The Diary of River Song Series 2 sneaked into the December 2016 release schedule to add to our Christmas fun, and what a pleasure it was. Better in many ways than Series 1, this time River meets two classic era Doctors, the sixth and the seventh. This means more confusion, memory manipulation and adventure! Next stop, the end of the world!
Guy Adams starts proceedings with The Unknown, a story featuring the Seventh Doctor as well as a large cast trapped in a situation none of them understands. The crew of the Saturnius are trying to deal with a planetary anomaly and their mission is not helped by the mysterious little man calling himself the Doctor. River Song is on hand, but she isn’t entirely sure whose side the Doctor is on, nor how to save the ship from it’s fate. The ship is led by Captain Maddie Bower (Anna Maxwell Martin) and her crew is supported by Dan Starkey as the ship’s computer.
There is a real sense of pace and Guy Adams gives us the Doctor and River without making that the focus of the story. Instead there’s a gripping tale of imminent disaster leading into a hook for the next story…
John Dorney takes us to the end of the world in Five Twenty-nine, an intimate and emotional tale of an isolated community, a small family and inevitable destruction. This time River can do nothing except watch the world end, knowing she can escape at any time. The story centres on a married couple, Lisa Burrows (Ann Bell) and Emmett Burrows (Robert Pugh) and their daughter Rachel (Salome Haertel). As the world ends around them, River tries to keep the family alive long enough to get some clue as to why the Earth gets destroyed.
She knows she can’t save the family, but this doesn’t stop fer from trying. It’s a poignant and wonderful story.
James Goss has the pleasure of introducing the Sixth Doctor to the mix in World Enough and Time. The title is reminiscent of a Robert Heinlein novel, and in places the plot owes a little to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Geeky observations aside, this is a very different style of story again, mixing darkness with dry humour. There’s another computer, named Autocorrect played with panache by Barnaby Edwards and the Doctor is trying to find time to investigate the workings of Golden Futures, if only he could find time in his diary around important meetings.
There is alien menace but also a more human and somehow more disturbing menace in the form of the PA (Sara Powell). River is doing what she can to flush out the enemy, but also has to get the Doctor to step up to the plate as he is rather distracted. When she finds out why the Earth gets destroyed the scene is set for a resolution that needs two incarnations of the Doctor, plus RIver.
Matt Fitton has the pleasure of bringing us two Doctors and River in the same story as River has to save the world and keep two incarnations of the Doctor from making things worse in The Eye of the Storm. The storm in question is the biggest recorded storm in British history, when in 1703 several days of tempestuous winds brought devastation to the country. Writing at the time, Daniel Defoe (who appears in this story) thought it divine visitation; heady stuff! As River struggles to get the Doctors to behave (and also has a mild flirtation with Sixie!) the storm approaches London and a dilemma rears its ugly head.
Without spoiling too far, it is a little reminiscent of Star Trek: City on the Edge of Forever but not overly so. As it’s a River Song boxset she takes the lead and saves the day, but not before a moving scene where she dives into a love story between Isaac George (Paul Keating) and Sarah Deane (Jessie Buckley).
Warning – this contains a spoiler, please consider avoiding if you haven’t listened yet.
Structurally this set is interesting, and the way the two Doctors are used is clever, as is the use of twisted timelines. None of the stories feels extraneous, though John Dorney’s is the one that would best work as a standalone, and doesn’t feature either of the Doctors! I hesitate to pick a single best story, but John’s has attracted most praise on the few forums I frequent.
It’s a great, great cast, I hope Anna Maxwell Martin makes more appearances in the future, but it is the part of Rachel I have to shine a spotlight on. Rachel is a synthetic human (ie and android) and is played exquisitely by Salome Haertel. I got to the end of John’s story and hoped we might get more from her character, as a possible future companion for River or the Doctor. Listening to the extras I found out Salome is Alex Kingston’s daughter, and at the time of writing this review is fifteen years old. The chemistry (and this for an android) in the performance of Rachel is superb and Salome’s interview is worth a listen for her insights into the world of Doctor Who.
Overall this is a great boxset on many levels, and is hugely recommended. Well done everyone!