After “The Eighth Doctor Adventures” and “The Time War Saga—The Collected War Doctor” I took some time off from posting about Big Finish audios to catch up on some old Eighth Doctor stories from the time he was travelling with Charlotte “Charlie” Pollard, the self-styled “Edwardian Adventuress. But now I’m back with the recent (Dec 2015) first installments of “The Diary of River Song” featuring Alex Kingston reprising her television role.
A couple of things are going to be different this time. First of all, Tracy will not be joining me, at least not at first. Second, rather than waiting until I’ve finished listening to an entire episode, I’m going to post as I’m listening (when the details are presumably fresher in my head), and we’ll see how that goes. As always, I’ll maintain an ongoing index in this initial post.
1.1 The Boundless Sea – p1
1.2 I Went to a Marvelous Party - p1
1.3 Signs - p1
1.4 The Rulers of the Universe - p1
2.1 The Unknown - p1
2.2 Five Twenty-Nine - p2
2.3 World Enough and Time - p2
2.4 The Eye of the Storm - p2
THE BOUNDLESS SEA:
“River Song has had more than enough excitement for a while. Deciding the universe—and her husband—can look after themselves, she has immersed herself in early 20th century academia, absorbed in writing archaeological teses. But when a mysterious tomb is found in a dry, distant land, excitement comes looking for River. Can Professor song stop any more members of the expedition from dying? What deadly secrets lie buried within the crypt? And will British Consul Bertie Potts prove to be a help or a hindrance?”
This story is set sometime shortly after King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922. Another tomb has been found, and Professor Song is given the opportunity of investigating, but she declines. Another female was selected, mainly because her petit size allows her to slip into a small crack in the excavation. Her job is to get inside to determine a place where another larger tunnel can be safely dug without damaging the artifacts. Once she’s inside though, her last communication concerns several sets of small red lights coming towards her.
It is at this point that Professor Song at last agrees to visit the site.
From River's POV, this story occurs shortly after the events on Demons Run, which accounts for her withdrawl at the beginning of the story.
Before proceeding, I should say something about the theme music. I’ve been listening to so many Doctor Who audios lately that it came as a bit of a surprise when I discovered “The Diary of River Song” had its own theme. It bold and brassy and sounds a bit like a James Bond theme if scored by John Williams.
After having listened to so many Big Finish sets at this point and reading about how they are produced, I’ve come to determine that the writer of each individual chapter is pretty much free to concoct any plot he desires so long as the script includes “A, B and C” which contributes to the overall arc. The plot of “Boundless Sea,” for example, dealt with an Egyptian Queen who was forcibly buried in her husband’s tomb. She was infected with nano-parasites specifically for the purpose of attracting River Song to the site so that she could be given an invitation to a party. I’m sure the only plot requirement was for River Song to receive the invitation; the circumstances surrounding that event were likely entirely left up to the writer.
British Consul Bertie Potts serves the role of “companion” to River Song, at least until the point at which he lets slip he knows what a vortex manipulator is, cluing River in that he is not exactly what he claims to be. It is Bertie who delivers the invitation, which tells her the location at which a shuttle will pick her up and deliver her to the proper space/time coordinates. Unfortunately, before she can learn more from him, he is killed (or apparently killed, I should say).
At the end of the story, before proceeding to catch the shuttle, she plays a particular record on her gramophone and, very much in the vein of Dark Shadows’ Quentin Collins, recites a poem (presumably with the Doctor in mind). This brings us up to…
I WENT TO A MARVELLOUS PARTY:
“River Song always enjoys a good party, even when she’s not entirely sure where or when the party is taking place. But the party she ends up at is where not everything—or indeed everyone—is what it seems. Being River, it doesn’t take her too long to go exploring, and it doesn’t take her too long to get into trouble. The sort of trouble that involves manipulating other civilizations, exploration, and of course murder. River is confident she can find the killer. But can she identify him before anyone else—or quite possibly everyone else—gets killed?”
River boards the shuttle which whisks her into space. She can tell the shuttle makes a time jump before arriving at her destination, a luxury space liner orbiting a planet. To her surprise, she soon meets Bertie Potts, who admits he faked his death. The waitresses are faceless humanoid automatons, engineered to serve. They can’t even speak… although one of them gets close to River and, in a muffled voice, asks for help. River goes snooping and makes her way to the “manipulation suite” where she learns that the ship she’s on can control the weather of the planets they orbit. The ship also manipulates the development of unsophisticated worlds, introducing fire to one, democracy to another, and so on.
She soon discovers a suite in which she finds a murdered man. The man, we learn, is one of the owners of the line. He likes to abduct members of the race of whatever planet they are manipulating for use as servants or even slaves. He is also suspected of being a blackmailer. One of the maids follows River into the suite and ends up being one of the women the dead man abducted. She swears she didn’t kill him, but knows no one would believe her, so she disguised herself as a robot waitress instead. River is told that her husband is aboard. Because there’s been a murder she’s not surprised he’s there investigating, too. I’m not certain which incarnation it is, but she avoids seeing him.
It’s a good little murder mystery with lots of suspects, but I’m not going to tell you how it ends. I will tell you something of what the writer had to say about it: “The brief for this story was fairly loose. River has to go to a party and some stuff has to be mentioned that ties into the later stories. And I was given the ending—which I won’t spoil for you now. But within that it was up to me to decide what happened at the party that was worthy of river Song’s attention and would make a good dramatic story. It didn’t take me long to decide that a murder mystery pretty much fitted the bill.”
That reminds me, "The Husbands of River Song" is due out on disk, today.
Oh! I didn’t tell you about the cliffhanger. After the murder has been solved, River and Bertie rejoin the party, still in progress. (This particular party has been going non-stop for weeks, maybe months.) A stranger has been eyeing them from across the room. Suddenly, he makes his way over to them.
STRANGER: River! I’ve been looking all over for you!
RIVER: Why is that?
STRANGER: [To Bertie] Hello. I don’t think we’ve been introduced. I’m River’s husband. [To River] Hello, sweetie.
“River Song is on the trail of the mysterious, planet-killing SporeShips. Nobody knows where they come from. Nobody knows why they are here. All they do know is that wherever the SporeShips appear, whole civilizations are reduced to mulch. But river has help. Her companion is a handsome time-traveling stranger, someone with specialist knowledge of the oddities and dangers the universe has to offer. For Mr. Song has a connection to River’s future, and he would never want his wife to face those perils alone.”
This non-linear story begins with River and her Husband discussing stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Sad stories? They must be true stories, then. River is dying of radiation poisoning. The story flashes back immediately to how she came to be infected, then sets out to tell the last adventure she and her husband had together, interspersed with scenes of her dying in her sickbed.
Her Husband travels in a huge, ancient ship named the Sarah Jane, “as big on the outside as it is on the inside.” What happened to the TARDIS? “We don’t talk about that.” Part of River’s treatment causes memory lapses, so her Husband has to fill in some of the details of her recent past she has forgotten. He picks up shortly after they were reunited (from her point of view “met”) on the luxury space liner. As usual, they compare notes, using her Husband’s 500-year journal, as to where they are respective of their individual timelines. Her husband is pleased that, for once, he seems to have the upper hand in regard to who knows more about the other's future. He is the guardian of the "spoilers."
So, is River’s “Husband” actually a future incarnation of the Doctor? (Is he really her husband?) He’s played by Sam West, and although he sounds a bit like Peter Capaldi, he’s not intended to be any incarnation of the Doctor we’ve seen before. Here’s what writer James Goss has to say on the matter: “Who’d have thought I’d get to write for River Song? Even more amazing, that I’d get the chance to create a future incarnation of the Doctor, one whose arrival is so startling, he even surprises the great River Song?” Sounds as if it is the Doctor, doesn’t it? But Goss also says this: “It’s been a real joy to work on this, and, if I have perhaps, not been entirely honest with you, please believe me about that.”
A new guest arrives on the party ship from episode two: the Eighth Doctor.
[Cue theme music.]
THE RULERS OF THE UNIVERSE:
“As shocking secrets are exposed, and a grand plan for the universe is revealed, River decides it’s time she took control of events once and for all. Out in deep space, a clandestine society faces off with an ancient and powerful alien force – but, for River, there’s an added complication. The Eighth Doctor has been caught in the middle, and she must make sure her future husband can arrive at his own destiny with all his memories – not to mention his lives – intact.”
The Eighth Doctor received an invitation from Bertie to defeat the SporeShips River failed to stop in episode three. The invitation was chronologically disguised (so that the Doctor didn’t know whether it came from the past or the future), and it appeared hovering in front of him in the TARDIS. The fact that the senders were able to do either of these things indicates the power levels involved.
From the Doctor’s point of view, the Time War has already begun. He has not yet met River Song. I don’t think she has met him yet, either, although of course she knows who he is. From what I understand, River’s next encounter with the Eighth Doctor will be earlier in his timeline, in “Doom Coalition” (which has already been released but I have not yet heard). As writer Matt Fitton put it, “The Eighth Doctor. River Song. Together. It can never happen. So it has to, really.” Will River continue to meet earlier incarnations of the Doctor, before he knew her, through her ongoing adventures? Reportedly Alex Kingston is keen, but time will tell.
I think the actual term was “chronologically displaced” rather than “chronologically disguised.”
This story must have taken place fairly early on in the Time War. Although Big Finish now has permission to set audios during the Time War, the Eighth Doctor’s Time War stories are scheduled to begin until November 2017.
The Eighth Doctor and River never meet face-to-face during the course of this adventure (she’s even using an alias), yet they do have scenes together, ship-to-ship via audio-only communicator. This conceit works quite well on audio. I listen to “Morning Edition” every weekday on NPR, and if I didn’t know the hosts were on opposite coasts, I’d swear they were in the same studio.
When I first started watching Doctor Who (not just too many years ago), I watched with the intention of eventually answering the classic “Who’s you’re favorite Doctor?” question. I’ve never really been able to until now. In some cases the Doctor is defined by the quality of writing on the show during his era, and that is certainly a factor in the decision. Certain Doctors I really like, but would be inclined to like more if they had better scripts and plots to work with.
A lot of folks on this board are fans of the old show or the new or both, but relatively few listen to the Doctor Who audios from Big Finish. For many years Big Finish has done stories of the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors reprising their roles, but recently the Fourth and Tenth have begun recording audios, too. I never did think the Eighth Doctor got a fair shake on TV, but he has been given a chance to shine on the audios. I feel confident in finally being able to say Paul McGann is MY Doctor.
The Diary of River Song: Series 2 – Coming January 2017
“Alex Kingston will return as River Song in the new year for four new adventures with two different Doctors. Time travelling archaeologist and adventurer River Song will return on audio in 2017 – and this time she will be stepping into the past life of the Doctor, encountering two of his incarnations at once. Alex Kingston returns in The Diary of River Song: Series 2 alongside Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy!
“From the space exploration vessel Saturnius – which is heading to a destination that never gets any closer – to a doomed planet Earth and beyond, River’s journey will bring her closer to a new foe... and an encounter with both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors.
“'We’re thrilled to have both Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy appearing alongside Alex in this box set,' says producer David Richardson. 'I can promise that River and the Doctor might not necessarily be working to the same agenda. In fact, the two Doctors might not be working to the same agenda either...'”
“A planetary anomaly. A scientific impossibility. A mystery to be solved.
“Of course, River Song expects to be consulted. She expects her valuable knowledge and experience will help the crew of the Saturnius unlock the strange phenomenon that has appeared in Earth’s solar system.
“But what River doesn’t expect is a stowaway. An infuriating little man, calling himself the Doctor.”
The story begins in medias res with River Song interrogating someone “off screen.” We’re not sure what the situation is but it sounds serious. Eventually she starts to confide in her “prisoner” (or whoever he is). The Seventh Doctor’s voice answers, “Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong and I’ll see if I can help.” [CUE THEME]
River Song is serving as “freelance archaeologist” on board the Saturnius. The rest of the crew is Maddie Bower (captain), Ellen Byrne (pilot) and Robert Murphy (engineer). They are passing through an unstable region of space, and the Doctor is apparently a stowaway. The area of space is destabilizing, and it’s affecting their memories and perception of time as well. They don’t know exactly where they are or how they got there or how long they’ve been there or where the Doctor came from or how he got on board.
What they do know is that a mysterious planet suddenly appeared on the outskirts of the solar system. The Saturnius was scrambled into service because it’s a new spaceship designed to navigate unstable regions of space. “That’s sounds clever,” observes the Doctor. “How does it work?” River explains that the ship’s shield actually removes them from normal space so they can navigate the vortex. The Doctor reevaluates his opinion from “clever” to “dangerously idiotic.”
He further explains that unstable regions of space don’t exist in the physical universe, at least not entirely. What happened was, while moving through the vortex, the Saturnius not only collided with the TARDIS, but both ships collided with the planet. The captain asked if that could be explained in a way that doesn’t involve a degree in physics, and River provides: “Three magic spacey-time things. SMOOSH! Bad things happen.”
To make matters worse, everyone’s mind is deteriorating, too. The Doctor has something of a genetic resistance, and so does River, but it’s affecting them, too. Of the human crew, the engineer has it worst because he’s closest to the source; he’s practically homicidal. When River hears the word “TARDIS” she doesn’t know what it means, but other words and phrases start popping into her head: Gallifrey, Type 40… Doctor. The Doctor is intrigued by this, but doesn’t have time to pursue it.
River finds a way to boost the shields by tying them to her vortex manipulator, making it possible to land on the planet rather than crash into it. As they approach, sensors read typical Earth-like planet, but the conditions are far from typical. The sun is rising and setting, over and over again, with remarkable rapidity. A tree just outside their protective bubble is growing to adulthood, disappearing into a seedling, then repeating. A soil analysis reads not just Earth normal, but Earth with no deviation whatsoever. River notices the tree near them is an Oak tree, a species which has never successfully trans-located to a colony word.
River trips over something. It is a hand sticking up from the ground. There is a partially buried figure of what appears to be a young girl, 13 or so years old. Her face appears remarkably calm considering what must have been a traumatic experience. Closer inspection identifies it to be a highly sophisticated android. Further analysis reveals that the construction is so advanced the only conclusion is that it must be from the future. River’s theory is that this isn’t just an Earth-like planet, it’s a time-ravaged Earth somehow moved in time from the future. Suddenly, the android speaks.
CLIFFHANGER: “Hello. My name is Rachel. Could you please dig me up?”
WRITER’S NOTES by Guy Adams:
“I suspect a lot of people will think I was inspired by Event Horizon, the broken 1997 movie from Paul WS Anderson (Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, Resident Evil 3, Resident Evil 4, etc., etc.) but actually I was thinking more of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, a movie far better than the rest of you say it is. So there. That notion of a ship sailing through harsh, lethal space, brushing up against the infinite.
“The risk in writing River for me was that I would get lost in her sense of fun and end up filling an hour with little more than my usual attempt at witty banter. I fall into that trap far too easily so I decided to be mean to myself and, instead, focus on an hour of dark, claustrophobic space horror. Sorry.
“I was also inspired by writer Grant Morrison discussing his view of how human beings pass through time, forming a chain of slightly different ‘selves’ with each passing second, a constant flow of experience that curls back through generations (Google ‘Grant Morrison Explains Life’ to see him explain it far better than I have the word count for). If nothing else it gave me a cast of thousands that broke the actors rather than the budget.
“The play is dedicated to Maddie Bower, someone I’ve never met but whose aunt and uncle I once briefly chatted to. They told me how much she adored Doctor Who I think the word used was ‘obsessed’ which I’m sure we can all relate to). I decided such things should be encouraged and promised to one day name a character after her.
“Let’s hope she doesn’t wish I hadn’t.”