REVIEW – THE DIARY OF RIVER SONG (SERIES 1)

Lets start with some hard facts – I absolutely adore River Song so may not be as objective as usual – consequently this review may be very short – here we go “River Song… Oh, erm, gee – she’s so pretty… best box set ever. 137/10”…

I showed this review to Mrs W and after the the “wifey tut and eye roll” I promised I would try to be a bit more objective and not mesmerised by the big hair and the sassy attitude, difficult when you are married to said Big hair and sassy attitude (I’ll get my coat) – but I promised to have another go and not review the box set like a lovesick teenager despite River having the second best big hair and sassy attitude in the universe!

I really shouldn’t like the character of River Song – she is everything I don’t like about modern Doctor Who – all time paradoxes and “messing about with time travel” and do you know, with River I do not care – in fact its the inherent tragedy in her character that I like – she made me cry on Christmas Day, the Library story makes me cry every single time – her tragic and doomed marriage to the Doctor is one the the triumphs of post 2005 Doctor Who, and this is in no small part due to Alex Kingston – she makes what could have been a smug, annoying character into a tragic heroine – she is strong, intelligent, caring, tough, devastatingly beautiful, yet at the same time vulnerable and lost – her fleeting time with The Doctor that we witness is tinged with sadness because we and he know what her ultimate fate will be. But what about when The Doctor is not around? What does River Song get up to without her husband? This first box set (at least in part) explores this.

Back in June 2015 Big Finish encouraged listeners to tweet pictures of themselves doing a “shush” (fingers on lips) intrigued I gave it a go. On the next Saturday it was revealed why – I was like Del Boy and Rodney when they find out how much their old watch is worth in the last episode of Only Fools and Horses (okay last decent episode), I cheered lots, which was a bit embarrassing as I was in work at the time but hey ho… Not only was she in a series of her own but also going to be in Doom Coalition with Paul McGann – intriguing, how would this play out, the Doctor doesn’t meet her until The Library? This box set explores her relationship with earlier Doctor’s as well as Paul McGann makes an appearance in episode four – interested? well read on.

 As is the convention with Big Finish, this Box Set is split into four interlinked stories:

The Boundless Sea by Jenny T Colgan

I don’t know why, but River always makes me think of art deco – all glamour and adventure, and this first story is set firmly in the early 20th century conforms to the art deco feel. River is holding a position as a Professor of Archaeology at a British University when she is asked to investigate a Mesopotamian tomb – problem is the last person to enter the Tomb vanished without a trace.

Full on 1920’s style Indiana Jones homage boys own adventure is how I would describe this. River even gets her own “companion” of sorts on the person of Bertie Potts (Alexander Vlahos) a member of the British consulate – a real upper class twit, sort of Bertie Wooster-ish, to accompany her on her Tomb raiding. What transpires is a trip through “Mummy Movie” B-Movie horror given a suitable “New Who” twist. River is clever, very very clever – she tries to think like The Doctor but she really is more passionate than our favourite Gallifreyan and comes at problems with t much more worldly and human attitude. An interesting beginning with a clever hook into part two.

I Went to a Marvellous Party by Justin Richards

Continuing the art deco feel, this episode is almost an homage to Agatha Christie – the events of episode one lead River to the  “marvellous party” of the title on a space liner. This is a never ending event for the super rich and super powerful – these “elite” delight in manipulating the fates of people, planets and star systems for amusement and profit. And then one of them is murdered. River takes on the role of detective, but not everyone is what they seem, and once the truth is revealed how will she deal with it? A classic “whodunnit” in pure Poirot style with a cliffhanger ending you most definitely will not see coming…

Signs by James Goss

If art deco is the theme for parts one and two, part three takes a more avant garde approach. River is travelling with a handsome and mysterious stranger (I will say no more – spoilers, sweetie) investigating mysterious Spore Ships – mysterious spaceships that appear and reduce planets to mulch. This story has a very surreal dreamlike structure with some exceptional narration from Alex Kingston, and her companion played by Samuel West is charming and intense – they have almost the perfect relationship, they were almost made to be together. This is a story you will get most out of if you listen to it alone with absolutely no distractions – it is multi layered and complex and demands your attention, much like the TV episode Heaven Sent it really will stand up to repeated listenings – to give away any more really would spoil the story.

The Rulers of the Universe by Matt Fitton

And so The Doctor turns up – but not the Doctor River may have been expecting – in fact she laments the choice of incarnation because there are some she is not allowed to play with. The seeds (or should that be spores) planted in episodes one to three all come together – River and Bertie on a crashing command deck try to help the Doctor to defeat the menace of the spore ships without him finding out who she is. River really cares about the Doctor, all incarnations of the Doctor, and it is lump in throat time when she muses as to what she would say to the Eighth Doctor if she could meet him face to face.

An exciting and rather melancholy end to the series.

So there you have it – I can be objective where River is concerned, and it is a very very good box set. Alex Kingston gives River her all just as she does with the TV series, but as she is centre stage we get more layers to her character other than the wise cracking flirting we are used to – we get to see her as she is when not trying to impress The Doctor, but we also get to see the genuine love she has for him. Kingston is ably supported by the wonderful Alexander Vlahos as the cowardly and latterly loathsome Bertie Potts and Samuel West oozes charm in part three in what is a two hander with River and a very cleverly written one at that.

So, perfect? Not quite. Charming – definitely, pathos – plenty of that, and do I want more – definitely yes.

9/10, Sweetie.

Written by Ed Watkinson

SYNOPSIS:

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?

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?

Signs by James Goss

River Song is on the trail of the mysterious, planet-killing Spore Ships.

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 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…

CAST:

Alex Kingston (River Song), Paul McGann (The Doctor), Alexander Vlahos (Bertie Potts), Alexander Siddig (Marcus Gifford), Imogen Stubbs (Isabella Clerkwell),Gbemisola Ikumelo (Prim), Charlotte Christie (Daphne Garsington), Alisdair Simpson (Colonel Lifford), Oliver Dimsdale (Archie Ferrers), John Banks (Professor Straiton), Letty Butler (Spritz), John Voce (Jenkins), Aaron Neil (Sanukuma Master) and Samuel West (Mr Song). Other parts played by the cast.

Written By: Jenny T Colgan, Justin Richards, James Goss, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

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