Review byJacob Licklider
The Year of Martha Jones is the third Big Finish Box Set spin-off featuring a companion from Russell T. Davies’ run as Doctor Who’s showrunner. Recorded in February 2020, but not released until December 2021, this release was a long time coming, having been leaked on performer’s online CVs, but it was only announced in 2021. While certain forums have speculated what kept this release on the back-burner for so long (only Tom Baker’s banked releases, which have been kept back for a number of years, and the missing Fifth Doctor/Marc Monthly Range stories, which were pulled due to the pandemic, have had this kind of a delay in even being announced), yet the only concrete development can be gained from the behind the scenes mentioning that it was originally planned to be a four disc set, reduced to three, and that the same month that this was being recorded, Freema Agyeman reprised her role as Martha Jones in Torchwood: Dissected.
The set itself sounds like the obvious premise for a set with Martha away from the Doctor, three stories set in between The Sound of Drums and The Last of the Time Lords, but there is a critical flaw throughout the entire box set from this premise. Because The Last of the Time Lords undoes everything done in the year that the Master was in control of the Earth, including bringing everyone back to life who was killed under his rule (except the President Elect of the United States of America) any tension the listener could have from the various supporting characters; who writers James Goss, Tim Foley, and Matt Fitton do their best to make the listener like these characters but because the Toclafane are the main threat and the majority of the episodes are looking at the current situation on Earth, this tension becomes non-existent.
This large flaw has a ripple effect for the entire set because the lack of tension actively goes against the genuine charm and intrigue of Goss, Foley, and Fitton, writers whom I have praised in the past for their brilliant character work and plots and will certainly continue to do so in other releases, puts the pace of each of the episodes to essential standstills. Foley’s script becomes the closest to overcoming the flaw as his is the closest to a Companion Chronicle, something that Goss’s opener also attempts, but both scripts still devote plenty of time to the “present” situation which does not work.
Silver Medal works the best due to Foley running an anti-capitalist message at the very core of the episode with Lorelai King gives a chilling turn as the villain, Jessie, a woman doing her best to keep a large camp of humans together albeit through the means of extreme capitalism and an especially authoritarian (though very realistic) version of capitalism at that. It’s the one that feels the most like the more experimental Companion Chronicles, where the story of the past has some great meaning for the present, with the other narrator often putting in their two cents as the story is told (see the Sara Kingdom trilogy for an example of this), though here it is multiple characters with Adjoa Andoh’s Francine Jones having some very icy barbs to trade with Martha, though justified ones.
The Last Diner also follows this with some hints of the eighth volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, World’s End, where Martha is telling stories in what is essentially the last diner on Earth. Goss’s inclusions of things in the present doesn’t work as well as Foley’s, they tend to take the listener out of the story, but the ending of the story is one that comes across as quite dark and does end on a very striking image. I would be remiss to not mention Marina Sirtis’ appearance in this episode who gives a good performance, but her casting is mainly due to her role in Star Trek: The Next Generation which is a series I am unfamiliar with. Sirtis is a lot of fun and hopefully this won’t be the only Big Finish she is able to appear in, especially as the supporting cast of The Last Diner is a bit one note.
The set ends with Matt Fitton’s Deceived which takes place in the present and is where Andoh and Agyeman both shine as their respective characters as Fitton essentially does a slapstick style villainous plot with two henchmen of the Master played by Gethin Anthony and Julie Graham sending the Toclafane against them and essentially doing some of the setup where we see Martha in The Last of the Time Lords, but it’s the drama between the Jones’ (and a final twist that allows a character death to occur and being meaningful) that gives this one a lot of its weight. It still suffers from the problem running through the set, but there’s at least some weight and danger to this character death here where the other two stories which used the body horror of the Toclafane effectively still felt flat due to this being all undone.
The Year of Martha Jones can be summed up as being underwhelming. It’s an idea that essentially doesn’t work at a conceptual level despite the skill of the actors, writers, and director Scott Handcock. Things could be fixed if this was converted into three Companion Chronicles with a smaller scale arc of Martha going across the United States, but that range has been in limbo and is a style that is fairly difficult to advertise with what New Who Big Finish fans may be used to. This isn’t a complete deal breaker as there are things to like which I have highlighted in this review, especially if you like these characters, but The Year of Martha Jones comes together as simply being fine. It’s not great, but it isn’t a bad set by any means. It’s one of the most fine Big Finish sets in recent memory. It’s a set right in the middle of the road. 5/10.
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