Review by Doctor Squee (Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
SPOILERS SWEETIES: I have done my best to keep the spoilers light, but events from one story in this set lead on from the previous, so some minor spoilers are inevitable. So if you want to go into this boxset totally clean, do not read further. It’s a great set, worth your money. Want to know more? Read on!
In the third boxset of River Song played by the ever lovely and talented Alex Kingston she is joined by fifth doctor Peter Davison & Madame Kovarian herself Frances Barber, in what in my opinion is the strongest set yet in an amazing series.
The Lady in the Lake by Nev Fountain
In her quest for club card points to buy pretty things, River ends up at Terminus Prime. This is where people can chose the death of their choice in large and lavish landscapes of fantasy and heroism. This is Dignitas meets Westworld. There is however a spanner in the deadly works in the form of a cult who manage to cheat death by changing. Sound familiar?
This in a great intro to the set and sets up a lot of story to come without ever feeling like exposition. The idea of being ready to die and being able to find a fantasy world to do it in is great and this feels in the best traditions of a Doctor Who story to have a high concept to hang the adventure off.
A Requiem for the Doctor by Jacqueline Rayner
After the events at the end of the last adventure River is traveling with the fifth doctor & his companion Brooke. They arrive just after the death of Mozart in Vienna, 18th century. But did the musical genius die as the history books tell us or is there more to it? If so is anyone else safe, the Doctor included?
It’s nice to slip into a familiar word but have some things be a little different, leading you to wonder why.
When the Doctor introduces his companion you are wondering who it will be. Will there be an unannounced guest star from the 5th Doctor era? Then you hear the name Brooke. Not a companion we are familiar, so where does she fit in? Is it a coincidence her name is in the theme of River and so many others in the previous adventure (spoilers sweetie!). But the joy of it is in the interaction between Brooke (Joanne Horton), River & the Doctor.
Brooke has just established a relationship with the Doctor when suddenly this brilliant and knowing new person comes along and seems to usurp her. River wants to get to know this version of the Doctor and basically play with the Doctor on a good old fashion adventure, but seems mindful of not upsetting the balance with the companion of the hour. The Doctor, typical of his fifth incarnation is trying to keep the peace and is as ever when he meets River anew intrigued by who she is.
My Dinner with Andrew by John DorneyRiver, the Doctor & Brooke arrive at ‘The Bumptious Gastropod’ for a bite to eat, to try to see what to do with Brooke, who has turned out to be not what they thought and to turn River’s day into a time traveling odyssey in a restaurant outside of time. Throw in an knowing outrageously French accented Maître D’, Madam Kovarian on a mission and someone who looks very much like the Doctor and you’re in for a story that makes a meal of it.
This one is something really special. It calls to mind a classic Douglas Adams story (without being a bad copy) in its hilarious, eccentric nature whilst delivering a plot which is equally as engaging. I loved Jonathan Coote as the Maître D’; he is larger than life but his character is also somehow believable too. To run a restaurant that is impossible both out of time, but with its own timeline you would need someone who could get his head around it and be a great host that takes this impossibility in his stride. That is this character.
Alex Kingston really seems to enjoy diving into all the twisted time travel complexity of her personal journey in this story and Peter Davison flawlessly gives us two characters. All that would be a lot to do justice to in an hour long story, but they then add Madam Kovarian & Brooke in who also add some special sauce to this without it feeling crowded.
The Furies by Matt FittonThe Doctor seems to be dead (again!) and Madam Kovarian has to deal with the worst thing a foe of the Doctor’s ever has to; actually succeeding in killing him and the consequences that follow. Where she killed him before she first met him the timelines are in flux. Could the mythical Furies be real and if so are they going to be happy with someone messing with the timeline?
After such a large, fun sci fi adventure in the previous story it seems fitting to have more of a personal gritty story in the next and final story. River in this story faces her past as an unwilling ward to Kovarian. Kovarian is trying to justify why what she did when raising River as an instrument of the Doctor’s death was necessary. And all through it we are wondering how they square the circle of events that lead to this story. It’s a fitting end to the set and like all the stories it deals with a different aspect of a River Song adventure.
I want to just take a moment on a few things I questioned about this set. The main premise that is an engine for the set is that River’s DNA has been used to create Timelord like people with the powers of regeneration. This serves the plot well, but I question a little the logic of this within the larger River story.
River got some Timelord abilities by being conceived in the time vortex. She herself is not a full Timelord, so to have her being the thing they use to create a new Timelord race, something no one has done before doesn’t sit perfectly. Maybe using the Doctor’s DNA would have been a little neater for me. But I can see how using Rivers DNA gives us a more direct link to River, who’s boxset this is. River also spends a lot of time openly adventuring with the fifth Doctor, something that has been previously suggested she cannot do for fear of breaking time, by openly meeting Doctors before the tenth. Yes, they do find a way of removing the fifth Doctors memory in the end, but River can’t have known this would happen. Maybe the idea is that this is earlier in River’s journey before she knew the rules? But to be honest, I only bring up these couple of points I questioned to show I am not just trying to blow smoke at Big Finish… but I will start the praise again now!
This is a wonderful set start to finish. It gives us a deeper dive into what happened after Demons Run for River whilst we were following the Doctor, Amy & Rory. The stories are all infused with classic River moments that are so true to her on TV. It explores different parts of her mythos and we get to see her in the familiar setting of being with the Doctor as well as really exploring what it was like for her growing up with Kovarian and the lasting effects on her from that.
I feel like this is one you should really listen to twice (as I hope to find the time to listen to it again) to get all the beats and how it all fits together so well. Can’t wait to see her in another set with another Doctor… maybe one with a long scarf? For this set I give 9/10
Download here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-diary-of-river-song-series-03-1724
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