Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories

Posted in Audio by - December 13, 2019
Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories

Released December 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

To close out its 2019 release slate of The Monthly Adventures, Big Finish and writer Nev Fountain turn to Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant to anchor a collection of short stories that prove to have much more in common than just a Christmas motif.

One-part short stories always carry the tremendous burden of setting up a location and characters at the heart of the conflict in a short space of time, and “Blood on Santa’s Claw” certainly does not shy away from that challenge as it begins to explain why the fifty-ninth century is one of the Doctor’s least favourites. At a time when all of the universe’s mysteries have been solved and traditional religions have accordingly been dropped with devout followers of everyday items and occurrences taking their place, the Doctor and Peri find themselves on the planet Naxios in the middle of a conflict between two such religions. With the government ranking both religions equally, those worshipping Shakespeare and his works have gained prominence over the other due to the sheer number of their followers, a ratio that is quickly changing as Christmas-worshipping inquisitors dressed as Santa and replete with seven reindeer each come to police the situation. The background is somewhat convoluted and by necessity rushed, but it works well enough to set the scene, and although Joe as Peri’s new boyfriend hardly gets any introduction as he stays out of the main action in the silver mines, his introduction does serve to create a new dynamic within the TARDIS as the Doctor poignantly describes the responsibility he must bear for Peri and which she must now shoulder for Joe. “Blood on Santa’s Claw” covers a lot of ground in a short period of time, and despite its overreach with such a unique setting and a new character to be introduced, it’s an exciting and successful introduction to this collection.

Staying in the fifty-ninth century, the TARDIS next lands at the Ishtar Institute that has perfected the science of designer babies in “The Baby Awakes.” Taking current practices and thought processes to their natural conclusion, this Institute allows couples to interact with their potential children at different times and ages and with different data feeding the algorithms to pick those that are the best fit. Naturally, a tremendous amount of moral and ethical disputes can arise from such a practice, and while Joe is quite keen to take part in this sequence, Peri is understandably more reserved and quick to form attachments after the brief glimpses at her possible futures she is afforded. Indeed, Bryant delivers a powerhouse performance brimming with a range of emotions as Peri experiences elation, confusion, horror, and heartbreak in short order, and the dark truth behind the purpose of the Institute’s practices and the shocking intimations at just what traveling with the Doctor may have done to Peri on a physiological level give a needed depth to what could otherwise have become simply a superfluous montage. Joe is still something of an unknown character at this point despite his relationship with Peri assuredly being put to the test, but the many strong character moments and striking imagery along with this glimpse at a future setting that has a very real chance of becoming reality for better or for worse maintain this collection’s momentum heading into the second half.

Yet again remaining in the fifty-ninth century much to the Doctor’s chagrin, the TARDIS next brings this trio to a space station housing a Christmas party that has been in full swing for over three years in “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day.” With silver robots guarding the Christmas decorations with deadly force, it’s clear that all is not as it seems, and the mystery surrounding the true reason for the festivities aboard Tate Galactic easily anchors proceedings while providing a shocking resolution that calls the Doctor’s earlier actions squarely into question. While the fallout of this revelation is left for the second half of this two-part story to manage, the journey to it is just as engaging, and finally Luke Allen-Gale is given the opportunity to truly begin to develop Joe when Joe’s relationship with Peri is boldly brought to the forefront as the two heatedly discuss just what their future might be and whether traveling in the TARDIS is a feasible option. It’s here that Peri shows both how much she has grown as a character since joining the Doctor and how utterly human she remains with strengths and insecurities both brazenly present, and although the Sixth Doctor has been enjoying the company of many new companions over recent years, Joe is uniquely positioned to bring out a wholly distinct side of Peri than is usually present to allow this tale to succeed both on a large and very intimate scale.

“Brightly Shone the Moon That Night” brings to a close this collection, brazenly revealing that the Doctor has been played throughout each of the preceding three stories with his actions resulting in the release of a dark secret from Gallifrey’s earliest days. Although it’s perhaps a little underwhelming to once more use the plot point that the new companion harbours nefarious motivations, the manner by which major and minor plot threads from all of the stories are tied together is deftly handled and rightfully gives a tremendous sense of cohesion to tales that worked just as effectively individually. Doing so does inevitably means that the Werelords can’t quite develop as fully as might be expected, but the backstory afforded their existence, their regenerative prowess, and the inherent danger they pose successfully presents a credible threat for the Doctor and Peri to understandably fear. As has been the case with all of these stories, Peri is forced to take a very proactive role in events while showcasing her intelligence and determination, and the Doctor’s earlier discussion about the responsibility she bears with Joe traveling alongside her takes on an entirely new meaning as these werewolves threaten to descend upon the universe once more. Although events never become quite as ominous as the story’s synopsis may suggest and fairly easily and quickly come to and end, the introduction of the interwoven nature of this seeming anthology set and its payoff is immense and helps to craft a strong conclusion that maintains an air of holiday magic amidst the very sombre and grave threat on display with the Doctor anything but in control.

Surprising in its scope but wholly logical in its intent and execution, “Blood on Santa’s Claw and Other Stories” is one of the most engaging anthology collections Big Finish has yet released. Joe adds a tremendous dynamic to the TARDIS even if so much of his character remains an unknown, and these new nuances to Peri all succeed brilliantly to show just how much life characters who have been around for so long still possess no matter the situation. While not a traditional holiday tale by any means, the added Christmas elements serve as the perfect tonal link for these stories and perfectly lead up to and explain the villainous reveal that comes to define the final entry. Not every aspect works perfectly given the time constraints that sometimes overwhelm ambition, but fans old and new alike are sure to be entertained by the uniquely engaging journey that Nev Fountain has crafted.

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