February 2014 got off to a quick start with the release of the first series of stories for Chase Masterson’s Vienna Salvatori. Including amongst its cast Frazer Hines and consisting of three stories by different writers would this be a welcome back for the galaxy’s most glamorous assassin or would it be Goodnight Vienna?
My thoughts with some spoilers are below.
Mark Wright (series producer) starts the series with Dead Drop, a hard sci-fi tale of galactic war and giant spaceships. Add to this a psychic super-being who ruthlessly kills all who fail her (think Darth Vader) and you have the setting. Vienna arrives on the flagship of one of a battle fleet and has to kill the all-powerful psychic. This segment of the story is all pretty much to form based on what we have heard so far about Vienna; she tricks the enemy into using their own strength against them and pulls off yet another hit. The downside is that meanwhile a major battle is now taking place and the flagship is badly damaged, falling into a star and invaded by ruthless alien insectoids.
Vienna is instrumental in saving the day but at various times her character isn’t completely in control of the situation. This allows Chase Masterson some more dynamic in her performance and the character is better for being less perfect.
[pullquote]Frazer Hines is so good you wonder why Big Finish hasn’t found other roles for Frazer apart from Jamie[/pullquote]
Nev Fountain’s Bad Faith is highly inventive (the plot revolves around extracting people’s faith and selling it to the rich) and also has elements of humour (crayfish aliens for one). It also has the splendidly named Bax Spendlove leader of the Church of the New Wonderment who converts Vienna to the cause and has her kill the leader of the Church of Old Wonderment. Bax is voiced by Frazer Hines and is so good you wonder why Big Finish hasn’t found other roles for Frazer apart from Jamie.
Apart from the humour there is plenty of action and another killer on the loose. Everything gets resolved with appropriate twists and this is another very satisfying tale.
Jonathan Morris created Vienna Salvatori and in Deathworld he gets to flesh out her back story, de-construct and then reset the context under which she operates. The story starts off in the style of The Hunger Games with assassins and Vienna is searching for resolution in her quest for Crevo Finn (the previous two stories have mentions of this providing a level of linkage between the tales). As she tackles the challenge of murdering her fellow assassins the story plays on several levels and this is far more Philip K Dick like than The Memory Box.
By the end we know more and less about Vienna and who she is really working for. She also has a clinical disregard for her own humanity and on learning certain truths has them edited from her mind. We leave the series unsure where it is going next but intrigued.
Vienna gets character development and also re-written to some extent (and this is within the story via memory editing technology as the character almost acts via some internal fourth wall) which is fine though not a trick that I believe can sustain itself through several series. We still have sense of who Vienna is at core and I think that there is a limit to how much re-establishing of motive / history / reality the character can sustain and stay credible.
My expectations were that there might be more continuity with The Memory Box which set up a counterpart cop character pursuing Vienna across the galaxy but sometimes helping. This was not to be. I do feel that there needs to be a second character and the ship’s computer is an ersatz companion of sorts but I feel that the lone gunman fails to show emotional range without a range of interactions. What I mean is if she has no assistant or protégé (or even lover) we miss an opportunity to throw her behaviour into relief against a more familiar context (I assume most other listeners aren’t assassins).
There is a real galaxy being created here and for a change I want to highlight the covers of the individual stories (see above). There is a real style being developed here and I hope that it continues through along with the rich sci-fi soundscape.
I enjoyed this series with some reservations about the amount of re-construction of the central character of Vienna herself. I will be getting any follow-up series though I hope that the current iteration of Ms Salvatori evolves rather than just changes.