Luna Romana

Posted in Audio by - July 24, 2019
Luna Romana

Released January 2014

The Companion Chronicles range’s fiftieth anniversary trilogy comes to a close with Matt Fitton’s four-part ‘Luna Romana,’ finally delivering on the ever-present potential for a multi-Romana story alongside the Fourth Doctor and carefully working around the unfortunate passing of Mary Tamm in 2012 by bringing together Lalla Ward’s second incarnation and Juliet Landau’s third who was introduced in Big Finish’s own Gallifrey series. As the first two Romanas each have their own encounters with the legacy of ancient Rome that threaten to bring her past and present together, Quadrigger Stoyn seeks his final and ultimate vengeance on the Doctor.

Unfortunately, ‘Luna Romana’ doesn’t necessarily use its extended running time to its fullest, and while it’s easy to imagine the more aristocratic Romana uncomfortably sitting through a crass play and interacting with the playwright Plautus at the Doctor’s insistence to throw off those who may be setting a trap for him during their quest for the final segment to the Key to Time, this is ultimately slower-paced filler material than anything else and a means of re-introducing Terry Molloy to proceedings as he brings the various parts of the play to life. Though this is essentially the entire first episode, this segment does at the very least quickly prove how adept Landau is at narrating, and the inflections and tones she uses to capture Tamm’s essence is unquestionably a particular highlight.

More interesting is the setting for the Second Romana’s introduction to these affairs, a lunar amusement park modelled after ancient Rome that appears operational but that has long since been deserted. Yet while Fitton quite easily and logically traverses the multiple time points as these two stories eventually intersect, characters’ decisions and motivations still create something of a disjointed experience overall. Unfortunately, much of this comes down to Stoyn himself, and while Landau’s more light-hearted voice makes the first Romana’s naivety when it comes to letting Stoyn aboard the TARDIS more tolerable, the nuance introduced to this resentful Time Lord in the previous story is all but eliminated here. For some reason trading his old prison for this new one on the Moon while hoping to get back to the first, Stoyn and his mechanized army are poised not only to destroy the Doctor but all of Earth as well. With no fewer than three distinct versions of this character appearing and much discussion about split personas and travels through the vortex, a tremendous amount of ideas that never really get their due exploration and thus seem somewhat muddling as a result make this second storyline seem more superfluous than actually necessary and squander a great opportunity to make Stoyn into something truly special. Molloy gives his all as expected, but even his energy cannot elevate his Quadrigger into something more than a generic and doddering megalomaniac in this context.

Because the play and its shared title with this story have little actual impact or even metaphorical resonance with the overall events aside from literally having a Rome on the Moon, the overall sentiment that this is mostly a hodgepodge of ideas with no real unifying core becomes all the stronger, and the continued insertion of Plautus to further connect the storylines only repeatedly grinds any plot progression to a halt. With no real import placed on the First Romana’s most fateful decision, even the more dramatic moments are somewhat undercut, and although both Landau and Ward provide strong narration to keep listeners’ interest, neither is quite able to capture the unique power and energy of Tom Baker to lend another more commanding voice once the Doctor eventually becomes more directly involved against this foe who has been forced to watch so many of his adventures through time and space. With great direction and sound design to bring the atmosphere and environments to life, ‘Luna Romana’ is unquestionably a successful endeavour when looked at as a tribute to Tamm’s Romana who will live eternally as a time traveler, but The Companion Chronicles has far stronger stories for those looking at actual plot and will leave those hoping for a more satisfying conclusion to this trilogy or a more unique use of Romana’s incarnations somewhat disappointed.

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