Doctor Who

The Diary of River Song Series 06 by Guy Adams, Matt Fitton, Paul Morris and John Dorney (CD review)

This might possibly be the River Song you were waiting for. ‘River Song Series 06’ brings us four stories where River has a walk on part in a classic adventure. A story has been constructed around four adventures from the first to the fourth Doctors. Listening will have you rushing back to the source to see how neatly these fit in around the original stories.

An Unearthly Woman by Matt Fitton 

There is a most unusual child at Coal Hill School. Her behaviour is erratic and she’s not really like any other teenager. Even Susan Foreman (Claudia Grant) has noticed and she’s not so normal neither.

Luckily, River Song (Alex Kingston) has taken a post as temporary teacher to investigate what is happening in and around the school. There’s time for a little light flirting with Ian Chesterton (Jamie Glover) and some female bonding with Barbara Wright (Jemma Powell) but River’s main purpose is to keep them all safe because they need to be ready for their big adventure.

Jamie Glover and Jemma Powell reprise their roles as the young and sweet Ian and Barbara.

The Web Of Time by John Dorney 

Shortly before the Second Doctor arrives in London to sort out the menace of the Great Intelligence, River pops in to steal a painting. It’s not really stealing as it’s due to be destroyed in a building collapse when the Yetis arrive but complications ensue when she meets Captain Knight (Ralph Watson).

Rather wonderfully, Ralph Watson reprises his own role from the 1960s as the gallant but poor Captain Knight as has to assimilate a huge amount of information from River. He becomes her moral examiner, challenging her motives for her timely visit. On an impulse, she saves him from a collapsing building all the time aware she can’t cheat the Web of Time and that eventually it will catch up with him. Once again, writer John Dorney gives us more than just an adventure story. Getting to know Captain Knight is a privilege and expanding River as a character gives us moving drama about trying to make a difference when the odds are stacked against you.

Peepshow by Guy Adams 

In a little light relief from the previous moral dilemma, ‘Peepshow’ has River inside the miniscope where the Third Doctor is due to save everyone. She’s looking for a power source but she finds a security guard totally unaware he has been kidnapped and miniaturised. As they try to escape, they encounter some Ogrons and some Sontarans who have to be convinced that shouldn’t kill them.

It’s highly entertaining as the Ogrons use brute force and simian logic while the Sontarans become the butt of all the jokes. The security guy, Dibbsworth (Clive Wood), feels like a combination of ‘Phoenix Nights’ Paddy and Max and I found a strong compulsion to shout ‘dunk me ‘although I’m sure hobnobs aren’t actually mentioned.

Clive Wood gives it his all as Dibbsworth who sacrifices his packed lunch to the Drashig. It’s jolly good fun and the writer of this, Guy Adams, plays the Ogrons, no doubt a life ambition fulfilled, it’s certainly one of mine. Dan Starkey is all of the Sontarans who are presented here as the original rather stern variety with a pleasing hint of what lies in the future. Well done for building up your part, Dan. Yes, I know they are all clones.

The Talents Of Greel by Paul Morris 

This is a prequel to ‘The Talons Of Weng Chiang’. River is looking for out of place technology and ends up auditioning or rather begging Henry Gordon Jago for a job at his music hall. Her name might by River Song but I’m thinking she shouldn’t give up the day job.

Angus Wright plays Magnus Greel, on the run from his crimes in the 51st century. Nicholas Goh is Li H’Sen Chang who has a more sympathetic character than in the TV series. Christopher Benjamin returns as Henry Gordon Jago and is, off course, marvellously magnificent even without his comrade and professional partner, Professor Litefoot. We have the addition of can-can entrepreneur Madam Celestine (Milly Thomas) who is keen to spread the high kicking ladies to England.

It’s thoroughly enjoyable and also hugely nostalgic for the original series. It’s only missing a cameo by the Fourth Doctor, but I feel putting Leela and River Song together might set off something even more powerful than the Blinovitch Effect.

This series of River Song is chock full of fun. It feels both nostalgic but also daring. Some people may not like this revisiting of classic episodes but it serves to remind how great they were. The new stories are respectful to the original and inventive in work arounds to avoid causing any space time paradoxes. They can be tricky. As ever, the music and sound are evocative of the era making this even more of trip down memory lane. The additional cast that support Alex Kingston really are exceptional and Big Finish are always careful to bring in as many as possible who already have links and emotional resonance for fans. I think there might be mileage in doing this exercise again with other stories but what do I know.

Grab a CD set before they go out of print they are eminently listenable more than once.

Sue Davies

May 2023

(pub: Big Finish, 2019. 5 CDs 4 stories 310 minutes. Price: £30.00 (UK), $22.39 (US). ISBN: 978-1-78703-507-2)

cast: Alex Kingston, Claudia Grant, Jamie Glover, Jemma Powell, Ralph Watson, Christopher Benjamin, Owen Aaronovitch, Guy Adams, Samuel Clemens, John Paul Connolly, Edward Dede, Kathryn Drysdale, Nicholas Goh, Lizzie Stables, Dan Starkey, Mandi Symonds, Milly Thomas, Clive Wood and Angus Wright

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