Lady Christina Series One

Posted in Audio by - August 27, 2018
Lady Christina Series One

Released August 2018
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Lady Christina de Souza confidently burst onto screens and into the worlds of Doctor Who in the 2009 Easter special ‘Planet of the Dead,’ Michelle Ryan imbuing an incredible amount of confidence and independence to this renowned cat burglar who had grown bored of her aristocratic upbringing and stole simply for the thrill of the adventure rather than for profit. Though not implicitly trustworthy in her sole televised outing, her charm and poise made her the perfect acting companion for that tale and helped to round out a character who simply begged for repeat appearances despite the Tenth Doctor refusing her request to join him. With only an audio adventure alongside the Tenth Doctor and a comic adventure alongside the Eleventh since, the character now rightfully returns to the spotlight as Ryan headlines four new stories in the first series of Lady Christina.

John Dorney opens this set in the French Riviera with ‘It Takes a Thief’ with Christina enjoying the high life while trying to add to her collection. With a series of recent thefts in the region and a robbery-turned-murder the night before, she finds herself the subject of unwanted attention with her reputation preceding her even after she saves one Ivo Fraser-Cannon from an attempted robbery. Of course, Christina knows all too well that the police have a hard enough time pinning the crimes she actually did commit on her, and so she is not unduly concerned about this false charge even though she cannot tell them her alibi that she was actually stealing at Monte Carlo at hat time. Instead, she follows up on her chance meeting with Ivo to get closer to him as she attempts to steal his diamond ring, but their second encounter allows her to piece together the fact that these crimes are being committed in hopes of acquiring alien technology, the evidence of which she sees first-hand while investigating the murder scene before learning that she has been framed for that crime.

Suddenly on the run, Christina loses none of her self-assuredness and resourcefulness, and she soon makes use of her experiences with the Doctor as she calls UNIT and comes into contact with Sam Bishop in a surprising but wholly effective use of audio cross-range continuity. Through him she learns of stolen UNIT technology assumably by recruits recently let go and that she is known within UNIT circles and an easy target of suspicion for the recent crimes even if she doesn’t best fit the working theory. Making the most of her shrewd ability to think far in advance of anyone else, she is able to determine the true culprit while also obtaining a confession, though she does underestimate the extent of alien technology being used that wisely shows a fallibility to this character as well. ‘It Takes a Thief’ doesn’t necessarily have the highest stakes, but it is very well-paced with identities anything but concrete and makes incredible use of Michelle Ryan’s innate charisma, her easy chemistry with Matt Barber, and its strong supporting cast in general to offer a thoroughly engaging reintroduction to this fascinating character and the potential drama with which she willingly surrounds herself given her chosen profession.

‘Skin Deep’ by James Goss sees Lady Christina befriend Sylvia Noble, a woman who has always believed that she deserves better than the cards she has been dealt in life and who eagerly jumps at the opportunity to mingle with the elite when offered the opportunity. Of course, nothing Christina does is without reason, and it’s strangely amusing to see her interact on a much more domestic level as she insists on getting the entire tour of Sylvia’s home while furtively searching for another piece of alien technology. Understandably, Donna becomes a focal point of the conversation even if Sylvia is reluctant to open up too much about her daughter’s travels, and it’s these moments that are some of the most poignant as Sylvia agrees all too forlornly with Christina’s observation that people change.

This is again a story that doesn’t necessarily amplify the stakes to imminent catastrophe, but the reference to the Adipose is actually quite fitting given that an amber cream used for beauty enhancement represents a vital component to an alien plot. Though the strange beetles themselves may not make the most memorable audio villains, the aristocratic aspect of their plan effectively brings Christina’s own father into the mix with a subtly profound performance from William Gaminara that offsets the more nonchalant presences of Christina’s old friends who are all too quick to pass judgment on everyone before them. Indeed, his uneasy relationship with his daughter despite his own past actions that aren’t entirely honourable forms a great foundation for the story that offers some much needed backstory for Christina, and Sylvia calling this frosty relationship into question given her own experiences with Donna is a wonderful development that again offers some genuine emotion to the oft-judgmental Sylvia who finds the world of the elite anything but what she expected it to be. The continued insertion of Sylvia into the strange worlds that she remained more on the periphery of while the Doctor traveled with Donna and Wilf continues to pay off for Big Finish, and Jacqueline King again excels while reflecting on herself and forming a strong chemistry with Ryan who does likewise.

Tim Dawson’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ firmly unites Lady Christina with Sam Bishop as the search for one of the world’s most famous paintings quickly turns into a globetrotting adventure filled with incredible danger and intrigue with a mysterious and unstoppable foe at its core. Taking on the role of the Auctioneers who have for so long gone up against UNIT, Christina furtively sanctions a group to retrieve this painting, but her group has been infiltrated by Bishop who uses the secrecy surrounding identities to his full advantage. As both play a deceptive role, each has the suspicion that the person being conversed with is someone other than who he or she claims to be, but it’s not until a tense moment with a Sontaran threatening death that those suspicions are confirmed in momentous fashion. True to form, the two create an immense duo when paired together with all pretenses dropped, and Ryan and Warren Brown work spectacularly well together to hint at what could be a long-lasting and fruitful partnership should Christina ever choose to settle down as Bishop at one point offers.

‘Portrait of a Lady’ is anything but just another Sontaran tale, however, and the villainous plan and global nature of the story have more than a loving James Bond element about them. With no creature immune to the villainous control, Christopher Ryan gives a fittingly albeit surprisingly emotional performance as the Sontaran Grunt who gradually comes to realise that he has been coerced into acting in a manner at odds with everything his race espouses. And though Grunt ably shows off the true power of the Sontaran threat in general, it’s the artwork and its sentient paint that can look into a singular onlookers’ soul that becomes the more fascinating hook for the story primarily because of what it represents and the power it holds but also because of the more profound thoughts and abilities it shows with Christina before it. This painting is absolutely an item that could anchor a far longer adventure to further flesh out what its abilities reveal and then cause in those who look at it as well as the desires and aggression it brings out in others trying to possess it, but even the brief introduction here is a fitting blending of the worlds of Lady Christina and UNIT that again represent a strong cohesiveness of the ever-expanding audio worlds of Doctor Who.

Donald McLeary’s ‘Death on the Mile’ closes out the set with Lady Christina taking on the heist of a lifetime as she attempts to break into Edinburgh Castle. With UNIT likewise tracking alien activity at the Military Tattoo when the city is at its fullest, this is the story that features the most evocative setting of the set, and though the heist and its ramifications inevitably take precedence over the exploration of Scottish culture or Edinburgh’s August fixtures in any great detail, the small touches and historical and geographical nods that feature throughout ensure that the location is more than simply window dressing with no true purpose.

Of course, the locale also ties directly into the Ninth Doctor’s remark that lots of planets have a north, and that applies in this case to Raxacoricofallapatorius as well as a northern clan of the Slitheen makes its presence known. The Slitheen are one of the more divisive aliens since the modern relaunch of Doctor Who given the propensity for flatulence and often ill-balanced comedic aspects, and even Christina doesn’t seem to take them too seriously as she simply calls them big green farting monsters in a tale featuring an abundance of vinegar for fish and chips that helps to dispose of parts of the threat rather easily. The essence of the Slitheen transfers to the audio medium very well, and the overall portrayal both in natural form and in their infiltrative form as they take the place of murdered humans is absolutely true to form in all aspects, meaning that those who love this alien race will be pleased while those who don’t may again find this a trying story. Nonetheless, the ability to turn Edinburgh’s dormant volcanoes into active threats that put the world at stake is a visually spectacular idea that complements the strange but fitting notion of the Wallace Monument lifting off, meaning that it’s once again the imaginatively visual portion of the script that succeeds most with incredible music and sound design bringing Edinburgh to life wonderfully. As always, Ryan gives an immensely engaging performance as Christina’s bravery is tested to its fullest, and her partnership with Warren Brown as Sam Bishop once again provides a strong core that effortlessly carries the plot.

As a whole, Lady Christina represents yet another immersive look from Big Finish into the life of one of the modern series’s most charismatic but unknown figures. With Christina still so much of a blank slate despite her defining characteristics being so immensely portrayed right from the start, the four writers here take advantage of that freedom to further develop the nuances and explore those strengths while thrusting her into situations that are both familiar and novel. And although not every story has the most profound stakes and the presence of the Slitheen is inherently a divisive one, Michelle Ryan and the supporting performers give stellar performances throughout to complement the strong pacing and excellent sound design that combine to create a thoroughly entertaining debut that has firmly set the groundwork for a potentially long-lasting and rewarding series.

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