Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Moons of Vulpana
Jessica Martin's Mags continues her adventures with Sylvester McCoy's Doctor this month in the latest Doctor Who main range release from Big Finish.
Written by Emma Reeves and directed by Samuel Clemens, The Moons of Vulpana is available to purchase at the Big Finish site here and goes on general release on the 30th June 2019. Here's the synopsis...
The Doctor has returned Mags, formerly of the Psychic Circus, to her native world: Vulpana.
Not the savage Vulpana that Mags was taken from, but Vulpana in an earlier era. The Golden Millennium – when the Four Great Wolf Packs, each devoted to one of the planet’s four moons, oversaw the height of Vulpanan civilisation. A time when the noblest families of the Vulpanan aristocracy found themselves in need of new blood…
A golden age that’s about to come to a violent end!
As usual, I'll be joined by my son Ben, the world's biggest Doctor Who fan and regular Big Finish reviewer for The Digital Fix.
Baz Greenland (aged 37)
From Frankenstein's monsters to werewolves, the latest Doctor Who main age release continues its monster-movie feel in style with a story that really gets under the skin of Mags as a character. While there was a lot to enjoy in The Monsters of Gokroth, Mags herself felt largely disconnected from the main plot and there wasn't much of a connection with the Seventh Doctor. The Moons of Vulpana rectifies that with an intriguing adventure that sees the Doctor take his new companion to her home planet several centuries before it was devastated.
Writer Emma Reeves creates a rich world stuck between something out of the Feudal age with its rich lords and peasants and the threat of modern 'science' that threatens to destabilise Vulpana's way of life. For such a pragmatic, grounded character, there was something rather fun in having Mags discover she is part of a ancient nobility, complete with all the riches and power that comes with her. She is thrust into the world of balls and hunting, all overseen by the Nimmy March's imposing matriarch Ulla, a werewolf noble holding on to her rich traditions as the world changes around her. Samuel Clemens' strong direction brings this utterly absorbing world to life, setting the stage for the chaos that follows.
The mystery of why the werewolf nobility cannot transform and the greater mystery of what caused it really gives The Moons of Vulpana another edge. There was enough material here for Jessica Martin's Mags to get her teeth into. Promises of marriage, wealth and later trapped in an abusive 'relationship' to save the Doctor, and Martin really makes the most of it, playing particularly well off March's Ulla - who strides the line between a sympathetic mother figure and antagonist to Mags and the Doctor to the very end. Martin also has great chemistry with Irfan Shamji's Jaks, who is largely presented as a romantic figure before his descent into darkness changes everything.
Sylvester McCoy's Doctor is one figure that could easily have become lost in the power plays, intrigue and mystery of this tale, but he holds his own. While absent for chunks of the story to allow Mags to flourish, he has great presence throughout, doing as he does best in pulling the strings and shaping events 'off screen' so to speak. And there is balance of warmth and tension in his relationship with Mags, following a similar pattern to his role with Ace, even if it treads some rather different paths.
The Moons of Vulpana is a great little story, that really makes the most of the Seventh Doctor and Mags' renewed partnership. The supporting cast, particularly Nimmy March's Ulla are equally as impressive, giving depth to this rich, gothic world where monsters are as much a part of life as dinner parties and family rivalries. It's a dark and tragic tale that plays to the strengths of the two main characters, giving Mags a journey we never expected her to have. Thanks to Big Finish, her role in the Seventh Doctor's life has given both of them a new lease of life.
Ben Greenland (aged 13)
At last! After some wobbles with the likes of The Kamelion Empire and The monsters of Gokroth, the main range has found its feet again. I will admit that The Moons of Vulpana isn't the most amazing story ever made, in fact its quite average, but it's very enjoyable. I wasn't ever going to write off the seven and Mags pairing until I had seen more than a single story, and it paid off.
But here it isn't as much a pairing either, as this story places Mags centre stage allowing the Doctor to slip away in the TARDIS for the majority of the second instalment. The setting here is of aristocratic houses ruling over the peasants, allowing Mags to be welcomed easily enough with her pure blood. The most effective element of the story is the fact that the mystery and villainous plot is just a disguise for the true nature of the piece, being the proper development of Mags we needed. For all her enjoyment, she does have some rough encounters, being blackmailed into marriage. The Doctor, though, gets the full brute of roughness, being attacked many times and being locked up for a while, but still managing to do his thing and save the natives of Vulpana from imminent destruction.
The other talking point here, is Jaks. The runt, or as his brothers call him Omega, of the litter his interactions with Mags make this story what it is. He develops a lot over the course of the four parts, the Jaks of part one being almost another person from the Jaks of part four. For a while I thought I knew which direction the story would take: The Doctor being pushed about and shunned in favour of royal Mags, but thankfully I was wrong. As ever with McCoy's incarnation, the story is entered because of his quiet manipulation of events, but for a purpose other than stopping the threat this time round.
A fun tale, that might be forgotten as more stories like The Tenth Doctor Adventures and Legacy of Time are released later in the year, but still one you should give a listen.
The three music suites between parts one and two really captures the tone of the story, Steve Foxon mixing heavy chords and ominous string movements with moments of thundering guitar beats to create a real sense of tension.
The trailer for Mags' final Big Finish story, An Alien Werewolf in London, looks to be equally as fun, featuring the return of Ace and vampires in the heart of the British capital.
Finally, a short but sweet set of interviews with Jessica Martin, Sylvester McCoy and director Samuel Clemens, look into the development of Mags's journey in Big Finish, while comparing to the path former companion Ace took with McCoy's Doctor.