Having a digital copy of The Beast of Kravenos thrust upon me, my virtual reviewer hands struggling to contain the digital multitudes of police box-shaped zeroes and ones, I was suddenly slapped in the face by the backhand of enlightenment. Yes! This review could soothe some of my past Big Finishy niggles!
What niggles? Well, these niggles pretty much form two junctures of analysis. My first juncture commences with an anecdote that itself is a commencement; specifically, a train ride to London. To complement this rather tedious train trip, I purchased The Companion Chronicles: The Mahogany Murderers, the first Big Finish story to reunite Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin as the iconic Victorians Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago from classic television story The Talons of Weng-Chiang. By sheer fruity coincidence, these pairs of actors and characters play a central role in The Beast of Kravenos, alongside Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, and John Leeson as the Doctor, Romana, and K-9.
In terms of analysis, having listened to Jago and Litefoot’s Big Finish debut, and knowing that the popular pair had spawned their own series of audio adventures, I was keen to see how their performances might have progressed since The Mahogany Murderers. I will be brutal – I didn’t feel that Christopher Benjamin had totally found Jago for that first story. Admittedly, it was a good three-decade distance from when he’d originally played the character on television, so I assign no criticism of him as an actor, I just felt the nuances of Jago’s intonations weren’t quite there.
My second juncture wasn’t so far removed from my first, albeit there was no tedious train involved. Mr. Baker’s return to Doctor Who via Big Finish was an unexpected coup. I had listened to his early Fourth Doctor Adventures, Destination: Nerva and Trail of the White Worm, with mixed feelings. The Light at the End was my next encounter with Baker’s audio-Doctor and again, I wasn’t truly feeling the Fourth Doctor in Baker’s performance. Tom Baker has a powerful voice for radio, but he says so much physically as well. In fact, Benjamin could be considered the same – a powerful voice, but equally a very distinctive visual actor. A radio performance for both thespians robs them of their rich spectacle. In any regard, The Beast of Kravenos would be an opportunity to see how Baker’s Doctor had changed since his early adventures.
So, there we have it: I was entering The Beast of Kravenos as a deplorable critic; hawkishly listening to this tale with hopes of defying previous ponderous expectations.
First, some belated backstory: The Doctor and Romana (the second, no less) are in Victorian London with trusty side-kick K9, investigating a mysterious spate of burglaries in London with the help of Professor Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago. However, things become a little too personal as Jago becomes embroiled in the mystery, quite literally, tooth and claw…
The Beast of Kraven was written by veteran Who writer, Justin Richards, an author I’ve often enjoyed. On top of this, regardless of these anal-analytical junctures of nuance, I was very excited by the central cast. I was even more impressed to realise one of the original cast members from The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Police Constable Quick, had also made a reappearance, actor and all (with a promotion to boot). All in all, this makes for solid grounds for a good adventure… and it is just that.
It’s not a long tale, nor is it complex, but it is fun – and that is what I think Richards was aiming for. This gentle, humorous trip into action and adventure seems to resonate with the cast as well – particularly Mr. Baker, and his Doctor seems in unusually good spirits for a Season 18 story. All the characters have a good role to play. Leeson’s K9 gets a solid spotlight, with the electronic dog neither appearing too ludicrous nor silly. You can attribute this success to both script and delivery. Lalla Ward has possibly less to do than the rest, though her scenes with Litefoot carry an air of comradery. She also does a great “running down the street” performance – one of the best I’ve heard in Big Finish. Litefoot is perfectly played and turns in a great little performance.
So, what about Baker and Benjamin? The Doctor and Jago? Well, I still think both actors lose a little on audio, simply because they are both such visual artists. Baker is a very unpredictable performer, and despite having the perfect voice for radio, you can’t help feel you lose something trying to visualise his inherently unpredictable expressions. Nevertheless, I found him very suited to this story – however, there were a couple of lines of dialogue that felt a little clunky in their attempt to capture his eccentricity. “Woosh, woosh!” just didn’t hit the mark for me (whether scripted or improvised). Nevertheless, the Doctor’s good humour and affection for his friends come across beautifully in this piece – you certainly feel the Fourth Doctor’s affection for Litefoot and Jago, just as in The Talons of Weng-Chiang.
And Benjamin? A perfect performance as Jago. I think in his debut tale he hadn’t quite found “Jago” yet. While Jago may seem to be a buffoon of simple bluster and hyperbole, there is a certain intonation and delivery that makes him unique, and I suspect it took Benjamin a little time to rebuild that character after 30 years. In this story, I felt this was the Jago I remembered and Benjamin brings much glorious humour to the story.
With Ed Stoppard as Sir Nicholas and Conrad Asquith as Inspector Quick, this is a good ensemble piece. The story is simple, but it is enjoyable. This allows space for the script to breathe and the cast to enjoy their roles. The extras expand on the actor’s interplay and their perspectives on the story and its legacy. The Beast of Kravenos gets a recommendation for me. With a full cast like this, I suppose that’s hardly surprising. You’ll Krave more.
… I beast let myself out.
The Beast of Kravenos is out now from Big Finish; £10.99 as a CD or £8.99 as a download.