With the conclusion of Ravenous 1, the Eighth Doctor’s audio adventures take a series of unexpected twists and turns. There is a lot that Ravenous 2 sets out to do, including setting up a spinoff series, introducing the saga’s main villain, and undertaking a horror-inspired Christmas-themed audio. From this set onwards, Big Finish use the updated branding for the 2018 TV series and the wider box design allows for more expansive and creative cover artwork, so it is fitting that the theme of Ravenous 2 is Monsters, though probably not the ones you were expecting. From deranged Robots to Killer Clowns to the Krampus itself, Ravenous 2 promises action, thrills and scares a plenty.
2.1 – Escape from Kaldor
The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive on Liv’s homeworld of Kaldor, which also happens to be where the Voc Robots (from the 1977 TV story The Robots of Death) are built. Fans of the Fourth Doctor era will immediately recognise these sinister-sounding droids as they are known for their murderous activities after being re-programmed to kill the crew of a Human Sandminer. This audio depicts a different side to the Robots as they are immediately presented as being a key element of society on Kaldor as Liv explains that they are integral to the economy and the upholding of the current system of power on the planet. It is worth mentioning that this audio mostly serves to set up Liv Chenka’s spinoff series, ‘The Robots’, so this one is a must-listen for fans of the character.
Liv is apprehensive about returning home, which the audience can sympathise with as we know enough about Liv’s backstory from her audios so far to know what she thinks of the planet. Built on a class-based society, Kaldor is ruled by its 20 founding families who make up the entitled social elite who look down on everyone else – Human and Robot alike. Liv explains her disgust at the system in place on the planet and we finally get to hear more about her young life, her father and why she chose to leave the planet to become a Med-Tec. In the meantime, the Doctor enters the Kaldor Company Headquarters after encountering a protest against the practices of the robot manufacturer. As it happens, Liv’s sister Tula (who the Doctor ‘coincidentally’ meets) is a senior figure in the manufacturing of the new ‘Super-Vocs’, an advanced android that speak with her voice. It isn’t long before things start to go wrong, however, as the suitably sinister Robots are set against the population of Kaldor for reasons unknown…
In essence this story is a classic Base-Under-Siege story with every criticism of capitalism that you would expect from a story set in a corporate dystopia. However, there is a more sophisticated element weaved into this story that stems from the character of Kit, a former friend of Liv’s who happens to be a member of one of the 20 founding families. The corporation vs consumer story is offset by the meddling of an entitled, naïve and immature member of the elite, and in many ways this story is a more thoughtful version of the 2018 TV story Kerblam! as it treats the saboteurs and the corporations as equally liable rather than shifting all the blame on the rogue element and letting the corporation get off scot-free. Overall, Escape from Kaldor is an exciting adventure that leads into the spinoff series ‘The Robots’, a full set of audio box sets starring Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka and Claire Rushbrook as Tula Chenka. Liv’s relationship with her sister takes centre stage in this story and the payoff is certainly worth it, as we finally get some closure to Liv’s backstory that has been slowly teased at throughout her time as a companion.
2.2 – Better Watch Out
The Doctor takes Liv and Helen to Salzberg to experience a traditional European Christmas, which Liv has never experienced having grown up in the far-future on Kaldor. In fact, Helen has to explain the concept of Christmas to Liv early on in the story. This audio has some great soundscapes that really invoke the Christmas feel, everything from carol singers to Christmas markets. But make no mistake – this audio is a monster story. The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in Salzburg not on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but December 5th – Krampusnacht, or the Feast of St Nicholas. The theme of the Krampus, a hideous goat-legged demon-like monster from Alpine mythology, runs throughout this audio, and the idea of virtues and sins being judged by a demonic entity that stands as the antithesis to Father Christmas is a bizarre yet brilliant idea for a Doctor Who story. In many ways, the Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzberg two-parter explores ideas that the TV Christmas Specials would never have been able to, and the fact that it draws from traditional Christmas legends makes it one of the richest Christmas-themed stories Doctor Who has ever fielded.
The story begins as the Doctor steps in to assist a woman who is being threatened with homelessness by her landlord, who the Doctor notices seems very eager to evict his tenants. The parallels to A Christmas Carol are referenced by the Doctor himself, who compares the landlord to Scrooge, and the Doctor’s attempts to convince the landlord to embrace the spirit of Christmas are rebuked. Meanwhile, Liv and Helen are attacked by Imps in the street, as physical manifestations of the Krampus’s demons begin abducting the residents of Salzberg. The Imps themselves are suitably bizarre to listen to, and there is a great scene where Helen slowly realises that the Imps are not part of the festivities and are actually taking people, and Liv discovers that they are actual creatures after knocking one out with a well-aimed right hook. The Imps represent the physical manifestations of the demons of hell, and as such are driven to round up and punish anyone who has committed any sin, and as such they begin to round up the entire population of the city.
Throughout this audio, the events of the story are analysed and commented on by two distinct sets of characters who are separate from the main narrative. The first set is the Doctor in the future, who has brought another character called Bruno to Salzberg in the future, which is engulfed in flames as a result of something that Bruno did in the past, seemingly the end result of the Imp’s attack on the city. Another pair, an elderly pilgrim and a Bishop, discuss the legend of the Krampus and how it ties into the story. This fragmented method of delivering story elements is interesting and is the kind of storytelling that an audio drama format lends itself well to. Clearly not all is as it seems with this story, there is plenty of intrigue abound as the various seemingly disconnected story elements gradually come together. Considering the fact that Ravenous 2 promised monsters a plenty, Better Watch Out fills the quota almost single-handed with not only an army of demons but also the Krampus itself, which is brought to life with incredible sound design with a terrifying roar. The story also ends on a great cliff-hanger that leads into the next story, Fairytale of Salzburg.
2.3 – Fairytale of Salzburg
After Better Watch Out presented a bizarre and intriguing story, Fairytale of Salzburg finally starts to explain things about the story and answer some of the most pressing questions from the previous audio – namely, how the Krampus and the Imps come to exist in the first place and how the disconnected elements of Better Watch Out link together. The structure of this audio is somewhat reminiscent of a Moffat story, as it holds its cards close to its chest for the majority of the runtime before finally sliding the last critical pieces into place to bring the whole story together. Overall, the Krampus two-parter is presented as an epic, and should be regarded as such as this is an ambitious undertaking that pays off excellently, cementing Ravenous 2 as a box set that delivers on its promise of scary monsters.
Unfortunately, revealing too much about the story of Fairytale of Salzburg will spoil crucial plot elements of not only this story but the previous one as well. It has to be said that these stories are among the strongest in the Eighth Doctor’s tenure, and both Liv and Helen really get a chance to shine as Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan do a fantastic job in their roles. Each character gets more than one great scene in this audio, as Liv demonstrates her ability to stand in for the Doctor as she leads her friends on a mission without him, and Helen is instrumental in resolving the story, making some incredible sacrifices to save her friends from a horrible fate and proving once again that she is a worthy addition to the TARDIS team.
This audio foregoes the Christmas theme completely in favour of a full-on monster story, with the Krampus condemning sinners to hell and casting them down with commands uttered with its booming voice. The ultimate conclusion to this story is satisfying and poignant, and hearing all the various splintered narratives from throughout this two-parter finally culminate as the plot unfolds makes Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzburg one of the best stories in the Ravenous saga. The ending showcases the best of all three main characters, with Liv, Helen and the Doctor all at their absolute best in this story, particularly Helen as she plays a critical role in this story and she gets some great moments with Liv that show just how much their friendship has grown during their time travelling together. Overall Fairytale of Salzberg delivers a brilliant conclusion to this two-part story that not only delivers on the monster factor but also gives us a wonderful story that is a strong outing for this TARDIS team.
2.4 – Seizure
After the incredible epic that was Better Watch Out / Fairytale of Salzburg, Ravenous 2 hits a home run with this finale. Seizure might well be one of the most atmospheric, exciting and scary audios that Big Finish have ever produced, and it is a testament to the imagination, skill and dedication of everyone involved in creating this production that even this far into the Eighth Doctor’s huge series of audios, Big Finish can still outdo themselves and create some truly incredible pieces of art. Seizure has one of the most interesting setups for a Doctor Who story ever devised, as the Doctor and his companions arrive in a dying, haunted TARDIS drifting in the vortex in response to a distress signal, and soon discover that the Gothic hallways are being stalked by several evil monsters, including the Eleven who returns once again, although this time as a reluctant ally to the Doctor, Liv and Helen. But there is something even more monstrous lurking among the endless empty hallways.
Spoilers – it’s one of the eponymous creatures that have thus far only been mentioned or hinted at in this saga, the Ravenous. These are disgusting monsters from the early legends of Gallifrey, creatures that all Time Lords, even the Doctor, fear on instinct as they feed on regeneration energy by draining the lives of any Time Lord they come across. This story has atmosphere and chills a-plenty, as a sinister spectre stalks the halls of the dying TARDIS as the internal geography begins to break down. The Doctor and Helen are soon separated from Liv, and soon meet the Eleven, who is terrified out of his mind and desperate to escape. With ghosts and monsters prowling about the hallways and the TARDIS itself collapsing in on itself, The Doctor and Helen must find Liv, save the Eleven and escape before they are devoured.
The introduction of the Ravenous creature itself is also excellent, as the sound design and voice work sells this monster as a terrifying entity. The design works best for audio, as the horrific screech, the music and the sound effects make the Ravenous an intimidating presence. They also have an interesting effect on the Doctor, who is usually calm and calculated during adventures but in this case he is driven almost mad with panic, even before the Ravenous appear he begins to show small out-of-character moments of annoyance and anger. This is an interesting aspect to a monster as there is a real sense that he is genuinely scared of the Ravenous, and it isn’t hard to see why as the cover art shows just how disgusting and horrifying these creatures are, but the sound effects is what really sells these creatures with their horrific roar and grating voice. Seizure has scares, chills and atmosphere that make it a fantastic finale to Ravenous 2, and it is a really strong introduction to the eponymous Ravenous creatures.