Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Ravenous 4
A climactic finale to the Ravenous saga, Ravenous 4 contains three consistently engaging stories told across four exciting episodes that are full of character conflict, genuine threat, and monumental developments for the Doctor. There are Masters galore and a villainous turn from the Eleven, leaving the Doctor, Liv and Helen with a lot of ground to cover if they are to come out on top.
Doctor Who – Ravenous 4 is directed by Ken Bentley and produced by David Richardson, and is available from the Big Finish website until general release after 30 November 2019. Read the synopsis below and prepare for spoilers ahead.
The Ravenous are the most relentlessly voracious creatures ever to haunt a Time Lord, and they now have the Doctor’s scent. The only thing left to do is stand and fight. It will take a monster to defeat a monster. But what will be the cost?
The past, the present, and the future conspire against the Doctor as he fights to defeat the only creature ever to strike fear into the hearts of a Time Lord.
Whisper by Matt Fitton
Seeking respite after their battle with the Ravenous and hoping to find a quiet place where the Eleven can recuperate, the TARDIS crew visit the Still Foundation. But all they find is a small band of survivors under siege from a terrifying predator. A predator that hunts by sound.
Planet of Dust by Matt Fitton
On the parched world of Parrak, the Master holds sway. But he is exhausted and desperate, and his final hope for survival lies somewhere beneath the desert. When the TARDIS arrives, alliances will be made and trust will be broken – and feuding Time Lords will discover the Ravenous never, ever give up.
Day of the Master by John Dorney
The Doctor investigates a mystery in the vortex, Liv follows the trail of their enemy, and Helen searches for a god. Everywhere they go there is a Master or Mistress, but is the Doctor’s oldest enemy there to hinder them, or to help? With the TARDIS crew scattered and lost, only a miracle can save the universe. And for that to happen someone is going to have to die.
Ravenous 4 shoots out of the blocks with a suspense-ridden opening episode fuelled as much by character conflict as science-fiction concepts. The Eleven – and Liv’s distrust of him – is front and centre, propelling the story into tense and dark places.
The dramatic irony of having fooling the Doctor, Liv and Helen into believing he has been cured of his affliction – when the audience is shown evidence to the contrary – looms large over the story. Each of the main characters’ morality is on show: the Doctor, ever the believer that people can change for the better, falls for the Eleven’s ploy; and Helen shows her typical forgiveness and sympathy, despite Liv’s hunch ultimately proving correct.
A monster that hunts by sound is not a wholly original idea (see 2018’s A Quiet Place), and Whisper does not commit to visual horror as fully as Krasinski’s film owing to Whisper playing out on the audio medium, but Matt Fitton pulls the concept off well by adding some fascinating ideas – namely the living nature of the planet. Director Ken Bentley also has obviously paid close attention to keeping the tension high and voices whisper-like without sacrificing performance quality. This is certainly an episode to listen to without any background noise.
But the crux of the story is Liv’s personal grudge with the Eleven. The two never got on in past stories, but whereas her snide remarks at his character have previously been used as light relief, they are here brought to the fore as the central conflict. The Eleven’s showing of his true colours by letting one of the base’s crew die to save himself is one of the best scenes – another being the tense stand-off where Liv holds a gun to the Eleven’s chest.
Whisper is Ravenous-light but heavy with the foreboding and character-based drama that has made Eighth Doctor releases – particularly the Doom Coalition and Ravenous series – top-notch listening.
Planet of Dust
With the reveal that the events of Whisper were simply a way for the Eleven to gain the Doctor’s trust so he could obtain access to the TARDIS controls, the four-person TARDIS team find themselves on the desert planet Parrak where water is a crucial commodity.
Ahead of multiple Masters appearing together in the subsequent story, Geoffrey Beevers goes solo here as the low-on-energy incarnation in the process of enslaving the planet’s population. Beevers’ vocal quality is rich and layered with menace like always, embodying the version of the Master who takes perhaps the most glee in executing his plan as dictator of an entire planet. Beevers also succeeds in portraying the exhaustion of a Time Lord at the extreme end of his regenerative cycle and burdened by the constant struggle to survive.
The Eleven and the Master throwing barbs at one another offers momentary light relief, but this is soon superseded by the Eleven revealing sinister machinations. His offer to work with the Master (apparently) is reminiscent of the “villains teaming up” vibe of latter Doom Coalition sets, but eventually he goes full archvillain against the Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Master too. In many ways this is the logical end point of his maniacal and power-hungry characterisation across the past eight series.
The idea of the Ravenous resting and waiting inside the Eleven’s mind, more than any other aural manifestation of the creatures across these stories, is genuinely chilling. As per the previous episode, they feature in only a minor capacity in Planet of Dust, with the understanding they will be fully out in force in the finale. When they do appear, however – feasting on the dying Master or eating away at the Doctor’s TARDIS – their actions have shocking consequences on the plot, and the stage is set for the finale.
Day of the Master
John Dorney concludes the saga with a fittingly epic and shockingly audacious two-part story. Addressing every plot point and character development that takes place across the two hours would consume far more space than this review allows; instead, let’s focus on several key features and how, together, they create a glorious finale.
Like the best series finales, Day of the Master mixes high stakes and revelations, but it is also a lot of fun. Part 1 is a slow build with multiple plot threads that do not immediately connect, but the cliffhanger is, as promised by writer John Dorney, monumental. Part 2 manoeuvres the various parts into place and ups the ante with plenty of twists and non-linear storytelling.
Standout moments of the story include: three Masters teaming up; Liv being shot by the War Master; the rematch between the Doctor and Eric Roberts’ Master; links back to both Ravenous 2 and Doom Coalition 3; and a journey into Time Lord mythos with the scientist Artron, the namesake of artron energy and – plot twist – creator of the Ravenous. Who would have thought we would be here when the series began in early 2018?
One Master would be large enough a selling point for the series to begin with; to throw four of them together seems – initially at least – like overloading the story. But considering the confident writing, iconic performances (from Jacobi and Gomez in particular), and what is at stake with the threat posed by the Ravenous and the Eleven, the Master’s four-fold involvement is justified and magnificent.
The characterisation of each incarnation is accurate and distinct, and each one has a part to play in their collective attempt to save themselves. The performances, too, are glorious, from the scheming sadist embodied by Derek Jacobi, the suave criminal in Eric Roberts, or Michelle Gomez’s sparkling, high-energy version who is always taking the mickey out of her past selves.
Liv and Helen are two of the most distinct, forthright, capable, emotionally accessible companions of the Doctor – the three have been proven again and again that together they are a team. The death or departure of one of them – as signposted in the initial scene of Whisper, and in the marketing synopsis – turns out to be a red herring, with both continuing in the TARDIS. Considering the quality of both characters, having them survive post-Ravenous is an admirable and worthwhile decision.
Conversely, this is also the culmination of the Eleven’s story, and it occurs at what feels like the proper moment. Much horror comes at hearing the Eleven’s consciousness being subsumed into the maelstrom of his mind, but there is also a note of solace given his subsequent incarnation’s modicum of restraint over the voices.
Ultimately, with the Eleven regenerating and the Doctor and his companions being thrown off into space with a low-power TARDIS, it is the Masters who come out on top, granting themselves a new set of regenerations with the power of Artron. This is, after, the day of the Master, and is a moment of triumph.
The disc of cast and creative interviews tops off a thrilling four hours of story with intriguing anecdotes, such as the main cast’s joy at Mark Bonnar’s extended involvement in the series; the challenges of capturing whispered performance on the microphone; and the cast’s memories of watching Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius when younger.
Each actor knows their character deeply and it shows, from Geoffrey Beevers’ history with his character to Derek Jacobi’s developed understanding of the prestige of the role he came to play in the show. More than anything, the interviews enable listeners to remain with the world that has been developed for a while longer, to “sit with” the repercussions of the tale for each character.
Jamie Robertson’s music suite – 20 minutes of which are included at the end of discs three and four –complements the tension and the excitement at play in each episode. It hits all the right notes, from rousing orchestra to enigmatic 80s synth tones to intimate and emotional strings.
Ravenous concludes with a climactic, emotional and suspense-ridden series of four very strong episodes. The Eighth Doctor’s world has such a wealth of characters, both friend and foe, to draw on, from Liv and Helen to the Eleven to any of the four Masters appearing here. Just as Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition rose to a crescendo in their respective fourth volumes, Ravenous has built to a climax that throws a lot of ingredients into the mix, but successfully manoeuvres its line-up of characters and storylines to a satisfying and resonant ending.