What's it about: On the other side of the galaxy a mining company is exploiting the already unstable planet of Syra for every precious mineral it contains. River Song is attempting to save the native people. She needs the Doctor’s help, but she also knows he mustn’t yet discover her true identity. The final confrontation sees the Doctor once again face his enemy the Eleven in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Syra and the genocide of its inhabitants.
Physician, Heal Thyself: He's always one for trying new experiences and the Doctor is up for a ride on the 'six legs' beasts to get them from A to B. The Magician, the Spiv or the Geography teacher? Those are the three incarnations of the Doctor that River is intimately acquainted with. There is some discussion about River meeting the Doctor in the wrong order but this is kind of old hat now. I would have just gotten along with telling the story featuring both of them. Does anybody buying these CDs need the explanation? Surely they are au fait with River's rasion d'etre? The Doctor has tasted the powers of the Gift and they terrify him, they aren't something that he wants to exploit. The power to destroy worlds is not a gift.
Liv Chenka: Finally a story where Paul McGann and Nicola Walker get some substantial time together that reminds us why the Doctor and Liv are made for each other. There is something about the blending of his excitement and her deadpan humour that really gels. Liv had to save six planets before she had a go on the sonic screwdriver. Her dad used to take her climbing to the mountains around Kaldor, saying they should rely less on robots and focus on humans remembering the things they can do. Thinking that the Doctor is insane, Liv needs assuring that walking into a volcano that is being drilled full of holes is the most sensible option. She's happy to be a distraction to get the Eleven out of the way so the Doctor can investigate what he is up to. Her confrontation with the Eleven is something to behold, she really is quite scary when she wants to be.
Helen Sinclair: Unpaid hired help?
The Only Water in the Forest: This is my first experience of River Song on audio, having purchased her set but not getting around to reviewing it yet. I was very excited for Big Finish when I heard they had secured the services of Alex Kingston and were going to be continuing the adventures of River. Not because her character is a personal favourite of mine (to my mind she only truly worked as a character in her first and last stories on TV) but because it was going to generate a lot of interest and possibly a lot of dinero. She has a huge flurry of fans that could potentially sample Big Finish on the strength of River's presence, especially teaming her up with classic Doctors (which I have to admit is quite an exciting idea). Aside from the fact that New Series elements bleeding into Big Finish brings them bang up to date, it is nice to think that we will experience stories written for the character that aren't by her creator. I personally feel that Moffat became a little too obsessed with the character (series six was her absolute nadir, she was part of the DNA of the season in a very destructive way) and that less is most definitely more. One exciting appearance a year is far more anticipatory than an entire season that is saturated with her convoluted timeline. Certainly The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead introduced her character extremely well (and could have been a thrilling one off) and The Husbands of River Song saw her functioning without the constant smugness, violence and sex that became a staple of her character. If Big Finish can focus on those two stories and how she genuinely aided those narratives without them being entirely about her we will be in excellent shape.
She's done so many things in her time but she has never done them for anything as vulgar as money. Is that true? That doesn't strike me as being completely honest...but then River doesn't strike me as being an entirely honest character either. She's always been stepped in mystery and deception. She's escaped the Storm cage, the Bloody Tower and the Marquis de Sade's private boudoir. If you think River is an entirely independent woman when she is away from the Doctor then think again, she can be heard playing her loves me/he loves me not and longing for a TARDIS. This girl never goes anywhere without her diary. River remembers some outrageous parties in the 1920s. She added a weather app and subspace communications to her vortex manipulator, she's been upgrading. For River this is set not long before The Wedding of River Song because she mentions their upcoming nuptials. Mind you weren't they married in an incredible hurry? She's vicious when she wants to be, attacking the Eleven with Venusian Martian Arts. River knows she mustn't meet the Doctor in this incarnation but she develops a fine rapport with Helen and Liv.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'We have our ultimate weapon...'
Great Ideas: It's a good five minutes featuring the Eleven, Caleera and River before the Doctor and his assistants arrive. In quite and exciting way the story manages to bubble along without them, proof that these characters have been sufficiently developed to hold up a story.
Audio Landscape: Horn blowing, screams, a detector beeping, drilling into the planet, the Players, bubbling vats.
Musical Cues: There was a gorgeous musical cue that reminded me of River's theme from The Big Bang when she was explaining how she came to be on Syra.
Standout Scene: Did the Doctor really toss Caleera in a volcano? There would have been a time when that sort of action would have provoked some serious discussion. I guess with what the Doctor will become in his next incarnation, this is baby steps in that direction.