It’s a bold move for Big Finish to release a new Paul McGann boxed set in the days immediately following the return of the main show to our screens, but in the first of a three-part review, Mark Donaldson finds much to enjoy in Ravenous 2, a set of stories that prove the old Doctors are still worth revisiting.
The previous Ravenous boxed set achieved the rather impressive feat of turning 1980s villain, the Kandyman into something much more sinister and grounded than the multi-coloured, copyright skirting joke of The Happiness Patrol. Aside from that, compared to epic scope of Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition it was a fairly lacklustre and retrograde start to Big Finish’s latest Eighth Doctor arc, providing some fairly disposable “story of the week” adventures. Ravenous 2 sticks to that same structure, providing two standalone tales before the arc kicks into high gear in the final entry in the set.
First up is Matt Fitton’s Escape from Kaldor which finds the Doctor returning Liv to her homeworld of Kaldor City, where they and Helen come face to face with a new generation of Voc robots as well as Liv’s complex personal life. This is the second Robots of Death inspired adventure released by Big Finish this year after January’s Sons of Kaldor so there’s a wearying sense of repetition here. Having the Doctor respond to the OverTech’s assertion that the robots couldn’t possibly commit murder with “it was the same the last time and the time before that” seems more like an admission of guilt on the writer’s part than anything else. A later scene finds the Doctor and Helen discussing the appeal of the Voc robot design, which is iconic, but the fact remains that their general motivation is always in the hands of someone else messing with their programming. It was the same reason why the Ood had such diminishing returns in both Planet of the Ood and The Doctor’s Wife.
Thankfully, the robots are predominantly there to provide a bit of Doctor Who style death and destruction to a story that is much more interested in covering themes of the distribution of wealth, inequality and the collateral damage of corporate cover-ups. There’s a real-world relevance here, and Fitton deftly builds on the world originally conceived by Chris Boucher. For example, the Doctor’s first scene, coming up against some anti-corporation protesters is perhaps the closest we’ll get to Doctor Who covering the Occupy movement.
The real strength of the story and this era of Eighth Doctor adventures as a whole is Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, who gets her own “companion returns home” story in the vein of Survival or Aliens of London. Refreshingly, Liv is back home unwillingly thanks to a well-meaning but misguided decision by the Doctor. Without any family to return to, she no longer feels like she belongs among the selfish and materialistic people of Kaldor City. Liv’s tension is the emotional core of Escape from Kaldor and provides a fresh spin on the homecoming model perfected by Russell T. Davies. Whilst a former colleague from her MedTech days receives short shrift, her conflict with a figure from her past is emotionally nuanced, never feeling overblown or melodramatic. Walker and Claire Rushbrook are magnificent at capturing the deep, complicated love that resides underneath each character’s anger and disappointment. It is therefore frustrating that this aspect of the story takes so long to pick up speed, ultimately receiving an abrupt, cop-out ending.
Despite that, however, Escape from Kaldor is a story that has a lot going for it, corporate satire, some blackly comic (albeit a little noisy and hard to follow) death scenes during the robot rampage, and an affecting family relationship. It shares a major flaw with many of Doctor Who‘s similarly flawed stories of the past 55 years, in that it has so many intriguing ideas but can never really decide which element it’s most interested in, which often results in the most compelling characters getting short-changed.
NEXT TIME: The Doctor, Liv and Helen come face to face with a real-life fairytale monster amidst the Christmas markets of Salzburg…
Ravenous 2 is available now
Written By: Matt Fitton, John Dorney, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Claire Rushbrook (Tula Chenka / SV111 / SV23), Richard Popple (Kit Laver), David Rintoul (Galla Posca), Tracy Wiles (Hadway / Salma / V75), John Dorney (Sol / Security Guard / Comtech / V21 / V616), Jamie Newall (Shafranek), Carla Mendonça (Waltraud Raither / Imp 1), Kate Rawson (Inge / Imp 2), Ewan Goddard (Christophe / Krampus Runner), Robert Whitelock (Bruno / Vagabond / Priest), Siân Phillips (Pilgrim), Raad Rawi(Bishop) Kate Duchêne (Antonia Werner), Susan Hingley (Maria Werner), Pippa Haywood (Jaxa), George Asprey (Ravenous). Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs