It’s been a little while since we’ve heard from the latest TARDIS team of The Sixth Doctor, Constance Clarke and Flip, with Static having been released in 2017. It’s a shame because they are one of my favourite audio teams, so I greeted the news that they were returning for an audio-trilogy, with glee earlier in the year and Cry of the Vultriss is a nice way to kick things off.
The opening moments might be a little confusing for those listeners who aren’t familiar with Constance Clarke or what happened in the previous story Static. I believe I’m right in saying she was killed, brought back the way the Static brought the dead back to life, with all her memories intact, just in a cloned body. So Cry of the Vultriss does continue with Constance trying to get to grips with her new state of mind. Of course, she has to put aside any worries about that for the next few hours as they find themselves on the planet Cygia-Rema and at the mercy of the Vultriss, bird-like aliens about to meet aliens for the first time as they have requested an audience with the Ice Warriors to make an alliance with them.
At first glance, Cry of the Vultriss does feel like a pretty standard affair, the type of Doctor Who story that’s been told loads of times: the Doctor arrives on an alien world, he and his companions are separated from the TARDIS and they have to solve a problem on the planet before they can get back to it. But on reflection, Cry of the Vultriss has a lot more going on. Amongst the very well realised Vultriss thanks to the brilliant sound design from Simon Power, author, Darren Jones makes sure to give Cygia-Rema a completely alien feel. It’s a rare planet in Doctor Who where everything feels completely alien, allowing the Doctor and companions to really shine, taken away from anything familiar.
Jones also makes sure to keep things interesting by giving us a rather unstable political situation on the planet. While other stories would have been content giving us a tyrannical leader a band of rebels fighting the good fight, here though, things aren’t quite that black-and-white, with neither side really being the good-guys things are much more grey and it does sort of force the Doctor and Companions to decide who they can trust on both sides and which members of society are just and who aren’t.
This is helped along by two people who think they are the rightful rulers of the planet who are both equally flawed and both feel like they are driven more by personal desires to rule the planet rather than being the right people for the job. It all does make for a nice change to the good vs evil plotline.
It was also nice that Jones gave both Constance and Flip a lot to do. Both companions are very different from one another, Constance is from the 1940s, while Flip is every-bit a modern companion. While it would have been easy for the writers to make them argue constantly, instead, they use their differences to make the best friends and despite not having many stories together, they have come to get something of a sisterly-bond, with Constance taking Flip under her wing, teaching her how to grow up, while Flip is teaching Constance how to let loose a little and have some fun.
Jones makes the right choice in throwing them both into the unstable environment and while Constance does understand the politics involved as the battle is similar to WW2 where everyone has to deal with different moral questions. It’s a situation that Constance does understand more than Flip and while doesn’t cause conflict between the pair, you can see Flip struggling to understand Constance’s outlook. I really like though how Constance is a much quieter companion, Flip is loud and gets stuck in the action, every-bit a modern companion as she has taken inspiration from the likes of Ace and Tegan, but Constance reminds me of characters like Barbara, Zoe and Liz. She listens to everything going on, takes a moment to breathe and forms her opinions. Both companions work brilliantly and I hope this trilogy isn’t going to be the last we hear from them.
The Sixth Doctor works well here too. Colin Baker quickly became one of my favourite Big Finish Doctors as well as one of my favourite on-screen incarnations thanks to the audio drama’s he’s been in and he is on fantastic form here. He brings the Doctor to life so easily and works brilliantly with Constance and Flip. I always look forward to an audio drama with him in!
Cry of the Vultriss also blends the classic and modern eras together perfectly with the inclusion of the Ice Warriors. Here they are much more like the ones we saw in Curse of Peladon, where they are much more diplomatic and looking to make peace with the universe at large. Of course, as mentioned in the Peladon stories there are Warriors who don’t believe in their race being peaceful and this is where Adele Lynch’s Vextyr comes into play. Lynch previously played the Ice Warrior Empress in Empress of Mars and she plays a similar character here. It’s an element of the story that plays with both eras of the show and one that shows how well they can work together when handled by someone with a strong story.
Cry of the Vultriss is another strong entry into Big Finish’s output. It kicks off the new Sixth Doctor trilogy well and Darren Jones manages to pack a lot into the two-hour runtime. It isn’t a story without its faults, there are moments that feel much longer than they should be and moments in cliffhangers which drag on a little too long. But they are just little nitpicks in an overall strong and interesting entry to the Sixth Doctor’s era!