The Sixth Series of the Diary of River Song is based around our titular character arriving in the middle of some classic adventures from the first four Doctors, with these first two being set just before the very first episode, and during the Second Doctor’s TV classic “The Web of Fear” respectively. Let’s see if this different format gets off to a good start or not, shall we?
Synopsis (of Episode 1 “An Unearthly Woman”):
Coal Hill School has a new member of staff: an educated woman, who seems to specialise in every subject. Meanwhile, teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright have concerns over the behaviour of one of their pupils.
Susan Foreman is intrigued by Dr Song, but something else is stalking her in the darkness and fog of London, 1963…
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
Ian is easily the best voice-alike, but definitely the least to actually look like the character physically… not that it matters on audio!
Episode 1 “An Unearthly Woman” is a really fun story, for the most part (see below!), with River disguised as a substitute teacher at Cole Hill school (as well as a policewoman) thanks to an alien threat hanging around due to the Doctor’s presence. This leads to River interacting with Ian, Barbara and Susan, and even two brief conversations with the First Doctor himself. While the central threat isn’t anything to write home about (though I’ve seen it suggested it was a Ravenous, apparently… must have missed that one if that’s true!), the fact its latched onto a troubled kid who’s being moved around to different schools added a sad layer to everything, and the black kid she hangs around with upped the emotional investment as he was very sweet (and it was funny to hear Susan’s confusion over him being treated differently due to his “skin pigmentation”.)
Ian and Barbara being curious about the two children’s living conditions obviously tallies up well with how they act in the very first episode, as does Ian’s constant want to help out during the final battle, so it all just… works, and it’s fun to think a crazy substitute teacher that Ian, Barbara and Susan met for a few days was actually the far-future wife of the person who they’ll soon be having all sorts of crazy adventures with.
Episode 2 “The Web of Time” is also a good story, though with a lot less interest and impact as the first. River is tasked with stealing a priceless painting that went missing during the London evacuation / Yeti incident from “The Web of Fear”, and ends up running into Captain Knight, a one-off character from that story. River, having read her husband’s diary, knew the Captain Knight is fated to die while helping the Doctor defeat the Great Intelligence shortly after the time they’re in now, so she does her best to keep him alive to preserve the timeline, all while trying to catch up to a pair of looters who have taken the picture she’s been paid to acquire. It’s a good story, lots of moral questions raised and River’s attitude put to the test, plus fun to hear a new Great Intelligence / Yeti story, even if it is directly connected to one of the few we already have…
Even in the continuity-crazy world of Big Finish, who knew they’d need to dig up a picture of Captain Knight for a story…
This is my first exposure to the “Adventure in Space and Time” First Doctor era re-cast, and I have to say… I didn’t enjoy it. The new Ian sounded and acted spot on, but the new Barbara sounded nothing like Barbara at all, and I didn’t feel Susan at all from Claudia Grant’s performance. Throw in David Bardley’s grumpy old man who sounds nothing like William Hartnell (though the grumpy part is accurate for the time the story takes place in!) and I just wasn’t on board with it. I got used to it to the point it didn’t ruin the story or anything, but it’s no Third Doctor Adventures, that’s for sure…
As for Episode 2, while Captain Knight sounded like an old man rather than the young man from the original serial, that at least you can ignore with a bit of suspension of disbelief given it’s nice the original actor returned to the role. I did think it was a shame River didn’t interact with the Doctor during this, mind you. After the cameo from Episode 1 and, as I’ve already listened to Episode 3, a cameo from the Third Doctor in the next story, Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, along with the Ninth, will be the only Doctors who haven’t met River Song, however briefly, at least so far!
Writing “Spoilers!” here would make a lot of sense, but… NO.
Well, I’ll repeat myself I guess and say that episode 1 is set just before the original episode, “An Unearthly Child”, while Episode 2 is set just before the Second Doctor classic “The Web of Fear”. Beyond that, and River herself (and I’m sure as hell not linking to her relevant timeline appearances!) there isn’t much continuity to speak of…
I will also mention that River remarks about a copy of the classic painting “The Scream” and how one contains a Warp Core. This is a reference to early Big Finish Seventh Doctor audio “Dust Breeding”. This made me smile, as it’s actually rare to hear Big Finish reference their own continuity that often, weirdly enough!
River Song’s Sixth stand-alone series is off to a fun start. I wouldn’t want the series to devolve into just living in the past, but for a one off idea I think it’s worked well so far, ignoring a few personal preferences and little niggles. Looking forward to the second half and see what it brings…