Big Finish Review: The Moons of Vulpana

Following on from The Monsters of Gokroth, The Moons of Vulpana continues the latest trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor and his new companion but old friend, Mags, played by Jessica Martin.

Mags has been having trouble controlling her wolf-side and so the Doctor decides to take her back to her home-planet of Vulpana. But it isn’t the same world she has vague memories of. This is Vulpana at an earlier stage when four-wolf-packs ruled the planet and it is heralded as the planets golden age. But when the Doctor arrives, things start to go wrong…

The cover for The Moons of Vulpana
The cover for The Moons of Vulpana

Written by Emma Reeves, the political intrigue and drama elements of the piece is evident from the beginning as she wastes no time in planting the Doctor and Mags into trouble. Rescued by the Pack of Two-Moons, some of Mag’s ancient ancestors, she quickly finds herself thrown into a royal family without the Doctor to help.

Reeves goes to a great extent to show us how capable a companion Mags actually is, not only does she keep two of the Royal Brothers at bay but she manages to cope with the complex social structure of this world and thwart the villain. But the biggest thing she does is learns to control the wolf-side of her, something that the Doctor is trying to teach her. She doesn’t need to control it when she has been doing it all along.

Reeves also manages to give the Werewolf genre something new to bite into. I’m quite a fan of werewolf movies and television shows but very rarely do they give us something completely brand new. Reeves manages that here, imagining what a society of werewolves might look like. She adds a lot of history, pathos and depth to the planet of Vulpana, a name that had only been coined by Captain Cooke in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. While he used the name lightly, had the Captain travelled to the planet in this story, he might not have been able to take Mags away with him.

The Moons of Vulpana also works as a story of two halves. The opening two episodes are almost comical. The two brothers, Issak and Tob are trying to impress Mags and have a ‘mines-bigger-than-his’ attitude about it. While some might find this brotherly feud over a girl charming, Mags isn’t one of them and makes quick work of turning down their various advances. Issak and Tob are less friendly to their other brother, Jax who Mags tries to bring into the fold a little more during the first two episodes.

The last two episodes really switch tracks, going from light-comedy in the opening episodes to something quite dark. If you know how historical royal families worked or have seen any programmes about that kind of palace-drama and intrigue, you might see some of the things in the second half coming.

Reeves makes a few comedic moments out of the idea of the royal family interbreeding and how back in history they would only sometimes allow princes to marry commoners, something far more common-place these days. But that doesn’t stop some of this from being incredibly amusing! And Mags gets a great line about not being shallow when the Doctor asks her if she is going to marry one of the princes, even if she has only just met them.

The irony of the line can’t go unmissed as a few of the Doctor’s companions have done that completely out of the blue. It’s a great line and a great moment!

Jessica Martin and Sylvester McCoy enjoy the recording for this new trilogy
Jessica Martin and Sylvester McCoy enjoy the recording for this new trilogy

With the Doctor having sustained a bite in the opening moments of episode one, episode two is quite a Doctor-lite instalment for reasons which will become apparent in episode 3. As a result, a lot of the drama falls to Jessica Martin who rises to the occasion brilliantly. Not only is she becoming a great companion, but she is also proving herself to be a formidable entry into the world of the Seventh Doctor and this is against characters like Ace, Hex and Klein!

I hope this trilogy of adventures won’t be the only stories for the Seventh Doctor and Mags because if this story is anything to go by, they deserve to stay together for many years yet. And anyone considering picking this trilogy up should do simply because Jessica Martin is soooo good as well as the stories.

Sylvester McCoy is excellent here too and puts in another formidable performance right from the word go. The writers have picked up on what a great chemistry McCoy and Martin have and have given them some great moments together. They bounce off each other perfectly.

McCoy gets some great moments here, some are funny which he pitches perfectly and some are a little more manipulative in keeping with his character. A couple of times you think that he has left without Mags but he manages to get back into her good graces with ease. I think the best way to describe McCoy here is charming. He is just utterly charming here.

The Moons of Vulpana also boasts great performances from the guest cast. Peter Bankole and Sean Knopp as Issak and Tobb are really funny together, seemingly trying to outdo one another in the recording booth as well as the finished audio adventure! Irfan Shamji is a great foil for Mags in the role of Jax. Very much in the background for the first two episodes, Jax concerns the major twist in the second half and he puts in a great performance. You know he really does care for Mags but he would kill anyone who got in his way. Hopefully, we hear more from Shamji in the future.

Rounding out the guest cast is Beth Goddard as Doctor Barton who works as an interesting foil for the Doctor as well as providing a narrative for people who are trying to rise up through the ranks to always meet opposition. Nimmy March as Ulla also makes for an interesting addition to the cast of characters. While you are never sure what side she is on, she does the right thing in the end and March puts in a terrific performance throughout.

Overall, The Moons of Vulpana is another strong entry into this years’ Big Finish releases. The script from Emma Reeves is full of enjoyable little Easter-eggs and subtle nods to the wider Doctor Who universe as well as court-dramas like Victoria and Reign. On hand in the director’s seat once more is Samuel Clemmons who again proves to be a formidable newcomer to the world of Big Finish directing. He has assembled a formidable cast and gotten the best out of them without letting the ball drop in terms of storytelling.

I’m excited to hear how this trilogy will close out in next month’s An Alien Werewolf in London and thanks to the great amount of focus she gets here, I’m hoping it’s not the last we will hear from our favourite Vulpanan, Jessica Martin!


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