The Diary of River Song Series 9: New Recruit
Directed by Ken Bently
Starring Alex Kingston (River Song), Daisy Ashford (Dr. Liz Shaw), Tim Treloar (The Doctor), and Jon Culshaw (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart)
With the Doctor away, River has shown up to play in the latest The Diary of River Song box set.
“The Blood Woods”
Liz never asked for an assistant. That was the Brigadier’s call, but he’s not letting her wiggle out of getting one either. For their first case, Liz and River have been asked to look into a strange death. The victim was only twenty-two years old, but he died of extreme old age, and it’s up to Liz and River to figure out why.
Those anticipating River’s interactions with the Third Doctor might be disappointed to learn he only appears in the final story. Not having the Doctor around for their first meeting was smart on writer Lizbeth Myles‘s part, though, because it gives River and Liz a chance to get to know each other without any outside interference. “The Blood Woods” plays into River’s wheelhouse more, as their investigation ends up taking them to an archaeological dig. As much as sexism was rampant in the 1970’s, it sometimes feels on the nose here.
“Terror of the Suburbs”
It’s always fun to be dropped into the middle of a story and not know what’s going on, and that’s exactly what writer James Kettle does in “Terror of the Suburbs.”
Like an audio version of Wandavision, Liz is hanging out with her new neighbors when the doorbell rings and it’s River at the door. You don’t need River saying her name’s Doris Day to know something’s wrong, but Liz doesn’t seem to realize she’s in danger, meaning it’s up to River to get Liz to start asking questions.
All of the voice cast do a wonderful job playing these characters, who could be cliches, but that’s how you know something’s up. The sound design is also spot on, from the PA system, to the muzak that sounds like it would be playing at a grocery store or during call waiting. It’s fun to see Liz out of her element and being asked to relax and, by including two characters from East Germany, Kettle is able to remind viewers that this isn’t a time travel episode; Liz is from the 70’s.
While River was very conscious of the fact that Liz was in charge in “The Blood Woods,” she has some of the Doctor’s superior tone in this story, which is the one drawback to this set overall. Liz and River’s relationship changes, but you don’t get to see the turning points happen. One minute River is Liz’ assistant, the next she’s telling Liz what to do.
Writer Helen Goldwyn serves up a sinister tech company in “Never Alone,” where a bunch of students have gone missing, and River and Liz think Intertraxia might be involved. Emma Swan stands out as Pippa, one of the students Intertraxia hasn’t recruited yet, and whose personality seems to rub people the wrong way. Whether Pippa always picks up on that or not, she stays true to herself (which isn’t easy to do).
“Rivers of Light”
Lisa McMullin’s story offers some high concept sci-fi and River’s real reason for wanting to work with the Third Doctor. McMullin also invests in her supporting characters. By opening with Simon (James McNaughton) and Gemma (Dominque Moore), their friendship carries as much weight as the main characters’ bickering.
The Diary of River Song Series 9 is available to purchase from Big Finish.