The Diary of River Song Series Two

Posted in Audio by - December 28, 2016
The Diary of River Song Series Two

Released December 2016

The Diary of River Song Series One was a revelation for Big Finish, one of the company’s first attempts at bringing the universe of the modern televised Doctor Who to life in the audio medium and succeeding magnificently in capturing the essence of the Doctor’s one-time wife in all of her unpredictable glory. While the inclusion of Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor helped push the boundaries of expectations as the intricate first series unfolded, The Diary of River Song Series Two unabashedly meshes the two distinct eras of the franchise as both Colin Baker’s Sixth and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctors collide with a future they cannot be allowed to remember.

Guy Adams opens this second set of adventures with ‘The Unknown,’ a fascinating tale brimming with ideas that perfectly sets the scene for what is to come. Aboard the space exploration vessel Saturnius which inexplicably continues to head to a destination that never gets nearer, River Song and the crew members find their memories failing them, even forgetting how a strange man known as the Doctor came to be on board. Sylvester McCoy provides a unique presence when paired with Alex Kingston, especially with both characters in the rare position of not knowing what is happening, and it’s fitting that he is somewhat distrustful of her from the start. Yet as the elegant but exceedingly effective causality and its consequences soon reveal themselves, both receive ample opportunity to shine as the situation quickly takes an even more dangerous turn. Indeed, these consequences could have easily filled a standalone tale by themselves, but the manner in which the two time travelers are able to disentangle themselves from the frightening proceedings as events both happen and don’t happen and uncertainty reigns supreme is nonetheless very satisfying and tantalizingly leads into the second story with the intriguing image of an oak tree quickly progressing and regressing through its timeline as a lone voice calls out.

John Dorney’s ‘Five Twenty-Nine’ continues the narrative as River travels back in time to discover the truth that led to the ravaged Earth she glimpsed. Billions of lives are at stake, but nothing can stop all life ceasing to exist one time zone at a time as each inevitably comes to experience the bleak uncertainty that the clock striking 5:29 brings. Despite the global threat and the news coverage telling of different governmental and military attempts to unsuccessfully discover the truth of a menace that hearkens back to the fear of the millennium bug, ‘Five Twenty-Nine’ takes a surprisingly personal route, focusing on an isolated community’s acceptance of and preparations for an unstoppable death. The synthetic Rachel provides the entry point for River into events, but she also forms the basis for a very emotional tale about family’s incredible importance no matter the personal cost. It’s a bold choice to focus on such a small group given the scale of events, but it pays off immensely by heightening emotions and personal investment for River and all involved as more pieces of the puzzle start to fit into place.

‘World Enough and Time’ by James Goss sees River mistakenly accepted as a temp at Golden Futures, a company that delivers requested dreams to the sleeping rich and powerful. As she comes across the Sixth Doctor who owns fifty-one percent of the company, it’s clear that something is amiss and that the Doctor just might be involved in it. Even with that assumption of course proven false, the truth is far beyond what either could have imagined as the lost potential energy of the sleepers and of the Doctor being an unwitting captive rather than saving the universe allow the Speravore menace to come to fruition much quicker than anticipated. These creatures are immensely intriguing, and the life cycle described works well in the audio medium, but the reality of a designer Earth to replace the current one is even more exciting still. Although River’s amnesia-inducing lipstick once more makes an appearance to keep the Doctor’s timeline in check after he instantly falls for River and accidentally helps to create a schism that allows a multitude of alternative Earths to appear, Colin Baker and Alex Kingston share an immense chemistry together and make it seems as though this is a perfectly natural and oft-used pairing amidst the intensifying and intricate events as the designated time approaches.

Matt Fitton’s ‘The Eye of the Storm’ concludes the set as the Seventh Doctor appears in the remnants of the Sixth’s previous adventure, remembering nothing of those events even as the TARDIS insists that he has been here before. With two versions of Earth still competing for prime existence and both Doctors’ memories of River beginning to return, the Great Storm of 1703 becomes the focus as the last point in time before the schism manifests and when the Speravore gestation cycle begins. Fittingly, this story is the most bombastic of the bunch, and for a time it appears that River and both the Sixth and Seventh Doctor confronting the tentacled Speravore Queen will lead to the worst possible outcome by giving her control of which reality wins out due to the immense potential energy all three figures contain. Yet as the Sixth Doctor proves willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good and the Seventh wrestles with the moral implications of a possible solution, River confronts Sarah and Isaac, the two people the Sixth Doctor described as the most important in the world due to the unique energy around them. Just as ‘Five Twenty-Nine’ pulled the scale back to a very personal level, so, too, does ‘The Eye of the Storm’ in key moments, providing a very real emotional anchor with very intimate choices and consequences as the intensity and danger around them increase. Baker and McCoy again excel both together and independently as their incarnations of the Doctor, and this script exemplifies just how similar and different the two versions are as they put their differences aside to tackle the problem in the best way that each knows how. River’s farewell coda is fittingly touching as well, again highlighting the differences between the two Doctors while hinting at the greatness of their relationship to come.

If the first series was an experiment to see how River Song could fare in the audio medium, the second series is a bold declaration of how confident both Alex Kingston and Big Finish now are with the character off-screen and how easily the two eras of Doctor Who can coexist and intersect. River has one of the most fractured and complex timelines in Doctor Who, but her interludes with earlier versions of the Doctor than she should encounter here continue to fill in the blanks of her story while also highlighting the distinct strengths of both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors as they cope with not necessarily being in the most well-informed position compared to River with her knowledge of the future. Even as events grow bigger and more complex to circle back and explain the backdrop of the opening, there is always an underlying sense of intimacy for River and the humans involved that creates a tremendous balance between a quiet apocalypse and a more grandiose invasion tale, and it’s this balance along with the tremendous performances from all involved and the stunning production work that solidify The Diary of River Song as yet another showcase series for the universe of Doctor Who.

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