What's it about: Welcome to the Forbidden World. This world has a secret. The problem is that no-one can remember what it is. Time is broken here. Those trapped here must live the same day over and over – forming alliances, lying to each other, trying to escape. Welcome to the Forbidden World.
Archaeological Adventuress: I love the idea of a boyfriend being dumped on Benny without her even realising who he is. Because of the nature of the time jumps on this world she has already had a relationship with this man one minute and she doesn't know who he is the next. If there's one thing that Benny can't resist it is a mysterious city. She realises that sometimes you just have to live in the moment, forget about all the baggage (this range seems to have done a good job of that of late) and just go for it. Does Benny question things too much?
Oh Wicked: Something about Sophie Aldred just riles me on audio. I think she is a perfectly wonderful human being and massively positive ambassador for the TV series even at a time when it wasn't popular to do so. I just don't think she is particularly convincing behind the microphone and that is something of a problem when audio is the only medium I get to experience her in these days. There were moments on television where she would overplay her scenes (but to be fair next to Sylvester McCoy she was always going to be comparably subdued) and have trouble with her florid dialogue but since her transfer to audio it feels as though she has a need to emphasise every emotion to make up for the fact that we cannot see any kind of body language. It doesn't help that more often than not Ace is characterised to an extreme, how people remember her being rather than how she actually was. Is this a decent showing for the character? Not really, this is the period of New Ace, the bolshie, violent, gun toting version of the character who was hyper protective of the Doctor whilst hating him and hyper sensitive around Benny whilst loving her. She was an anathema, both vulnerable and violent. Aldred is given plenty of opportunity over emote in this story and she enjoys the opportunity...but I have to admit they were my least favourite moments. Ace is frustrated because Benny doesn't trust her to get things done on her own. It makes her mad because she thinks she has done enough already to prove herself. She wonders if she is useless at getting on with people. All they seem to do is row and when they do try and make up it is painfully awkward. Bernice needs a reason to trust her because she has let her down so many times in the past. Ace resented Benny because it was always her and the Doctor against the universe and then she turned up and all of a sudden Ace was the weak link, the stroppy kid with two parents. Whatever she did wasn't good enough anymore.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'That's the thing about a blank canvas. You can paint anything you want on it.'
'Real life is cumulative.'
Great Ideas: There are some planets the universe just no longer want to think about: the forbidden world. Time is broken on this world and it is suffering from time jumps. You keep living the same events, making the same mistakes. The only advantage they have is the cameras are recording what has already happened, if they play those cameras back they will hopefully try and figure out what has been happening and figure a way to change events. A time bomb has been exploded. The world has been time locked, it should be sealed away inside a space time envelope, wiping it out of history. Removing a world from existence isn't easy so whoever did it had a very good reason. Is art universal or something that is culturally defined and appreciated? There is a riveting discussion about power, how it is life and knowledge, how in the wrong hands it is a bad thing and usually the nicest people are those that lack it. Power is strength. Science works by testing theories, modifying your theory and testing again. The city seems to be the place where all the answers are but it is also the place that everybody fears going. Benny explains extremely eloquently about how fiction details love as something that can happen in an economic space of time. In five minutes you can see two people meet, share experiences and fall for each other. But in real life that takes place over a much longer period of time.
Audio Landscape: What an absolute nightmare for director Scott Handcock to assemble, so expertly handled. The introductory scene pretty much sums up the rest of the story in a nutshell, non linear madness overlapping to make a dramatic statement. If you listened to this story in the correct order it would still be an interesting listen because the material is very strong but the way the narrative is turned into glass, thrown on the floor and shattered into a million pieces and then the separate pieces examined out of order is quite extraordinary. It means you have to work at putting the pieces of the puzzle together, you have to try and remember important pieces of information and you have to put in more effort than usual into the assembling of this narrative.
Isn't it Odd: What is the point of setting up this story as a mystery with a whopper of a revelation in the last third about its location if the Big Finish website is going to spoil that twist with the title of the last story of the set? Sometimes they really do shoot themselves in the foot.
Standout Scene: The idea of the city sparking back into life with its battered and bruised history behind it is a terrifying notion. What is the name of this planet? What terrible secrets are hidden in the city? As soon as that Dalek heartbeat kicked in at the climax I had chills all over.
Result: I have something a little embarrassing to admit. I was listening to music before I put Random Ghosts on and I had my iPhone set to shuffle and when I pressed play on this story I listened to four tracks before I realised that I wasn't hearing the narrative being told in the right order. And that's because for one time only that is the entire point of Random Ghosts. It is the ultimate puzzle book audio, told out of order in a very clever way to keep its secrets as long as possible. It's a story where the way it has been constructed is as important and as gripping as the content itself. The story as a whole is dramatically very satisfying but individual scenes had the ability to take my breath away, discussing intelligent points powerfully. Random Ghosts is near flawless in what it is trying to achieve...and that is to hold off from letting the audience know the name of the forbidden world for as long as possible. It achieves that by assaulting the audience with gripping relationship drama and unforgettable performances. The weak link (as in The Revolution where the Doctor Who elements ruined the party) is Ace, who is more like a stroppy kid than ever and as a result comes with a typically unconvincing performances from Sophie Aldred. However Random Ghosts compensates with another stunning examination of Benny and another powerhouse turn from Lisa Bowerman. Aside from The Jigsaw War I cannot think of another story that has taken such a scattershot approach to its storytelling and as such this is a unique story that takes a risk and succeeds. It's best to remain spoiler free so the final scene has the impact it is going for but even if you know the title of the next story Random Ghost still delivers magnificently: 9/10