The galaxy’s most glamorous bounty hunter / assassin is back, yes it’s Vienna Salvatori as played by Chase Masterson back for another boxset of three mind-bending stories. I’ve enjoyed the Vienna stories so far, but when I reviewed last year’s boxset, I did worry about how many resets the series could survive before it lost its integrity.
With that thought in mind, what did I think of the latest set of adventures?
First to savour is a James Goss story, Tabula Rasa. The idea here is simple, Vienna wakes up in a hotel room next to a man she doesn’t remember, indeed she remembers nothing. There is a good spell of comedy (Are we married? Are we lovers?) before they go exploring and find they are in a hotel full of people, none of whom remember who they are or why they are there. Add to this the odd dead body and a less than helpful computer system and we have a cracking mystery to solve.
As the action moves forward the details get exposed and we find Vienna is now working for the police! The man with her is the boss and they are in search of a creature with very particular mental powers. Despite lack of memory, the sheer intelligence, drive and resource of Vienna finds a way through the challenge of knowing who to trust and who might be lying in a building full of strangers. A nice, well balanced start.
Next is Cavan Scott’s Underworld and Vienna is still working for the police! Yes, continuity across two stories! Cavan teams Vienna with jaded cop Jexie Reagan (Samantha Béart – Random Dent in the fifth Hitchhiker’s Guide radio play and theatre tour) making an excellent pairing of believable characters who end up fighting corruption in the Undercity. Here we see more mind manipulating technology and also a scene where Vienna is caught in a 127 Hours style trap that is vivid and well acted.
A good change of pace for Vienna and perhaps signs of John Ainsworth’s touch in the direction (not that Ken Bentley had any problems with the previous boxset).
The set ends with Jonathan Morris taking over his creation once more, and this story really surprises. The setup is about a group of people able to live Vienna’s life remotely and control her actions. How can she escape from this? Isn’t this just a replay of a story from the last boxset? Who is the mysterious figure on the motorbike?
Hats off to Jonathan Morris who has surpassed himself with the twist at the core of this story. The action even ends with Vienna possibly settled in a locale, though her motives exposed as to why she was working for the police.
[pullquote]I’d like to start with the artwork[/pullquote]
I’d like to start with the artwork — the Vienna series have superb covers and these are wonderful (I also liked the previous boxset). They are better than they need to be — a measure of how much care Big Finish is putting into this series. The stories are well-directed, sound is good and the cast all solid. I do think Vienna needs a partner other than her ship’s computer. We need to know more of who she is and why she is doing what she does. Jexie Reagan? Why not?
I do think this series has a lot of potential but I am not sure it has yet found its métier. It is darker than Who but not that dark. It is fascinated with memory and perception but needs to be more than a showcase for clever writing. At some point we need to care about where Vienna is headed and why. One more release is expected, there is more this concept could give but I am not sure we know what.