As River Song makes her way back through the Doctor’s incarnations, it’s time to for Alex Kingston to meet Tom Baker in The Diary of River Song Series 04. Four stories connected by a central idea, with the Doctor not arriving until the fourth (appropriately as it’s the Fourth Doctor).
It’s a fun set, let’s find out why.
River’s fourth diary volume
First up and setting the scene is the Emma Reeves / Matt Fitton collaboration. It’s a good title and under some gobbledegook about time paradoxes (it’s just setup) we get some vivid characters as well as a clearly drawn enemy in the form of The Discordia.
Plenty happens and the performances from Josh Bolt as Spod and Adele Lynch as Gammarae are superb – two very distinctly aliens who help River in her quest. Add Fenella Woolgar as Professor Jemima Still and there’s lots to enjoy in this mix of archaeology, temporal trickery and alien adversity.
The Discordia appear, but we don’t (yet) know just how fundamentally evil they will turn out to be.
It’s a change of tone for Kings of Infinite Space by Donald McLeary, and on one level it’s a big chase across space-time, but it’s also a chance to admire the almost Douglas Adams-like way Donald McLeary creates world after world for the cast to play in for a few scenes as River slowly realises she may not be able to avoid the Discordia without personal cost, and perhaps not even then.
It’s a great romp of a tale, and (to my ears) a big step up from his Lady Christina story Death on the Mile. It’s all subjective, mind you!
Next up is script editor Matt Fitton again, this time flying solo with Whodunnit? It’s River Song as Melody Malone, and she’s caught in the middle of a pastiche detective mystery brimming with every cliche imaginable as one by the guests in the castle (of course it’s a caste!) are killed.
To add to the mystery, just what is Franz Kafka (the brilliant Tim Bentinck) hiding, and just can’t Melody / River work out just what exactly is going on?
For about two-thirds of the story I was entertained yet puzzled as to how this story fit the overall set. Sometimes a story is just a good listen, and doesn’t need to grow the arc of the set, but I’m pleased to say this one did once all was revealed.
John Dorney wraps the set with a love story and brings River together with the Fourth Doctor. Tom Baker may always be on top form as the Doctor, but opposite Alex Kingston his performance was turned up to at least eleven. The Discordia seem victorious, River has almost run out of ideas as history is changed wholesale. How far is River prepared to go to save her husband? What crazy plan with the Doctor come up with next? And just how do you defeat an enemy whose ability to exploit time might be greater than your own?
All these questions, and more are asked and indeed answered in John’s story.
Despite the late arrival of the Doctor, I felt this was a really strong set and enough was going on to absorb me without wanting the Doctor to appear in every adventure. Big Finish really has found its stride with the River Song stories, and long may it continue.