Introducing the character of River Song to Big Finish’s ranges, The Diary of River Song sees Alex Kingston resuming her role in four new episodes, surprise released by Big Finish this last Christmas Day following The Husbands of River Song. Will River translate well to audio? can Big Finish match the highs of their other ongoing series releases? read on!
The Boundless Sea by Jenny T Colgan
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 theses. 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?
Acting as the set-up to the rest of the set, The Boundless Sea is an excellent opening chapter for River Song with Big Finish. Taking River right back to her archeologist roots, there’s something of the Indiana Jones and Mummy series’ here, River taken back to the golden “Howard Carter” age of archeology to investigate a mysterious tomb and possible death in it’s walls.
Alexander Vlahos stands out as the wonderful Bertie, River’s companion for the play, and the opening chapter is enthused with a sense of fun and energy, fixed with some heavy emotion when called for. It is perfect echo of the best aspects of the River Song character on television and, as fans of the genre, Jenny T Colgan has given us one of our favourite Big Finish hours of 2015.
I Went to a Marvellous Party by Justin Richards
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 one 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 civilisations, exploitation, and of course murder. River is confident she can find the killer. But can she identify them before anyone else – or quite possibly everyone else – gets killed?
Our second instalment, while not reaching the highs of the opening chapter, brings firm echoes of the River we saw at Christmas, a murder mystery at a very posh party attended by the decadent elites… and does River have a whole new husband?
The idea of a universal elite pulling strings like a galactic illuminati is one that has potential to be either incredible fun or provide quick and effective drama and their introduction is effective.
Big Finish have produced a number of plays along the murder mystery theme, as recently as You Are the Doctor and Other Stories, and while there is enjoyment here, the play seems to be a holding piece between the explosive opening and both the emotional Signs and the return of Paul McGann in the final instalment, foreshadowing both episodes with the promise of River’s “husband” arriving throughput.
Signs by James Goss
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 civilisations are reduced to mulch. But River has help. Her companion is a handsome time-travelling 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…
The third part of the boxset, Signs, is the standout, yet presents a very different type of story to anything else herein. Essentially a two-hander between Alex Kingston and Samuel West, Signs is a clever and emotional piece by Big Finish regular James Goss. River and her husband investigate the mystery of the SporeShips, River beset by illness and memory loss as we flash backward and forward.
An episode that requires concentration, Alex Kingston is at her absolute best here, coupled with an equally standout performance by Samuel West and there are distinct echoes of the closing moments of The Husbands of River Song here alongside, perhaps surprisingly, The Next Doctor and Heaven Sent.
The Rulers of the Universe by Matt Fitton
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 Rulers of the Universe sees Paul McGann and Alex Kingston together as River and the Eighth Doctor for our big “set finale”. Despite asking “how will they do it?” before the release, the answer is simple and effective and we get our first glimpses of the Eighth Doctor we saw during the events of The Night of the Doctor, Paul McGann having an instant chemistry with Alex Kingston, a fact that bodes well for their coming reunion in Doom Coalition 2.
With the stakes high, The Rulers of the Universe brings the set to a satisfying conclusion with Matt Fitton crafting an episode that’s possibly closest to the ongoing series in spirit, the resolution being straight out of Steven Moffat’s time bending playbook.
The Dairy of River Song takes the best aspects of the River Song and uses them to their fullest effect here, many of the settings and themes complimenting not only The Husbands of River Song but both Series 8 and Series 9. The Dairy of River Song tells a tale worthy of River and Alex Kingston effortlessly transfers her performance to the new medium, the character written as somewhat more sober than her more extravagant TV excesses. With strong performances from the supporting cast, Samuel West in particular standing out, The Dairy of River Song is an excellent start to the range and comes highly recommended… dare we say we enjoyed it more than The Husbands of River Song?
The Diary of River Song is available now from BigFinish.com.