Review by Michael Goleniewski
‘Blood on Santa’s Claw’ represents Big Finish’s Doctor Who Christmas special as well as the only real holiday special we’re going to get for 2019 (minus the Thirteenth Doctor comic special that won’t be looked at until next year). The release is an anthology set of four stories featuring the Sixth Doctor and Peri and represents a few big milestones for the team being the first real holiday story they’ve gotten as well as introducing a new companion in Peri’s new boyfriend, singer Joe Carnaby played by Luke Allen-Gale. It’s an interesting idea and one that deserves attention and acknowledgment for being so out of the blue in giving a relatively lesser-known Classic Doctor a Christmas special and (provided it’s good) should be something Big Finish should definitely take to heart for each holiday season with other older Doctors.The titular ‘Blood on Santa’s Claw’ starts things off by setting the tone for the entire release with Joe already a part of the TARDIS team and a voiceover from a man named Inquisitor Claus giving a warning about inspection at the risk of instant ex-communication. The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Joe, and Peri to a colony world full of mining tunnels, religious prejudices, and Shakespearean actors with a penchant for pushing for torture. While the Doctor and Peri discover a dead body with crocodile hands dressed up as Father Christmas, Joe encounters a pair of talking animals dressed up in formal wear and digging for silver.
What comes out of these odd plot elements is an interesting premise about the effects of science on religion and what can happen when people try to impose doctrine and worship around all manner of different things. It’s odd and absolutely convoluted but strangely believable in the way it all works especially when considering the religions that eventually manifest themselves. It’s the weirdest holy war you’ll ever hear and the soundscape and script are more than strong enough to justify it though the holiday elements feel a tad forced when you come right down to it. Still, it’s hard to not be entertained or at the least amused by what’s going on and it gives Colin Baker’s Doctor the opportunity to wear a Santa coat and hat for the majority of the story which is a treat in and of itself.
‘Baby Awakes’ on the other hand takes a more traditional approach with the TARDIS team investigating a scientific institute specialising in designer children. Once again the elements concerning the holidays are a bit forced at best but the premise is a darkly cynical one with a powerful emotional core. Part of the investigation involves Peri and Joe having to pose as prospective parents and interact with their potential future children and it gets extremely emotional for the two putting their relationship to a major test. While the second half is a standard monster encounter/revelations revealed scenario surrounding the institute and the motivations behind why the TARDIS team is there, the meaning behind it is strong and it’s another great performance from Nicola Bryant as her very real emotions come out in a painful way.
The third story ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ takes place immediately after the fallout of its predecessor with the TARDIS brought to a Christmas party on a space station orbiting the Earth. Looking to cheer Peri up, the Doctor and co. decide to step out and mingle but a lot of questions are immediately raised. Why is there a Christmas party happening in April rather than December and why has it lasted for three and a half years? But most of all, what is up with the decorations and why haven’t they attracted attention from anyone minus one young woman in a red velvet dress? There’s plenty of mystery surrounding what’s going on and many of the answers are definitely worth the wait and right there in plain sight. But the real tension comes down to some significant character drama between Peri and Joe on what Peri’s true motivations are for traveling with the Doctor and what would happen should the opportunity for a normal life happen. It’s by far more set up than actual action and it’s the slowest of the release and definitely the weakest. But what turns out to be most surprising is that it’s actually the first half of a two-parter…..
…..that picks up and concludes in the final story, ‘Brightly Shone the Moon That Night’. The Doctor has messed up and over the course of the set been inadvertently led into releasing something nasty from the dawn of Gallifrey’s past. Tricked and out of commission, it’s up to Peri and Joe to save the day but some final secrets are about to be revealed that will change everything. Nev Fountain’s script ties threads and minor elements together from the previous stories that were might have been forgotten or missed and it adds up to a final act that feels more like a story for a prior holiday rather than for Christmas. It’s not the biggest surprise in the world if you’ve been paying attention but it’s still masterfully handled though it’s not quite as dire as the vague synopsis might have you believe. It all ends on a quieter but still very light-hearted note with a hilarious resolution to the situation and a very festive final line that fits very nicely with the theme and nature of the anthology.
‘Blood on Santa’s Claw’ is easily one of the strangest anthology releases ever produced by Big Finish. The soundscape for each story is fantastic all around and this particular TARDIS team, while great as usual, hasn’t been this interesting in quite a long time. Luke Allen-Gale’s Joe Carnaby is a nice addition to the TARDIS team shaking things up and adding to the dynamic of the era and it prompts a lot more out of both Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. This set, in particular, brings a lot out of Peri as a character, forced to be a responsible sort of pseudo-Doctor in more ways than one but also getting plenty of juicy material to work with. It’s hard to say that it’s ‘Breaking Bubbles’ levels of good in terms of general quality and the weirder aspects of it might turn off casual listeners. But if you are willing to open yourself to something different for the holidays, then this is an extremely creative and festive release full of a variety of surprises for all Whovians, young and old.
BLOOD ON SANTA’S CLAW — 9 / 10
THE BABY AWAKES — 8 / 10
I WISH IT COULD BE CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY — 7 / 10
BRIGHTLY SHONE THE MOON THAT NIGHT — 8 / 10