This is one of Big Finish’s more disappointing releases to date.
If you like your audio adventures to feature more back-stabbing and political intrigue than explosions and fighting then this set is very much one you will appreciate. This most recent release is the second volume in a series set during the early stages of the Time War between Doctor Who races, the Time Lords and the Daleks. The previous set, released last year, featured a number of former companions of the Doctor (and at least one enemy) trying to find ways to stop the Daleks. With the Time Lords splitting into factions all vying for power, one group decides to bring back Gallifrey’s founding President, Rassilon. This set begins where the previous one ended.
Not knowing who to trust, newly crowned head of the Celestial Intervention Agency, Romana (played with appropriate amounts of snark and grumpiness by Lalla Ward), finds herself trying to stop the power-mad Rassilon (a menacing Terrance Hardiman) and his henchman, Mantus (Samuel Clemens). At the heart of this set is a planet called Ysalus which is engaged in a civil war but holds a vital component needed for the Time War. Uneasy alliances are formed and loyalties are tested to the limit.
The first two episodes, written by David Llewellyn and Una McCormack, suffer from a lack of much happening. Many long conversations in hushed tones about who to trust and what course of action to take pepper them both. This sort of dialogue is great in a visual medium where an actor can use their body language as much as their voice but it is harder to pull off on an audio medium and unfortunately it rarely works in this instance. The action improves in the second two episodes by Lisa McMullin and Matt Fitton, but it all feels like a little too much, too late.
The supporting cast is of a high calibre and includes Seán Carlsen (Narvin), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Livia), Samuel Gosrani (Eris), Lucy Robinson (Bovari), and Jessica Hayles (Aladra). Unfortunately they are lumbered with two-dimensional characters with few, if any, redeeming qualities.
Director Scott Handcock seems unusually hampered by the scripts he has been given and struggles to keep the listener’s interest going for the length of the series. Russel McGee’s sound design is strong and the music by Ioan Morris is moody and appropriate. There are also interviews with the cast and crew, as well as a suite of music from the series as a bonus.
This is one of Big Finish’s more disappointing releases to date and one can hope things improve in the next set to be released at a later time.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: March 2019
RRP: $42.20 CD, $20 Digital Download