Iris Wildthyme Series 01

Posted in Audio by - May 30, 2018
Iris Wildthyme Series 01

Released November – December 2005

Iris Wildthyme, that self-proclaimed transtemporal adventuress and “righter-of-wrongs, wronger-of-rights, meddler, artist, writer, glamourpuss, occasional Time’s champion, and very old flame of the Doctor” has been a recurring fixture in the Doctor Who spin-off media since her bold audio and written debuts in 1998. With intriguingly conflicting pasts and a brash personality hiding a fierce kindness and vulnerability, she made an instant impact both with and without the many incarnations of the Doctor at her side, finally receiving her own audio series with the supreme talents of Katy Manning returning to give this dynamic figure her true voice once more.

Strangely, the two scripts for this first series are not entirely welcoming to newcomers or in establishing the dynamic for this new audio series, albeit each for different reasons. ‘Wildthyme at Large’ by Paul Magrs opens the range, ten years after Tom’s adventures aboard the famed transdimensional double-decker bus have ended. Having now settled into a life of writing niche novels about his previous adventures to support both himself and his small but fiercely intelligent friend Panda, he is shocked one night at a book launch when Iris careens back into his life and quickly entrusts him with a crystal holding her most precious memories before riding off with Robin Hood while revealing that evil forces from a higher dimension are pursuing her. As those forces finally catch Iris and demand that crystal, Tom quickly and predictably discovers that natural talent isn’t the true reason that his publisher has allowed him to keep writing and remained so insistent that he fulfill the obligations of his contract.

Tonally and narratively, ‘Wildthyme at Large’ features the brash imagery and situations one should always come to expect from Iris, and Katy Manning excels in playing this larger-than-life personality without sacrificing the genuine emotion and glimpses of humility that keep her from becoming simply a caricature or pastiche despite her dominant personality. Even the premise od a one-time companion exploiting his past with Iris just as an unknown being seeks something from said past is a perfectly sound plot basis; unfortunately, precisely because of this premise the script asks the audience to take a lot at face value without having experienced any of the events. The story fleshes out Iris, Tom, and Panda well enough to give a general idea about how these characters work, but simply playing off strange behaviour as a personality quirk and broadly referencing something from the past to place current events into context have natural limitations when this is the introductory story for so many listeners not familiar with earlier Big Finish guest appearances or BBC novelizations. Accordingly, some of the emotional depth that might otherwise be present had this been a story in a third or fourth series rather than the first is lost. Still, with an eclectic blend of bawdy humour and engaging plot developments that shine through moments of both flatness and overacting to establish at least the basics if not the nuances of the new lead trio, ‘Wildthyme at Large’ is an intriguing but flawed beginning that still leaves a firm foundation for this series yet to be formed.

‘The Devil in Ms Wildthyme’ concludes the brief first series with the continued fallout of Iris’s broken memory crystal as Dr Zachariah Marwick and his special clinic for people with lumps that he knows all about without even examining them come into focus. While he insists that his patients attend exclusive speed-dating sessions at the Inner Demons Club, the heroic trio is distinctly out of sorts as Iris becomes scared of even her own shadow, Panda discovers the strength of love for the first time, and Tom quite literally seems to have straw coming out of his head as his intelligence continues to diminish. Both dreams and realities from Iris’s past are coming back to haunt her, and the visuals are spectacularly absurd as the return of a demon, farm animals, and The Wizard of Oz recklessly collide.

It must be said upfront, however, that ‘The Devil in Ms Wildthyme’ also suffers from rather egregious moments of overacting from the supporting cast whether intentional or not, and Michael Hobbs is so over the top at times that it’s almost impossible to believe that he’s a credible threat. It doesn’t help that the plot itself is somewhat ill-defined until Marwick literally explains everything to Tom for no reason other than to explain himself. With a slower pace overall than the first story, the leads do have more time to develop even with the many forced explanations of plot developments, but Panda’s indignant nature after being called stuffed, a toy, or a bear is already beginning to wear a bit thin given how incredibly frequently the retorts have already arisen early on here. Still, Katy Manning, Ortis Deley, and David Benson all give solid performances here as events continue to become ever stranger, but it is nonetheless an odd choice to have the leads act so distinctly against the norms that have still only been hinted at and not yet established. After two stories, the characters should be well-defined entities, but having a distinctly atypical premiere that relied so heavily on unseen previous events followed by a tale where nothing is normal means that the three are still basically unknown quantities overall. Culminating with the manifestation of an ancient and all-powerful demon who is decidedly less powerful than could have been imagined, this is another story that has its moments but never achieves the heights that the dynamic Iris Wildthyme deserves.

The first series of Iris Wildthyme is a rather shallow introduction to the wondrous world and adventures of the transtemporal adventuress, treading in moments of surreal bliss but hampered all too often by uneven supporting performances as well as by narrative choices and direction that are far from the usual high calibre of Big Finish. It unquestionably shows promise that some significant tweaking could make a reality, but failing to establish a norm for this trio after two stories fails to create a true anchor from which the absurdity can stem with the audience fully invested and understanding of where the characters have been compared to where they find themselves now. This remains a showcase for Katy Manning, but these first two stories can be skipped without missing anything of consequence.

  • Release Date: 11/2005
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