Iris Wildthyme Series 03

Posted in Audio by - June 05, 2018
Iris Wildthyme Series 03

Released August 2012

Iris Wildthyme
is unquestionably one of the most singularly unique properties within the Big Finish catalogue, using wildly varied tones that are unafraid to tread into pantomime and farcical territory but never foregoing a genuine sense of empathy and emotion beneath Iris’s gaudy façade. Katy Manning has epitomised everything that this outlandish but well-intentioned woman should be and has completely made the series and character her own with truly mesmerising performances that somehow manage to capture so much nuance despite Iris’s purposefully over-the-top personality. With the range really hitting its stride in the second series, the famed transtemporal adventuress and her trusted sidekick Panda now return for three more rollicking escapades.

Fleeing from a pursuing time destroyer, Panda is irked that he has gone from the precipice of being crowned an intergalactic hero with concubines galore to being dragged to the tediously dull planet of Trull in an instant in ‘The Iris Wildthyme Appreciation Society’ by Cavan Scott. Rather than hiding out in anonymity, however, Iris seems obsessed with growing her fame and fortune, and she is soon plastered upon magazine covers, television coverage, life-sized dolls and so much more. With Panda the secretary general in charge of fan mail, their days of adventuring seem long gone, but as is so often the case with Iris, the story of how she got to this point is anything but straightforward, and one particularly eager fan’s obsession with getting an autograph just may have destroyed the entire planet as portents of doom begin to manifest and the destroyer of worlds descends.

This series has certainly not been one to shy away from spins on oft-used science fiction tropes, and so the fact that Iris has been the subject of an unwanted mind swap is not completely unexpected, especially when her harsh and more narcissistic actions in this story are compared to earlier ones. Nonetheless, Chris Allen gives a strong performance as Wayne Bland II no matter what the script asks of him, and the measures he takes to protect his secrets are actually quite dark given the source of his adoration. But as the galactic menace continues its approach and threatens to shag the actual planet of Trull to death as only a being in the realms of Iris Wildthyme could, the truth is revealed in earnest and it’s the short legs of Panda upon which so many lives depend. The alien object at the heart of this chaos is quite simplistic in its purpose, but Scott mines a wealth of narrative potential from it as every man character gets his or her chance to shine, ultimately revealing the truly honourable and noble aspects of characters who at times seem anything but when Iris’s body itself is the prize. Although opening the set with a story where the lead is not necessarily the lead is a bit of a strange choice, Scott navigates the potential pitfalls well enough to once more deliver a solid outing that captures everything that makes this range very much its own entity.

‘Iris Rides Out’ presents the unlikeliest of crossovers as Iris and Panda using a distinctly low-tech randomizer find themselves in Mocata Grange as famed fictional occult detective Thomas Carnacki faces his most terrifying challenge yet, trying to determine and eradicate the paranormal source for the staff leaving en masse while also avoiding the incessant advances of Iris. Marcus Hutton steps into the role of this confident ghost hunter with ease, and after initially mistaking Iris as a harpy and a witch with Panda as her familiar, he makes a great addition to the lead duo with a very unique- if somewhat outdated- viewpoint. As a strange being continues to make itself known, Iris knows that she must take the lead even if her attempts at improvisation don’t always lead to success, and she quickly determines that there is a breach in the fabric of reality centred within the manor’s library that they must find and stitch up before it grows in size and whatever is pushing from the other side is allowed to come through as well.

This is Iris Wildthyme, of course, meaning that any of the traditional reasons for a paranormal haunting can be tossed aside, and, indeed, Sir Donald Marshall must begrudgingly admit that the staff left because of much more earthly and mundane reasons than he has so far led these explorers to believe. Quite wondrously, as events lead to an alien world that is much less visually impressive than Carnacki had hoped for, Marshall’s reasons for making a deal are not unique just to him, and there’s a resounding sense of disappointment on both sides of the rift with how events have played out for both prominent figures. The storyline may not be quite as creative as some of the others in this range, but the experiments with the fourth wall to keep Carnacki’s extensive narration from ever becoming too tiring is a uniquely enjoyable experience in and of itself. Blending the spectacular with the mundane and making the most of Carnacki and his belief in magic and the paranormal, ‘Iris Rides Out’ is yet another enjoyable outing that again shows the breadth of storytelling styles and tones possible with the freedom that Iris allows.

Closing out the third series is perhaps the most traditional tale yet with ‘Midwinter Murders’ by George Mann in which Iris and Panda are the prime suspects for a rash of increasingly bizarre murders in the Warwickshire village of Midwinter Leys. With Inspector Nettles- who has a romantic history with Iris dating back twenty years that she can remember nothing about- and Sergeant Spartan on the case, the race is on to apprehend the culprit and try to piece together an odd aroma permeating the murder scenes that a young woman is always seen fleeing from as well as the fact that one of the murder victims was seen about town after his reported death. Once deaths continue to mount and Iris is begrudgingly released from her interrogation cell, a tale of seeming impossibilities manifests as doppelgangers appear to kill off anyone who has expressed concern about the murders.

Iris Wildthyme has been infatuated with the rather colourful nature of Iris’s memories from the very start, and it should come as no surprise that a memory she just can’t quite remember forms the basis for the ultimate truth here. Even the script accepts that there was never any true mystery surrounding the identity of the culprit, but it’s the tense and mysterious journey to Iris remembering that makes this story worth a listen. Filled with the usual bravado and comedy, the mystery includes plenty of danger and genuine emotion as well, and the ultimate revelation at its core is audacious and perfectly befitting of Iris and her vibrant past. With Iris’s own doppelganger making a profound impact and proving to be something else altogether as series four looms on the horizon, ‘Midwinter Murders’ puts Iris in perhaps her most grounded situation yet and proves just how much traditional tropes can morph when she is involved, a fitting ending to this third series that has found a perfect balance for the ostentatiousness so inherent in the travels and mannerisms of Iris and Panda that are brought to life so wonderfully by Katy Manning, David Benson, and all of the guest cast.

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