The fifth series of “The Diary of River Song” is out, and it sees River face the Doctor’s oldest enemy… four times over! But will this release be as Masterful as its premise sounds? Read on to find out.
1. “The Bekdel Test” by Jonathan Morris
This is Michelle Gomez‘s first appearance as Missy for Big Finish, and what better way to bring her back than to team her up with the indomitable Alex Kingston?
Set in a mysterious prison complex from which River and Missy must escape, “The Bekdel Test” is undeniably one of the funniest Big Finish stories I’ve ever heard. The plot itself is quite simple, and this is welcome: Morris quite rightly ensures that the focus is on the two main characters and their interactions.
There are lots of callbacks to past episodes too, and the plot is rooted in familiar continuity that gives both River and Missy’s journeys in this story a little more significance.
And, talking of Missy, Morris has an excellent grasp on her character, giving her exactly the same “bananas” personality we saw on TV, as well as some of the more sympathetic character traits that made her a real fan favourite. With writing like this, I really can’t wait for Missy’s very own boxset to come out next month!
2. “Animal Instinct” by Roy Gill
Despite her being an archaeologist, we’ve had surprisingly few stories in which River actually does archaeology. Roy Gill‘s “Animal Instinct” corrects this, giving us an exciting glimpse into this relatively unseen part of River’s life as she explores ancient ruins, awakens a mysterious Sun God and fights off terrible creatures in an alien jungle.
Gill’s script gives River a companion of her own in Timothy Blore‘s Luke, an archaeological student joining her on her mission. This is dynamic which I think has a lot of mileage and would be happy to hear from again in the future.
The most interesting rapport in the story, however, is of course that between River and the Master, played here by Geoffrey Beevers. Gill imbues the character with ambiguity, which makes it difficult to discern whether he’s on River’s side or not throughout. In stark contrast with Missy in the previous episode, Beevers’ Master is ruthless and undeniably evil, and his sinister performance is the highlight of the episode.
3. “The Lifeboat and the Deathboat” by Eddie Robson
River comes up against yet another new-to-Big-Finish Master in the third story in the set, with Eric Roberts reprising his role from the 1996 TV Movie. His role in this story is rather slight (for spoilery reasons I won’t go into), but the plot itself is intriguing, which makes up for this somewhat.
The concept of the Vormitoda, a giant snake that lives in the Time Vortex, is a novel one and something I could definitely see cropping up again in another release. I also found the Master’s overall plan, once revealed, to be ingenious, and something only this iteration of the character could pull off due to his unique situation.
And for those wondering, the explanation as to why Eric Roberts’ Master is back absolutely makes sense and is a logical follow-up to his fate in the movie.
Overall, another good story in this boxset.
4. “Concealed Weapon” by Scott Handcock
In the final part of the boxset, River faces Derek Jacobi‘s War Master, arguably the most ruthless one of them all. One would be forgiven for expecting this to be a more lighthearted affair given that this a River boxset, but the presence of Jacobi’s Master here brings much the same darkness as in his own series, which is a nice contrast with some of the lighter elements of this set.
The story itself is a murder mystery, with a mysterious force (three guesses who) picking off the crew of the ship upon which River is travelling. These crewmates are all well-drawn and performed, but Tom Price (aka PC Andy from Torchwood) and Jacqueline King (aka Sylvia Noble) are the standouts, giving life to the ship’s computer Hugo and Captain Lambon respectively.
Overall, Handcock‘s script is a brilliant closing instalment to the set.
From a murder mystery on a spaceship and a prison break, to an Indiana Jones-esque jungle trek and a trip through the time vortex, this release is excellent if you just want four fun, standalone stories… and of course some great interactions between River and the Master(s). Complete with great music and sound design from Howard Carter and brilliantly directed by Ken Bentley, this release is thoroughly recommended.
The Diary of River Song Volume Five can be purchased as a CD or on download from bigfinish.com
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