Big Finish Review: Doctor Who – Ravenous 3
The latest installment in the Eighth Doctor’s Ravenous saga has all the ingredients of a highly popular and fan-pleasing release. Ravenous 3 is big, exciting and presents ultra-high stakes for the Doctor and the ensemble cast of characters. More than ever before, the Doctor is not the only important character in the story, and this set furthers the storyline of the Eighth Doctor and his friends significantly.
Doctor Who – Ravenous 3 stars Paul McGann with an ensemble cast, and is produced by David Richardson. It is available until the end of June 2019 exclusively from the Big Finish website. Read the story synopsis below:
On a distant research station, the Time Lords are playing with fire. But it isn’t only mythological creatures from Time Lord legend that are coming back to life. Fighting for their lives against terrifying creatures from the folklore of many worlds, as well as escaping the clutches of more familiar foes, the Doctor, Liv and Helen find themselves making the most unlikely ally.
Deeptime Frontier by Matt Fitton
Stranded on a desolate world by a dead TARDIS, the Doctor and his friends are trapped, surrounded by creatures from Time Lord nightmares – the Ravenous…
Elsewhere, on the edge of the vortex, a Gallifreyan research station takes on board an extremely dangerous artefact. Are the Time Lords sowing the seeds of their own destruction?
And if one Ravenous creature rattles the Doctor’s nerves, what will happen when the whole clan is hunting him?
Companion Piece by John Dorney
When the evil Time Lord known as the Nine comes across a rare and valuable item floating in the space-time vortex, his acquisitive nature means he can’t resist the urge to complete the set.
Soon a wicked scheme is underway. Only the Doctor’s friends – past, present and future – will be able to stop him.
But without the Doctor around will even the combined skills of Liv, Helen, River Song, Bliss and Charley be enough to save the day?
L.E.G.E.N.D. by Matt Fitton
Over years of study and research, the Brothers Grimm built a compendium of folklore: stories of witches and wizards, magic and morality, strange creatures and treacherous forests…
Professor Marathanga does much the same, on a universal scale. But her methods are rather less rigorous, using technological shortcuts to fill her intelligent database – L.E.G.E.N.D.
When worlds collide, the TARDIS crew discover that fairy tales can become real. And the Doctor’s latest companion is put to the test. Will the Eleven be an asset, or one more monster to defeat?
The Odds Against by John Dorney
The Doctor, Liv and Helen have landed near an abbey housing the gateway to the dimension in which the Ravenous were originally imprisoned.
But their plans to enlist the inhabitants’ help in defeating their pursuers are disrupted when they stumble over a dead body. Strange creatures roam the corridors and something monstrous may be awakening beneath their feet.
Continuing on from the previous event-piece Eighth Doctor release, Ravenous 3 is no less huge in terms of the characters involved – one need only look at Tom Webster’s cover artwork to realise this. This series sees the Doctor personally encounter the race of creatures known as the Ravenous, who are introduced as the only beings ever to strike true fear into the hearts of Time Lords. Note: spoilers follow.
Picking up directly from the end of Seizure, the Doctor, Helen and Liv are on the run from the Ravenous, and find themselves transported onto a Time Lord research space station farming the vortex for TARDIS fuel. The Ravenous soon follow, however, and proceed to terrorise the station’s inhabitants in an episode that quickly becomes a horror story.
Deeptime Frontier is fast-paced, fulfilling the Doctor Who trope of running from room to room, pursued by Ravenous, who are a fearful race of creatures with a spidery, creepy sound design and music scape. Importantly, the Doctor is terrified of them. The Doctor, after all, is the one constant feature across fifty-plus years of the show, someone viewers, and other characters, know they can trust to save the day. As mentioned within the drama, if even he is afraid of these Ravenous, then those in his company are indeed in trouble.
George Asbury’s voice conveys a deformed, otherworldly creature with a lurking intelligence. Although they soon become another Doctor Who monster for the human characters to run from, the menace Asbury conveys effectively evokes the threat. Yet the humans are also far from helpless, with Liv putting her MedTech skills into good use when consulting the corpse of one Ravenous – it is good to see that aspect of her character be retained and utilised.
The imagery of the Ravenous – circus clowns – is sure to prove chilling for many listeners. Additionally, it is interesting to delve into the history of the Ravenous being tied up with the culture – and arrogance – of the Time Lords. Writer Matt Fitton knows his Gallifrey – or rather, is very good at adding to and fleshing out Gallifreyan mythology (as he exemplifies in The Eighth Doctor – Time War 2 and Gallifrey – Time War 2). His is a pacey and action-filled script that significantly advances the Ravenous story, although at this stage it still is not clear where the overall story is heading, apart from some final showdown with the Ravenous race.
This episode quickly emerges more as a sequel to Doom Coalition than a continuation of the Ravenous saga, with the narrative picking up the Nine’s timeline straight after The Crucible of Souls, and River Song’s directly after Songs of Love. Those two characters are brought together in the pre-credits sequence, and the kleptomaniac Nine is compelled to “not stop at one” of the Doctor’s companions, giving the lead-in to the episode’s conceit of multiple companions being brought together.
A number of surprising cameos (not all from the Eighth Doctor’s era) show that the Nine’s plan goes further than is promoted on the packaging – but how effective it is in giving all characters a worthwhile role to play? Rather well, it turns out, with Liv, Helen, Charley, River and Bliss all given a functional role to play. From when it was announced, this always seemed like an idea that would suit being spread across an entire four-story release, or at least a two-parter, but perhaps this is better left contained within a single strong and entertaining hour.
John Heffernan’s Nine is wild, playful, zany, unpredictable and mischievous, full of accents and personas. He is reminiscent of Michelle Gomez’s Missy with his flippancy, mania and ruthlessness, but is devoid of Missy’s more redeemable quality of a developing morality. Heffernan is a highlight, playing him very well, helped by John Dorney’s snappy and dry dialogue.
Companion Piece is heavy on continuity and references to other parts of the Eighth Doctor’s lifetime and the lives of his companions, meaning it works best for someone who is well-versed in his timeline and different eras. This includes the Time War-set Eighth Doctor adventures that feature Bliss, whose presence here is also a pleasant reminder of the upcoming Time War 3 set.
As this is a story told from the Nine’s perspective with only a brief cameo from the Doctor, it could be classified as a “Doctor-lite” story. Like many such televised stories, this episode is full of punch-the-air, “huzzah!” moments that will no doubt be recorded on many listeners’ best-of lists for 2019.
If the first episode advanced the Ravenous arc and the second was a standalone interlude, L.E.G.E.N.D. is mostly standalone with a strand that ties into the larger series. The TARDIS’s occupants are still being hunted by the spectre from Time Lord nightmares, so in response they seek out Professor Marathanga, an academic and galactic collector of narrative folklore who may have information about how to stop the Ravenous.
With the previous two episodes featuring the Eleven only in a cameo capacity, L.E.G.E.N.D sees him let loose working with the Doctor, Liv and Helen. They have a difficult relationship with him joining them in the TARDIS, reluctantly working together but always suspicious of his mostly-unknown motives. The Eleven, meanwhile, is openly critical of, and almost disgusted by, the two humans’ presence by the Doctor’s side – tetchy dynamics helpful to character drama. The Eleven has truly been a success for the Big Finish production team, with multiple incarnations being fleshed out and given multiple appearances.
Their encounter with the Brothers Grimm, the real-life collectors of fairytales and folklore in 19th-century Europe, furthers the unpacking of storytelling from Better Watch Out/Fairytale of Salzburg. As explained behind-the-scenes, this was an intentional creative choice, and it makes a lot of sense given the work the Brothers did in reality. Considering how those stories were sanitised from their original gory – and decidedly not child-friendly – versions, the horror of the Ravenous fits well with the horror of folklore.
There is some food for thought when it comes to the goal of the learning AI database L.E.G.E.N.D. attempting to use narratives to create the blueprint for a utopia. Stories contain the very best and the very worst humanity has to offer, as well as everything in between, and a mix of both is explored here.
Ultimately, Matt Fitton’s script presents a fusion of multiple elements, including a conventional Doctor Who monster story and common fairytale, the presence of the collectors of those stories within the drama, alongside other characters deconstructing in-narrative the elements of folklore occurring around them.
The Odds Against
The Odds Against concludes the anthology with more than one big twist and a great setup for the finale. With the Ravenous still on their tail, the Doctor visits an abbey where, he is told, the Ravenous were once trapped in their prison dimension.
The reveal that the entire abbey set-up is a fabrication of the Nine in disguise is shocking and builds the threat of the Nine/Eleven as an antagonist. The subversion of the expectation that there is some age-old malevolent deity slumbering beneath their feet plays again into the idea of mythology and storytelling.
This episode presents the intriguing scenario whereby the Nine and the Eleven are involved in the same story – if something happens to Nine, his future self is affected. The concept of regenerative dissonance is used to explain why the Ravenous are not compelled to feed on the Eleven in any of his incarnations, further exploring his fascinating condition. The scene where the Nine and the Eleven meet, and each of the Nine’s previous incarnations say hello to the Ten and the Eleven, is truly fantastic.
There are of course consequences for the series finale anthology – the Doctor believes the Eleven to be cured of his affliction (with the ten other voices gone from his head), while the Eleven is revealed to have masterminded everything by working against his previous self, having joined forces with the Ravenous to take revenge on the Doctor and the cosmos. There will not be any redemption arc akin to the Master’s for the Eleven, but instead a setup for the Eleven to act as the main villain of the saga’s conclusion in October. All of this makes for a gripping listen and heightens the anticipation for Ravenous 4.
Deeptime Frontier’s behind-the-scenes interviews explore the original episode’s placement at the end of the previous set, hints at further appearances from Rasmus, and the threat of the Ravenous. L.E.G.E.N.D.’s Tanya Moodie and Arthur Hughes explanations of their inspiration for playing their characters are an intriguing highlight, with the latter drawing inspiration from India Fisher’s narration on Masterchef. Elsewhere, the added element of the Eleven being included a part of the TARDIS team is discussed, as is what most terrifies the cast in horror. The end section of the extras reveals the fun and festive party atmosphere in the green room that arose from the recording occurring a week before Christmas.
Half an hour of music from Jamie Robertson is included, conveying the sweeping epic feel of the series. The score is tense, and sometimes slow and unsettling but always with an energy.
Ravenous continues to get better and better. Just as Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition increased in scope and the number of returning characters as the stories progressed, so does Ravenous. Details about the following – and final – release in the Ravenous saga have been revealed, and it looks highly promising. If the exciting, unsettling and character-driven episodes in Ravenous 3 are anything to go by, the Eighth Doctor is in very safe hands.