Review by Matt Charlton
Emma Reeves is fast making a name for herself amongst Big Finish listeners. Her blistering debut Forgotten Lives was a powerfully successful entry into Torchwood’s monthly range, and now she tackles the Seventh Doctor’s era. “The Moons of Vulpana” continues the return of Mags, the werewolf from 1988’s “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy”. Here, the Doctor and Mags are visiting her home planet, Vulpana, in an effort to help find a solution to control Mags’ werewolf urges. Ruled by the Four Great Wolf Packs, this earlier Vulpana is based around an aristocratic society, even down to the hunts for sport.Make no mistake: this is Doctor Who goes Game of Thrones with werewolves thrown into the mix. Reeves is clearly having a lot of fun mixing all the ingredients together whilst delving into Mags’ backstory. The world-building is to be credited, at times this felt more like a New Adventures novel than 1980’s Doctor Who – and that’s no bad thing. It’s a refreshing change for a society to be built up in such detail. There’s more show than tell in this story, and rewards patient listeners who wade through the carnage and intrigue.
Indeed, there’s much to enjoy in the packs’ struggle to maintain their bloodline and reject any outsiders. The fact that Mags is a pureblood merely allows us to be on the inside of the amusing struggle for her affections between two sparring brothers for her hand in marriage. It is the position of the titular moons of Vulpana that provide tension as the physiological changes that the different phases of the moons bring are embraced by some and rejected by others. With Mags looking to throw off her lycanthrope heritage, this battle is craftily handled by Reeves, and expertly played by Jessica Martin. The fact that one of the main protagonists that Mags’ becomes involved with can hold off his inner werewolf provides many an interesting moral dilemma throughout the story.
Jessica Martin is clearly having fun playing Mags again, and Mags and the Doctor prove to be the strongest pairing that McCoy has had on audio in recent times. Certainly Mags is proving to be an interesting foil for McCoy’s Doctor, who takes more of a back seat in events.
You feel that the Doctor knows what’s about to happen, and lets Mags get on with it – he’s very sadistic in a way, and without the safety net of Ace or Bernice, McCoy leans closer to the devious and darker New Adventures Doctor. With Mags given a severe test of loyalty in the second half, McCoy and Martin spark off each other and give the McCoy adventures a dynamism not seen in while.
Samuel Clemens’ direction maintains an urgency and pace, but occasionally the melodrama overwhelms some of the more dramatic moments. The script, witty and zingy as some parts are, could have benefitted from some tighter script-editing. Once or twice you might have to go back to understand a character’s shifting motivations and this would have lifted The Moons of Vulpana from great, to really great. It’s a promising continuation of Mags’ adventures, and the main range, leaving me with high hopes for next month’s finale and more scripts from Emma Reeves.
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