This is a marvellous set that is very entertaining and will be a joy to fans of both the classic series & River Song.
The sixth season of The Diary of River Song had the working title of Fringes and unlike previous volumes in this series, the adventures are not connected in any way – except they are all set before key episodes of Doctor Who.
It asks the questions “what would happen if River Song came to an event just prior to the Doctor’s arrival? How would that influence the following story?” and it asks those questions in an intriguing and humorous manner. Whereas previous volumes had relied heavily on drama and angst, this set has its heart in humour and action. It also pays tremendous lip service to devoted fans the of classic Doctor Who serials from the 60s and 70s in a number of ways.
Matt Fitton’s An Unearthly Woman sees Professor Song take up a position at Coal Hill School in the early 1960s to prevent an assassination attempt on the Doctor’s life prior to his meeting Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, who themselves seemed overly concerned about a new girl at their school called Susan Foreman.
John Dorney’s The Web Of Time is set in the London Underground where the Yeti and the Great Intelligence are attempting to take over the world while Professor Song tries to salvage a missing painting. Peepshow, by Guy Adams, is set in the same miniscope explored by the Third Doctor and Jo with all the same dangers as well as a troop of angry Sontarans, Ogrons and a bewildered guard who cares more about his cat than anything else.
Finally, The Talents Of Greel by Paul Morris introduces Professor Song to music hall owner Henry Gordon Jago as well as the various characters that make up the Tom Baker classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
Some overly sensitive fans may wail and gnash their teeth at the thought of the Big Finish team using the new version of the original TARDIS team (David Bradley, Julian Glover, Claudia Grant and Jemma Powell as The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara respectively) but they perform their roles admirably and with due deference to the original cast (as they have done in their series of adventures for Big Finish). Tim Treloar also reprises his turn as the Third Doctor in a brief cameo at the end of the third story and proves again he is a wise choice to replace the voice of the late Jon Pertwee.
Ralph Watson reprises his onscreen role from 50 years ago as Captain Ben Knight in his story (but sounds far too old these days to pull off a young, dashing Army captain). Christopher Benjamin continues to portray Henry Gordon Jago with panache (and this time with a wonderful musical number alongside Professor Song).
Other cast members of note include Samuel Clemens (Corporal Buscombe/The Intelligence), Kathryn Drysdale (Erin Harris), Nicholas Goh (Li H’Sen Chang/Mr Sin), Dan Starkey (Commander Sturmm/Sontarans), and Angus Wright (Magnus Greel). They are all superbly directed by Ken Bentley who keeps interest going throughout the episodes.
Howard Carter provides his usual exceptional sound and music design to compliment the action. Of course, all of these performances would mean nothing without the brilliant Alex Kingston as the titular character who seems to revel in the lighter scripts and clearly has an enormous amount of fun throughout. She is the strong glue that continues to bind this series together.
A suite of the incidental music as well as bonus interviews fill out this release.
This is a beautiful set that is very entertaining and will be a joy to fans of the classic series as well as fans of River Song and her continuing adventures. Let us hope there are more adventures of this nature to come.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: August 2019
Approx RRP: $46 CD, $20 Digital Download