Doctor Who: The Diary Of River Song Series 8 by Alfie Shaw, Jonathan Morris, Tracy Ann Baines and James Goss (CD review).

There’s still life in the time-travelling archaeologist Professor River Song who feels responsibility for those left behind. Alex Kingston returns as the adventurer with heart who travels with purpose.

This series is very much a lockdown production and evolved from the very particular circumstance of working conditions in 2020. What it proves is the technical brilliance and amazing skills that turned a problem into a stylish solution. The much reduced cast creates a tighter format and intense focussed drama. This is River and the robots, life unrestrained, whatever its form.

8.1 Slight Glimpse Of Tomorrow by James Goss

‘I always come back for the children left behind.

Rachel (Salome Haertel) is a synthetic human who will live forever. This won’t prevent her knowing loss and she will have no choice but to endure. River Song feels a responsibility and, as Aunty River, she wants to introduce her to time travel and what eternity really means.

Their first visit is to a woman, Armis (Isabella Inchbald) who has built a pyramid so she can study the stars. But she’s just one woman and, once men take control, her discoveries are lost. Rachel feels desolate that the world is doomed.

As they move forward in time, River tries to show how difficult it is to change the world. Rachel is constantly assailed by the relentless tide of history.

Salome Haertel as the android Rachel is a great foil for River Song. The limited cast makes it imperative that we really bond with them and Haertel’s rich tones which nevertheless have to convey emotionless dialogue make hers a very hard job. There’s no breathing allowed for a start.

8.2 A Brave New World by Tracey Ann Baines

‘I choose to be a part of their future, I want to stay.’

Rachel and River Song join the colonist ship heading to a brave new world but they don’t exactly receive a hero’s welcome. In fact, the three young colonists seem quite angry, especially as there is not enough oxygen for River Song to stay. The youngsters in charge sadly behave in a typical fashion but Rachel feels she has to stay with her new family, oxygen not being necessary to an android.

While River traipses through battlefields ‘lugging a picnic basket’ something very bad is happening to Rachel as the crew on the colony ship behave unsurprisingly like selfish humans.

Oh and there just might be a rather special guest in this episode.

8.3 A Forever Home by Alfie Shaw

A little bit of role reversal for River as she becomes a pet. Living in a cage is not what she wants even when she is granted access to the sofa, so long as she doesn’t scratch it. Her new owners are FE, the robot cat (Tracey Wiles) and K9 (John Leeson) who refuses to acknowledge he knows about her.

You just can’t dam the River and she is keen to investigate just what she’s doing there. She has a history of prison escapes after all.

8.4 Queen Of The Mechonoids by Jonathan Morris

A nicely set up River who is being treated as a queen by the Mechonoids welcomes her rescuers. It’s not easy being waited on every day, poor love. The rescuers answering her distress signal are Space Force Agent Anya Kingdom (Jane Slavin) and Mark Seven (Joe Sims) also an agent and android. Just as they are about to leave, they find the spacecraft has been sabotaged and, as a result, end up under a glacier where they make a startling discovery. It seems that the Mechonoids might be moving into a new evolution and it’s up to River and the agents from Earth to stop them.

Terry Nation’s invention, the Mechonoids, are voiced and acted by Nicholas Briggs. He manages to differentiate them from the Daleks which helps as the visual cues are not there. The Mechonoids do look very different( I had to look them up) being spherical and they are not inherently evil but essentially service robots. Of course, by the end of this, things have changed. In the future, Dalek Universe episodes they will meet the Daleks again and it’ll be murder.

Alex Kingston continues to entertain with the character of River Song. She’s royally served by the team from Big Finish. The character of River Song ticks a lot of boxes and there are so many opportunities for adventure. She’s a lone wolf but actually has rather a soft heart. She’s an assassin who was cruelly used and she’s busy getting her own back by being the best person. There is also opportunity for a little comedy and comment on the way we live our lives on whatever planet we happen to be on. Above all, the adventures of River Song prove to be great fun. Alec Kingston really does go all out to make the most of the adventure even if she has to run on the spot in her own home studio. The extras are quite enlightening as we discover the vagaries of being stuck at home and the later episodes where they were allowed out and the joy of seeing another face in the recording studio!

The extras included are an indication of how Big Finish likes to include the listener in the creative process and offer a little insight into recording an audio adventure. The biggest revelation is the cast having to bring their own packed lunch. Sad times.

I’m looking forward to discovering River’s back catalogue to fill in the gaps. As I travel backwards into her timeline I’m hoping to avoid spoilers, sweetie.

Sue Davies

April 2021

(pub: Big Finish. 4 CDs 308 minutes. CD Price: £34.99. ISBN: 978-1-83868-288-0. Download Price: £29.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-83868-289-7)

cast: Alex Kingston, John Leeson, Laura Aikman (Linos / Shuttle AI) Sam Benjamin, Nicholas Briggs, Stewart Clarke (Darion / Prince Rapu), Stephen Critchlow, Derek Griffiths, Salome Haertel, Clive Hayward, Isabella Inchbald, Joe Sims, Jane Slavin, Homer Todiwala and Tracy Wiles

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