And two other audio stories featuring River Song (Alex Kingston) and the 10th Doctor (David Tennant). It’s especially noteworthy that this set was recorded during these months of social isolation. Each of the actors involved recorded their own part from a “studio” set up in their own homes.
Given the method of recording, it seems appropriate that much of this first story in the CD set is in the epistolary style. It’s a delightful follow-up to the 10th Doctor’s first encounter with River Song in Silence of the Library.
After receiving a “message in a bottle” from River on a piece of psychic paper — which allows for immediate response — the Doctor engages in a correspondence/conversation with this mysterious woman who claims to know him so intimately even though he’s only just met her. He’s interested in finding out who she is, without giving away “spoilers” regarding her fate at the Library.
“Who are you? How do we know each other? How do I know I can trust you?”
While most of my purchases of Doctor-Who-related audio dramas from Big Finish have been about companions whom I’ve wanted more stories about, I remain a sucker for any interactions between Doctors; I’ve been that way since I first saw The Three Doctors as a child. I enjoy the contrast of personalities and the sparks that fly whenever a given Doctor clashes with his previous or future selves.
So when I learned about this one, featuring two of the most popular Doctors from the original and new series, I just had to have it. I was hoping for a lot from the interaction, and was not disappointed.
The Cathedral of Contemplation is a unique example of trans-temporal architecture: a massive structure that rotates carousel-like outside of Time itself, with doors opening to different times and places as it spins. This makes it irresistible to the 10th Doctor (David Tennant — Dr 10, as I’ll be calling him hereafter), who is at this point traveling alone after the loss of Donna Noble and before he faces his next regeneration.
He’s welcomed at the Cathedral by the Abbess in charge; she makes some curious remarks about a “coincidence” and, even though he doesn’t recall ever being there before, tells him that he always visits when he’s in trouble. Well, “someone else, and all of them you.”
The Abbess says that the Doctor can go anywhere he wants within the Cathedral, except for the Panoramic Gallery, which is what he’s come specifically to see in hopes of picking up some new travel ideas. The door to the gallery is locked, but he’s not going to let a little thing like that stop him from getting in. He twiddles the lock with his sonic screwdriver as soon as he’s alone…
Meanwhile, Dr 4 (Tom Baker) is painting in the gallery, working on frescoes with an assistant, a young woman named Jora whom he’s met at the Cathedral. She’s run away from her military after a traumatic battle and is in hiding.
While they’re taking, some sort of strange temporal disturbance occurs at the door, and a man comes in. “Oh, hello.”
“Do I know you?” asks Dr 4.
He doesn’t recognize the visitor, but the visitor certainly recognizes him.
I won’t have time to review the full set of The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 4 before the holidays, but the story on the first CD is a Christmas tale so I’ve decided to do it separately and save the rest for later.
This story sees the return of a character from the classic Doctor Who era: that late-Victorian music hall impresario, Henry Gordon Jago.
Jago (Christopher Benjamin) first appeared in the 1977 4th Doctor’s story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” in which he and Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) assisted the Doctor in investigating the strange disappearances of several young women in the Limehouse streets in the vicinity Jago’s theatre. The two made an amusing double act, and there were jokes about a Jago and Litefoot spinoff–which never came to be on television, but did much later become a popular audio series on Big Finish. Jago and Litefoot continued their adventures in Victorian London long after the Doctor had gone on his way. The series only ended when Trevor Baxter passed on.
As this story begins, we learn that Mr. Jago is already acquainted with the Paternoster Gang. He’s on his own this holiday season, since his friend Prof. Litefoot is spending the winter in Egypt, and he’s on friendly enough terms with the Paternosters that they invite him to join them for a Christmas Eve tea.
But before tea-time, Jago–who happens to be dressed like Father Christmas when he calls at Paternoster Row–has a charitable act to perform. He intends to put on a magic show for the entertainment of the children at an orphanage and needs some specially impressive new magic tricks or illusions to use.
Strax helps out by taking him to Old Smallpiece’s Emporium. The entirely dubious Old Smallpiece happens to be the Sontaran’s favorite underworld informant, as well as a merchant of alien artefacts that are out of place in London in the 1890s.
While Mr. Jago is “well versed in alien matters,” because of his work with Prof. Litefoot, he seems rather naïve as he chooses a magician’s wand and the Top Hat of Surprise (or a “a short-range transmat,” as Strax identifies the latter).
This third audio-drama boxed set from Big Finish gives us the further adventures of Madame Vastra, a Silurian detective in late-Victorian London, with her Cockney wife Jenny and their Sontaran manservant Strax. I was hoping to get this review done before the newest set, Heritage 4 arrived, but then the package from the UK was in my mailbox a couple of days, so I’d better get moving.
As with the Heritage 1 and 2 sets, there are three separate mystery stories, each on its own CD.
As suggested by the title, this first story has a family theme. The focus is primarily on Jenny’s estranged family and background, but there are conversations about the family she has now at Paternoster Row as well the blood relatives she left behind years ago.
A mystery involving lions and crocodiles in London leads Vastra to investigate the sewers beneath the city, when things suddenly turn personal. She ends up kidnapped and chained in a circus sideshow exhibit. She’s not alone; also on exhibit are other human “freaks” and a blue, four-armed alien lady.
“There are no monsters here,” Vastra declares to her new alien friend.
“Personally,” the alien responds, “I have always found humans terrifying.”
There’s just a hint about Vastra’s personal history too, indicating that this is not the first time she’s been exhibited in chains by ignorant 19th-century humans.
The Curse of Yig was a collaborative effort of H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop. Bishop provided the idea of a pioneer in the Oklahoma Territory who was terrified of snakes. Lovecraft recrafted this basic concept, making it a psychological horror made manifest–and incidentally adding a new god to his pantheon: Yig, “an odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature… not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children.”
But those foolish enough to harm the children of Yig (that is, snakes) could expect to feel the wrath of his terrible curse.
The story is one that I’d read some years ago, but not one of the Lovecraft stories that I could say I was extremely familiar with. I mean, I knew who Yig was when I first saw that Dark Adventure Radio Theatre was planning to do an adaptation of The Curse of Yig for their next audio drama, but could remember very little about who had been cursed, or why.
Listening to this new DART adventure before re-reading the text, I’m struck by how closely this adaptation has stuck to the structure of the original story, and I make note of the changes the DART guys have made to allow for the very different sensibilities of people nearly a century later.
The Horror at Red Hook was written in 1925, during that period when H.P. Lovecraft was living in Brooklyn after his marriage to Sonia Greene. New York City came as a culture shock to this retiring Providence boy, especially given the diverse ethnicity of immigrants who came from all over the world. The story expresses something of his suspicion of foreign people who didn’t look like the kind of people he was familiar with, enacting odd customs and speaking in languages he didn’t understand, as well as reflects his general, personal unhappiness with his surroundings.
Lovecraft’s original story is about a man named Thomas Malone, a New York police detective who has been sent to recover in a rural part of Rhode Island after a traumatic experience involving the collapse of a brick building and the deaths of a number of people in the slums of Red Hook. He can’t even abide the sight of a brick building.
In this Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptation, Malone (voiced by Sean Branney) is under a psychiatrist’s care during his enforced stay in the country. His story is told as part of his psychotherapy; the doctor urges him to speak of the horrors connected to that experience–everything he’s tried so hard to forget.
Malone tells the doctor that he wouldn’t understand. He lacks imagination.
“To hint to an unimaginative man of a horror beyond all human conception, a horror of houses, and blocks, and cities diseased with evil dragged from Elder worlds… I’d be pacing inside a padded cell instead strolling country lanes.”
But of course the doctor insists on hearing it, and Malone’s story of what happened in Red Hook unfolds in flashback.
This second audio-drama boxed set from Big Finish carries on the adventures of detective Madame Vastra and her assistants as presented in The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 1.
Dining With Death
The first episode is noteworthy in that it’s written by Dan Starkey, who plays Strax.
Even back in the 1890s, Earth was a common meeting-place for various aliens, being both an out-of-the-way galactic backwater and neutral territory. When representatives of two great empires, attempting to negotiate a peace settlement, are blown up along with half the restaurant where they were having dinner, Madame Vastra ends up agreeing to act as a facilitator for further diplomatic talks–which will take place at her home.
Madame Vastra, the prehistoric Silurian lizard-lady and Victorian detective, made her initial appearance on Doctor Who along with her cheeky Cockney wife Jenny and the battle-loving but lovable Sontaran Strax in the episode A Good Man Goes to War. We first meet them as old friends of the Doctor’s, which for a long time led me to believe I’d missed an important episode.
The trio appeared in several subsequent episodes during Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor, as well as in Peter Capaldi’s introductory story. I know I wasn’t the only fan who wanted them to have their own spinoff series, solving bizarre mysteries on the gaslight streets of 1890s London, but a period costume drama with science-fiction style special effects, plus two of the three stars in heavy alien makeup every week was more than the BBC was willing to budget for.
But these expensive production difficulties disappear with audio drama. Big Finish has done four boxed sets of stories under the title of “Heritage,” featuring Neve McIntosh, Dan Starkey, and Catrin Stewart as Vastra and her companions. The first set contains three adventures and a bonus disk.
One of my earliest reviews on this blog was of the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s film version of Lovecraft’s story. HPLHS has returned to The Whisperer in Darkness a second time for the latest episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre.
This audio play is especially noteworthy in that it’s been produced, rehearsed, and recorded during these months that much the world has been shut down by the COVID-19 virus; since in-person meetings were impossible, the work was done by a number of individuals in separate locations.
While the film version of The Whisperer in Darkness expanded on Lovecraft’s original short story, adding new characters and a third act after Albert Wilmarth’s panicked exit from the Akeley farmhouse, this audio adaptation is trimmed down, even for a DART drama.
Wilmarth’s correspondence with a man who claims to have proof that old legends of flying creatures from other worlds living in the remote hills of Vermont are not only true, but that these beings still exist, as well as his subsequent trip to Vermont are told via “found footage.” Most of the recordings are in the form of wax Dictaphone cylinders dated from the winter of 1927 through September 1928.
At midwinter of 1921, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was something of a curmudgeonly and semi-reclusive young man, living in Providence with his two doting aunts Annie and Lillian and having no desire ever to live or even visit anyplace else. Unhappily employed as an editor and reviser of other people’s writing, while his own macabre stories in the style of Poe, Dunsany, or Machen were repeatedly rejected by the pulp magazines, he was afflicted with a frustrating case of writer’s block. As Christmas drew near, he rejected the friendly holiday overtures of his aunts, neighbor, and local acquaintances with a surly “Bah!” or even a “Humbug!”
But on Christmas Eve, he was visited by three spirits of the Past, Present, and Future…
Such is the conceit of the framing story for The Solstice Carol.
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre’s Yuletide audioplay is an anthology of three of Lovecraft’s shorter stories, all connected by a parody of Charles Dickens’ oft-retold tale that places Lovecraft in the Ebenezer Scrooge role.
What the spirits show Lovecraft isn’t the True Meaning of Christmas, but it does help him to find the inspiration to write in his own style and teaches him how to be a better and more generous person.
The story, narrated by DART guest announcer Barnaby Dickens (relation to the great Victorian novelist unknown) begins with:
“Old Mason Farley was dead as doornail, as the saying goes…”