Review by Jacob Licklider
The finales for the Eighth Doctor box sets have always had difficulty tying things together into a satisfying conclusion, so I was apprehensive going into Ravenous 4. The three previous sets in the Ravenous series, however, had set themselves apart by telling stories where the arc isn’t nearly as comprehensive or built up as Dark Eyes or Doom Coalition. Big Finish setup the Ravenous as a great evil with motivation of devouring everything in its sight and being difficult to beat, unlike previous miniseries with conspiracies going deep into Time Lord mythology and the precursor to the Time War. Ravenous does not include this baggage, allowing the miniseries to feel more laid back allowing the listener to enjoy the ride. This kept me optimistic for the fourth installment, which was then announced to feature four incarnations of the Master and the Eleven and hype began to set in. Because this release was only this month, this review will remain largely spoiler free.
The set opens with Whisper by Matt Fitton, the only story in the set to not feature the Master. Whisper is a story set at a recuperation facility where a predator that hunts by sound while the Doctor is attempting to give the Eleven a chance to recuperate. Fitton should be applauded for attempting a story like this. The premise is one that should only work in a visual medium, as long stretches of silence would not work in a story on audio, coming across as dead air. Fitton includes the stipulation that the creature hunts by sounds above a certain decibel level, allowing the cast to whisper their lines and to compensate for a lack of visuals.
Even with this stipulation, there does seem to be less dialogue in this story, much of the plot being told through music cues and sound effects. Because of this Whisper is a pretty standard runaround, with a decent enough twist concerning what the creature is and where it comes from. What elevates the story is the character work done by Matt Fitton to the Eleven, who is still working with the Ravenous, but puts on enough of a performance to convince the Doctor that he’s on his side. Mark Bonnar really sells the devious nature of the character and almost has to pull double duty, as the character must suppress his other selves to keep the charade up. The other incarnations slowly resurface after being pushed down at the end of Ravenous 3, and Nicola Walker as Liv perhaps gives one of her best performances here. Walker perfectly portrays the paranoid nature of Liv Chenka, and there’s a moment where she comes to a head in this story which is excellent. Overall, Whisper is a pretty solid opener with an interesting premise, but a plot that kind of keeps it from being one of the best. 7/10.
Planet of Dust is next, once again by Matt Fitton, and this is the one story that doesn’t quite fit with the themes of the rest of the set. The rest of the set’s stories are directly about the Ravenous; and while Planet of Dust does set up the finale, it doesn’t really add much to the arc except some set up. This shouldn’t necessarily work in the middle of a story arc, but Planet of Dust works incredibly well on the merits of the story. This story is the point in the box set where Geoffrey Beevers as the Master gets to shine (he appears in more of a cameo role in the finale). Beevers has always been excellent as the Master, giving a performance with deliciously evil glee at his plan being put into effect here.
Planet of Dust sees the Master in the role of an evil dictator of a desert world where he leads workforces in an attempt to find the mythological tomb of Artron, holding water at ransom until everyone works. There’s this odd sense that the Master is attempting to be the benevolent dictator, with his subjects believing he is some great protector and provider. Beevers also has amazing chemistry when it comes to scenes against Mark Bonnar and Paul McGann. McGann has this flippancy against facing this incarnation of the Master, attempting to get right to the bottom quickly and find a solution. Bonnar’s ‘Eleven’ on the other hand is just as insane as this incarnation of the Master, so having two insane Time Lords playing off each other is quite the experience to be certain. The story also gets props for sorting out the timeline of the Master quite a bit and bringing so many disparate threads together; all through a short scene where the Eleven confronts the Master on his tendency to regenerate. It ramps up the quality and brings the saga ready for a grand finale. 8/10.
The saga concludes with a two part finale from the mind of John Dorney, Day of the Master, echoing the title and even format of the 50th anniversary special; there are three Masters who feature in the story (one from the Time War); two separate story threads which merge into one, and a final cameo from a classic Master. It’s even a special feature length for one of these boxsets. The plot boils down to the Doctor, Liv, and Helen being split up in three very different story threads which all end up coming together and each having a separate Master.
The Doctor’s thread is in the distant past before the formation of Time Lord society on a planet where creatures are being studied for their potential by the Eric Roberts Master. Obviously, this was one of the big events in the lead-up to this release, as it has been over twenty years since Paul McGann and Eric Roberts first faced off in the TV Movie. Roberts’ appearance here is considerably ‘toned down’ from his previous television appearance; portraying this version of the Master as more of a plotter and schemer. He also has chemistry with the Eighth Doctor in this story that was absent in his previous appearance. Michelle Gomez’s Missy is paired up with companion Helen Sinclair in what may be the most humorous pairing. Missy spends much of her time with Helen in an attempt to annoy her, just for the fun of it. Big Finish in writing Gomez have made her much closer to a version of the Master with a true sense of sick glee unseen in her television appearances. Gomez as a performer also can do so much with her voice, showing off a range of emotions against Helen who just has to react.Perhaps the most devious Master present is the War Master played by Sir Derek Jacobi; who dupes Liv into thinking he’s coming as a Time Lord emissary to hunt down the Ravenous. Jacobi brings out his masterfully devious’ harmless old man’ performance right until the end of this subplot when he becomes the truly nasty Master that listeners know and love. The three subplots are excellent on their own, but they culminate in a decent portion of the audio spent with the three Masters working together. Roberts, Gomez, and Jacobi have this perfect chemistry and John Dorney really makes it believable that these three Masters could in fact work with one another in what becomes one of Dorney’s best stories. 10/10.
Overall, there are several spoiler filled aspects of Ravenous 4 which I’ve intentionally left ambiguous as the actual conclusion to the ‘Ravenous’ arc is one that should be experienced. Know that it is perhaps the most satisfying story arc since the Season 4 arc of the Eighth Doctor Adventures, back when Lucie Miller was a companion. The box set overall would get a rating of 8/10, and should be added to everyone’s collection even if just for the final stories intriguing premise.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/doctor-who-ravenous-4-1800