Audio Well, that's much, much better. As you'll remember I wasn't monumentally impressed with DC2, describing it "as a group of episodes which exists because it's time for some more Eighth Doctor adventures, rather than because there are any especially interesting stories to tell". Although some of my criticisms of that previous installments still stand, especially in relation to how the companions fit within the overall superstructure of the series, this is a more entertaining set of episodes mostly because there's a greater sense of forward movement in terms of where the story arc is heading and also because River Song has effectively become a full time player bringing a whole different energy to events. Plus it's regained its sense of fun, helped immeasurably by the chemistry between the main cast. Eighth and River Song are a great fit, coming across more as equals than she ever did with Eleventh. But, and although it's true the opening installment assuages this slightly, I do wish we could return to the old four episode monthly installment structure for the Eighth Doctor last seen for the Mary Shelley stories. As was discovered in the BBC Eighth Doctor novels, having epic, universe saving adventures can become tiring after a while.
Arguably the highlight of the set largely because it sets aside galaxy destruction in favour of the Doctor investigating a problem on a small scale in the old style and has deepcut implications for his companions. As well as allowing us a window into Liv's past, there's also Helen catching up with herself which leads to the Doctor confirming my old theory about the Whoniverse that the Doctor and is companions can't change history if they're aware of the original outcome. If the Doctor had managed to stop Rose Tyler stumbling into her flat in Aliens of London he could have slipped back a year and have her visit her Mum before she was even reported missing. But as he explains, now that she's run headlong into her own future, those events are now set in stone. This fan of Koquillion is also especially appreciative of the ultimate explanation of why everything which looks strange is in fact exactly what it appears to be and not the red herring were clearly supposed to believe it is. One slight continuity question: the Doctor gifts his companions chip and pin debit cards in 1998 which seems extremely early and we know they're supposed to work because Helen uses hers for train travel.
The Eighth Piece
Ambitiously structured story redolent of some of the 90s novels from Virgin and the BBC in which Eighth utilises a very Seventh tactic for slightly more benign means in what's effectively a retelling of the Lost in Time episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Cross cutting between the eras is achieved with minimal fuss and it's never confusing, even if the ultimate reason for the mcguffin's existence never quite coalesces. Unlike the previous box, this Doctor is a much more active, investigatory figure who clearly has a lot of faith in his TARDIS to return and pick up his companions at the correct moments. Embedded in here is an utterly compelling performance from John Shrapnel as Thomas Cromwell, the cold, controlling and intellectually vital figure pictured in the Holbein paintings. Top marks to the producers for discovering a rational reason why the Doctor won't recognise River Song in the future and for keeping it just in character -- hopefully it'll be utilised in the upcoming second River Song boxed set so she can have whole conversations with Sixth and Seven as well.
The Doomsday Chronometer
Big Finish repays its loyal listeners with an audio character gag which only makes sense if you've heard to Fifth Doctor portion of Classic Doctors, New Monsters. Is it the same actor? Sounds like him. How funny. That whole section, with River and Helen flitting around time and space is an utter blast, its experimentation with the narrative structure very Moffat era and unlike anything I've heard in Big Finish before. If anything though the installment suffers from too much happening syndrome, with barely much time to quite appreciate the implications of what we're hearing before another plot thread is applied and again, the threat of the clock never quite feels properly established. Despite having River's presence, it's still very strange when she poignantly references something from the revival right in the middle of what's still technically the classic era. Her sheer awesomeness is over balancing things not least because Alex Kingston is well into the swing of audio now, her performance indivisible with the television series.
The Crucible of Souls
The Eighth Doctor's referencing of the Battle TARDISes as a programme from his past pretty much disregards the idea that all these audios are still happening in the three year Greenpeace gap at the start of the EDAs. The TARDIS Datacore has finally adopted my structure of books/comics/audios as his biographical order, I notice, so perhaps that's gained currency. Hasn't there been another occasion when a Doctor's companions mistake some other figure as being the regenerated Doctor? I'm wracking my brain, but other than the River Song story Signs, I can't think of anything in particular. Help needed. Pretty decent finale overall, which explains why Robert Bathurst was in what seemed like a pretty nothing role and he tops off what is a pretty incredible cast overall. My only fear now is that the final Doom Coalition box doesn't somehow lead in to the Time War set which is due for release this time next year. Even though we know the Eighth Doctor's fate now, there still seems to be plenty more ongoing stories to be told before all of that descends.