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Reviewed: Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Adventures — Audacity

As of writing this review, social media is awash with the expected snark, speculation, suspicion, simpering, snipping, and cynicism over the new Doctor’s new, new companion. It therefore feels pertinent, and positively cricket, to assess one of the new companions to the Big Finish Doctor Who collective. I aim to buck social trends and provide no snark, speculation, suspicion, simpering, snipping, or cynicism to an exploration of Lady Audacity Montague (Jaye Griffiths) in her debut release, aptly named Audacity.

Audacity contains two stories (the second in two-parts) that feature the new adventurer. The story is set in the Charley Pollard era (minus Charley beyond a brief cameo). As such, we go back, way back – well before the big old Time Wars and fearsome Dark Eyes. The first story, The Devouring, is a stand-alone written by Lisa McMullin which introduces listeners to the Lady Audacity and the world she really doesn’t belong to. The two-part follow-up, The Great Cyber-War (written by Tim Foley) takes Audacity away from familiar surroundings and into a rather brutal adventure beyond her expectation (yet with rather familiar trappings for the listener).

As a snap overview, the Audacity collection gives listeners something fresh for their palette with more than a hint of something distinctly familiar. To this end, especially for the eager Doctor Who nerdle (which I suspect is 95% of its listeners), there is a healthy balance of something borrowed and something new.

Once again, there’s a sense that Big Finish has provided what the television show seems distinctly reluctant to try (and feels weaker for not doing so): the truly fish-out-of-water companion. Structurally speaking, all the Doctor Who TARDIS on-screen companions since 2005 (apart from Jack and River) are foreign to the wild cosmic and temporal escapades that are the lived-in experience of the titular Time Lord. However, be they a Rose, a Rory, a Dan, or a Bill, they all come from a familiar background to the audience: they are totems of our contemporary world. Pre-2005, we had tough highlanders, smart savages, snooty Time Lords, screaming Victorians, future boffins, and Adric (I have a soft spot for Adric but can never resist an Adric punch-down). Big Finish has long been keen to explore the potential of having companions who are taken out of different times — and spaces — that gives the range a variety of characters and dynamics with the Doctor. The television show could really (re)learn the benefits of this approach. The character of Lady Audacity Montague is another well written, very well cast contribution to the Big Finish Doctor Who canon and her Regency England background gives her a different perspective on the adventures that the audience can share. As actor Jaye Griffiths notes in the behind-the-scenes interviews, there’s something very interesting about playing a character confronting technology that would be familiar to a contemporary Earthling (such as the listener) but is foreign to someone from centuries past. What makes Lady Audacity more curious is that she is a fish out of water everywhere. She is a very lonely character – not despondent nor lost, but just too different from the ideals and social expectations of her society. She is a woman who is righteous, bold, and kind, born in an era which trucks little with her modern sensibilities. In this sense, she makes a fascinating counterpart to the Doctor who is themselves a very discordant member of their own world, our world, and, well, everywhere.

In terms of storytelling, The Devouring is a traditional Big Finish Doctor Who tale that provides a solid playground to introduce a new companion. The story is nicely paced and carries the usual high production values of the range. While an all-consuming monster feels nothing new to range, the threat is more the undercurrent that propels the story’s other dramatic elements (think of Rose for Billie Piper). As the threat grows, the tone of the story swings amiably back and forth from comedy to conflict. It is an enjoyable base for listeners to experience and understand the nature of Lady Audacity.

The Great Cyber-War is a different beast, whereupon Audacity is a component of an ensemble cast, rather than a leading focus. This is the story which I think will draw the interest of all you dear nerdles as it attempts a light-retcon to make better sense of the 1970s and 1980s Cybermen. The plot expands on the Great Cyber-War, a throwaway bit of future history deployed in 1974’s Revenge of the Cybermen. As a historical prequel to that story, The Great Cyber-War returns us to Voga, the planet of gold, and the 1970’s Cybermen (wonderfully articulated by Nick Briggs). It is a dark tale that reinforces the threat of the Cybermen, with a high death-count and some brutal cyber-tactics. There are a few nice little nods to continuity and a rethinking on the Cyberman allergy to gold that popped up in the ’70s and continued onwards to the end of the classic era. Arguably unnecessary and nuanced, I feel its address does have its benefits. The wonderful absurdity of Ace taking out a squad of Cybermen in Silver Nemesis with her gold coins took the cyber-allergy beyond its respiratory origins. Addressing this ailment does return some cyber-credibility to our silver foes. On top of this, there’s a nice little nod/explanation to the growing emotional edge that Cybermen started to exhibit in the same story that continued throughout the 1980s. Again, unnecessary? Maybe to some, but I find these small interrogations of canonical inconsistencies enriches both its characters and history.

My only criticism with The Great Cyber-War is while it is spiritually very much a follow up to Revenge of the Cybermen, its tone and escapades feel a little at odds with the spirit of that show. It has more of a new series vibe than classic Who. We live in a different era of production values and storytelling, so a sense of difference is inevitable; however, I found it hard to picture the Vogans as the race from Voga (an issue raised in the behind-the-scenes), and the body-bursting Cybermats take the brutality of the silver giants to a new level. That said, there are many pleasures to this approach – there are anecdotes told by characters in the story which add to the sense of adversary to the Cybermen. The sort of depth you’d never get in old Doctor Who. Given Revenge’s Cybermen have often been criticised for seeming a little weak and bland, this story re-invigorates their threat.

Overall, an excellent set of stories gifting a new companion that is, so far, proving to be a treat. With McGann as comfortable as ever, delivering lines with his usual gentle cadence, there is little to about Audacity not to recommend to all you nerdles. I’d even go so far to recommend Adric got himself a copy, but he’s dead. So thankfully there’s that.

The Eighth Doctor Adventures: Audacity is out now from Big Finish.

James McLean

Reviewed: Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Adventures — Audacity

by James McLean time to read: 5 min
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