Whether you enjoyed the 2009 special Planet of the Dead and its guest star Michelle Ryan’s turn as Lady Christina de Souza or not, it was undeniable that in a year where there was only three episodes on television, she made enough of an impact for a certain section of the audience to clamour over her appearing again in Doctor Who.
Eventually it did happen, in IDW Publishing’s space-based Eleventh Doctor comic The Eye of Ashaya in 2013, then five years after that, Big Finish dedicated one of the episodes of The Tenth Doctor Chronicles to a reunion between the Doctor and Christina. The wishes of a section of fandom were then answered when she was given her own spin-off just a few months later.
The first four episodes were released as a batch, and then the story wasn’t picked up on until last year with episodes five to seven. Was it worth the wait?
The second boxset begins with the atmosphere of a holiday episode in a 1990s soap opera as de Souza’s father Lord Alfred and his new fiancée Bunny are introduced on their ship off the coast of Zanzibar.
The glamorous Bunny tries to strike up a friendship with Christina once she appears, but her interest is not in keeping the peace with her family but in treasure contained in a shipwreck at the bottom of the seabed nearby. Christina acquires a minisub and finds some suspiciously unbleached coral – such is the effect of El Niño and rising sea temperatures – and a glistening wreck on their first dive.
The more they look, the more unusual it seems, and Christina opts to call in UNIT to investigate it further. Lord Alfred wants to seize the wreckage for himself though, and from there, we get a tale of greed, mortality, and eventually love. It’s a tragedy that reintroduces the audience to Christina’s moral position and what influences her decision-making, but also her relationships that are more important than the one with her father. That is, with adventure, treasure, and UNIT.
In need of respite, Christina seeks out her Great Aunt Eugenia, and finds herself looking for answers in the Australian outback. Has her aunt really been abducted by aliens? What secrets lie within the Jajutuma crater? And why are Sam Bishop and Jacqui McGee of UNIT on Christina’s trail?
After the events of the preceding story, UNIT are going around the globe trying to track down Lord Alfred, as well as his rogue flying bus-driving daughter. This one is a bit of a Scooby Doo mystery about rumoured aliens in an Australian crater, and brings in more crazy relatives of Christina’s. Even better this time, as aunt Eugenia is played by the legendary Siân Phillips.
There are strong performances all round, and the episode has fun with Phillips’ character. The inclusion of UNIT gives it some contemporary TV show and Big Finish relevance, while also going for an atmosphere that would fight right into a Doctor Who Magazine comic strip in 2009 or 2010. But ultimately, this is a boxset so far you’re only going to buy if you’re massively invested in Lady Christina.
The first two episodes of the second boxset are fun, but serious, and episode three ups the ante on both. It ties the most closely to the first boxset, but doesn’t require the listener to have heard the first four episodes to understand what’s happening. But it’s a crime caper that does need an attentive ear for maximum enjoyment with lots of characters, motives, and undercover work. Disguises do work in audio form, so make sure you recognise the voices.
There’s lots of double crossing, an exploration of the criminal underworld but also of the high-end circles the elite live in and the likes of Christina and UNIT sometimes have to infiltrate. To do that raises some emotional stakes, with some cleverly-plotted play-off.
The ending though is a bit like Christina’s first appearance, and can only really be described as very dry. But it sets up the possibility of a third set of episodes…
Lady Christina Series 2 is available now from Big Finish.