Vienna Series Three

Posted in Audio by - March 06, 2018
Vienna Series Three

Released February 2016

Vienna has quickly established itself as one of Big Finish’s most audacious and entertaining, not necessarily hitting its audience with hard-hitting emotional exploration of self and circumstance but confidently pairing adventurous plotlines that are anything but straightforward with a magnificent sense of fun and pace that never relent. Series two shook up a successful formula by efficaciously seeing Samantha Beart’s Jexie Reagan join Chase Masterson’s bounty hunter Vienna Salvatori in a linked narrative spanning three stories, and that duo now returns for another thrilling set of adventures.

The opening instalment of series three is ‘Self Improvement’ by Ian Potter in which Vienna and Jexie are summoned to protect Doctor Ludovic Glospan who has developed the universe-changing secret to ensuring a good day, a formula that enhances acuity, strength, intelligence, charm, and every other favourable attribute. With the Helping Hand corporation funding the research eager to keep its proprietary property safeguarded, it’s perhaps no surprise that the two investigators and protectors for hire soon find themselves immersed in confined crossfire as Glospan mysteriously dies from a microgrenade in his head as he warns of an assassin under his nose and evidence of a hull breach and resultant flooding manifests. In a laboratory where the dangers are just as much psychological as physical, nothing before Vienna and Jexie is quite as straightforward as it seems, but the two must fight their instincts and pair their intellects to discover the truth while ensuring their own continued existence.

As a rule, Vienna has done incredible work in creating vast environments and plots with small casts, and the notion of having such a large number of replicated beings on hand as test subjects to perfectly monitor responses to different trials is an incredibly clever way of achieving that feat within this laboratory setting, modifications to the survivors of a Toxoplasmic plague making them universal test subjects and- conveniently- eliminating the truth that one person is not the same as any other for generalisations. Naturally, Glospan’s wholly dedicated and flatly emotionless assistant, Constanza, comes under suspicion for the murder, especially given the ominous warning, and Elizabeth Morton does a superb job portraying subtle variations on a theme with the many replicants as the truth behind Glospan’s murder is slowly revealed and different beings are seen in different lights as Vienna and Jexie try to uncover why someone would infiltrate the base just to kill the doctor who kept all notes of his research within his mind. Through discussion of altruism to ensure the general population could benefit from the research here instead of just those who could afford it as in the typical corporate structure, the motivations of Glospan and the extent to which he has gone to protect his formula are fairly well-realised and surprising and use the guest outing by Terry Malloy to good effect while hurtling the two heroines in search of the mysterious Jonah Hall.

Hunting down the figure mentioned in Dr Glospan’s final words, Vienna and Jexie land in the ruins of a once-prosperous city where everyone was declared bankrupt in ‘Big Society’ by Guy Adams. Set within the backdrop of The Selection where Tom McQueen appears to be the last man literally standing in the fierce competition to be Chairman Sweet’s next business partner, Stephen Fewell gives an apt performance as McQueen who doesn’t allow himself to admit that something isn’t right for fear of losing his prize even when the truth is staring him in the face, and his misguided devotion to what he sees as his ultimate path to betterment is both noble and tragic at the same time as he becomes just as much trouble for the heroines as Sweet and the environment around them are. Indeed, the story makes no secret of the fact that this is a satire of modern Britain with The Apprentice thrown in for good measure, and Bernard Holley gives an appropriately narcissistic and self-centred edge to Sweet who is clearly out only for money.

Eventually, Vienna and Jexie do come upon Jonah Hall, but on a planet where every structure is sentient, the surname Hall takes on a much more literal connotation, and Richard Dixon brings this larger-than-life and humorously egocentric structure to life immaculately well while at the same time providing idiosyncrasies that truly allow Chase Masterson and Samantha Beart to differentiate the nuances of their characters. ‘Big Society’ never takes itself too seriously, but whereas sentient domiciles and structures have pervaded countless stories before, it’s intriguing to see that notion taken one step further to the point that they were taxed like every other being in order to help stave off economic downfall. As Adams quite rightly points out, sentient walls with wallets have the chance to become driven to perform unsavoury acts, and tales of suffocation and blackmail are visceral examples that feed into their current actions during The Selection quite well. In a story filled with great visuals and intense danger at every turn to counteract its sardonic humour, it’s fitting that Sweet and his quest to murder those in his way are undermined by a financial oversight, ending a surreal adventure on an all too realistic note.

‘Impossibly Glamorous’ by Steve Lyons ends series three with a biting look at consumerism on the futuristic planet of London, a world replete with modern-day iconic London staples such as red double-decker buses and bobbies. There’s really no subtlety in the exaggerated look at the power corporations wield and the lengths people will go to in order to achieve supposed self-improvement through commercial products, but it’s frighteningly clear that this is very much a world that could become reality all too soon. The story opens intriguingly with Vienna as the impossibly glamorous advertisement model for the Helping Hand corporation that had initially backed Dr Glosman and inadvertently set the events of this entire set in motion, extolling the merits of consumerism and her product line. When her communicator goes offline and she falls out of contact with her partner, however, Jexie realises that all is not as glamorous as it seems, and she proactively seeks to uncover the darkness at the heart of the stylish glitz, employing the help a local small-time rebel, Drew Muliigan as played by Dan Bottomley, along the way and forming an intriguing double act.

This interesting setup with Vienna seemingly drawn to the corporate side obviously allows Chase Masterson plenty of opportunity to explore new angles of her character which she so deftly does, but Sophie Aldred as the Helping Hand head, Kensington Fox, absolutely steals the show with a performance that is wholly unrecognisable from her trusted Ace. Fox is a classic arch villain in every essence of the phrase, and Aldred imbues an incredible amount of verve and vigour into this performance as Fox slowly comes to terms with Vienna’s stated dreams of once being someone else leading a glamorous life. In a nice nod to continuity, it is in fact the good day formula from ‘Self Improvement’ that forms the crux of the plot here, albeit a corrupted version far away from its original intent, allowing a personal connection for Vienna and Jexie while also allowing an immensely visual threat with serious repercussions to manifest.

The third series of Vienna is perhaps the most action-packed yet, and its stylish and pacey exploits vividly leap out of the speakers and into the audience’s imagination with ease. Although the original edge to Vienna continues to soften with more altruistic desires and any hint of true inner exploration and development is put to the side for the slick set pieces and imagery to shine, this remains another strong outing for the dynamic pairing of Vienna and Jexie who continue to complement each other so well as the threats they face vary from intimate to absurd.

  • Release Date: 2/2016
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