Iris Wildthyme Series 02 and Iris Wildthyme and the Claws of Santa

Posted in Audio by - June 04, 2018
Iris Wildthyme Series 02 and Iris Wildthyme and the Claws of Santa

Released February – November 2009

The mysterious and transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme returns for a four-story second series of adventures aboard the Number 22 to Putney Common after a brief but rocky first series that only hinted at the true comedic, outlandish, but also emotional potential of this brashly unique character and the worlds in which she lives.

With Tom having departed the double-decker bus at some point between the first and second series, ‘The Sound of Fear’ by Mark Michalowski sees Iris and Panda, after finding an old eight-track tape that triggers a sense of nostalgia, materialise aboard Radio Yesterday, a space station broadcasting golden oldies to Earth’s colonies. With Iris again suffering from troubles with her memory, she’s shocked to find that Sam Gold, the once-promising but ultimately forgettable disc jockey stationed here, is none other than her own husband whom she inexplicably abandoned as only Iris can in the background of Big Finish’s own ‘Bang Bang-A-Boom,’ a move that resultantly ruined his psyche and career. There are no grand explosions or bombastic visual threats here, and ‘The Sound of Fear’ instead turns into more of a claustrophobic character study highlighted by Miles Richardson as a soulless husk of a man committed to sending out reasonable facsimiles of famed songs that fit within the allotted budget.

Katy Manning and David Benson have a superb chemistry together that easily sells the notion that the two have been traveling together for quite some time, and Michalowski injects an incredible amount of charm and humour into the opening half of the story as the characters all get to know one another and come to accept that there are strange going-on around them. Unfortunately the charm rather quickly dissipates as the alien Naxian horde looks to permeate the signals being sent with mind control and other subliminal messages that will prevent any form of resistance. The plan and the resolution are perfectly sound, but the story becomes much more straightforward and somewhat monotonous without the verve and creative brightness that so often accompanies Iris. With the computer approximating all of the very worst stereotypes of the 1960s hippie culture and Gold’s assistant Leeza failing to really come to life despite being so integral to the plot, ‘The Sound of Fear’ ultimately offers mixed results but still offers clues about just how this series and its unique tone might work as a long-term entity.

Paul Magrs continues the set with ‘The Land of Wonder’ as Iris works for MIAOW, the Ministry for Incursions and Other Wonders, during her Clockworks-ordained exile to Earth that began in 1972. Quite explicit nods to Doctor Who aside, this setup allows the very unique personality of Iris to work within the confines of a more structured organisation and adds at least hints of an intriguing dynamic that means she can’t always act with reckless abandonment as she tries to escape her exile. When a certain Professor Ramsbottom and his assistant Audrey uncover a strange vehicle under a London railway station, Iris is on the scene almost immediately, but the appearance of still-living beings that defy logical explanation and the ensuing trip deep beneath the Earth’s crust are far stranger than even the vehicle could have ever suggested as Magrs takes the premise of the bizarre to its fullest extent.

‘The Land of Wonder’ offers a knowing wink to The Land of Fiction from Doctor Who and unashamedly offers an outlandish take on Lewis Carroll’s beloved stories set in Wonderland, a fact that certainly invites any number of intriguing characters but that still feels odd given that the first two stories did the same with characters from Sherwood Forest and Oz. Revisiting and transforming classic stories is an easy and dependable way of juxtaposing a current situation to what would be considered normal, but having three stories out of four do so is a misstep that takes away from the true creativity that this series should be radiating at every turn. Still, ignoring the fourth wall as needed and using visual spectacle to bring Wonderland and its ruler to life each work spectacularly while blurring the lines of past, present, and future and further fleshing out both Iris and MIAOW. The performances here are deliberately over the top and the production does border on the level of pantomime at several points, meaning that those not in the proper mindset will find this one trying, but sadly no amount of patience can make up for the dreadful intonations and scripting of the Mock Turtle who is the very definition of grating and repetitive. This may not be an all-time classic, but it’s unquestionably a showcase of the absurd that has always followed Iris so closely.

Simon Guerrier’s ‘The Two Irises’ begins with a press conference in which Iris announces her impending regeneration, having sacrificed herself to save her best friend Panda by giving him the last remaining bit of bat’s milk cheesecake. With a burst of energy, Iris disappears, in her place a confident male figure who quickly makes his presence known to Panda’s horror by dumping the bus’s copious supplies of alcohol. As tempers flare, Earth on the verge of nuclear war in the year 2108 demands their attention, and the fate of the world depends on a not-very-good disco in Spain run by the dastardly Naxians, specifically Roger, the proclaimed third Naxian from the left in the previous story. It seems that Iris’s previous encounter with the Naxians was not strictly business, and emotions stemming from an unseen interlude come back to confront this new Iris in full force.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dan Hogarth absolutely steals the show as this new incarnation of Iris who finds himself overwhelmed by the intensifying threats of the North Bloc and the South Bloc and by the consequences of actions that were his own but also not. His chemistry with David Benson is spectacular, and the scenes between the two crackle with electricity and humour that deftly advance the plot and flesh out this newcomer while also serving as a loving pastiche to the inherent uncertainty and experimentation following a regeneration in Doctor Who that is absolutely laden in continuity references that avoid ever feeling overbearing or forced. Guerrier is not one to sacrifice a true threat in the name of comedy, however, and the presence of active nuclear missiles brings about an immensely satisfying explanation of the story’s title that makes perfect use of Iris’s immense personality and her character flaws and strengths. ‘The Two Irises’ is another instalment in this range that goes distinctly against what might be considered a normal setup after both stories of the first series did the same, but this is a stellar outing that makes the absolute most of its premise by delivering a surprisingly emotional and poignant story once the truths of the many situations are fully revealed.

Mark Magrs closes out the second series with ‘The Panda Invasion’ as Panda wishes to visit San Francisco on the eve of the millennium while the world prepares for its biggest party. Unsurprisingly, Magrs takes aim at the Eighth Doctor’s 1996 television movie and finds plenty of material for a comedic spin without ever disrespecting that source material, but the space time rift opening above the Golden Gate Bridge and spilling out horrors from other dimensions brings with it a threat wholly its own. Following an incident that only Iris and her love of gin could cause, Iris is rushed to a hospital where Dr George Strangeways tries to understand why her x-ray films are showing two livers. Sean Carlsen is perfectly cast as this man who still lives with his mother who suddenly finds his world turned upside down as he tries to play down Iris’s rather overt advances while also discovering an internal bravery he never knew existed. George is the de facto companion of this piece, and his more grounded and sarcastic nature balances out Iris’s more outlandish behaviours excellently as the truth is revealed and the threat escalates in both size and scope.

Meanwhile, Panda finds himself the victim of a multidimensional convergence initially taking the form of Toby Longworth’s Lionel Pandeau. Sporting an eccentric French accent and a scornful contempt for Panda whom Lionel sees as a country bumpkin, Lionel uses every available resource to determine the cause of the anomaly that brought him here in order to replicate it and bring more panda-kind from throughout the multiverse upon San Francisco in hopes of taking over the world. Again, Longworth and Benson are immense together and highlight the strengths and flaws of Panda wonderfully as a bevy of pop culture references are rapidly made in a villainous plot that would make the Master proud. Whatever a listener’s opinion of the Eighth Doctor’s introductory televised outing, this loving homage with a distinctly absurd twist befitting of Iris is a spectacular series finale to a run of four stories that has blazed through the base-under-siege format of the Second Doctor, the UNIT era of the Third Doctor, the tone of the 1980s, and uniqueness of the 1996 movie.

Cavan Scott and Mark Wright deliver an addendum to series two with the Christmas special ‘Iris Wildthyme and the Claws of Santa.’ Panda has been abducted and is seemingly lost in the vortex, and Iris is facing a blue Christmas with the only festive cheer coming at the bottom of a glass after her determined search for her friend has yielded no results. When the year’s hottest toy takes on a very familiar shape and sound, however, her determination is renewed and her travels take her from a planet-sized shopping mall to the North Pole itself as she uncovers a nefarious plot that threatens to destroy Christmas across the multiverse. Accompanied only by a meticulous security droid, Iris turns to the one man who can save the goodwill of the season, Saint Nicholas, but Santa Claus is a broken man, and psychotic elves and the desire to bring the true spirit of Christmas back to the children are threatening to take over once and for all.

Those looking for a bit of deep reflection and more melancholy drama in a yuletide outing will unsurprisingly need to look somewhere else, and Scott and Wright refuse to sacrifice anything of this range’s unique and bold tone for this release. The strong guest performances of Conrad Westmaas as ST58, Sarah Douglas as Mrs Mary Claus, Peter Sowerbutts as Santa Claus, and Scott Handcock as the deliriously over-the-top elf Alfredo that again will appeal to some more than others all allow the relentless pace to continue until the very end, and even revealing the more intimate activities of the Clauses is not a topic that is off limits here. There is perhaps a bit too much exposition at times to create a wholly natural flow, but the information that comes to light about both Iris and Panda as Merry Christmas takes on a wholly new meaning is wonderfully incorporated as Iris finds herself the victim of a very long con. Iris Wildthyme took a bit of time to find its perfect balance between outlandish and more tempered tones and deliveries, but ‘Iris Wildthyme and the Claws of Santa’ marks a fitting topper to a series that truly hit its stride in all aspects midway through the second series. Katy Manning’s engrossing performance absolutely encapsulates everything that Iris should be, and the framework for a long and utterly captivating series has now firmly been put in place.

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