After having grown disinterested in the Diary of River Song series (mostly when it stopped featuring Doctors, I only have so much money to spend on Doctor Who Audio Dramas!) I’ve jumped back in with Series 9, dubbed “New Recruit” because it features River arriving in Season 7 era Who and joining up with The Brig and Liz Shaw in place of The Doctor (although he does appear in the final episode…) Given this is among my favourite time periods of the show I can say I was really looking forward to it. Does it live up to my hype? Let’s find out!
With the Doctor indisposed, Liz is a little put out to find that the Brigadier has brought in another scientific advisor to take his place.
But when Liz and River investigate otherworldly goings-on in an English village, they soon find themselves relying on each other to survive.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
The first episode of the set, “The Blood Woods”, was a great story but mostly because of how it treated The Brigadier and Liz Shaw. Given they only spent one season together its hard to get too much of a reading on their relationship beyond “he hired her, then The Doctor stuck around so her role became somewhat redundant”. Here we see The Doctor off “somewhere” and so Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart hires her an assistant without telling her, Liz immediately getting angry that the Brigadier thinks she can’t handle things herself. This becomes a theme across the episode as the two keep trying to prove to each other that they can handle things on their own and that he believes she can handle things on her own, respectively. It’s a nice look at the pair and how they view each other.
Obviously the assistant is revealed to be River, having had a glowing recommendation from The Doctor, or so The Brig claims. River and Liz don’t get on very well to start with, the latter feeling that not only does she not need an assistant but that if she did she wouldn’t want someone who’s a professor in archaeology. Despite her complaints the two are sent off to see about a 20-odd year-old lad who aged to death in a small village and soon are treated to the “locals who don’t trust outsides” trope and meet archaeologist Beatrice Gray (Abigail McKern) who is trying to dig up something near the border of a wealthy land-owner named Sir Edward Hawkins (Michael Chance), who is taking exception to her poking around. Liz is then visited by an evil looking dog-like creature with glowing red eyes at night, which all ties together when Beatrice is revealed to be an alien who was searching for a bit of tech she had buried many, many years before and the “dog” is her pet. She kills Hawkins and then goes after our main duo but a timely gunshot from just-arrived Brig and a bit of tech-destruction and she turns to dust.
It’s a fun, atmospheric story with a lot of the time dedicated to character work that was really fun to listen to. I’ll also mention that Daisy Ashford is still really on-point as her mother’s character.
Great cover. Couldn’t look any more Season 7 if it tried… well, apart from River Song in the middle, obviously…
The second episode of this double bill, “Terror of the Suburbs”, was less exciting. It was the old “main character stuck in an idyllic false reality and another protagonist enters the false world to pull them out” story, but the fake world was an old fashioned British posh toff affair. I’ll at least give the writer credit in that they quickly had some squelchy sounds play as Liz is talking about her lovely life to tell use she’s being controlled rather that think it would surprise us, and River is soon involved and clearly fully clued in. Still, characters like Liz’s old Cambridge friend Lucy (Clair Wyatt) and the main foes Yvonne and Tony (Holly Jackson Walters and Dale Superville) were all rather bland and uninteresting, whether they be under a hypnotic spell or not, and scenes of Liz and River being chased by a lion were far to similar to what we just heard in the previous story with the red-eyed dog.
It wasn’t all bad or anything, I liked that a lot of the mind control came from goop in the newly created home freezers and how it was so nice and hot because the staging ground was actually in the Sahara, but yeah, in general I wasn’t that interested as a whole… The lion eventually eats the villains after being tamed by the freed Lucy, who did that sort of thing, in case you were wondering.
Not much to say continuity-wise, beyond being set some point after “Spearhead From Space” and before the start of Season 8…
I really like the idea behind this set of River Song stories and the opening episode took full advantage of it. Sadly the second episode of the set is rather dull and plodding, but still has its moments, and the duo of River and Liz is an enjoyable one (which is a sentence I never thought I’d type!) Hopefully the last half of the set is more like Episode 1 than 2!
Episodes 1 “The Blood Woods”:
Episode 2 “Terror of the Suburbs”: