The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4

Posted in Audio by - October 26, 2020
The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4

Released October 2020

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

The modern incarnation of Doctor Who has never so perfectly set up the central premise for an audio spin-off as it did for The Paternoster Gang, the Victorian setting for the continuing adventures of a Silurian, Sontaran, and human providing the perfect backdrop full of vivid potential. Yet through three box sets, this range has struggled to truly find and maintain its identity with tonal shifts and a rather tenuous link to its Heritage subtitle. Nonetheless, the easy charisma and chemistry of Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey, and Catrin Stewart have shone through and carried each release, and Heritage 4 looks to bring to a confident close the early stories of this unlikely trio that is still so brimming with potential.

Of course, The Paternoster Gang shares a close temporal and physical setting with the beloved Jago & Litefoot range, and ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Jago’ by Paul Morris looks to further intertwine the two franchises while also proving just how distinct each is despite the detective commonalities. With Litefoot written out as accompanying a lady friend, Christopher Benjamin as Jago brings a more subdued but wholly commanding voice of familiarity to the affairs stemming from Vastra’s search for prehistorical relics and her invitation for Jago to join her family for Christmas at Paternoster Row. Using Gremlins as something of a springboard, this opening tale doesn’t necessarily look to do anything novel or to truly develop its antagonist’s motivations, but it does further expand and develop the social circles within which the Paternoster Gang operate. Instead, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr Jago’ confidently celebrates the return of its leads while providing a touching addendum to the thrilling adventures Benjamin has fronted, a love letter to the expanded universes of Doctor Who that makes the most of its boisterous cast while further refining the intricacies of each Gang member’s role and motivations with Strax much more at the forefront in this case. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but the strong performances, direction, and sound design help to create a welcome and comfortable return to this world that already seems so familiar.

As Jenny and Strax investigate apparent sightings of fauns in the streets and mermaids in bath-houses, Vastra follows the requests of one Edith Renner to access the secrets of the strictly private Antediluvian Club as she looks into a far more personal mystery in Roy Gill’s ‘The Ghost Writers.’ Naturally, the ideas of sexism, prejudice, and elitism are ever-present components of Victorian society that a strong female character is perfectly primed to target and refute, and McIntosh excels as elements from Vastra’s past begin to wreak havoc in the present with the entirety of Earth itself resultantly at stake. With the literary members of this club obsessed with a tractate written in an incomprehensible language with an ink that seems to cast aside its viewer’s attention, Vastra is able to provide the missing link as connections to ages-old myths and legends become known. While the notion of a sentient ink may not be a completely unique premise, the sound design used to bring it to life as it seems to disappear works to remarkable effect, and the resulting choice that Vastra is forced to make as the first half of this two-part story comes to a close is an incredibly strong hook that easily ranks among this franchise’s top moments. Annette Badland gives a strong guest turn as a character with much more to her than initially seems to be the case, and the predictable subplot with Jenny and Strax is engaging enough to further develop the broad situation at hand and the dangers already present as an existential threat continues to swell.

With heritage finally manifesting in a profoundly meaningful way to impact the overall plot after individual histories had driven stories before, Matt Fitton closes this set with ‘Masters of Earth.’ The Silurians, of course, are the very symbol of the past and present colliding in an ever-changing world that no one species can ever truly hope to tame, and it’s this continuing progression of societies and individuals within it that provide an engaging and deep narrative force that many of the stories in this series have not tried to attain. McIntosh, once again, is superb as she shows an immense scope and range to her acting talents, and Starkey and Stewart are likewise afforded the opportunity to delve into weightier and less comedic fare to accentuate just how dangerous this threat from a much earlier time is on every level as Beth Goddard’s Vella makes a resounding return appearance. Although it can be argued that ‘Masters of Earth’ does perhaps keep too much of its pertinent information about the malevolent force secret for too long and that it does carry on a bit too long after its natural ending point, it wonderfully ties together its many plot threads to deliver an immensely satisfying conclusion to what overall has proven to be the most complete set in this range to date. Although the four sets as a whole have still only begun to tap into the storytelling potential that these three characters hold, this fourth set is the one that firmly proves just how satisfying the delivery of that potential can continue to be should the Paternoster Gang’s adventures (inevitably) continue with Big Finish.

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