The amazing River Song (Alex Kingston) returns, this time to moments before the Doctor arrives for some of his most iconic adventures, incuding where it all began.
An Unearthly Woman by Matt Fitton
River goes undercover as a teacher (and at times a police woman) to investigate an unearthly child at Colehill school … no, not that one!
What better entre to a set with the premise of going into a Doctor Who adventure before the Doctor, than to go to before the Doctor’s first adventure. The new version of the Hartnell first Doctor team is represented here by a few cameos from David Bradley as the Doctor with Barbra (Jemma Powell), Ian (Jamie Glover) and Susan (Claudia Grant) getting involved in the mainstay of the story, with River taking care not to change the timeline. I felt the stakes were hightened having this being set before the first adventure. If River makes a mistake, here all of the Doctors adventures we know and love could be at risk.
The story itself is good, with another child at Colehill acting otherworldly before Susan is singled out as such and a few social issues of the time being explored as they might be seen at the time, but through a modern lense that River allows for.
The Web of Time by John Dorney
River’s search for an artifact takes her to the underground of London where Yeti’s and UNIT abound just before the Doctor is due to arrive. When River comes embroiled with a soldier called Captain Knight (Ralph Watson), she wants to help, but knows his deadly fate must not be altered.
It feels like we are treated to the Rosencrans and Guildenstern of Doctor Who. Knight, all these years after his untimely demise, gets to have another adventure, only adding to the sadness of his inevitable passing.
This was another great choice of adventure to prequelise with River, and nicely woven into her timeline. Kingston gets to play River’s dilemma going into events she knows she can’t change – acting tough, but coping with the moral struggle we know she must be going through. Watson is flawless as Knight. You may hear some age in his voice but as a military captain it just seems to fit the role. He also seeks to bring out the best in River, helping her question how much she might be able to manipulate events without changing what must be.
Peepshow by Guy Adams
Once the Third Doctor (Tim Trelore as played here) saved the lives of men and monsters alike who were imprisoned as a sideshow in a device known as the miniscope, which shrank them. Now his one day wife to be is here to empty the scopes, recycling bin with the help of a security guard called Dibbsworth (Clive Wood).
This is just the fun adventure it should be. Dibbsworth is the unprepared hapless guard who is thrust into a world he isn’t prepared for, but has just enough heart to make him lovable. River gets to play with Ogrons (Guy Adams) and Sontarans (Dan Starkey) who are their usual warmongering selves, bend on death over reason, but with a light comedy touch. Without getting too punny there is ‘scope’ for a great story that is more than realised.
The Talents of Greel by Paul Morris
River arrives at the Palace theatre where the theatrical mastermind Henry Gordon Jago (Christopher Benjamin) is trying to put on a show to turnaround the ailing fates of the establishment. Women are going missing, technology is present that doesn’t belong in this time and River might just have to make a song and dance about it.
This is a really special one. It’s hard not to feel an extra tug of emotion at not only visiting another fan favourite Who adventure just before it happens, but also to revisit Jago / Baxter after his partner in crime has sadly passed away ending their audio adventures.
Benjamin and Kingston are just as wonderful together as you’d hope. They feel like they are in a game of one upmanship of who can be bigger in a way the audience only wins from.
The story is tense and exciting but just enough so that they have space to have the joy that should come out in a meeting of two Who icons of this magnitude.
In conclusion …
This is as wonderful an idea of a boxset as it is joyfully executed. The stories feel like fan service in the best possible way, but not at the expense of writing and performances, which would work even if these stories didn’t build on the legacy we know.