heartbreaking.
World Enough and Time by James Goss
After the sublime ‘Signs’ from last year, James Goss’ follow-up in the River Song series has a lot to live up to. Luckily he has a special ingredient: the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker and Alex Kingston have amazing chemistry and the writing on their scenes might make them the best Doctor-River pairing of them all. The story is a little slow to start, the Doctor being constantly tied up by office minutiae. But it kicks into high gear when the villain is revealed and the Doctor has to grapple with his own culpability. River helping the Doctor find redemption – and whether or not she succeeds – makes this a really emotional story with great insight into both characters.
The Eye of the Storm by Matt Fitton
The finale of the box set goes on a timey-wimey bent that we’ve come to expect from River’s adventures. Two Doctors are unknowingly working against each other and River has to settle a battle of egos between her husbands. It’s a really tricky story that demands your full attention. Matt Fitton drives the whole plot towards one big decision and lays out the dilemma clearly. This story also has an interesting conflict between the Doctors, showing just how far they’ve come from their TV days. Though I was a bit let down by the ending, leaving some things unresolved, it leads to two excellent scenes between River and the Doctors.
With the Doctor so heavily involved in this release, it’d be easy to assume River would be relegated to companion. In fact, Alex Kingston’s domineering performance easily puts even the larger-than-life Colin Baker into a supporting role. Even so, John Dorney’s Doctor-less ‘Five Twenty-Nine’ stands out as the most moving, character-driven story in the set. The stories, though complicated at times, lead to some excellent exploration of character and wonderful humour. How well the Sixth Doctor and River go together really took me by surprise and it pains me that continuity means they won’t have an ongoing series together.
My only criticism is the Seventh Doctor’s caustic regard for River goes a bit under-explored, but ripe for a future adventure. If you want to hear River and the Doctor in brand new situations, definitely give this box-set a listen.
Blogtor Rating – 8/10
Time travelling archaeologist and adventurer River Song returns – and this time she will be stepping into the past life of the Doctor, encountering two of his incarnations at once!
From the space exploration vessel Saturnius – which is heading to a destination that never gets any closer – to a doomed planet Earth and beyond, River’s journey will bring her closer to a new foe… and an encounter with both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
Written By: Guy Adams, John Dorney, James Goss, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Alex Kingston (River Song), Colin Baker (The Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Anna Maxwell Martin (Maddie Bower), Gemma Saunders (Ellen Byrne), Justin Avoth (Robert Murphy), Salome Haertel (Rachel), Jessie Buckley (Sarah Dean / Speravore Queen), Ann Bell (Lisa Burrows), Robert Pugh (Emmett Burrows), Dan Starkey (Computer / Announcer), Aaron Neil (Steven Godbold / Computer), Sara Powell (The PA), Sam Alexander (Todd the Pod), Barnaby Edwards (Autocorrect), Paul Keating (Isaac George), Robert Hands (Daniel Defoe / Barkeep), Alan Cox (Robert Harley / Speravore / Warder). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs