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
3.1 The Lady in the Lake - p2
3.2 A Requiem for the Doctor
3.3 My Dinner with Andrew
3.4 The Furies
In one meeting between River and the Eighth Doctor, they didn’t see each other. In another, she used a sort of image inducer so he would see her as someone else. In this one, the Seventh Doctor may not remember the meeting because of the instability of the region of space. It will be interesting to see, going forward, how Big Finish keeps whichever Doctor from learning, or remembering, her true identity. They can’t keep repeating the same trick over and over (and so far they haven’t), but it was the Tenth Doctor who met her for the first time. They can’t undo or ignore that, lest they risk unraveling the “web of time.”
“River has made a terrible discovery.
“Billions of lives hang in the balance. But if she can save just a few, then it might just help her solve the conundrum of Earth’s destruction.
“But how can she win when survival becomes a race against time itself? A race against Five Twenty-Nine?”
Emmett and Lisa Burrows are an older couple who live on an island off the west coast of Ireland and happen to have a synthetic daughter. The tried for years to have a child on their own, but eventually they grew too old even to adopt. They sunk their life savings into a synthetic child and retired to the only place they could afford to live on what was left. Rachel is inquisitive and intelligent, just as they’d ordered. As the story opens, the three are going about their daily lives. Emmett is expecting to resume a game of chess via radio with a neighbor who is out fishing, but he cannot make contact. There is a knock at the door. They open it and their visitor introduces herself, “Hello, I’m River… River Song. May I come in?” [CUE THEME MUSIC]
River passes herself off as the victim of a shipwreck. Her lifeboat drifted off after she came ashore. The Burrows don’t have a boat, they use the farry to go to the mainland, but the ferry has left for the day. There are two other neighbors with boats, but neither is available. One is the Emmett’s chess playing friend who’s missing, and the other is out looking for him. The Burrows are happy to put River up for the night.
By the next morning, it’s obvious something’s wrong. Overnight the rest of the world has lost contact with North and South America and most of Greenland. Contact was lost at 5:29PM, time zone by time zone. Emmett recalls it was just after 6:30 the night before when he was trying to contact his friend… 6:30 on land but 5:30 at sea.
River joins the neighbor, Steven Godbold, on his boat. River boosts the engine so they can search more quickly. They cross into the zone and see dead fish and birds, but they themselves are all right. River theorizes that the time zones are dangerous only as 5:29P passes, but after that can move safely into the zone. River boosts the radio so they can follow reports from around the world as communication is lost as 5:29 passes. The only thing River can think to do is to stay ahead of the wave, but there’s no guarantee it won’t circle the Earth again.
Rachel is very bright and soon learns the truth about who River is and why she’s there. River knows Rachel will survive, but she is determined to save someone else, anyone else. Of all the people on the island (about a dozen), she is able to convince only the Burrows to come with her on Steve’s boat. The Burrows ask River if she can somehow boost Rachel’s systems to allow her to survive the same way she boosted the engine and the radio.
She agrees, but is forced to transport away at the last split second. 5:29 arrives, we hear the sound of glasses and bodies hitting the deck, then only the sound of water lapping up against the boat.
WRITER’S NOTES by John Dorney:
“I originally wanted to call this story Five Twenty-Nine or As the World Turns. I mean, the full thing. Like Twelfth Night or What You Will. But I wasn’t allowed. So I’m just saying it here. Because I can.
“This is a story about families, influenced by things like When the Wind Blows, and the brilliant ‘During Barty’s Party’ episode of Nigel Kneale’s anthology show Beasts. And that was rather appropriate as the recording was something of a family affair, featuring both Alex and her daughter, and taking place two days before Christmas (a day when I’d sit down to watch the same character meet Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, which felt a little surreal under the circumstances). Mince pies and Christmas pudding were to hand an a merry time was had by all.
“Big Finish always feels like a family to me. There’s a friendly informality about the recording that creates the special atmosphere which brings the biggest actors back over and over again. Every day in studio always feels just that little bit special, and I’m honored to be allowed to be part of it.”
I won't be posting another summary for a day or so, but I should have mentioned yesterday that River did detect some sort of energy signature she can trace to where the wave of destruction originated.
It has been weeks since I listened to this one, but I’ve been unable to write a summary until today. I’m likely to have forgotten many of the details by this point, but I want to get past this one and continue moving forward. It’s too bad, too, because I’ve been striving to do a better job on these summaries, and this episode was really quite good.
WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME:
“When it comes to bringing down corrupt and exploitative regimes, there is no-one quite like River.
“Until she arrives at Golden Futures and discovers that someone else has already taken on her job. Someone with almost as much style and panache as herself.
“The Doctor is about to get the shock of his lives.”
The energy trail leads River to a company called “Golden Futures.” Think of Golden Futures as a sort of cross between The Matrix and Jack Kirby’s Sandman (the 1970s version). People who do not wish to live in reality for whatever reason pay Golden Slumbers to put them into sleeping pods where they live out their lives via dreams. The employees guide and monitor the dreams, divert nightmares, etc. River soon discovers that the Chief Executive Officer of Golden Futures is the Sixth Doctor. When the company came to his attention he bought a controlling interest so he could more easily investigate. To me, the name of the company evokes the lullaby “Golden Slumbers” as well as commodities and futures trading.
River passes herself off as a temp and soon discovers that that the PA, the Doctor’s personal assistant, is really the one in charge. River discovers an alien lifeform which I picture as trans-dimensional eels swimming in the pods of the sleepers, feeding off their dream energy. Behind a dimension doorway, the Doctor and River discover a custom made duplicate of the planet Earth. This patchwork planet is designed to the owners’ specifications to replace the real planet Earth (which has yet to be destroyed as depicted in the previous episode).
The real owners of Golden Slumbers are the eels. Like the Weeping Angels, they feed off wasted potential life energy, but rather than shunting their victims to the past, they convince their clients to live in a dream world. This would have been bad enough, but once the Doctor fell into their laps, they let him think he was in charge and fed off his potential energy. Apparently, he has been there much, much longer than he realizes. The eels have been feeding of the wasted potential of the Doctor’s generated by all of the people and planets he could have been helping during however long it is he’s been trapped there.
The eels up until this point have been in their larval stage; when they become adults, they sprout wings. The Doctor performs some legal jiggery-pokery which transfers his controlling ownership of the company to the sleepers, which puts the eels in a dubious situation legally. Also, the Doctor initiates a “cancellation wave” designed to neutralize the effect of the 5:29 wave. Everything seems to go off as planned, and the Doctor tells River he’s so happy he could kiss her. “Why don’t you, then?” she responds. He gives her a little peck, then they kiss again.
In his writer’s notes below, James Goss mentions that “one of them becomes really absurdly smitten” with the other. I honestly don’t know which he’s referring to; they’re both pretty flirty throughout. I do agree with him that “the Sixth Doctor should go on dates more often.”
Then something goes horribly wrong. The Doctor made a miscalculation, and instead of saving the Earth, he destroyed it. Then he slips into unconsciousness. River reveals that she kissed him while wearing amnesia lipstick. She is glad that he will not have to live with the memory of having inadvertently caused te destruction of the planet Earth.
WRITER’S NOTES by James Goss:
“River Song has, since birth, been programmed to fall for the Doctor.”
“But what about the Sixth Doctor? Could even she see beyond that coat, that loud, abrasive exterior, to the gentler man beneath? And, what about him? How would the Doctor react to a woman who really gets him—not a petulant botanist or a perky programmer, not even a serene academic or a cunning codebreaker—but a wild adventurer who seems one daring step ahead of him?
“This is the story of when these two meet. One of them becomes really absurdly smitten. But I’m not going to say who. But this does feature some poetry, a picnic, and a lot of daydreaming.
“In life we never entirely get what we want, but this might be the Doctor’s chance to finally get his wishes—only, he’s missed something terribly important. And it’s up to River to put it right.
“At the recording, watching the two of them flirt, I realized the Sixth Doctor should go on dates more often.
“He’s very good at them.”
THE EYE OF THE STORM:
“The Great Storm of 1703 approaches. The fate of planet Earth hangs in the balance.
“The only person who can save it is the Doctor. Or River Song. Or quite possibly another Doctor. Or maybe this whole situation is their fault in the first place.
“Two Doctors. One River. An infinite number of ways to destroy the world. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…”
The story opens with River in prison, speaking to Daniel Defoe in 1703. Cut to the Sixth Doctor spouting lines from the storm scene of King Lear. Cut to the Seventh Doctor preventing a husband from rescuing his wife at the height of the storm. [CUE THEME]
I was previously unaware of The Great Storm of 1703, but apparently it’s the worst storm England has ever experienced. In her cell, River related the antecedent action leading up to her imprisonment to Daniel Defoe as a flashback. I had forgotten the “eel” creatures were called “Speravores” by the time I wrote my previous summary; in their full adult form, they can speak. River has traced the beginning of their involvement in human history to the year 1703. The artificially engineered duplicate planet Earth and the real planet Earth are struggling to coexist (likened to a sort of “Schroedinger’s planet”), and this is apparently what’s causing the storm. The Sixth Doctor and River are both on the case, but he doesn’t quite remember the previous adventure because of her kiss using amnesia lipstick. When she mentions Golden Slumbers it appears to strike a chord in his memory. He recalls that her name is River Song, but not much else beyond that.
There is a subplot concerning two young lovers who have ties to the Sixth Doctor. River’s plan to defeat the Speravores takes her back to Golden Slumbers, where she meets the Seventh Doctor who has discovered it on his own and is investigating. He has no memory of the previous episode, although River seems vaguely familiar to him.
To cut to the chase, the Sperivores’ involvement with Earth can be traced back to the young couple in 1703. Every action taken by every human being creates an alternate universe: whether one turns left or turn right, stops or goes ahead, etc. But the Sperivores control this couples’ actions and decisions without them knowing it. It doesn’t hurt them, but the Sperivores feed off the potential energy of all life’s little decisions they weren’t allowed to make. In order to save the Earht(s), this couple must die. The sixth Doctor is willing to sacrifice himself. The Seventh Doctor is willing to let them die for the greater good (or he thinks he is, anyway).
River takes the decision out of the Doctor’s (Doctors’) hands by revealing the truth to the couple, who voluntarily sacrifice themselves for the future of the planet. If they hadn’t, they would have gone on to marry and have children, but the Sperivores would have followed the line into the future.
It’s a good story, but the best part is the interaction among the Sixth and Seventh Doctors and River Song. At the end, the Seventh Doctor joins River for tea and crumpets. She reveals quite a bit to him, but then notices he’s not drinking his tea. She admonishes him to do so while it’s still hot, but he says that even when it’s cold it will be far too hot. He has deduced the fact that River is trying to wipe his memory. She stuns him then uses a mechanical device to wipe her from his memories.
Finally, she meets with Daniel Defoe and, although she admonishes him not to write about this adventure, River become the basis for Moll Flanders.
WRITER’S NOTES by Matt Fitton:
“‘The Eye of the Storm’ was like having all my Christmases at once: River Song, multi-Doctors, a literary genius, and a cataclysmic historical event perfect for audio! How fitting, then, that recording took place over the Yuletide period, with much merriment and cake. Lots of cake. (Thank you, Toby!) And in the midst of it was the double treat of a TV return in “The Husbands of River Song” and the release of The Diary of River Song Vol. 1.
“After our first steps into River’s Universe, I wanted to explore what makes her tick, beyond the Doctor. Producer David, director Ken and I all agreed that an interesting aspect of these stories is finding space between how the Doctor does things and how River operates. With Volume 2, we start to push out some of the emotional and conceptual boundaries of River’s unique status as a kind-of Time Lord. She might have much of the knowledge and abilities of the Doctor’s people, but without the boundaries and responsibilities that entails. Of course those differences are thrown into sharpest relief whenever Dr. Song’s errant husband does show up!
“I mentioned Christmas, so as is traditional, I will use this opportunity to write some thank you cards… First and foremost to my brilliant wife, Polly, who suggested the Great Storm of 1703 as a setting (and who also puts up with me generally!)
“Thank you Alex Kingston, who simply radiates enthusiasm for her time-travelling alter ego—it’s always a joy to chat about where we might take River next! And thanks James Goss, on script-editing duties, who pushed and prodded until we had a finale that did all our characters justice. It has ended up as one of my favorite scripts I’ve written for anything. And I can’t wait for the next one.”
THE LADY IN THE LAKE (by Nev Fountain):
“On Terminus Prime, clients choose their own means of demise. Something exciting, meaningful, or heroic to end it all. But when River discovers that there are repeat customers, she knows something more is going on. She begins to uncover a cult with worrying abilities. Its members can apparently cheat death, and that’s not all they have in common with River…”
This story is built around a clever premise: a “euthanasium.” It’s like Westworld, but instead of being an amusement park, clients who wish to end their lives can choose the manner of their demise. There are several popular packages, such as historical, heroic and humorous (such as being crushed by a falling piano or anvil). Even if a client chooses to be burned at the stake as a witch or die in a dual or whatever, Terminus Prime makes sure the end is painless. In order to avoid lawsuits from disgruntled relatives or other such legal entanglements, as soon as the client signs the contract, he or she is then sent back to the past, two to seven days, so that by time they agree to the terms, they are already dead. Signing is just a legal formality.
The teaser sequence opens with River Song digging a grave for someone she has mixed feelings about. “First I loved her, then I hated her, then I killed her.” She’s burying the body so she never has to see her again. CUE THEME SONG.
The action continues with River explaining to another character how she came to be there. She tells of tracking a group of six or seven people to Terminus Prime to keep them from killing themselves. These people have two hearts, and when they die they regenerate. She tells of pretending to be a client, then being sent seven days into the past where she has almost caught up with her own past self. Then she contacts her (past) self in the (near) future, thereby creating a time loop and a paradox as to why she’s in the past in the first place. “I love contacting a flashback,” she quips.
Unlike many of the times the Doctor has interacted with his own past or future selves, River has a playful relationship with, uh… herself. Her past self (in the future) answers the call, “Sweetie, why are you calling me here? You know I’m busy.” When future-River (in the past explains) who she is and when she is from, past-River says, “Seven days? Sweetie, you have not aged well.) Now that the loop has closed, the story progresses. These neo-Time Lords all have water-based names (tink “River” or “Pond”), and they are followers of the “Great Lake.”
Lake himself has learned that his kind regenerates when they die, and he becomes obsessed with how long he has left. How many times can he regenerate? Is there a limit? How will he know when he’s on his last life? The followers of the Great Lake have come to Terminus Prime to find answers to these questions by killing themselves over and over again. Some of them regenerate only four times; some of them as many as nine (so far). Some women change into men, and some men change into women. Lake doesn’t really learn all that much, but he does learn that it’s possible for a Time Lord to control the appearance of his regeneration somewhat by focusing on a particular person while regenerating. (This becomes an important plot point later on, as one of the Terminus Prime managers is not who everyone else thinks he is.)
River befriends a young woman she calls Lily, recently regenerated and terribly confused. Lily is absolutely devoted to River, and the two form a close bond. When they eventually confront Lake, he kills Lily. River, furious, kills Lake and is startled when he regenerates… into Lily. (This all makes sense, believe me.) In a final twist, it turns out that River herself is the Great Lake. The story now comes full circle, with River burying Lily’s body.
After this experience, River is in need of some comfort. She sends out a distress call she knows the Doctor will receive, and she’s not particular about which one. It ends up being the Fifth, and she asks if she might travel with him for a while. He agrees, saying, “We’ll be glad to have you,” and steps away. As River tries to suss out who he is travelling with at this time, the Doctor returns and introduces his current companion: a young woman named Brooke.
Man, this was a good one! I can hardly wait to find out what happens next and how it ties in to the overall arc. Here’s what Nev Fountain has to say about it…
“If you want a quick précis of the way my mind works, let me tell you how this started. ‘Alex Kingston is keen to do an historical story,’ Matt the script editor said. ‘something t do with Aztecs. Can you do something with that?’
“So six months later, I’m writing an opening scene, on an artificial beach, where someone is playing chess with a man called Kevin dressed up as death. You can tell he’s called Kevin. He’s got a badge. Don’t ask how my mind fuctions; I just work there.
“It goes something like this: Aztecs. Okay. She wants Aztecs. What about Aztecs? Hats with feathers? Ziggurats? Eclipses? Ritual sacrifice? What would any of this have to do with River Song?
“I like to tailor a story very specifically to whom I’m writing for, so I always ask myself what makes the hero unique? What makes River special? Feisty lady? We’ve got loads of those in Doctor Who. Sexy thief? Got a few of them. Space archaeologist? Already one of those knocking around. The answer is — of course — she’s the first of a new race of proto-time lords, conceived in a TARDIS by humans, practically loomed by Madame Kovarian to be unique in the universe.
“So the unique thing about River is — she’s uniquely unique. A bonzai Time Lordette with no past. What would sacrifice mean to that kind of Time Lord? Now we’re getting somewhere!
“So to sum up: ritual sacrifice. Chess. A beach. Someone who wants to lose the game, and man called Kevin dressed up as Death.
“Don’t worry about the Aztecs. I’m sure they’ll turn up somewhere.”
A REQUIEM FOR THE DOCTOR (by Jac Rayner):
“River has joined the Doctor and his friend Brooke on their travels, and they stop off in 18th century Vienna. Brooke thinks history is dull. Until people start dying. Mozart’s legacy is not just his music. River has more than one mystery to solve before a killer is let loose on the people of Vienna – and on the Doctor.”
This is a standard “by-the-numbers” adventure intended primarily to establish the Doctor-River-Brooke relationship dynamic. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Brooke was an established companion from other audio adventures. She is likeable enough, although she resents playing second fiddle to River. In that respect, she comes off like Martha Jones jealous of Rose Tyler.
The Fifth Doctor and River work well together, like the Fourth Doctor and Romana. He can confer with River, but he has to explain things to Brooke. (Favorite line: River likes it when the Doctor gets all “thinky.”) the story isn’t as entertaining as “The Lady in the Lake,” but I can see the purpose it serves in the overall arc. Think of the Fourth Doctor traveling with Martha Jones and you’ll get an idea of what this one is like. On second thought, maybe you’d better not.
“Imagine you’re traveling with the Doctor. The thrill of a lifetime! All of time and space at your fingertips! An exhilarating whirlwind of adventure! The two of you can take on the world!
“And then the Doctor invites someone else along, too. Maybe not so bad if you retained senior companion status. But no, they’re more daring than you, cleverer than you, totally in tune with this adventuring lark while you’re still feeling your way. Somehow, they even seem to know the Doctor better than you.
“How could anyone compete with river song? Her bravery, her competence, her passion, her just so-darn-coolness? I mean, obviously she’s our hero. But you’ve got feel a bit sorry for companion-turned-gooseberry Brooke, haven’t you? I know I did. Still, it was a fun dynamic to write.
“I had to say yes to writing this because, well, who’d turn down the chance of writing for Alex Kingston? There was an even more selfish motive as well, though — the only Doctor I haven’t written for in prose, audio or comics over the years is the fifth (I mean in things that have actually got published, not my ‘Nyssa marries Adric’ fan fiction from when I was nine). And yet I love the Fifth Doctor. So being able to tick him off the list t last was a joy — not just because list-ticking is so satisfying, but because he is, frankly, brilliant!”
I usually begin these audios during my morning commute and finish them either over lunch or on the way home. Sometimes I feel I have a good enough handle on a particular episode to go ahead and compose a post before hearing the end. Every once in a while, doing so comes back to bite me on the arse. Today was such a day.
This episode’s plot centered on a particular drug, the catalyst of which was human emotion. Strong negative emotion turned it into a poison, the stronger the hatred, for example, the more gruesome the death. More positive emotions, however, had restorative or healing effect. The woman who controlled the drug sold it primarily to abused wives, and lived an extraordinary long life due to her clients’ gratitude.
By the end of the story, Brooke’s jealousy had become so intense that she tried to convince the Doctor to lock River out of the TARDIS and leave her behind. When that didn’t work, she poisoned the Doctor with the particular poison from this episode. Luckily for the Doctor, River returns and the two women use their emotions to affect the Doctor’s condition. In the end, River’s deep and abiding love overcame Brooke’s hatred, but the story ends with the questions who is Brooke and why does she hate the Doctor so much?