Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not
Big Finish's second addition to the multi-platform Time Lord Victorious range sees Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor encounter one of the galaxy's deadliest assassins, Brian the Ood, following his debut appearance in novel The Knight, The Fool and The Dead. Check out our review the book here and the first Big Finish Time Lord Victorious short trips featuring two classic Masters here.
Doctor Who - Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not has been written by Carrie Thompson and is directed by Scott Handcock. It is available exclusively on the Big Finish site here, before going on general release at the end of October. Here's the synopsis...
On the desert world of Atharna, the Doctor’s life is about to be changed forever.
Looking to visit one of the Seven Hundred Wonders of the Universe, he’s quickly embroiled in a web of deceit. Worse than that, this Wonder of the Universe is missing, and the Doctor is about to encounter one of his most dangerous and duplicitous adversaries.
The Doctor is about to meet Brian.
I'll be joined by my 14 year old son Ben, who reviewed The Knight, The Fool and The Dead, and is a regular reviewer of Doctor Who with me at Big Finish.
Reviewing He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not is something of a tricky endeavour. It's another early part of the Time Lord Victorious puzzle and has to serve both as a story in it's own right, while setting up - presumably - bigger things to come.
On the former, it mostly works, wrapping up the story of Sophie (Melanie Stevens) and her wife Felicity (Misha Malcolm), who has been kidnapped by Brian the Ood. There's an interesting story here about homophobia; Felicity's father ordered a genetically perfect daughter and the fact that she married Sophie is a source of contention. However the story doesn't delve too deeply into his motivations and indeed, the father is not present in the events of the story. Both Stevens and Malcolm do good work with the material, particularly Stevens, whose Sophie becomes something of a companion figure to the Doctor.
Brian the Ood is a fantastic creation and Silas Carson brings a deadpan menace to the assassin. It captures the sheer danger of the possessed Ood from their debut adventure The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit; with the constant references to the psychotic Mr Ball and Brian's attempts to kill everyone at the first available chance, he brings something new to the alien race and I can't wait to him develop over the Time Lord Victorious range. He particularly bounces off Paul McGann's Doctor well and adds some real momentum in the story's final scenes as the Doctor tries to outwit him.
If you love westerns, you'll enjoy He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not. With Pauline Eyre's fiery sheriff Katherine, Jack DeVos's paranoid barman Samson and Martin McDougall's gruff, heroic Doctor Craddock, they are plenty of big, identifiable caricatures at play. Sometimes, Carrie Thompson's script seems to play in broad strokes, but it serves the genre well. Though if westerns aren't you're thing, you might be put off by it all. There's no denying the energy and enthusiasm of it all, with director Scott Handcock really playing up the rugged wilderness and tension of the setting.
As the next part of the Time Lord Victorious, it does feel like another step to something grander. The fate of what happened to the world of Atharna is never unsatisfactorily resolved and I suspect never will be. Given the debut of the Kotturuh in novel The Knight, The Fool and The Dead and Big Finish short trips Lesser Evils, I suspect they may have a part to play that will allow for a very different retrospective listening experience when the whole story is done. But they are never alluded to here and the mystery feels dropped in favour of the - admittedly wonderful - interplay between the Doctor and Brian the Ood. There's also a fun cliff-hanger, which ties directly into next month's Doctor Who - Time Lord Victorious: The Enemy of My Enemy.
As a solo adventure, there are too may questions to give it a truly satisfying ending. Fun performances, big western genre vibes and intriguing mysteries make this a decent Doctor Who story, but I'm not sure it will end up the highlight of Time Lord Victorious range. Though, like the debut of the Kotturuh in Lesser Evils, perhaps it's biggest success is the debut of Brian the Ood to Big Finish. Because he is quite simply, marvellous.
He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not has to do a lot of things. Tell a self contained story, introduce Brian the Ood to Big Finish and also begin the Eighth Doctor's involvement with Time Lord Victorious. The story succeeds in most of these aspects. However it does distinctly lack a satisfying conclusion to the mystery at the heart of the story.
The question of what happened to the planet Arthana is never resolved here, and presumably you're supposed to take it as one of the changes to time that happens across Time Lord Victorious. That does bring the story down a little.. Otherwise the tale is enjoyable with plenty of fun characters. How much you will enjoy He Kills Me He Kills Me Not depends on your enjoyment of Westerns. I certainly don't find the appeal and as a result the Saloon, the Sheriff and the Western doctor all were not very much to my taste. But I can't call the story bad as a result; as this is just my personal preference to the genre.
The rest of the story is really fun. The Sheriff is a decent and enjoyable character who never feels dragged through the story, but likewise never feels like a brilliant addition. The couple of Sophie and Felicity are well rounded characters, and not for one moment would you ever feel that they never really love each other with Sophie having great chemistry with the Doctor. The plot of the story itself is one that could actually be very controversial were it on TV (Then again, isn't anything about the show on TV controversial nowadays?), but doesn't ever feel shoehorned in. It's a very serious topic to handle; an assassin employed by a father to kill his daughter's partner because she's female and wants his daughter to be perfect and normal. The absent father could be seen as the true villain of the story.
But the standouts here are, of course, the Doctor and Brian. I touched on Brian briefly during my review of The Knight, The Fool and the Dead, but here he takes centre stage acting as the central threat to be overcome. I've said it before, but Brian is a fantastic character and concept and is a joy to listen to. The references to Mr Ball, his glee in the fact he murders people for a living, playing the kind and innocent bodyguard to his prisoner Felicity, and the way he manages to completely fool the Doctor in their first meeting are just spectacular. The way he bounces of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor is a delight and a very different sort of relationship he has with the Tenth Doctor. It is worth noting that while the Kotturuh felt notably different in their book and audio appearance, Brian is less changed but still has a different feel which is perhaps because this time he's the antagonist of the story. His exit from the story feels very blink and you'll miss it (If that were ever possible on audio of course) and it is a struggle to work out just where this fits in his timeline and the Time Lord Victorious arc. While this may be his one and only Big Finish appearance, he will appear again in other media.
The Doctor breezes through this story, played as wonderfully as ever by Paul McGann. The ending, it's very fast paced and the final three, four minutes are a roller coaster leading neatly into next month's part of the Eighth Doctor Time Lord Victorious audios (A nice addition, as I did think this might be disconnected from the upcoming Dalek instalments).
Overall, this story is a mixed bag. Great characters and performances, a mystery that doesn't have a satisfying resolution and a genre that will influence your enjoyment of the story depending on your views. While a nice story, it's not one you could just buy and listen to on its own without many burning questions, perhaps defeating the standalone story idea at the centre of the Time Lord Victorious event (more in part to the plot of this being different to the other stories), which certainly is a shame. But Brian the Ood just about makes up for it. A return appearance in the future would be very much appreciated (The War Brian, anyone?)...
Fifteen minutes of behind the scenes interviews accompany the release. Producer Alfie Shaw talks the logistics of recording the story, having only completed one day of recording when the Covid-19 lockdown began, while director Scott Handcock delves into the challenges of recording actors separately. and how his experience of working on the Torchwood audios helped tackle the different recording environment. Actors Misha Malcolm, Melanie Stevens and Jack DeVos elaborate on this further, discussing the joys of recording in a cupboard and the challenge of imagining the other characters without ever hearing them.
Paul McGann elaborates on his love of westerns from his childhood and how that drew on his experiences for the story, while writer Carrie Thompson delights in scripting for the Eighth Doctor and how Brian the Odd has quickly become her favourite character to write for. Silas Carson, the original voice of the Ood, chats about his love for the alien race and the pleasure of performing Brian the assassin.
Comedian and actor Pauline Eyre, a big Doctor Who fan, is delightfully enthusiastic for taking on the role of Katherine the Sheriff, while lamenting the fact that she didn't get to work with Paul McGann in person. Actor Martin McDougall recounts how his first words were 'I am a Dalek' and is equally enthusiastic about the role of Craddock in the tale. Once again, these behind the scenes snippets enhance the release, given a 'behind the curtains' look at the enthusiasm and creative challenges of recording a Big Finish audio drama.
Finally, a six and a half minute music suite from composer Ioan Morris rounds off the set. Morris leans heavily into the western vibe, making use of bells and strings, while bringing tension with repeating synth beats and eerie chords. It's moody and low key, but certainly captures the atmosphere of the story.