The Diary of River Song: Series 5 – The Bekdel Test & Animal Instinct Review

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The Fifth Series of Diary of River Song takes a side step from the “River meets past incarnations of the Doctor” set up and instead goes with “River meets different incarnations of The Master”. The first two stories includes the Big Finish debut of Missy, the first bit of Twelfth Doctor continuity to hit the audios, and unsurprisingly, is very fun indeed! Let’s have a look at River meeting both Missy, and rather more serious “melty Master”, in this first half of the set…

Synopsis (of “The Bekdel Test”):

Back at the start of her imprisonment, Doctor Song becomes a guinea pig for an innovative new security system.

But it’s her fellow prisoners she needs to be most wary of.

Because it’s early days for Missy, too. The Doctor is dead, and she is outraged that somebody else killed him first…

Synopsis (of “Animal Instinct”): 

On a world where vicious beasts stalk ancient ruins, Professor Song teaches a student the finer points of archaeology.

But then she meets an incarnation of the Master who is desperate to survive.

And if they are going to escape this place alive, they all must work together.

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

Cast of Characters:

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The overall series cover… I want to put “Spoilers!” but I think I might hate myself a little if I did…

River Song (Alex Kingston) – River’s timeline is rather complex, especially when it comes to how she meets The Doctor. That being said, her meeting The Master, her husband’s worst enemy, isn’t much better either…

Missy (Michaelle Gomez) – Missy has recently regenerated into a female body for the first time, and is still getting used to everything. She has arrived in a time where the Universe believes The Doctor to be dead, a rumour she’s happy to play along with…

The Director (Laurence Kennedy) – The Director runs a special facility that exists for one sole purpose: force either River Song or The Master to admit The Doctor is still alive…

The Master (Geoffrey Beevers) – The Master has had a rough time with his new planet and people, so he’s put himself in stasis with an intriguing message that he knew The Doctor wouldn’t be able to resist finding… What he didn’t know is that the future wife of his foe also has a habit of investigating intriguing messages…

Luke Sulieman (Timothy Blore) – Luke is an archeologist in training who has the unfortunate fate of having River Song as a tutor. His first “practical exam” involves breaking into a museum and opening a tomb…

The Therians (Various) – The Therians are often-feral beasts who live on an isolated moon orbiting a planet full of lively and intelligent humans, but the two may have more in common than it seems…

Plus more!

The Good:

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The Twelfth Doctor era hits Big Finish!

The two stories are pretty similar in quality, so let’s just start at the start! “The Bekdel Test” sees River taken from her Stormcage prison and dumped into a new one, where the Director claims it’s impossible to escape from. River takes him up on the challenge and meets some of the other inmates, and soon a new arrival in Missy. This is where the story really shines, as both River and Missy have a similar personality trait of being flirty and chatty, though they obviously fall on opposite sides of the moral scale. This story is set shortly after the whole “The Doctor dies at Lake Silencio” thing, so Missy is annoyed that River did what she could never do, though the problem there is that I know she knows The Doctor is still alive because her previous self saw the Twelfth Doctor, but still it led to some fun dialogue. The highlight was River guessing she was The Rani or The Monk before settling on a female incarnation of The Master, which makes sense as at this point River only met up to the Eleventh Doctor, where as Missy only met the Twelfth… Jeez, this timeline stuff…

Anyway, after some running around destroying cubes and making hardlight holograms (or “Solidograms”) to trick the nameless Director (and the listener!), several times, it turns out that the whole thing was created to get either River or Missy to the point where they try to contact The Doctor, meaning he’s still alive. The Director is working for a large group of The Doctor’s enemies that find his death hard to believe, and want confirmation. Again, fun idea, but even River points out that a previous version of The Doctor could be in this time zone, so even if she did call for him it wouldn’t confirm anything. In the end River and Missy escape, and The Doctor’s secret is kept (though the final scenes at least confirms Missy knows as well). It’s an average story elevated to good thanks to the performances of Alex Kingston and Michelle Gomez.

Episode 2, “Animal Instinct”, starts with a fun twist where River and her new protégé break into a museum and open a sarcophagus that has a tale that makes it sound like The Doctor is in there, but instead it’s Geoffrey Beevers’ “Melty Master”, as I always call him. This is a surprise to River, and to The Master, who was expecting his old enemy to be the one to revive him, and expected his new savage underlings to appear and rip him apart. Turns out The Master was in control of a nearby moon, where he used his technical knowhow to trick the natives into believing he was a “Sun God”, but his sarcophagus / stasis chamber was moved to the planet below.

Not able to resist a good “forgotten civilization”, River, Luke and The Master, along with a crew of two who have the rocket to get there, soon arrive on the planet, despite interference that The Master was sure he could disrupt. This leads to a good bit of survival horror, with everyone making it from the ship to the large temple while being chased by panther-like humanoid creatures. There’s a great bit where The Master forcibly sacrifices one of the crewmen for the sake of the others, which horrifies everyone, even though River knew it was technically the only way to escape the predicament they were in. In the end the panther-like people are actually a genetic off-shoot of the people from the planet below, like Luke, who were cast to the nearby moon for purely racist reasons. Fun twist, and Luke even gives in his base instincts and transforms for a while, and then is nearly tortured to death by The Master for his own amusement…

In the end River and Luke are the only two to escape the planet, which is once again plunged into darkness when they shut down The Master’s light array which kept the Therians, the Panther-like people, more docile, as well as was the reason why the moon was so hard to reach. A bit of good fun was that the episode ended with The Master seemingly about to be killed with no way for him to escape… like usual! I really did enjoy The Master’s cheesy villain dialogue, especially up against River’s more modern, sarcastic way of speaking. It was among the first times one of these stories really did feel like the old meeting the new.

The Bad:

Not a lot. Neither had any kind of big new idea or great character development, but they were both really fun to listen to. Even the couple of errors in the plot of the “Bekdel Test” were actually mentioned or corrected in the dialogue of the story itself (The Doctor being a time traveller, so him being “dead” has no effect on whether he could appear before his enemies being the main one…), so at least they were aware of it…

The Continuity:

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For having a decaying body, this version of The Master sure got about a lot…

All the talk of The Doctor being dead and “Lake Silencio” all come from the story arc of Series 6, specifically “The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon” and “The Wedding of River Song”. There is also a mention of Flesh being used to create duplicates, which was also a plot point in Series 6, starting with the two parter “The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People”.

There was a weird, almost fourth wall breaking moment where Missy talks about having crawled a long time “in the sewers of Tersurus”, which is a reference to the definitely not canon comic relief sketch “The Curse of Fatal Death”. Made me smirk, I guess the real Master had a similar fate to his Comic Relief counterpart at some point…

Overall Thoughts:

The first half of River Song’s Fifth series contains two stories that are extremely fun, with River and the two Masters having great chemistry in both. Neither are deep or have multi-layered characters, but at roughly an hour each they’re still fun mini-slices of Doctor Who.

4 Star Listen

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