Songs of Love

Posted in Audio by - December 29, 2018
Songs of Love

Released March 2017

Just as ‘Ship in a Bottle’ limited itself to one half of the unfolding Doom Coalition narrative with the Doctor and his companions taking centre stage, Matt Fitton’s ‘Songs of Love’ runs concurrently with the other half as River Song features among Padrac and his depraved associates on Gallifrey.

In what could be classified as a Doctor-lite episode as became so famous during the David Tennant era on screen, ‘Songs of Love’ is an installment of Big Finish’s The Diary of River Song series in all but name as the renowned archaeologist quickly manipulates herself into the expanding alliance of villains by all but flaunting her credentials stemming from her murder of a future incarnation of the Doctor at Lake Silencio. Naturally, she is working furtively to undermine Padrac’s efforts from behind the scenes, but it’s nonetheless fascinating and somewhat unsettling to hear just how easily River is able to say and do just the right things to gain the trust of whomsoever is able to offer her the best chance at survival and advancing her own schemes. Indeed, she is able to play on the pride and individual weaknesses of everyone she comes across without ever showing her hand, and Alex Kingston plays this more manipulative but still well-intentioned version of her character with remarkable ease and consistent charm.

With Padrac only truly becoming known as the galvanizing force behind the eponymous collection of foes’ earlier efforts at the end of the previous set, this is the first time that the Sonomancer and he have shared time together in this series, though it’s clear that they have quite a lengthy history. In something of a bold choice that is fraught with the potential for narrative disappointment, however, Caleera is written as suffering from unrequited love for Padrac, referring to him as her love while he continues to take advantage of her and flippantly guides their conversations and plans in response. To be fair, there do need to be some cracks in the armour of this alliance with only two stories remaining after this one and the end of the universe becoming ever more certain, but this takes the one female of the Coalition and instantly makes her a much less dynamic character who is open to exploitation and whom River easily manipulates as a result.

Still, the foundation for Padrac’s extremism is genuinely interesting and definitively suggests that the Time War is imminent with the matrix predicting Gallifrey’s cataclysmic fall. It’s completely understandable that someone seeing his own demise- or that of his entire race as is the case here- would do everything in his power to prevent it, and in a way Padrac exemplifies what the Time Lords at large would become as the Time War waged on, but there is little nuance to the character here to offer anything of a sense of empathy. He’s fairly one-dimensional here, something that again is perhaps understandable since there remains so little time in this narrative for the ultimate plan to fully develop and inevitably fail, but his callous decision to murder the Time Lords who do not agree with his cause is perhaps a step too far for the character and too much of a shortcut for the story as a whole.

‘Songs of Love’ takes some time to really pick up its pace as the Time Lords debate about what their future holds, but it eventually runs at breakneck speed while revealing a bevy of necessary exposition as lingering plot threads begin to intertwine. Still managing to find time to develop the relationship between Helen and Liv in their brief scenes as Liv learns about Helen’s knowledge of River and her importance to the Doctor, this is a story that succeeds more with the protagonists than with the antagonists because of the latter’s faults that need to develop in short order, but the remarkably poignant farewell between River and the Doctor creates an incredibly emotional note for this story to end on as Padrac’s endgame begins to take form much more clearly.

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