‘The Diary of River Song – Series Three’ reviewed

❉ Well written, finely acted and just downright entertaining, this is a story that needed telling, writes Ian McCann.

There must be a certain difficulty to writing a series about River Song. How does one focus it on River and make sure the Doctor (who invariably shows up in moments of great import in River’s life) doesn’t steal the limelight? With great finesse, it must be said.  Presented here are four hour-long adventures that greatly expand what we thought we knew about River’s backstory, and as ever the Doctor shows up….but is it the one she was hoping for?

Spoilers, sweetie?

Well, yes. Quite.

The Lady in the Lake by Nev Fountain:

Right out of the gate the set starts with a cracker of a story. Alex Kingston is absolute perfection portraying River on a hunt for something or…someone from her past. The ideas behind the death planet Terminus Prime are fantastic and really lend themselves to such a unique story. It’s quite surreal to hear new information about the circumstances of River’ birth and Demon’s Run after all this time. (Has it really been 7 years???)

The revelation at the end is such bombshell and an emotional gut punch for River that you can’t help but feel it yourself. We sometimes forget that River is a tragic figure. For most of her life, she is alone and away from the people she loves. Adventures are great and all, but you need someone to share them with…

‘The Lady in the Lake’ goes from comedy to tragedy on a turn of a dime and it’s anchored by such a strong lead performance by Kingston (Ian Conningham is also a treat as Kevin, the Metaphorical Representation of Death.) ‘The Lady in the Lake’ might be the best series opener for ‘The Diary of River Song’ yet and that’s quite saying something.

A Requiem for the Doctor by Jacqueline Raynor:

River, the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) and Brooke (Joanna Horton) are travelling in 18th Century Vienna and it seems someone’s intent on killing Mozart. Naturally, the TARDIS crew must stop it before history gets thrown out of order, but the Doctor’ new companions don’t trust each other, making things all the more difficult….

There’s sheer pleasure stemming from hearing River and this incarnation of the Doctor working together. Perhaps, non-surprisingly the Fifth Doctor’s gentlemanly explorer act meshes well with the bold River Song. Years of practice with Tegan, I suppose. The little nods to his future that she lets slip (“Timey-wimey?”) are quite wondrous to behold. Joanna Horton is really quite good as the mysterious Brooke and she holds her own in what is for a lot of its runtime, a three-hander.

It’s always a joy to see Jacqueline Raynor’s name on a release and this time was no different. She has such a wonderful grasp on the characters she writes and makes it a definite pleasure to hear them just hold a simple conversation.

My Dinner with Andrew by John Dorney:

This instalment definitely wears its Douglas Adams’ influence on its sleeve, but it’s much more than that. It’s a deadly time-travelling comedy of errors with the Doctor caught up right in the middle of it. The less known about ‘My Dinner with Andrew’ coming in, the better. Peter Davison seems to be having a load of fun playing his character(s) here. He gets a chance to do something a bit different.  Jonathan Coote is also a real hoot as the ever-useful Maître D’ of the Bumptious Gastropod.

The Furies by Matt Fitton:

River has lost and Kovarian has won, but at what cost? The universe is falling apart and it’s coming for revenge. The Furies are coming….

It’s always fascinating to see River when she has nothing left to lose. There’s ruthlessness to her character that we only ever see on rare occasions and she’s a force to be reckoned with. What’s even more fascinating here is the disturbing mother-daughter relationship her and Madame Kovarian share. Kovarian, as all good villains do, thinks she’s doing the right thing. The lovely Frances Barber reminds us all of why Kovarian was so easy to hate. It’s wonderful to see Nina Toussaint-White reintroduced into the River mythos in a frightfully clever way and she does a very good job with the role she’s given. Overall, it’s a quieter piece for the set, but it fulfills the promise of it being a rather more personal journey for River. The ending opens up a lot of potential for River’s future and perhaps we’ll see more of the repercussions of the finale’s events later on.

As ever, there are joys to be had with River clashing with some of the older eras of the show face-to-face, but the real strength of this set has to be the personal journey River goes on through it. From the heartbreaking opener to the showdown back at “home” with Madame Kovarian, Alex Kingston portrays River Song with such aplomb and ease. She’s truly become a full-fledged character all on her own. Peter Davison is also a real treat when he gets some choice material to chew on and here he gets more than a mouthful. Well written, finely acted and just downright entertaining, ‘The Diary of River Song: Series 3’ is an essential buy for fans of the character. More importantly, it feels like a story that needed telling.  It’s bound to hold to repeats listens, highly recommended.

Bring on Series 4! 10/10

❉ ‘The Diary of River Song Series Three’ was released on 23 January 2018. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until March 31st 2018, and on general sale after this date. You can buy The Diary of River Song Series Three on CD at £23 or on download at £20. Don’t forget all CD purchases unlock a download version from the Big Finish app or the Big Finish website.

❉ Ian McCann is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and editor of The Casual Nexus, home of the ‘Chronological Hysteresis’ series.

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