When we last left the Doctor, Liv, Helen and the Eleven they had all barely escaped the Ravenous with their lives. And yet, in the closing moments of Ravenous 3, we were let in on the secret of the Eleven’s true motives for saving everyone’s lives.
The most recent series of 8th Doctor adventures comes to a dramatic conclusion in Ravenous 4. With the future of the Timelords at threat from their past, the Doctor and his companions have to contend with not just the Eleven but four separate incarnations of his oldest enemy, The Master. Will everyone make it out alive?
Matt Fitton’s Whisper, which opens the set, picks up almost immediately from where the previous boxed set ended. The Doctor decides to seek help for the Eleven, as thanks for saving everyone from the Ravenous. His answer lies in a facility for mental recuperation, the only problem is that the staff and patients of said facility are all dead, with only a small band of survivors sheltering from a monster that can only hunt by sound. We’re certainly on tried and tested base-under-siege territory, with the added influence of the 2018 film A Quiet Place.
However, Whisper isn’t really about the monsters. It’s far more interested in its exploration of the tensions within the TARDIS team. This allows for some incredibly tense scenes between Nicola Walker and Mark Bonnar who have such great chemistry together. Liv has always been a more cynical and pragmatic companion than most, in sharp contrast to the Eighth Doctor’s hopeful nature. It’s a contrast that is used to great effect in Whisper, which poses questions about how dangerous the Doctor’s faith in people can be.
It’s a theme that continues through Planet of Dust to the concluding two-parter, as the Eleven continues to manipulate the Doctor into fulfilling his nefarious plot which involves locating an ancient tomb. Another of the Doctor’s enemies is on the planet, too, enslaving the locals in order to unearth the same thing. The manner of enslavement is one of his most ingenious, and dare I say it, cruel schemes and Geoffrey Beevers is excellent at playing an increasingly desperate Master approaching his final end.
Matt Fitton keeps quite a few plates spinning here, giving us a decent Master story, a traditional “Doctor and companions liberate an enslaved planet” story, whilst simultaneously adding to established Timelord mythology and setting the gears in motion for the finale. That Planet of Dust never feels weighed down, and rattles along so entertainingly is to the writer’s credit. It also ends a bleak, doom-laden cliffhanger to lead us into the dramatic conclusion.
And John Dorney’s Day of the Master is certainly dramatic. It’s a sweeping, cataclysmic Multi-Master epic which sees the Doctor, Liv and Helen each paired with a different incarnation as they race against time to defeat the Eleven and the Ravenous. These pairings are the real joy of the story and unsurprisingly, for two actors who’ve played father and daughter for years on TV, Derek Jacobi and Nicola Walker are the richest partnership. There’s a great back and forth between them, with some corking lines written by Dorney, who builds on Liv’s brutal pragmatism in a way that makes you wonder who’s really in danger.
Once the Masters are united in the second part, Dorney’s clearly having a lot of fun writing their interactions with each other. Unfortunately, some of that material is undone by the fact that the actors don’t seem to be in the same recording studio. Michelle Gomez is oddly underpowered, and her flirting with Eric Roberts (right?!) all feels rather flat compared to the crackling chemistry she had on-screen with John Simm. It’s a minor quibble because the Masters and the ambiguity over their ultimate goal is the strongest element and main attraction of the boxed set.
Which, by way of comparison, leads us to the weakest element; the Ravenous themselves. It’s always dangerous in Doctor Who to introduce creatures so terrifying that they strike fear into the hearts of the Timelords. Image of the Fendahl did a similar thing, and the main takeaway from that was that the ancient Gallifreyans may have a touch of castration anxiety. Ravenous makes the same mistake, beings that consume regeneration energy that look a little bit like clowns merely translate to audio as a rasping, creepy voice.
It speaks to a larger issue with the current Eighth Doctor ranges, since Dark Eyes, we’ve had him and his companions contend with all manner of Timelord threats. Meanwhile, his future self is mired in the Time War. As enjoyable as a lot of these stories have been, and as brilliant as the core cast are, I do long for a return to more standalone adventures.
Ravenous attempted to juggle this with the larger arc, giving us the instant classic Fairytale of Salzberg and the entertaining Kandyman comeback Sweet Salvation. And yet, some of the other stories felt like filler before the key arc moments, an arc which was flimsy and drawn out. It’s obviously a tricky balance to maintain, and Ravenous 4 is a far more exciting conclusion than the story deserved. I’m just left hoping that wherever the Doctor, Liv and Helen go next is free from Timelord influence.
Ravenous 4 is out now and available to buy on CD and digital download here.