Doctor Who – Ravenous Series 1 reviewed

❉ The Doctor is reunited with Winston Churchill… and the Kandyman. What a time to be alive!

“As a multi-part series, this release sets the stage for episodes to come without revealing too much, and having multiple episodes to work with allows the characters and situations to develop in a satisfying manner.”

There haven’t been a lot of lighter moments for Paul McGann’s Doctor over the last several years. It’s tempting – and not without merit – to attribute this to his brief return to the role on television in conjunction with Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary story, but the trend actually goes at least as far back as the Big Finish Productions’ 2011 audio drama To The Death, McGann’s final story alongside Sheridan Smith as Lucie Miller. In the aftermath of that adventure, McGann’s normally vibrant incarnation struggled to find hope and purpose in the 2012 storyline Dark Eyes before giving up hope entirely in Night of the Doctor a year later.

Even more so than his debut, McGann’s onscreen portrayal in that 2013 appearance has thoroughly informed his audio performances such that the wearied soul who would do anything to avoid becoming a warrior became the default presentation for subsequent Big Finish’s releases featuring his Doctor. Since Dark Eyes and its follow up series The Doom Coalition, which introduced a new Time Lord villain known as the Eleven played by Mark Bonnar, the Eighth Doctor’s adventures have bifurcated. In addition to the Time War series that began last Fall, the newly released first set of Ravenous picks up where  Doom Coalition left off – with a minor caveat. While the set opens with the Doctor and Liv Chenka (Unforgotten’s Nicola Walker) eager to find their friend, Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan), who was lost at the end of  Doom Coalition, there are a couple of detours before their quest begins in earnest. Both of these standalone stories – written by Big Finish regular John Dorney – are enjoyable but mainly serve as just an appetizer for the main course that comes in the second half.

The opening chapter, Their Finest Hour, is the more noteworthy of the two thanks to Ian McNeice reprising the role of Winston Churchill. Though McNeice previously recorded a pair of audiobook-style releases for Big Finish, this is his first appearance as Churchill in one of their full-cast adventures. McNeice clearly enjoys the role, and hearing him play off of McGann’s Doctor is fun, as is the dynamic between Churchill and Liv, who has no notion of how others view the Prime Minister, let alone how he views himself. Nonetheless, it still feels a bit too familiar. The early years of World War Two are a sensible place for a Doctor Who story featuring Winston Churchill. However, combining that setting with the use of advanced technology to repel an alien incursion has unavoidable echoes of Victory of the Daleks. It brings to mind the current convention party game of having the Doctors interpret each others’ key moments but using an entire episode instead of a single speech. That said, the incorporation of some lesser-known history involving Polish fighter pilots adds an unexpected texture, and any story that affirms Doctor Who’s capacity to educate this way deserves its share of praise.

The second installment, How to Make a Killing in Time Travel, is built around an interesting premise, and the cast does a solid job with Dorney’s similarly solid script. The problem is its placement within the set. One interlude on the way to find Helen was a pleasant diversion – especially with a marquee guest in the mix – but stretching out the process for another hour-long instalment is a test of patience. Fortunately that patience is rewarded in the closing chapters, World of Damnation and Sweet Salvation, both written by Matt Fitton.

When the Doctor and Liv arrive on the prison planetoid Rykerzon, they encounter not just Helen and the Eleven but also another old acquaintance of the Doctor’s, the Kandyman. Even those who enjoyed the character in the (fairly polarizing) story The Happiness Patrol will probably find this rethought and mildly retconned version more menacing as well as better suited to the audio medium in general. Now played by Nicholas Rowe, the Kandyman works particularly well opposite the Eleven, as the intersection and divergences of each one’s agenda become apparent.

Also compelling is the interplay between Helen and the Eleven – two characters who shouldn’t have any common ground whatsoever but forced together by circumstance. The uncertainty their relationship fosters in the Doctor’s mind makes it plain that this is more than just a fifth Doom Coalition set. It also shows the set fulfilling the potential of the boxed-set format. Coming after the relatively slight opening installments, having multiple episodes to work with allows the characters and situations to develop in a much more satisfying manner.

Being the first of what’s explicitly positioned as a multi-part series, this release also needs to set the stage for episodes to come. To its credit, it does so without revealing too much while still managing to shed light on the umbrella title of “Ravenous”. Paul McGann’s Doctor has had a hard time of things lately, but he perseveres. With another collection of Time War adventures scheduled for release ahead of the next set of Ravenous, that persistence seems unlikely to change. The ways in which it’s tested, though, will almost certainly be a surprise.

❉ ‘Doctor Who Ravenous 1’ is out now. Starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan and Mark Bonnar. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until May 31st 2018, and on general sale after this date.

❉You can order box sets one to four individually at £23 on CD or £20 on download, or order all four box sets together in a bundle at £90 on CD or £80 on download.

❉ Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture,  Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.

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