A bold, new direction for Big Finish Productions begins with this dramatic re-telling of (largely fictional) events involving the women who piloted planes for the British Army in World War 2. Called the ATA Girls (ATA standing for Air Transport Auxiliary) they flew new planes to the airfields where they went on to be flown by male pilots for Britain in their air skirmishes. It marked the first time that women received equal pay to their male counterparts, thanks largely to the efforts of Pauline Gower.
This production comes under the banner of Big Finish Originals and marks the first time that Big Finish have written new dramas from scratch without the backdrop of a particular series or established characters. This particular production is the brainchild of frequent Big Finish actor (and former Doctor Who companion) Louise Jameson. Jameson serves as director on all four episodes as well as playing a small role across all four productions. She has assembled four female writers and a largely female cast to tell these four tales of the unit.
As Pauline Gower, Kate Copeland brings much authority and research to her role. Other notable cast members include Alicia Ambrose-Bayly in the lead role of Amelia, Anna Andresen (Daphne), Nathalie Buscombe (Judith), John Dorney (Nurse Norris/Major Charlie Blackthorn/Roger), Amy Downham (Tilly/Operations Officer), Helen Goldwyn (Chile/Anna Leska/Elizabeth Bryant), Holly Jackson Walters (Felicity/Jackie Cochran/Billet Mate), Gemma Page (Dorothy Fury/Barbara) and Lydia Piechowiak (Susan De Winter). It is hard to single out special praise from such a talented and invigorated cast but Buscombe’s Judith is a heartbreaking portrayal that results in one of the most frighteningly realistic moments ever heard on a Big Finish audio. Her story – told in episode three (Flying Blind) is the absolute highlight of the set with its gutsy storyline involving Judith coming to terms as the wife of a soldier.
The scripts by Gemma Page, Victoria Saxton, Helen Goldwyn and Jane Slavin vary greatly in quality and the end of the set seems a little underwhelming given all that came before. It also threatens to fall into melodrama on several occasions and many of the male characters are not presented in a very flattering light at all. The music by Howard Carter tries to be evocative of the film scores of the era but the synthesized strings simply do not have the ability to convey the grander musical ideas as a real orchestra.
As a bonus, there are interviews with the cast and crew which provide an illuminating look at the processes behind the making of the set.
It should be noted that the set comes with a warning of more mature material than you would expect from Big Finish and this is a warning to heed. At times, the dark story matter threatens to overwhelm the listener but Big Finish are to be applauded for allowing the stories to be as raw as they are.
This set may not appeal to every regular listener of the Big Finish range but it will certainly appeal to those fascinated with World War 2 and a story that is largely untold.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Rating out of 10: 7
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: April 2018
RRP: $17 Digital Download