Big Finish: The Diary of River Song

January 14, 2016 in Dr Who, Guest Blogs by GuestBlogs

A Guest Blog by Hevy782


Okay, I understand that you were probably expecting a review of River Song’s husbands rather than her diary and one of them may come along at some point but I decided that I’d rather discuss this little treat than write a fairly average review of what I found to be a fairly average story. So there you go, I didn’t hate the Christmas Special nor did I love it but that’s all I will probably say until a later date. But anyway, now onto The Diary of River Song which is a four episode long spin-off series produced by Big Finish. Now for those of you wondering Big Finish is a company which has been licensed by the BBC to produce high quality Doctor Who related audio dramas. For years now they have been breathing new life into the classic Doctors and giving spin-off’s to fan favourite characters from the past and now they’ve been the rights to produce content based on stories from the first fifty years, and they’ve wasted no time with stories about the War Doctor already out and stories about the Tenth on their way. But you may have picked up on the word audio drama and that means no visuals to be found here. Those are left up to your imagination and while that idea was a bit off putting to me at first by the time I’d listened to a couple and acclimatised to it all I couldn’t stop myself from continually buying more and more. The only limit is your imagination. The stories themselves are (most of the time) extremely well written and that coupled with extremely high quality sound design allows Big Finish to effortlessly put the moving image into your head. Admittedly audio’s not for everybody and some will fail to get into it but you’ll never know until you try.

The spin-off’s main character is quite obviously River Song and so before I talk about the episodes themselves I’m going to talk about her for a bit and what my thoughts were before and then after listening to this series. At first, I quite liked River, I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding her and yet she was a well written character in her own right. Cut to series six and the mystery behind her was gone and she had become the epicentre of this disaster of an arc as I saw it. She had also become more and more overly flirtatious which irritated me quite a bit. Going into series seven she was okay I guess but I think I was still recovering from the previous series and having her show up and remind me of it didn’t aid said recovery. It also felt that Steven Moffat wasn’t too sure what to do with her now that the mystery was gone. She did get a good send off though in terms of the Doctor’s timeline though at the end of last year but while her story has now reached an end in the television series, it’s time to go fill in the gaps with some of her solo adventures.

And the first of these is The Boundless Sea by Jenny T Colgan which is set in the 1920’s and sees River a sort of self-imposed exile. But a disappearance at an archaeological dig lures her out of her office to investigate. It’s probably my least favourite from the box set but I am by no means saying that it gets the box set off to a bad start, quite the opposite actually. It’s the most stand alone, setting up some stuff for the next episode but not enough to distract the listener from the story at hand. It also sets up what River’s character’s going to be like at Big Finish and I really like the take they’ve gone for here. She’s much more like her earlier self that I mentioned before and feels much older and wiser but here which I like. Something that plays into her character quite a bit here though as well as the box set as a whole is the idea of manipulation. The overarching story is about a group of beings behind the scenes who are pulling the universes strings but it plays on way more levels that just that. It’s something quite personal to River Song as the majority of her life was manipulated by the Silence and that is very much picked up on here as a way to develop her character. Despite the great character work here the plot itself is rather standard with a bit of an odd resolution. Nevertheless it’s enjoyable and does enough to whet your appetite for what’s to come.

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And what’s to come is the intriguingly titled I Went to a Marvellous Party by Justin Richards which I fittingly listened to on New Years rather than going to an actual party. A non-stop party ship seems the ideal place for River but she’s not here for pleasure, she’s here on business as she begins to unravel an intergalactic mystery. But along the way she is presented with another mystery to solve, a murder mystery. But when it comes down to it that mystery is very much in the background and this episode actually continues the overarching story a great deal more than I expected. Manipulation once again comes into play here and you can tell River doesn’t like it one bit no matter whether it’s happening to her or innocent people across the galaxy who she has likely never met. Ironically enough though this sees River becoming quite manipulative herself as things begin to turn into a bit of a high states game between River and her foes, what else are you going to play at a party after all. Now I think it’s about time we talked about Bertie Potts, a character who sort of maybe kind of serves as River’s companion throughout this box set. I found him to be a great character and while I can’t say much I can say he was highly enjoyable in the first episode and even more so in this as we got to see a very different side to his character. Now while I am disappointed that the murder mystery in this story was basically a side plot when it came down to it I did still enjoy this one a lot and it ended on a whopper of a cliffhanger.

And that cliffhanger brings us right onto our penultimate episode which is Signs by James Goss and it’s a weird one for sure. It’s a two-hander between Alex Kingston’s River Song and Samuel West’s mysterious Mr Song. I can’t say too much about it as I’m worried I’d ruin it but let’s just say that the whole episode is basically just them talking and yet it works so well because the chemistry between the two of them is so endearing. It doesn’t pick up directly from where the last episode left off but for a very good reason and instead throws you right in the deep end and leaves you to try and work things out along the way and then boom, it reveals it to you right at the end. Initially I wasn’t that fond of the ending but after I’d let it sink in and thought through it in my head a little I realised what a beautiful ending it was and that it really did do wonders for River’s character whereas at first I’d feared it had damaged her. Yes, Signs is a very weird one but at the same time it’s also my absolute favourite of the set and is definitely not a calm before the storm.

Now I may have made that episode seem a bit stand alone but don’t worry as it does introduce and explain multiple key parts of the overarching story, one of which is the planet-killing SporeShips and they go on to play a big role in The Rulers of the Universe by Matt Fitton which the final story of the series. This is not only the episode where everything comes together but is also the episode where the Eighth Doctor comes into the fold and it’s wonderful to have Paul McGann as Big Finish have done wonders with his Doctor and more of him is always welcome. Now some of you may be wondering how this fits in with continuity as the Doctor can’t meet River until his Tenth incarnation and don’t worry as there is an explanation, you’ll just have to listen to find out. But wait, it gets more exciting as River Song isn’t the only new series thing in this box set, the Time War plays a part too as you may have already guessed from the Doctor’s costume on the cover. It’s the early days of the Time War though and the Doctor’s doing his best to keep as far away from it as possible but that doesn’t seem to be working as the rulers of the universe intend to get involved, and don’t have any great preference as to which side they end up being on. As for how it’s told it’s very much like a Doctor Who story but told from River Song’s point of view rather than the Doctor’s, meaning that we as an audience know more about what’s going on that he does which makes a nice change. However, my biggest flaw with this would be that despite what I just said it does still feel that bit too much attention is being taken away from River as it is supposed to be her box set after all and while she is a key player in the resolution to the series she does what she does at a distance with the Doctor being the one at the heart of the action. Nevertheless I found this to be a fun and action-packed conclusion to first series but not a flawless one as our title character begins to shift away from the limelight.

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Overall, the first series of The Diary of River Song is a must buy for any fan of the character and gets a nine-out-of-ten from me. Everything ties together so nicely by the time you reach the end and it really does feel like one long story but each episode can still stand alone in it’s own right. River herself is written differently enough that those who weren’t really fans of her before (like myself) can’t get onboard with her and yet similarly enough that those who were fans of her in the television series will still love her here, and maybe even grow to love her even more. I’m now happy to say that I love the character of River Song and can’t wait to see where Big Finish take her next, she’s got a second series of her own on the way at some point but first she’s got a special appearance in an upcoming Eighth Doctor box set but until then be sure to sound off your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.