The Doctor and Liv are in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven after the conclusion of the Doom Coalition series, and this brings us to the first of the Ravenous box sets. Separating Helen from the Doctor and Liv is an interesting series arc for this box set, and provides a more pressing reason for them to go searching for the Eleven following the events of Doom Coalition and it also allows for some interesting character development between Helen and the Eleven later on. Ravenous represents a new era for the Eighth Doctor in more ways than one – the first box set of this series is the last to use to the silver Classic Series logo as all audios from this point forward use the new branding for the 2018 rebranding of Doctor Who.
1.1 – Their Finest Hour
Set during World War 2, Their Finest Hour features Ian McNeice who reprises his role as Winston Churchill that he played in Victory of the Daleks, as Churchill calls the Doctor on the eve of the Battle of Britain after several RAF fighters mysteriously disappear. It is interesting to note that Liv Chenka has no idea who Churchill is, as although she is Human she is from another planet in the far future, and all of her information about Earth’s history comes from the other companions she meets such as Molly and Helen, and there is a nice reference to Molly early on as Liv compares the two World Wars that she has now experienced at two different points in her travels with the Doctor. Although World War 2 is a fairly well-used setting for Doctor Who stories at this point, this audio focuses on a very specific aspect of the war that has not been explored in Doctor Who much.
This audio prominently features the Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain, who in real-life history escaped the Nazi occupation of Poland and flew for the RAF in the Battle of Britain. This story’s two Polish pilots, Jan Ostowicz and Wilhelm Rozycki, are the two main pilot characters in the story, and honestly it is refreshing to have a World War 2 story that isn’t populated with over-the-top tally-ho British characters with faux-toff accents that are overused tropes of this historical era, and the pilot characters are very memorable and likeable in their characterisation which is a great surprise. After the sheer number of British pilot stereotype characters that have been featured in Big Finish’s early days, this audio comes as a breath of fresh air.
Their Finest Hour doesn’t shy away from a realistic depiction of war, and the characters are realistically depicted by a great cast. Paul McGann and Nicola Walker are great as always, Liv gets some great scenes as she is separated from the Doctor and trapped on an alien ship with one of the pilots and so must assume a Doctor-like role in order to escape. One of the most memorable things about this audio is its ending, which is suitably bleak given the setting and delivers a great gut-punch that hits home how horrible life was on the front line for those fighting in World War 2, particularly the Battle of Britain. As a series opener, Their Finest Hour does a great job, and it makes a really good first impression for the Ravenous saga.
1.2 – How to Make a Killing in Time Travel
This story begins with the much-maligned scientist Stralla Cushing attempting to invent time travel for her brutish boss, Cornelius Morningstar. Her experiments draw the attention of the TARDIS, and The Doctor and Liv are diverted in their search for Helen to the space station Scapegrace. Unfortunately, several other parties are aware of the developments in temporal technology taking place on the station and the cross-interferences of each group causes absolute chaos as the story progresses. This audio sometimes feels like a play, there are a few larger-than-life characters and bizarre creatures with enigmatic character traits, this is perhaps the closest this era gets to feeling like the Hartnell era, but at the same time it is also fast-paced and snappy like a New Series story. Liv is particularly funny in this story as she calls out the Doctor on his initial blasé approach to meddling, as his assurances that everything will be sorted in a jiffy are, of course, naively optimistic.
The story does take a few dark turns, however, and there are some great performances from the supporting cast that sell the grimmer scenes in this audio, and everyone from the comically deranged Morningstar to the charismatic duo of Gorl and Dron are memorable and give this story a very unique identity. The title is also fitting, as the invention of time travel and the string of crimes and blackmails that follow are the catalyst for a fascinating temporal murder mystery, with an interesting twist that the audience are aware of what is going on and yet all of the characters, including the Doctor and Liv, blunder through the story completely unawares. In a very Much Ado About Nothing-style series of mishaps and innuendos one murder causes a chain of events that threatens to destroy an entire civilisation.
Although this audio plays itself as somewhat of a comedic story, with the ending being played for laughs more than anything, this is a genuinely exciting listen and there are some great character moments between the Doctor and Liv. How to Make a Killing in Time Travel is a fun standalone story that has little to do with the wider story of the Ravenous series, but this is ideal as the next two stories return to the more pressing issue of Helen’s kidnapping. Nonetheless, some of Big Finish’s best earlier works are standalone audios, and this story continues that tradition with a fun run-around that makes for a nice diversion whilst also offering some funny and heart-warming character moments between the Doctor and Liv.
1.3 – World of Damnation
The tone shifts dramatically for the next story, World of Damnation, as the Eleven and Helen are trapped on Rykerzon, a maximum-security prison for the most dangerous criminals. To address the elephant in the room, this audio features the return of the Kandyman from the Seventh Doctor TV story The Happiness Patrol in 1988, who menaced the citizens of Terra Alpha with his deadly desserts. He is seemingly up to his old tricks in this audio after reconstituting himself with a new grotesque body, as he serves sickeningly sweet treats to the prisoners and officials alike on on Rykerzon. The Eleven is held prisoner, and Helen acts as a carer and emotional mentor for him, taking on an almost motherly role as the two characters are given months of time together to form a bizarre ‘friendship’. The scenes between these two characters throughout this audio are some of the most fascinating in the series, and it is good that the Ravenous series is doing more with the character of the Eleven as he is a really fun anti-villain to have around and there is a lot of potential with the character.
The Doctor and Liv finally arrive in pursuit of Helen and the Eleven, and are immediately separated, as is customary. Liv meets up with two of the best of the supporting cast, Ruzalla and Crabhead, who explain that the Kandyman has taken control of the prison and now treats the majority of the prisoners like animals, feeding them troughs of desserts to placate them as a form of crowd control. The setting of a decrepit prison being subverted by the Kandyman and transformed into a sickening sweet factory has some great potential that World of Damnation takes full advantage of.
Oddly enough, despite his notorious reputation in the fanbase, the return of the Kandyman is pulled off exceptionally in this audio as his completely reformatted body allows him to be reintroduced as almost a completely different character. Although the horrific, high-pitched voice of the Kandyman in the Classic Series was one of his defining features, the design of the creature caused several issues for the show and its appearance detracted from any potential explanation for its bizarre sugar-related philosophy. This audio sets up the Kandyman as an actual character rather than a monster, and without the insane voice and stomping costume the character has been changed for the better for audio. He even gets a great reunion scene with the Doctor as the two meet again after many years. The cliff-hanger ending to this story is also suitably gut-punching, though not for the reasons you might expect.
1.4 – Sweet Salvation
After finally meeting back up with Helen at the end of the last story, the Doctor senses that something isn’t right. As it happens, he is right, as the Eleven and the Kandyman have made an alliance to take over not only Rykerzon but the nearby Colony 23 as well, using pacifying sweets and fizzy drinks to take over the planet. As their plan is set into motion the Doctor, Liv and Helen as well as former prison occupant Ruzalla meet up at last and begin to unravel what is going on. This is somewhat of a low-key finale for the first series of Ravenous, though as with Doom Coalition before it lower-stakes finales allow for more room for character development. This story tests the trust between the Doctor and Helen as he suspects her of being manipulated by the Eleven and continues to question her motivations, much to the chagrin of Liv who trusts Helen implicitly. Overall the pairing of Helen and Liv has been a highlight of this era, and there is no better showcase of this than their relationship in the Ravenous series.
Speaking of great character pairings, the matchup of the Kandyman and the Eleven is an interesting choice to say the least, as both villains are suitably deranged and maniacal so the two complement each other quite well, though one has to wonder how anyone was fooled by their attempts to impersonate legitimate officials to deal with the people of Colony 23. The basic plan of influencing the population using particular flavours is interesting and fits with the character, as he is once again playing the role of enforcer for a tyrannical regime as he was in The Happiness Patrol. The Kandyman has some great interactions with some of the Eleven’s earlier personalities, particularly the child-like Three and animalistic Six, as their kid-in-a-candy-shop glee at being evil matches up well with an actual evil Kandyman.
Overall Sweet Salvation wraps up the first box set of the Ravenous series with a great character-focused finale and it sets up several plot threads for later in the series, including the Eleven’s developing character as well as the mysterious screeching entities that are pursuing him and the Doctor. Although this box set is only the first in the Ravenous series, it represents the end of an era in one crucial respect: this is the last box set to use the classic Doctor Who logo on its branding, as releases from this point onward use the new branding introduced in 2018 for the New Series under Chris Chibnall. There is a lot more to Ravenous 2 than a simple change of box art design, however, as from here things start to get spooky, as the next box set in the Ravenous series has one defining theme – Monsters.