Having recently discussed Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation of the Master in Planet of Dust during our Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – Ravenous 4, it seems fitting to review his most prominent audio appearance in Master, a Seventh Doctor story from Big Finish’s Main Range. This story forms part of the villains trilogy with Omega and Davros, and like those audios it explores the character of a Classic Doctor Who villain – in this case, the Master. This audio is undoubtedly controversial as it sheds light on the nature of the old friendship between the Doctor and the Master and also adds some interesting ideas of its own to the Doctor Who universe. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most celebrated audios in Big Finish’s back-catalogue, and one of Geoffrey Beevers’ best performances as the Master.
The setting for this story is odd indeed, as the Master is living as a Human called John Smith on an Earth colony from the future called Perfugium with seemingly no memory of his previous life. He invites his friends Victor and Jacqueline Schaeffer for a dinner party, during which the friends discuss death, murder and other macabre things. There is a constant talk of death in this story, from local murders that are a talking point among the colonists to the motivations that drive people to commit terrible crimes. The small-scale nature of this story is somewhat reminiscent of J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, as each of the characters are duplicitous and superstitious which creates some interesting dynamics for conversation.
This is where the choice to include Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation in this story becomes clear, as he is a phenomenal voice actor who gives a very distinctive performance. His incarnation is immediately recognisable to most people because of his burned or rotten appearance, as Beevers’ first appearance in the role was as the decaying Master in The Keeper of Traken in 1981. On audio, however, he is distinctive for a completely different reason, as Beevers’ voice has almost become the definitive voice of the Master as he is the last living actor who played the Master in Classic Doctor Who. His delivery of classic cackling villain dialogue is excellent, but in this story what really shines is his range as an actor as he plays a much more reserved character here.
Another aspect of this story that comes into play often are the mentions to Zagreus, Doctor Who’s 40th Anniversary Special, which is the audio that the villains trilogy leads up to. We reviewed this story in our Eighth Doctor Big Finish Audios Review – EDAs Series 4, Part 2, and discussed its reputation for being inaccessible to those who are not versed in the lore of early Big Finish and Classic Doctor Who. Small references to the Time Lord nursery rhyme about Zagreus appear throughout Master, which seems somewhat incongruous, but this doesn’t impact the story. It also makes some sense considering the controversial revelations that this audio contains, though to explore that too much would delve into spoilers.
Some people might have already noticed the comparison between this story and the New Series TV story The Family of Blood / Human Nature, despite this audio being released over four years earlier. Both stories feature a Time Lord seemingly becoming Human and forgetting their previous life, almost taking on a completely different personality in this new form. Both this audio and that TV story are loosely based on a novel called Human Nature, which also features the Seventh Doctor. The key aspect of this story is that the Master takes on a completely new persona, and the Doctor has some fascinating conversations with ‘Doctor John Smith’ about the nature of evil, adding to the richness of this story’s repertoire of interesting dialogue.
Sylvester McCoy is fantastic in this audio as always, and his distinctive performance lends itself really well to the subtle and withdrawn nature of this story. Combatting malevolent forces and dealing with schemes thousands of years in the making are two of the Seventh Doctor’s favourite things to do, and so he is on form in this audio. The iconic scene of the Doctor appearing at the window in a bolt of lightning, disrupting the dinner party with an ear-splitting scream, is certainly one of the most unexpected and dramatic cliff-hangars in a Big Finish audio to date.
Some of the discussions between the Doctor and the Master delve into some quite serious psychological topics, from intrusive thoughts to what could make someone completely forget their identity. John Smith’s situation as a Human who is haunted by the spectre of the Master’s evil yet is devoted to saving lives and discovering his true self makes for a tragic setup for a story, as the nature-versus-nurture argument of what makes the Master who he is drives the narrative to an unexpected conclusion. Overall Master is an atmospheric listen that is great for die-hard fans of the character. This audio delves into the character of the Master like no other and provides insights into his history with the Doctor that puts the fan backlash to the lore-heavy nature of The Timeless Children into perspective.
The final box set of the Ravenous series features a plethora of psychopathic Time Lords, from the Eleven to various incarnations of the Master. At the time of release, Ravenous 4 featured more incarnations of the Master in one story than any other piece of Doctor Who media, with Geoffrey Beevers, Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Gomez all making an appearance as their respective incarnations. The Ravenous series was initially marketed as a saga revolving around monsters, and there are few monsters in the Doctor Who universe who can rival the Master, let alone four Masters in one box set. The eponymous Ravenous also make a return, and we are finally given some explanation as to their origins way back in the early history of Gallifrey.
4.1 – Whisper
Despite this box set’s obvious focus on the Master, the first story focuses primarily on the Eleven. Unlike in the previous box set, we as the audience are aware of his ultimate intention to betray the Doctor, so Liv’s continuous mistrust of him is now more sympathetic than in the previous box set. Whilst Ravenous 3 was focused around the question of whether the Eleven could be an ally to the Doctor, Ravenous 4 has no such pretence following the ending of the previous story, so whilst Liv’s hostile attitude towards the Eleven could have come across as unwarranted in the previous box set, here we are rooting for Liv because we as the audience know that she is right. Nonetheless, the Eleven being his usual devious and deceptive self desperately trying to keep a lid on his previous incarnations is great to listen to. Over the course of the Ravenous saga the Eleven has developed a lot as a character since his early days as a manic villain, as here he takes on a much more subtle, sinister approach and it is interesting to see how much control he has over his other selves when he unites them in a singular purpose.
The premise of this story is relatively simple, yet it is an ingenious concept for an audio story. The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven to the Still Foundation in response to a distress call, only to find that the facility is under siege by predators who hunt by sound. As such, the characters have to communicate in whispers whenever the creatures are near, and this combined with the exceptional ambient sound design makes for some really atmospheric listening. Whisper is unique in that it is a base-under-siege horror story but with a very small main cast, with just a handful of supporting characters. The primary focus is on the Eleven and Liv’s volatile relationship as they try to work together to survive the situation. Helen is appalled as Liv chooses to carry a firearm when travelling with the Eleven, and she desperately tries to reason with her friend as she threatens to kill the Eleven to prevent him from killing anyone else. This audio tests Liv in a way that no story in the series so far has, as the Eleven almost goads her on and Helen has to hold her back.
The Doctor spends most of the runtime exploring the facility and attempting to understand exactly what the creature is and why it is attacking the facility. The fact that Liv has brought a gun to the party does not go down well at all, and this audio gives us a rare example of the Eighth Doctor being genuinely disappointed, perhaps even angry, with one of his companions. This is made even worse by the fact that, due to the monster hunting them by sound, the TARDIS team have to work out their differences in a whisper. The Doctor finally realises that the time has come to cut ties with the Eleven, as his altruistic desire to help the Eleven puts his companions in constant danger. The Doctor agrees to take the Eleven on one final trip, to a place where he can meditate and heal. The Eleven, however, has other ideas.
4.2 – Planet of Dust
This audio features the return of the Master, who hasn’t been in an Eighth Doctor audio story since all the way back in the Dark Eyes saga. This is also the first appearance of Geoffrey Beevers as the Master in an Eighth Doctor audio, for those who don’t know Beevers played the Master in one TV story of Classic Who, The Keeper of Traken, in which he played the decayed version of the Master who steals a new body to become Anthony Ainley at the end of the story. Despite only appearing once in the Classic series, Geoffrey Beevers has returned to the role for multiple Big Finish audios and his interpretation of the Master has since gone on to become a fan-favourite incarnation. Beevers’ Master is sly, cunning and manipulative, but also vulnerable and at times desperate, and no audio exemplifies this more than Planet of Dust.
The Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven arrive on the planet after the Eleven is finally allowed to fly the TARDIS by the Doctor. He claims he wants to come to the desert planet Parrak to meditate but all is not as it seems. The population of the planet is being controlled by the ‘Provider’, who seems to be the only being on the planet capable of giving the residents water. Robotic Rangers patrol the deserts and supply the population with a meagre supply of water in exchange for their co-operation on dig sites throughout the desert. The Master attempts to force the population into abject slavery in order to scour the desert for an ancient tomb. There is a great scene midway through this audio where the Master and the Eleven discuss the Master’s knack for escaping death, and the Master quite frankly tells the Eleven that he is no longer sure how long he has lived, and the Eleven gradually realises that the Master is finally dying.
It is great to hear the Eleven and the Master finally meet, but one of the best moments in this audio is between the Doctor and the Master, though to explain too much about it would spoil the plot. Needless to say the critical condition that the Master has found himself in makes him desperate, and he is more vulnerable now than ever. The ever-compassionate Eighth Doctor seems to genuinely want to help his old friend, and there is a great moment between the two near the end of this story that proves that the two are still friends in a strange, twisted sort of way, despite everything that has happened between them. In the end though, it is the Doctor’s old friends Helen and Liv who pull though for him in this story, as they both show their independence and self-determination by assisting the citizens of Parrak while the Doctor and the Eleven go tomb raiding. Planet of Dust is one of those audios that needs to be listened to, as for fans of Geoffrey Beevers’ Master and the relationship between him and the Doctor this audio is a real treat.
4.3 / 4.4 – Day of the Master
Unusually for an Eighth Doctor audio story, Day of the Master is formatted as one story split into two parts, rather than two or more stories sharing one overarching narrative as is customary with Eighth Doctor saga finales. Whilst the previous audio focused on Geoffrey Beevers’ incarnation, Day of the Master includes three more Masters – the ‘Bruce’ incarnation, the War Master, and Missy, played by Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi and Michelle Gomez respectively. With three Masters comes three separate plotlines across three separate timelines, and the Doctor, Liv and Helen are separated for the majority of this two-part story with each character being paired up with a respective Master.
Following on from the events of the previous audio after being lured away by the sound of a vortex manipulator, Helen is kidnapped by Missy after initially mistaking her for River Song, and she is transported to a future Earth where the entire planet is a barren wasteland. Helen is seemingly the only one who can guide Missy to her goal by reading a prophetic book that writes out everything they do as they do it, which is an interesting setup that allows for some fun interplay between the characters. Missy’s habit of not taking anything seriously contrasts heavily with Helen’s caring and compassionate attitude, and the two clearly do not get along. Hattie Morahan and Michelle Gomez are clearly having great fun with this audio and it is really fun to hear these two characters trade quips with each other.
The Doctor arrives on the planet Kolstarn in search of the ancient proto-Time Lord Artron, who is unknowingly being assisted by an earlier version of the Master who has a personal history with the Eighth Doctor. This meetup of the Eighth Doctor and the Master from the TV Movie in a time period that predates the foundation of Time Lord society is a showdown that has been in the making since 1996, and this alone makes Day of the Master a worthy finale to the Ravenous saga. Hearing Paul McGann and Eric Roberts trade verbal spats once again is wonderful to hear, and both actors are on top form in this story.
Liv is dropped off by the Doctor on a Time Lord station against her will, as he intends on keeping her safe but accidentally abandons her in the middle of the Eleven’s attack on the Time Lord facility in orbit around Kolstarn. The War Master arrives in response to the death of his earlier self, and adopts Liv as his temporary companion as he pretends to be a Time Lord specialist sent to aid her against the Ravenous. The two initially spy on the Eleven, who has allied with the Ravenous and unleashed them on the unsuspecting Time Lord military personnel, and the true horror of the Ravenous is finally revealed as they feast on their Time Lord victims. As the War Doctor gleefully explains, when the Ravenous feasts on a Time Lord then they die an agonising death, one incarnation after the next, as their regenerations are devoured by the nightmarish creatures. Derek Jacobi and Nicola Walker play off each other really well, and when Liv finally discovers the Master’s true identity there is a real sense that the two characters have a lengthy history, as Liv previously faced a much younger incarnation of the Master played by Alex Macqueen in Dark Eyes.
The pacing of this story is surprisingly well-handled, as despite the myriad of plot elements the fact that this is a two-part story coupled with the strong script makes this audio a fantastic listen and a fitting finale for the Ravenous saga. This story has everything you could want from a series finale, there’s a fantastic cliff-hanger for Part One which comes out of nowhere, there’s an exploration into the history of some of the major plot elements that finally answer some of the main questions that have been running throughout the series, and it also gives a satisfying conclusion to the character arc of the Eleven, as his elaborate scheme that he has been planning throughout the series is given a satisfying ending that rounds off the character excellently.
There are also just some really fun moments in this story, and some interesting details that fans will enjoy. Each incarnation of the Master wields their own laser screwdriver, for example. No amnesia is involved with the Eighth Doctor in this story, for once, as he is given only vague descriptions of both the War Master and Missy and so mistakes them for Roger Delgado’s Master and the Rani, respectively. When the three Masters do finally meet, there are some great scenes with banter between the three of them, as the two Masters are constantly at odds and Missy mocks both of them. The meeting between the three Masters is certainly a highlight of the story, and the three of them facing off against the Ravenous and the Eleven is a wonderful ending to the saga.
The recurring theme throughout recent Eighth Doctor audios of the Doctor needing someone to pull the trigger becomes particularly relevant here as the Masters shows up to stop the Eleven from destroying the universe simply because they happen to be currently occupying it. Make no mistake though, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are as fantastic as ever in this story, and despite featuring the Ravenous, the Eleven and three Masters the main cast still manage to shine. It is particularly fitting that the next chronological story in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline is a small-scale character story in the Stranded series, as the trio of the Doctor, Liv and Helen have become a united, cohesive team that can deal with anything. Well, almost anything, as their next series of adventures strands them in 2020.
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After dozens of audios spanning multiple eras, the Eighth Doctor’s tenure on audio has been vast indeed, and Ravenous 3 includes tributes to every era of Paul McGann’s audio adventures, including references to the eras of Charley Pollard and Lucie Miller, the return of River Song and the shadow of the Time War that is yet to come. The Ravenous creatures appear prominently in this series after their dramatic reveal in Seizure, the audio that concluded Ravenous 2, and they make a great impression as the main threat of this saga due to their terrifying sound design and clear, simple motive.
3.1 – Deeptime Frontier
This audio continues on directly from Seizure, establishing that the Time Lords are aware of the threat of the Ravenous after several attacks. The time-vortex space station, Deeptime Frontier, is managed by Time Lords but run by a Human, reflecting the desperate situation that the Gallifreyans find themselves in after encountering the natural predator of their race. The Doctor, Liv and Helen are rescued by the Time Lords after ending up on a planet full of Ravenous that is about to explode, and soon meet Under-Cardinal Rasmus (now regenerated into a new body) and Human scientist Daria Visteron, who are in charge of the station. The crew soon find the body of a Ravenous creature and attempt to take the opportunity to learn more about their foe from the corpse. However, the dead Ravenous soon turns out to be not so dead after all, and before long the loathsome creature is on the hunt again. Even after being dissected and incinerated, the Ravenous is still able to return to life and its horrific, clown-like face is twisted into a sickening smile.
Like Seizure, this audio does a good job of establishing the Ravenous as a species that all Time Lords, including the Doctor, fear by instinct. The Doctor explains that their clown-faced appearance is a result of their base fear influence, and that the fear of clowns that Humans experience is a result of the Ravenous themselves, and the Doctor references his bad experiences with circuses in the past such as the in the Seventh Doctor TV story The Happiness Patrol. Rasmus also explains that the Ravenous were banished into the Time Vortex during the early history of Gallifrey, and Helen soon makes the connection that the station is a natural staging ground for a Ravenous incursion due to its close proximity to the vortex. Liv also calls out the Time Lords for being frightened of their natural predator, as she has seen through the proud, high-and-mighty persona that the Time Lords present to Humans for years and now her long-standing impression of the Time Lords is made clear for all to see, offering her some degree of vindication in her views.
Just as in Ravenous 2, the sound design for this audio is excellent and the horrific voices and roars for the Ravenous make them a terrifying foe with a really intimidating presence. The legends and tales involving the Ravenous from different points in Time Lord history that are offered by various characters are a delight to listen to, and the soundtrack perfectly compliments the increasing fear and tension that elevates as the plot unfolds. The voice of the Ravenous, George Asprey, is on perfect form here and the Ravenous leader gets a fantastic monologue explaining his motivations and the innate desire of the creatures to feed and consume as much as they can. Paul McGann also does a great job of selling the Doctor in a fearful, panicked state, as the usually thoughtful, charismatic and charming Eighth Doctor is unusually snappish, tense and sometimes even slightly callous, which is very interesting to listen to after getting to know this incarnation so well over the dozens of audios he has had so far. Deeptime Frontier delivers an effective opener to the third series of Ravenous that gives the Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen some great character moments and delivering another great appearance of the Ravenous themselves.
3.2 – Companion Piece
Companion Piece begins with a nice call-back to Doom Coalition, as we pick up following the Nine as he is being pursued by the Chancellery Guard and encounters River Song, and given his kleptomaniacal nature he soon decides to start a collection. He rescues Liv and Helen from the Deeptime Frontier station, only to transport them to his facility where he is keeping many of the Doctor’s companions prisoner. This is a Doctor-lite story, but features cameo appearances from many of the Doctor’s companions including Jo Grant, Romana II, Jamie, Leela and Adric. Most notably, this audio features the return of India Fisher as Charley Pollard, and also the chronological debut of Rakhee Thakvar as Bliss who appears in the upcoming Time War audios. Hearing Charley interacting with the Nine, Liv, Helen and the other companions is a treat, and India Fisher makes a fantastic return to the role after so long.
This audio is definitely a fan service story idea, but there is an important underlying premise to this audio, as River makes the excellent point that even without the Doctor present, the Doctor’s companions are among the most capable collection of individuals in the universe, and it doesn’t take long before the inmates begin hatching an escape plan. River manipulates the Nine into attempting to kidnap Katarina, who is portrayed by Ajjaz Awad taking over from Adrienne Hill, as part of a scheme to distract him long enough for Liv, Helen, Charley and Bliss to escape. Helen also finally gets to put her specialty, ancient languages, to some practical use as she attempts to decipher the Gallifreyan symbols that code the controls. Bliss is also great in this story, as she is able to pick up on the insane events of the story as they unfold despite the fact that this is set before the Time War so at this point she knows nothing about Gallifrey, Time Lords or the Doctor.
Although Companion Piece seems like an idea that was merely conceived to deliver fan service on the surface, it is actually a really fun ride with some brilliant twists and turns and excellent performances from all the returning characters. Hearing Charley meet and interact with Liv, Helen and River is really fun and her return is very well-executed. It is a pity that neither Lucie Miller nor Molly O’Sullivan make an appearance, particularly as they are also companions of the Eighth Doctor, but overall the condensed main cast of Liv, Helen, Charley, Bliss and River Song gives each character a chance to shine and they have plenty of time to talk and get to know each other. The fact that there are lots of references and easter eggs in this story makes it fun for those who keep up with Doctor Who lore, but ultimately the best thing about this audio is how it manages to tell a great story with substantial focus on the characters as well as deliver excellent fan service.
3.3 – L.E.G.E.N.D.
L.E.G.E.N.D. has an interesting premise, as the Eleven seemingly decides to aid the Doctor and his companions in their fight against the Ravenous. Although Liv and Helen are understandably mistrustful of the Eleven, the Doctor shows a genuine desire to reform him, and the Eleven’s earnest offers of information and assistance makes an interesting dynamic. The TARDIS team arrives in 19th century Germany in pursuit of a Professor Marathanga, who has arrived on Earth and disguised in humanoid form. She has arrived looking for the Brothers Grimm to collect folklore tales for her sentient computer, the eponymous L.E.G.E.N.D. which acts as a compendium for all the universe’s tales and stories. The Doctor must rely on the Eleven’s co-operation in order to extract information about the Ravenous from this computer, even though the two clearly do not trust each other.
Liv and Helen are great in this story, there are several funny scenes involving Helen being excited about meeting the Brothers Grimm, and Liv continuing the recurring joke of knowing absolutely nothing about Earth history as she has never heard of Snow White, Red Riding Hood or any of the other classic tales. The driving force behind this story is Liv and Helen’s distrust of the Eleven, which is fair as by this point he has terrorized them throughout their travels with the Doctor, and the Doctor does come across as somewhat naïve for apparently believing his sudden change of heart. Mark Bonnar does a fantastic job as the Eleven as always, by this point each of his different incarnations are well-established characters and listening to them interact with each other and the other characters, all done through Mark Bonnar’s exceptional acting skill, is something that never gets boring. He has some great scenes with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor, including a hilarious sequence in which they have to eat their way into a Gingerbread House, and some of the Eleven’s previous incarnations like Gingerbread a bit more than the others.
Talking of which, Marathanga’s computer malfunctions and starts making aspects of Brothers Grimm tales come to life using plasm, and Helen is trapped in the forest with Wilhelm Grimm as monsters from the tales prowl through the trees around them. This audio also contains a bizarre yet funny sequence in which Helen is temporarily transformed into an eel, which pays off with the Doctor subverting the classic ‘prince kisses the frog’ trope. The reasoning that L.E.G.E.N.D. gives for its obsession with the Grimm tales is interesting, as it latches on to the themes of transformation that are prevalent throughout the tales and uses that to create a whole new philosophy, and uses the plasm to create avatars that represent parts of its consciousness. Although this audio goes to great lengths to establish the premise for having Brothers Grimm elements in a Doctor Who story, it has to be said that it doesn’t do much with the idea, instead focusing on Marathanga and Liv’s exasperated interactions with her as well the L.E.G.E.N.D. computer itself inevitably becoming a problem. Nonetheless, this story has some great character moments for Liv, Helen, the Doctor and the Eleven.
3.4 – The Odds Against
After a fantastic opening sequence where the Nine plays a game of eye-spy with his past selves, the Eighth Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven arrive at an abbey housing a dimensional gateway, and the Eleven begins to suffer some temporal side-effects of the crossing of his own timestream. The Odds Against focuses on the contentious relationship between the TARDIS team, as the Eleven and Liv are at each other’s throats while the Doctor and Helen attempt to keep the peace while the group hunt for the origin point of the Ravenous incursion. The Eleven gets more development as a character, as he is in a vulnerable position and is dependant on the Doctor and his friends for help in saving his past self from the Ravenous.
The Ravenous themselves are back in this story, after being absent from the previous two audios, and their origins are elaborated on a little more, though there are as many questions revealed in this story as answers. The abbey in which the Ravenous were allegedly first trapped is soon attacked by a horrific ‘Glitch’ – a partially-formed Ravenous that is murderously insane and shrieks its desire for death in a twisted, grating electronic voice. It didn’t seem possible to make the Ravenous voice sound even more terrifying, yet The Odds Against somehow manages it. Another interesting thing about this audio is that it manages to subvert the standard setup of a Doctor Who story and also deliver a great twist at the same time.
Having two versions of the same Time Lord meet is always a treat, but when the Eleven meets the Nine a whole wealth of untapped potential is unleashed, as the two begin to argue and, given their condition, things soon get out of hand as various other incarnations fight. A particularly funny sequence unfolds when both the Nine and the Eleven’s two versions of the Four bicker, leading to the two having an upfront conversation about their respective positions in the timeline which is quite interesting, and also gives some new insight into the nature of their condition. It is particularly morbid that the Eleven’s long-dead version of the Nine talks with his still-living counterpart, commenting on their former selves’ plans and reflecting on how they inevitably go wrong. Overall this audio is a fantastic treat for fans of the Eleven and his previous incarnations, as he takes a central role in this story as a neutral entity who is neither hero nor villain, which is always a fun direction to take a character.
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.
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.
As the Doom Coalition series reaches its conclusion, the Doctor and his companions are thrust back together after being separated for a long time, and this final series takes a more measured approach to its storytelling than the previous series. Whilst Doom Coalition 3 had almost a three-part story following its first audio, Doom Coalition 4 returns to the more tried-and-tested format of four audios that tell independent stories that all link together into a wider narrative, featuring returning faces from previous Doom Coalition series as well as some returning characters from even earlier Eighth Doctor stories, and returning monsters from much later in the Doctor’s life…
4.1 – Ship in a Bottle
Following on from the events of Doom Coalition 3, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are trapped in a dead future drifting in a temporal escape pod. This story features only the main cast, with Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan given the entire runtime of this bottle episode to give their characters a change to interact and converse after almost an entire series apart. After rationalising some of the events of the previous stories, the Doctor, Liv and Helen have some great character moments as they bicker and make up, and it is once again clear that Liv and Helen are two of the best friends that the Doctor has known up until this point, understanding him in a way that many other companions in both the Classic and New series don’t. Liv in particular sees through the Doctor’s bluster and her modern view of relationships leads to her often taking the lead in resolving internal conflicts in the group.
Usually bottle episodes are commissioned for Doctor Who when budgetary limitations are an issue, particularly for things like set building. Episodes like Midnight and Heaven Sent make excellent use of limited sets by focusing on character, so the fact that Big Finish have written a bottle audio story shows that they want to dedicate time to developing the main characters alone, which is definitely welcome after the relatively convoluted plot of the previous series. There is some element of threat however, as the trio are trapped in an escape pod stranded in a dying future with no hope of escape, and as the Doctor fails to get his friends out of this hopeless situation we get to see a really remorseful and fatalistic side to the Eighth Doctor and Liv and Helen really prove themselves here as they take charge when the Doctor loses hope.
This audio is actually somewhat reminiscent of an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called Explorers, which also depicts the main characters talking to each other in a tiny ship and, when things go wrong, they use their quick wits and intuition to escape. Unlike that episode, however, Ship in a Bottle focuses exclusively on our main characters with no distractions, making this an atmospheric audio with lots of tension and great character moments for everyone, but Liv is definitely the standout here. At this point Liv has travelled with the Doctor for long enough to know how he approaches fatalistic situations, and so she is able to find hope when Helen and even the Doctor himself cannot. Nicola Walker is excellent as always, and it is bizarre to think that Liv was originally introduced as a stand-in companion as yet she soon becomes one of the best characters in the Eighth Doctor’s era, and this audio is a great example of that.
4.2 – Songs of Love
This audio picks up where Doom Coalition 3, but from River Song’s point of view, as she infiltrates the Doom Coalition by pretending to side with Padrac following the Doctor’s exile into the dead future, which is both hilarious and fascinating to listen to. Although we as listeners are fully aware that River Song is merely buying time and playing along, she definitely does a convincing act while pretending to be part of Padrac’s plan. In the meantime, the Gallifreyan High Council in is disarray having heard whispers in the Matrix that predict the Time War. Padrac’s plan is insane, but one cannot help but sympathise as he has given up his old life as a bureacrat and embraced the renegade life to try to save his homeworld from certain destruction, though his methods of saving Gallifrey leave much to be desired as he essentially betrays the entire universe which is particularly stinging as he was once a close friend of the Doctor’s.
There are some great scenes in this audio, such as a particularly interesting segment in which River Song gets to visit Gallifrey before the Time War, and another sequence in which she is scanned by the Matrix only for it to conclude that the beginning and end of her timestream are confusing, an fun nod to the convoluted nature of River Song’s timeline in the New Series. Speaking of references to the New Series, arguably one of the most direct references is when River Song is able to use her status as the known assassin of the Eleventh Doctor at Lake Silencio that the Matrix recognises as a fixed point in time in order to convince the Doom Coalition that she wants to join them. This audio is full of fanservice moments for the New Series, though this is just the tip of the iceberg for fanservice in Doom Coalition 4.
There are also some interesting scenes in the Gallifreyan High Council in this audio, in which Padrac suggests that the Matrix predicts a Time War, but also the destruction of Gallifrey even should a Time War not come to pass, which is an interesting viewpoint as he may have been somewhat vindicated by recent events of the New Series regarding the destruction of Gallifrey by the Master during Series 12. In the meantime, Liv and Helen get more time to talk after the events of the previous audio, and Helen finally reveals the truth about River Song to her which leads to a great scene of the two becoming closer friends. Despite barely featuring the Doctor at all, this audio is probably one of the most important in the series, as the Eleven, the Sonomancer and Padrac finally come together as the previous arcs of the past Doom Coalition series converge at last. River Song also gets a great farewell with Liv and Helen, as well as a poignant scene with the Eighth Doctor who is allowed to retain his memories of her from their meetings in his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh incarnations if only briefly, making this audio somewhat of a finale for River meeting Classic Doctors.
4.3 – The Side of the Angels
The Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in 1970s New York, only to discover that the Time Lords that fled Padrac’s revolution on Gallifrey have established themselves in the city as part of a development firm pushing forward construction in the city on a massive scale, assisted by none other than the Monk in a new incarnation played by the wonderful Rufus Hound. Carolyn Pickles stars as Cardinal Ollistra, a prominent Time Lord official who will be known to fans of the War Doctor audios as a prominent Time Lord official during the Time War who is assisting in the redevelopment of New York. It turns out that Ollistra and the Monk are attempting to set up a refuge from Padrac’s plans by altering Earth history to transform New York into a huge metropolis that replicates the Time Lord cities on Gallifrey.
It soon becomes clear that there is more at work than a simple Time Lord refugee operation, however, as the Weeping Angels are also active in New York in this era. One might wonder how the Weeping Angels can be translated into the audio format, as they are a very visual monster and are dependant on jump-scares during their appearances in the New Series. In spite of everything Big Finish’s excellent sound design makes the Angels’ jump to audio seem totally seamless, and it is remarkable how much of the personality of the Weeping Angels comes from their trademark ‘shriek’ jump-scare sound effect. Ironically, however, this is one of the Angels’ strongest appearances since their very first appearance in Blink all the way back in 2007.
Rufus Hound is also exceptional as the Monk, and he and the Eighth Doctor have a great confrontational scene as the Doctor is still bitter about the events of their previous encounter that resulted in the deaths of Tamsin Drew, Alex Campbell and Lucie Miller. This time, however, the Monk is seemingly working for the benefit of Gallifrey. However, the Time Lord’s plan to side with the Weeping Angels in order to ride out the destruction of everything raises a few questions, as once everything is destroyed, there is nothing to stop the Angels from simply killing the remaining Time Lords and becoming the last beings in existence. Even the Eleven himself comments on how ludicrous their plan sounds, which goes to show how truly baffling it actually is. The highlight of the entire audio is the Monk’s final scene, which provides some karmic poetic justice that has been long due since the Monk’s last appearances in the EDAs.
4.4 – Stop the Clock
The Eleven is back in force for the finale of his introductory series, and the Doom Coalition saga reaches its crescendo as the Sonomancer and her ‘lover’, Padrac’, finalize their plans for the destruction of the universe. The alliance between the three villains is an uneasy one, however, and the Doctor and his companions are able to ally themselves with the remaining loyalist Time Lords by presenting them with the Eleven. One of the best scenes of this audio is when the Eight finally gets his vengeance on his other evil selves, as the Doctor, Liv and Helen are able to encourage the Eight to temporarily take control of the Eleven and divulge his entire plan, allowing the one good man trapped in the maelstrom of the Eleven’s other selves to once again help defeat the Doom Coalition, even long after his death.
It has to be said that Padrac is not exactly the ultimate villain to end all ultimate villains, as even with his new renegade persona he still comes across as a bureaucrat and his attempts to manipulate the Sonomancer’s love for him are clearly obvious, yet she seems totally oblivious to it. The Eleven is the villain who makes the most impact in this audio, there is a brilliant scene between him and his guard while he is imprisoned by the Time Lords that proves that even after four box sets he is still just as fun a villain as he was in his first appearance. Despite this, he is discarded by Padrac as easily as the Sonomancer, and despite his status as perhaps the least auspicious villain, Padrac proves himself to be the master manipulator in the end.
In the end Padrac’s actions lead to an all-out Time Lord civil war, and as the Sonomancer reveals his true intentions as the mastermind behind her entire ordeal, as when she was the student Caleera it turns out that it was Padrac who was suppressing her abilities and manipulating her teachers and seniors into repressing her potential for her entire life, forcing her to hate the universe. Caleera becomes quite a sympathetic character at the eleventh hour, but the revelation that Padrac was the one that instigated her life of repression somewhat goes against the principle that it was Time Lord society that repressed Caleera’s potential. Caleera’s final moments also calls back to a very specific audio earlier in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline, though it would be a huge spoiler to reveal it here. Overall, Stop the Clock is a fantastic finale for Doom Coalition that brings all of the elements from throughout the series together in a satisfying conclusion that also sets up a lead for the next saga, as the Eleven kidnaps Helen and the Doctor and Liv pursue them into time and space, leading into the next saga: Ravenous.
After escaping from the Eleven’s scheme in The Sonomancer, the Doctor, Liv and Helen finally start to put the pieces of the grand plan together in Doom Coalition 3. Unlike Dark Eyes, which presented a separate story in each of its box sets, it is clear that Doom Coalition had more pre-planning in advance, and so many of the plot elements that have been weaved throughout the previous two box sets begin to culminate here. This series is essentially one long continuous story, with each part building on the events of the last to deliver a climactic finale.
3.1 – Absent Friends
This audio is a fascinating listen as it subverts the standard Doctor Who format for a story with classic misdirection, presenting an example of a situation where the Doctor, his companions and the audience are presented with various clues and theories that cast suspicion on various characters, but instead of dealing with a malevolent entity the Doctor is simply up against a temporal phenomenon, which is oddly a storyline that isn’t used much in Doctor Who. Imagine an episode like Father’s Day, except there are no Reapers, just the presence of a bizarre timey-wimey problem that is causing issues in a town. The real focus of this audio is character development for Liv and Helen, not just individually but also as a companion unit with the Doctor. This trio quickly solidifies as a group of close friends, and this audio is an excellent showcase of that.
As the TARDIS team lands in 1998, Helen sees an opportunity to reconnect with her family, and against the Doctor’s advice, she attempts to seek out her surviving relatives with disastrous consequences. After learning that her still-living relatives despise her for abandoning them in 1963, she realises that she never returns to her family and, after pretending to be her own daughter, she sees how her family have got on without her for over three decades. Intending to apologise for leaving her family behind, she unfortunately ends up making the situation even worse, and as the Doctor explains her decision to see them again has now locked her in a timeline where she never returned home, and she can now never return to 1963 and has lost 35 years of her life.
We also learn a lot more about Liv’s early life, a topic that has barely been covered so far in the audios in which she has appeared. Her character very much lives in the moment, and it definitely comes across that she feels uncomfortable talking about her past and her personal life. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Liv throughout her time in the series but Absent Friends is a brilliant illustration of her expert portrayal of the character. She gets some really poignant scenes towards the end, and as this audio deals with the finality of death and how it separates us from our loved ones, the meaning behind the title Absent Friends becomes clear towards the end. In these times, a poignant story about calling loved ones that you miss is a lovely sentiment.
3.2 – The Eighth Piece
This audio starts to slot together the various plot elements of the Doom Coalition series as we finally start to see the ‘grand plan’ of the series begin to take shape. The Doctor, Liv and Helen split up and each search specific time periods looking for pieces of a bizarre temporal device – the Doctor searches Tudor England, Liv is dropped in 14th century Prague and Helen goes to 21st century Italy. This in itself is a really great idea for a story that, when done right, presents some unique opportunities for time-travel storylines. The Eighth Piece sometimes comes across likes it has bitten off more than it can chew, particularly with the inclusion of River Song amongst a large group of supporting cast. However, it is a fun ride and each of the main characters is given their own small adventure and the plan of the Doom Coalition plays a role in each of them.
This audio also features the Eight, the earlier incarnation of the Eleven who devoted himself to becoming a good man. The Eight is in many ways a tragic character, as he is tormented by the angry voices of his previous incarnations and it is only through meditation that he is able to retain his control of his past selves. Interestingly, however, the Eight seems to be a lot better at keeping his previous incarnations contained than the Eleven is, despite the fact that his personality is so at odds with his other selves. The concept of meeting the Eleven’s former selves when they were still alive introduces some interesting opportunities for the character which are explored more later in the series.
Overall The Eighth Piece is a great listen, an action-packed adventure across time and space with some great moments, including River Song versus Clockwork Robots, the Eighth Doctor versus Thomas Cromwell, the Eight and a new villain known only as ‘The Clocksmith’. River Song’s inclusion in the series becomes more important here than in the previous box set, as her status as a time-traveller makes her able to contribute to the grander, universal temporal plan without having to be taken there by the Doctor, which is quite an understated benefit of having her appear in this series as this not only helps with pacing but also allows the audience to be privy to information that the Doctor and his companions are not, which is crucial for later events of the series.
3.3 – The Doomsday Chronometer
Following on directly from the events of the previous story, The Doomsday Chronometer gives us a proper introduction to the Clocksmith, a villain who is defined by his role as an artist. Unlike the Master, who is motivated by chaos, or the Rani who is primarily a scientist, the Clocksmith is dedicated to creating incredible works of art using extremely rare temporal materials, trapping his victims in the moment of their death in order to capture their final moments and immortalise them forever. Despite his clear insanity, the Clocksmith is simply one part of a greater organisation, the eponymous Doom Coalition.
Helen and River Song’s side of the story is developed a bit more here, as they are embroiled in a fun romp travelling throughout time and space pillaging lost historical artefacts that have special significance to the Doom Coalition, and the two make for a great duo as River fills the surrogate Doctor role and Helen’s knowledge of history makes her the perfect companion to take on a time-space extravaganza. River is also great here, as her foreknowledge of the Doctor’s future allows for some fun call-backs (or call-forwards, depending on how you look at it) to the New Series. She even meets the Doctor, though thanks to her psychic disguise she is able to conceal her true identity from him, in order to preserve the timeline.
Big Finish have to be commended for creating a massive temporal narrative that they actually pull off, a huge story involving lots of different temporal players including the Doctor, the Eight, the Clocksmith and River Song, not to mention non-time traveller characters like Liv and Helen, Thomas Cromwell, the Clockwork Robots and the various supporting cast, all of which culminate into a complex but gripping narrative that plays out across various time periods. As the penultimate audio to Doom Coalition 3, The Doomsday Chronometer is as exciting and action-packed as any New Series adventure, and the ending delivers a twist that sets up a very interesting finale.
3.4 – The Crucible of Souls
After the Eight was killed and regenerated into the Nine after retreating to the Doctor’s TARDIS, Liv and Helen mistake this new incarnation for the Doctor, setting up a really good premise for the story. The Nine just immediately taking the role of the Doctor whilst also displaying his trademark kleptomaniacal tendencies makes for a great listen, John Hefferman is brilliant as the Nine and his charisma and jovial nature can somewhat explain how he is able to fool Liv and Helen, particularly as the Doctor has been shown to be unstable after previous regenerations which lends some credibility to his seemingly sudden change in personality. He even gets an outfit reveal scene which is remarkably similar to scenes in the New Series where the Doctor shows off the new costume post-regeneration. Just as with the Eight, having the Nine appear in the flesh in an audio is a great touch, it is always great to see more of the Eleven’s previous incarnations and hopefully Big Finish use this idea more in the future.
All things considered, Liv and Helen take the Doctor’s regeneration remarkably well at first, particularly Helen who had no prior knowledge of the process. This is just one of many reasons why Liv and Helen are such good friends to the Doctor, and it doesn’t take them long to start having suspicions about this ‘new incarnation’ once he starts displaying noticeably un-Doctorlike traits such as greed and ruthlessness. In the meantime, the real Doctor and River (still disguised as her time-travelling Nun persona) investigate the Doomsday Chronometer. It has to be said that Liv is given some great scenes in this story, and she alone is able to figure out what’s going on before anyone else, even River and the Doctor.
What follows is an action-packed adventure as all parties finally converge on place. The Doctor is disguised as the Clocksmith and along with River he infiltrates the Doom Coalition headquarters, whilst the Nine does exactly the same whilst disguised as the Doctor. All the while Liv and Helen are caught up in the mix, not sure who they can trust as both the Doctor and River can’t blow their cover and the Nine is soon revealed to be an imposter posing as the Doctor. There is another twist in this audio, one that slots the final player into place as the Doom Coalition’s ultimate plan is revealed. This is where the Eighth Doctor era really starts to intersect with the New Series, and not just because of River Song. This is a fearful ear for the Time Lords, who are beginning to foresee the Time War and yet are powerless to prevent it. Nonetheless, the group of extremists known as the Doom Coalition are willing to take extreme measures to change history.
After narrowly escaping an encounter with the Eleven at the conclusion of Doom Coalition 1, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are planning a holiday to relax after their ordeal and find a retreat to enjoy some off-time. Whilst Doom Coalition 1 was mostly focused on introducing the new companion, Helen Sinclair, as well as establishing the Eleven as a primary villain of the series. Following this establishing series, Doom Coalition 2 gets more time to focus on establishing the series arc for Doom Coalition, as well as introducing more recurring elements that feed into the overarching narrative.
2.1 – Beachhead
Set in the town of Stegmoor in Cornwall, Beachhead opens with a bizarre sequence involving two women complaining about the Wi-Fi that ends with a sudden flood that washes one of them away, which would seem to be an utterly bizarre way to open a story were it not for the fact that Stegmoor seemingly holds some significance to the Doctor as he decides to take Liv and Helen there for their planned retreat. This audio is notable for basing several elements of its plot around an ‘unseen’ Third Doctor adventure, in which he, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw investigated a supposed alien crash site during their time working for UNIT, decades before this story set in 2017. Certain characters in the story have knowledge of the Doctor that creates some tension, as some who remember his involvement in previous events hold a grudge against him for his role in a supposed government cover-up.
As the cover suggests, this audio features the return of the Voord, one of their only appearances in a Big Finish audio. This obscure monster first appeared all the way back in The Keys of Marinus, a First Doctor story first transmitted in 1964, and although their costume design and appearance in that story was somewhat lacklustre due to the technical limitations of the time, the audio format allows for the Voord to be fully realised as the sleek, agile creatures that they were initially envisioned as. The Voord are an intimidating presence in this audio which is aided by the excellent sound design, and the cast do a fantastic job with the Voord voices.
This audio is a classic example of a story involving morally dubious Humans along with morally dubious alien invaders, as although the Voord present a clear threat, the Doctor’s previous history with Phillipa Gregson in his Third incarnation proves to be of more harm than good, as the Doctor’s failure to identify the Voord threat decades earlier has profound effects on Phillipa’s life, as well as the events in the narrative of this story. It is interesting to have a villain from such an early period in Classic Who return for a modern story, and in many ways the new TV series could adapt classic villains that were poorly presented by their production design at the time by updating their designs as they did with the likes of the Macra in Gridlock.
2.2 – Scenes From Her Life
This audio is a bizarre listen, as a trio of deranged individuals inhabit a bizarre Gothic castle floating around in the time vortex performing experiments on innocent people, seemingly focusing the powers of a Time Lord girl with intense psychic abilities. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive there after following the trail from the destroyed Voord homeworld, encountering the huge malformed structure floating in the Time Vortex. Upon encountering the barmy inhabitants of the city, the Doctor realises just how insane they actually are. This is where the exceptional supporting cast, particularly Vincent Franklin and Jacqueline King, bring this story to life with a dynamic performance as the Mad Hatter-March Hare duo of ‘Lord Stormblood’ and ‘Lady Sepulchra’.
The subplot of this audio involves flashbacks to Gallifrey, where Caleera, the Time Lord with psychic powers, is first discovering her abilities and is held back by the higher-ups of Gallifrey who want to suppress her abilities. It is not hard to feel sympathy for her, as her origin is a tragic one, though over the course of the story she begins to manipulate Helen and it soon becomes clear that her intentions are less than noble, particularly after years of oppression from the Time Lords. Caleera is definitely an interesting character and the fact that this audio ends on a cliff-hanger means that she is bound to show up again later on.
The setting of Scenes From Her Life is incredible, the constant creaking of damaged machinery and sparking of exposed wiring showcases the exceptional quality of Big Finish soundscapes. Dank, eerie corridors, rotting technology and howling corridors inhabited by crazy aristocratic murderers makes for a great setting for a scary story. This is definitely an audio that needs to be listen to in order to be appreciated, and there are many plot elements that haven’t been touched on here as there is a lot of intrigue and some excellent reveals that make this audio one of the best in the series that presents one of the most twisted and disturbing challenges for the Doctor, Liv and Helen that we have heard thus far.
2.3 – The Gift
Arriving in 1906 San Francisco, the Doctor is seemingly transfixed by music that Liv and Helen cannot hear and soon wanders off looking for a barbershop of all things, while Liv and Helen intervene to prevent a bankrupt theatre owner from being carted away by loan sharks. Despite the seemingly benign opening, there are some elements of strange goings-on in the city, as a man stalks the streets howling about the ‘day of retribution’, and another sinister man offers huge amounts of money to the downtrodden, which is apparently the eponymous ‘Gift’. This audio deals with the theme of temptation in times of destitution, and how seemingly good-natured people can be manipulated by promises of money.
The Doctor’s bizarre behaviour and the seemingly supernatural shenanigans going on in San Francisco are explained when it becomes apparent that a Time Lord’s psychic influence has created an affliction that is passed from person to person, devouring their life force while briefly granting their every wish. The fact that this story is set at the same time as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is noted by the Doctor as being a bad sign. The links to this historical event make for some interesting set pieces, and Big Finish do an impressive job of creating the environment of a city devastated by an earthquake and the subsequent fires with excellent sound design.
This audio is quite interesting as we get to see what could happen if the Doctor became an all-powerful being, who immediately isolates ‘problems’ in the universe that need fixing. The concept of an all-powerful Doctor has been played with before, but this audio depicts the Doctor almost giving in to the temptation of absolute power. There is also a surprising cameo in this story that begins the increasing links between the latter Eighth Doctor audios and the New Series, in that River Song becomes embroiled in the Doom Coalition conflict due to its temporal nature and leaves a very familiar message for the Doctor.
2.4 – The Sonomancer
Alex Kingston makes her first appearance as River Song in this story, and from the beginning she brings the role to life in audio form. River’s introductory scene at the start depicts her doing her job investigating an ancient site before being captured by a minion of the Eleven and Caleera, who is now calling herself the Sonomancer. Despite being captured right at the start, River still makes a good first impression in the series and makes for a wonderful addition to an already dynamic cast for this finale. The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive on Syra, and soon encounter a group of peaceful Syrans lead by Mariam. Unfortunately, however, this audio does spend a fair bit of the first act simply getting the characters into place, with more focus on secondary villains than the main cast at first.
The audio really starts to get interesting when Helen finally meets River, as she is kept apart from the main cast for the majority of the first half but when Helen is separated from the rest of the group it provides the perfect opportunity for the two characters to meet and interact. There are some fun sequences here, such as River showing Helen a selection of the Doctor’s faces and asks her to point out which one is hers, as well as the explanation that River meets previous incarnations of the Doctor in disguise or through a middle-man so that their established ‘first’ meeting in the Library in his Tenth incarnation can still happen.
Another interesting aspect to this story is the interactions between the Eleven and the Sonomancer, as the two are embroiled in an intriguing relationship that is clearly unstable from the start. The Eleven is eventually left to do most of the legwork himself as Callisto distracts the Doctor whilst Liv gets to battle the Eleven in a giant mech Aliens-style, which is awesome. River Song also gets to use Venusian martial-arts on the Eleven which is hilarious to listen to, and Helen’s character is developed further as her secret friendship with River gives her an edge over Liv and the Doctor in subsequent River stories. Overall, The Sonomancer is a fun listen, though unlike previous series finales it doesn’t feel like much of a conclusion story, with many of the plot elements being unresolved and left for later audios in the series. River Song’s introduction takes the main stage, and this is executed quite well and shows how the writing of the series has improved since Dark Eyes, which had each finale conclude its respective mini-arc within the saga. Doom Coalition 2 has definitely impressed and despite the similarities in format to the previous era, the unique identity of Doom Coalition as a series has now been established.
At the conclusion of the Dark Eyes saga, the Doctor and Liv Chenka are finally free of the Daleks, the Eminence and the Master, and as one saga ends another begins. Doom Coalition is much more character-focused, as whilst Dark Eyes was a space opera saga in audio form, Doom Coalition is more of a return to the traditional Doctor Who format of many stories in a series linked by a recurring story arc, in this case the malevolent meddling of a renegade Time Lord criminal known as the Eleven. This new series not only introduces a new companion, bringing the TARDIS team to a total of three members, but it also introduces a new villain who has a lasting impact on the next few series of Eighth Doctor audios.
1.1 – The Eleven
This audio begins with a great sequence involving the Seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy and a new Time Lord character that this series introduces called the Eleven, played by Mark Bonnar. This Time Lord suffers from regenerative dissonance, a Time Lord condition in which the previous incarnations of the Time Lord live on as voices in their head, and the Eleven is so named because he is the eleventh incarnation, and so possesses ten previous incarnations that periodically take control of his body to comment on events, converse with each other, or attempt to take control. Bonnar’s performance is electric and the Eleven is perhaps the greatest original villain that Big Finish have created, and this audio is a great introduction to the character.
The Doctor and Liv are drawn to Gallifrey as the Eleven escapes his long imprisonment, and we get to visit post-Classic era Gallifrey at the height of its power, that not only tolerates Human presence on the planet but outright seeks the Doctor’s help in stopping the threat, which is a welcome change from previous Gallifrey stories that position the Time Lords as antagonists of the Doctor. Learning more about Gallifreyan society during the presidency of Romana II is fascinating, and the majority of the Time Lord characters are well-developed, although there are still some Time Lords who insist on playing the bad-cop role.
Thanks to an obscure Time Lord law and a brief period as a member of the High Council in his first incarnation, the Eleven is able to seize control of Gallifrey and install himself as Acting President, taking Liv prisoner and attempting to steal the Time Lord’s repository of weapons. There is some interesting banter in this story, between both the Doctor and Farina and the Eleven arguing with his various incarnations, and this is a great series opener that makes excellent use of the run time to deliver a great Gallifrey story that doubles as a fantastic introduction to the Eleven. Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Mark Bonnar are all fantastic, and the supporting cast do a great job of bringing Gallifrey to life for a new era of audios.
1.2 – The Red Lady
This audio is very memorable, beginning with a fantastic opening in which the collection of a recently deceased art collector is donated to the National Museum despite the fact that his final instructions insisted that it remain hidden from view. This kicks off a mystery involving the eponymous Red Lady, as she appears in every single piece of artwork in the collection which peaks the interest of several academics. The Doctor and Liv arrive in London 1963 in pursuit of the Eleven, and are soon embroiled in the mystery. This audio is steeped in curiosity and intrigue, and makes for a great self-contained story that is similar in several ways to the New Series TV story Blink, as this is definitely one of the most intriguing horror stories in Doctor Who.
This audio introduces us to the newest companion of this era of Eighth Doctor audios, Helen Sinclair, who works in the National Museum in 1963 despite the disdain of her male colleagues. Helen’s struggle to make a name for herself in the predominantly male-dominated world of 1960s Britain makes her a sympathetic character from the start, and she has immediate chemistry with both Liv and the Doctor making her an ideal addition to the TARDIS team. Played by Hattie Morahan, Helen is a great companion for the Eighth Doctor and her introduction in this story is easily one of the best things about Doom Coalition 1. Hattie Morahan is a wonderful addition to the cast and she is immediately likeable in this story despite technically filling an antagonist role towards the Doctor and Liv for the first act.
The Red Lady does a great job of presenting a mystery that is, for now, totally unexplained. One of the best things about this audio is that the threat is ambiguous, its powers are completely unknown, and we are left completely stupefied as to what its true intentions are. There are several mysteries threaded throughout this audio, not all of which are resolved here. Nonetheless, The Red Lady presents a fantastic standalone story that serves as a wonderful introductory story for Helen Sinclair whilst also being a great standalone horror story. The mystery and terror surrounding this unique and unexplained entity makes this audio a thrilling listen, so The Red Lady sets the bar high for the rest of Doom Coalition 1.
1.3 – The Galileo Trap
Helen’s first trip in the TARDIS takes the team to Florence in 1639, drawn there by a message sent by none other than Galileo Galilei, who is already a friend of the Doctor, and as the name implies, is aware that his involvement in this series of events is little more than a plot to draw the Doctor in. There are several non-Human persons at large in the time period, including a particularly vicious pair of mercenaries who are unleashing several murderous creatures onto the citizens of 17th century Italy as part of a hired job from an as-yet unknown benefactor. They themselves are being hunted by extra-terrestrial forces however, which makes for an interesting setup with several parties following their own set of goals.
This audio is important for developing Helen’s role as a companion, as this serves as her introduction to the concept of time-travel as well as the idea of non-Human entities. The interactions between Helen, a companion from the relative past, and Liv, a companion from the relative future, is one of the most engaging aspects of this era and makes one wonder why the New Series has not made use of the time-travel aspect of Doctor Who to establish companions from various eras who can provide different points of view on the various settings and time periods. The characterisation of Galileo is also good in this story, as it makes sense that the two would already know each other in this late period in Galileo’s life, rather like how Winston Churchill already knows the Doctor in the TV story Victory of the Daleks.
This audio does a great job of illustrating the injustice of Galileo’s situation towards the end of his life, as he is imprisoned under house arrest for the simple act of declaring that the Earth must revolve around the Sun. A Doctor Who story that features a historical figure often attempts to humanize the historical figure in the context of the modern day, and this one is no exception. The Galileo Trap is a great story that makes a great build-up to the final story in the first series of Doom Coalition, and gives Helen a story to develop as a companion as well as a character before the finale to her introductory series. Hattie Morahan steps into the role of Helen instantly, and she immediately establishes herself as a valuable addition to this TARDIS team.
1.4 – The Satanic Mill
This audio starts with another sequence of the Eleven attempting to regain control over his other incarnations, and its worth mentioning that the character is brilliantly realised in a way that the audio drama complements perfectly. Over time it becomes clear which of the Eleven’s incarnations are which, be it the murderous Six, the mischievous Three, the kleptomaniacal Nine or the remorseful Eight, each of them become as much their own individual characters as the Eleven himself and Mark Bonnar puts in a wonderful performance here that makes the Eleven one of the most dynamic villains in Doctor Who history. The Doctor, Liv and Helen finally catch up to him on a bizarre planetoid-sized Workhouse that Galileo named ‘Phaiton’, which they discover is filled with seemingly hypnotized worshippers who walk around around the place like zombies. The Eleven has set himself up as the leader of this facility, which is in fact an abandoned stellar manipulator from ancient Gallifreyan history that the Eleven locates using the Regeneration Codex, a device he stole in the first audio of this box set.
During some slow-paced scenes early on which serve as a welcome break from the usual fast-paced action of Eighth Doctor series finales, Liv and Helen get some time to chat as the two learn more about each other, and Liv tells Helen more about the Doctor and the nature of regeneration, and we are once again reminded of just how long Liv has known the Doctor, as she first met him in his seventh incarnation, the same one which trapped the Eleven. It is worth mentioning that despite the fact that the two companions are from completely different time periods, Liv being from the far future and Helen being from the 20th century, these differences are rarely an issue save for the occasional colloquial misunderstanding which is often played for comedy.
The Eleven’s plan is suitably devious, and there is a great scene in which the Eleven’s previous incarnations discuss the plan and offer their various opinions on how events are unfolding, including the Eight who is the only one of the Eleven’s incarnations who isn’t evil and expresses regret and remorse at the actions of his successor. One of the things that makes the Eleven an unpredictable villain is that he has to appease his various other incarnations, particularly the Six who is often quick to ask for the murder of whoever happens to be in the room. In many ways the Eleven brings out the darker side of the Eighth Doctor as he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his friends, and The Satanic Mill is a perfect example of this. As the finale for Doom Coalition 1, this audio is excellent, as it is not only a fantastic outing for the Eleven as a villain but it also solidifies the new TARDIS team whilst also posing several questions to be addressed in later releases in the Doom Coalition series.
The Dark Eyes saga draws to a close to a final series of audios that tie up several loose ends from the previous sets. After the departure of Molly O’Sullivan at the end of Rule of the Eminence, Liv Chenka has now taken over as the Eighth Doctor’s main companion having had several adventures with him in previous audios. In many respects Dark Eyes 4 is somewhat of a farewell tour for the saga, as unfortunately Ruth Bradley was unavailable so Molly is recast and the story shifts its focus away from her for perhaps the first time, and this is arguably for the best as it allows for some much-needed development of the Doctor and Liv’s relationship.
4.1 – A Life in the Day
After being utilised as a substitute companion until Molly’s departure, Liv Chenka finally gets a chance to develop as a character in her own right in A Life in the Day, which provides a refreshing change from the usual fast-paced antics of the series by opting to tell a small-scale story about death and time travel. The Eighth Doctor is taking care of the brother of one of Molly’s old friends, as he detects some temporal machinations in his house and is intrigued. Liv, in the meantime, gets some light-hearted scenes out on a date to a cinema and a restaurant in a period of Earth’s history that, for her, is ancient history.
Stories about temporal shenanigans are always interesting, and this one is no exception. The concise runtime allows for tight pacing that ensures that not a moment is wasted, and the small cast allows for a sharp focus on the story with some great character interactions that are brought to life beautifully by the cast. Nicola Walker finally gets a chance to show her range as an actress after being limited to a mostly supporting role in most of her stories up until this point, and although this isn’t her first audio as the Doctor’s only companion, it is the first of her audios to truly focus on her in the way that a Doctor Who story utilises a companion, and as such Liv is finally given the character focus that she deserves.
The story itself is a poignant one that makes this a really memorable opening story for Dark Eyes 4. Of all the Dark Eyes box sets, this one probably has the strongest opener as it not only sets up some plot points that will be picked up in later stories but it also proves that Big Finish can still deliver impactful standalone stories that utilise the best elements of Doctor Who in new ways. This audio keeps the references to surrounding Dark Eyes stories to a minimum so it is easy to listen to as a one-off story, which is great because A Life in a Day is easily one of the best offering in the Dark Eyes saga, particularly because it leads directly into the next story, another of the best stories in the Dark Eyes series:
4.2 – The Monster of Montmartre
A classic Dalek romp that harks back to The Great War from the first Dark Eyes box set by using the Daleks as a sinister creepy threat operating behind the scenes and exterminating people from the shadows, The Monster of Montmartre is probably the best Dalek story in the Dark Eyes series. The Daleks haven’t featured since Eyes of the Master despite being heavily involved in the marketing for the saga, but they have a strong presence here which is made clear right from the pre-credits sequence, which showcases the fantastic sound design that Big Finish is known for. The use of the Daleks as a sinister force that operates from the shadows is rare among Doctor Who stories, so that along makes The Monster of Montmartre stand out from other Dalek stories.
The Doctor and Liv are in Paris, still in 1921 after the events of the previous audio. Upon arriving, they soon discover that there is a monster stalking the streets of Montmartre. This audio tells a story that is sinister in several ways, one of which being that the alluring atmosphere of the entertainment in Paris at the time seduces young destitute artists into bars and nightclubs, such as the ‘Red Pagoda’, actually a damaged Dalek ship that has replaced the Moulin Rouge, which is run by the mysterious Madame Adelaine Dutemps, a creation and puppet of the Daleks.
The intrigue and mystery of this audio culminates in an encounter with the Dalek Time Controller, damaged and isolated after his last encounter with the Doctor, who is converting humans into ramshackle Daleks from within the Red Pagoda. The Dalek Time Controller decides to create a council of Dalek Time Strategists, who become important to the Dalek Empire much later on during the Time War, and the Time Controller also mentions that the Dalek Paradigm from Victory of the Daleks is causing the Dalek timeline to fluctuate, a nice touch. There is also a fantastic scene towards the end between Liv and the Dalek Time Controller that is by far the best scene in the whole audio.
4.3 – Master of the Daleks
Featuring one of the best cold opens of any Doctor Who audio drama, Master of the Daleks sets its bar high, featuring the Daleks, the Master and the Sontarans in the penultimate audio in what has essentially been a 16-part space opera saga. Unfortunately, however, this audio immediately jumps to two well-known tropes of the Eighth Doctor audios – expositional dialogue, and the Doctor suffering from amnesia. There are some humorous scenes due to this situation as the Doctor mistakes a Dalek for one of his companions, but it cannot be denied that at this point the amnesiac Eighth Doctor trope has become a tired, worn-out trait of the character that only exists due to the bizarre plot of the TV Movie and has plagued the Eighth Doctor’s era ever since.
The main plot of this audio is interesting, as the Master and the Dalek Time Controller team up to take over Earth, Sontar and a significant portion of the Galaxy using a combined Dalek-Sontaran army. Naturally, this alliance is an uneasy one at best. Alex Macqueen’s Master seems to be great at playing off other villains, one of the things that makes him so great in the Monthly Adventures story The Two Masters, and this is never more true than here as Macqueen and Nick Briggs work really well together. The character of the Time Controller is capable of a lot more expression than a standard Dalek, so this audio has room for some great dialogue between the two characters.
The obvious elephant in the room with this audio is that Molly is recast, having aged several years and now living in the Dalek-occupied timeline working as a nurse in a worker camp. Molly, now called Mary Carter, is played by Sorcha Cusak who does a great job playing the character. Dan Starkey also features in this audio, and does a great job playing all the Sontaran characters who battle with the Daleks at the end in a climatic conflict that requires some broad imagination to picture but is exciting nonetheless. A battle between the Daleks, the Master and the Sontarans is a fan’s dream come true, and Master of the Daleks does a great job of realising this concept in the best possible way without straying too far into the realm of confusing plotlines.
4.4 – Eye of Darkness
Despite the bizarre title (‘Dark Eyes: Eye of Darkness’) this audio presents some really interesting ideas for a story, such as a damaged and desperate Dalek commander trying to herd prisoner while also maintaining its casing’s structural integrity, and a planet dedicated to providing a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere for its patrons. Nicholas Briggs does a fantastic job playing the Dalek Time Controller, a very unique Dalek who displays a lot more personality than even the most ambitious Supreme or Emperor. The Time Controller is easily one of the most memorable Daleks we have ever had in Doctor Who and it is clear that the Dalek characters in the Daleks! animated series for Time Lord Victorious are somewhat based on the personality and mannerisms of this specific Dalek. Its interactions with Liv are a key element of this audio, and the two play off each other well as Liv questions the Time Controller’s every ruthless move.
In many ways, this audio represents the culmination of the Dalek appearances throughout the saga. They started off as the mysterious entity behind everything, with the Time Controller pulling all the strings, and now they return, once again as a sinister entity, but with the Time Controller very much on the back-foot. Listening to this deranged Dalek attempt to claw his way back into power is fascinating, and there are some great sequences involving lesser Dalek questioning the Time Controller’s authority, as his constant meddling with the timelines has lead to the Dalek Empire cutting him off, and we see the fall of the saga’s main villain which is definitely an important aspect of this climactic conclusion to the Dark Eyes saga.
Most importantly for the finale of Dark Eyes, the Eighth Doctor and Molly O’ Sullivan get a reunion in this audio at last, as the plot finally allows the two character’s paths to cross after all the build-up of the previous story. There are other links to the previous box sets as well, as this audio features the return of the creator of the Eminence as the deadly gaseous entity plays one final role in the saga before its conclusion, and we are finally given the last pieces of the puzzle to understand their true origins. Whilst the final end to the saga is somewhat swamped in technobabble, ultimately Eye of Darkness delivers a satisfying conclusion to the saga that end’s Molly’s story on a strong note whilst taking the Eighth Doctor and Liv Chenka into a new era, starting with the first box set in the Doom Coalition series.