It’s been a while, but with life returning to normal, my job has us back in the office, so it’s time I go back to Big Finish for some more Doctor Who audio adventures.
“The audio medium can be so deceptive.” Yeah, ain’t that the truth. Big Finish has used audio the way a particularly skilled surgeon uses a scalpel. We never quite know what we’re going to get with each release of Big Finish’s Doctor Who line but there’s an art in them that cannot be denied. This is an interesting story because the entirety of part one is a relaxed visit to a cabaret. We are introduced to Bianca’s, a nightclub in Berlin, through the melodic Scottish voice of Mickey (Jane MacFarlane). All of part one is a build-up to the reveal that while the entrance to Bianca’s is in Berlin, the club itself is in deep space. It was an amazingly visual image that this conjured up in my mind, but I can’t help thinking the story should have been called The Cabaret at the End of the Universe. (Sorry, Douglas!) ((Oh stop shaking your head – there’s at least one other Hitchhiker joke in the episode, so why not!))
We are also introduced to Iris Wildthyme played by the absolutely wonderful Katy Manning. (Having met her, it is actually physically impossible to think anything but positive things about Katy!) Iris is a bit of a lush, who happens to have a soft spot for the Doctor, played by Colin Baker. Iris, it turns out, is a bit of River Song years before River Song was River Song. (That sentence got away from me!) Between the Doctor and Iris, can they find out what’s going on at Bianca’s? Why does it feel like home to Iris? Who is Bianca herself? Why are there worms in her compact? And how come the shadows don’t seem to stay in sync with their owners?
For a story that started off like a bit of light fun, it actually becomes a pretty great adventure. But even the brains behind Big Finish must have gotten annoyed at themselves with the ending of part 2. It’s an odd thing that it ever became popular to do this, but having a character yell, scream, or just make noise that bleeds into the closing theme is a strange choice. In this one, Colin tells Iris to stop singing: “You’ll destroy us allllllllllllllooooooeeeeeeeeoooooooooo” (The latter half is the closing theme!) It felt wrong on so many levels. So part three opens and I am reciting the line with them when… it’s left out altogether. “Stop singing” is where it ends, because that last line was jarring and never worked anyway. Part three ends with the equally weak “die, die, die, die, die…” etc. But if we look past the actual cliffhangers, which are little more than forced endings to break up the story, the story functions quite well. And it would have been hard to pull off in visual form because having worms as villains tends to be tricky. They don’t stay still when you’re going for close-ups and they are entirely awkward about make-up. (I’ve only ever worked with one worm, and he was a snake…. damned metaphors.)
The biggest draw for me though was Iris herself. I can’t help but wonder if I felt this way the first time I listened, prior to having met Katy. I thoroughly enjoyed her character and I mean that in all her time lord-y-ness. See, there are a number of lines placing this story post-Trial of a Time Lord and that’s important because Bianca is going to do something evil that she learned from the Doctor’s trial. This opens the door for some seriously funny lines. Upon learning what’s going on while sitting in a pastry shop, the Doctor says, “you witless imitator, who ever heard of a diabolical denouement happening in a patisserie?” which made me laugh but was nothing compared to Bianca paraphrasing the classic (though horrendous) line: “There’s nothing you can do to prevent the catharsis of spurious morality!” She even struggles to make it her own: “You are powerless to prevent the… metamorphosis of specious principle.” To which the Doctor becomes indignant: “Ooh, that’s one of mine as well, you plagiarizing…” Sometimes it’s hard to drive from laughing so hard.
The entire play is built around Mickey letting one “Mr. Ashcroft” hear the tapes from this adventure. (This idea fails a little when the Doctor goes outside the club, but maybe Bianca slipped a hidden mic on him when he left… I’m being generous!) The story ends with Mickey giving the tapes to Mr. Ashcroft to look after them. As he leaves with the tapes, we learn who Mr. Ashcroft is. But I won’t ruin that surprise. I had a sneaking suspicion while listening to it and I wasn’t quite right…
The Wormery is a fun jaunt after the huge and all encompassing Zagreus and it was a really pleasant return to the Big Finish audios for me. I was in the mood for a lighthearted story and Big Finish delivered. Fun, musical too, and still absolutely Doctor Who. But I’m left with one major problem: how do I get that cabaret song out of my head now?! It just keeps going and going and going… ML
I was already familiar with Iris and her bus when I first heard this one because she was a character from the BBC books series – well worth reading those (funny how we only just mentioned that book range on our recent chat). Great comparison between River and Iris. I’ve always seen River as being close to the character of Bernice Summerfield (archaeologist in space), but in terms of the characterisation she is closer to Iris, so now I’m thinking River is basically a cross between the two fo them. Great to see your BF reviews back in the Junkyard.
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Such comparisons between modern Doctor Who TV main characters and original ones from Big Finish, in reflection of Bernice and River, will be interesting depending on how many of them there are. Thanks, ML.
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The Colin Baker era for Big Finish is always fascinating for how they were able to work around the confines and loopholes of The Trial Of A Time Lord. It profoundly impacts where some fans might want to start with the 6th Doctor’s timeline. Because Big Finish has so many allowances for stories that extend what’s well known in retrospect from the TV shows, whether it’s a spinoff or a prequel or both as with The Lone Centurion, the challenge for fans in keeping up with all that BF has made deserves proper introductions and explanations. I’m glad that the Junkyard can again provide the best that it can in this regard.
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