Big Finish’s Who range rarely disappoints. I’ll go further: more often than one has a right to expect, it downright excites.
And then, very occasionally, it goes one step further…
April 2015 saw the release of two more in BF’s novelisation adaptions, in the shape of Gareth Roberts’s Well Mannered War and Russell T Davies’s Damaged Goods. These New Adventures have been heralded on a variety of counts as something special. The Virgin New Adventure series of which they provide adaptations was something of a golden age for Who. No, hear me out. When the TV series was cancelled it was these books that kept the franchise alive as more than just a fan memory. Written by fans for fans, they were a work of love rather than commercial profit, and the fact that Virgin allowed them to be that, and apparently would have continued to do so had the Beeb not pulled the plug, is immensely to their credit. Also, since they were written by grown ups, they allowed the franchise to move into more grown-up territory – albeit without loss of the joyous childishness of the programme.
And some of the most grown-up territory is trod in Davies’s Damaged Goods, here expertly adapted for audio by Jonathan Morris. It’s title is entirely apt, applying equally across many if not most of the guest roles, from the single mother with a dark secret, through the darkly over-aware and Machiavellian child, to the woman who’s urbane, moneyed, middle class exterior hides a chillingly sociopathic angle on the world beneath.
In true RTD style this will probably split the audience, but if you’re in the half that generally loves his work then this really will be right up your alley. Yes, there are soap-opera elements to the way he tells stories, and Damaged Goods has its fair share of melodrama and possibly irrelevant off-screen sex. However, the story being played out using the device of soap is a gripping one, and genuinely chills one more than one occasion.
In fact, there are two stories here: the character-driven story of misplaced child- and mother-hoods; and a more sci-fi story around invading aliens and drug culture. To be honest, either story would stand up on its own, and in fact they are not expertly woven here – while they work together, one is left with the feeling that neither actually properly requires the other in order to be more than adequately told.
But the audio doesn’t suffer for that, and overall the experience is good. And there are some lovely Easter Eggs too, including one reference that will at least illicit a giggle or two.
John Dorney’s adaptation of Roberts’s Well Mannered War deals a bit less with the human condition, but is just as enjoyable for all that. The story of two races engaged in a hundred-year cold war which may or may not be of their own making, the narrative gives rise to some great moments of both drama and humour. For example, K9 standing for election is absolutely wonderful, and the scene in which panic starts to arise because of a broken photocopier, meaning they won’t be able to get a colleague’s leaving-party invites to the enemy in time, is delicious – all the more so for where it takes the narrative next.
Dorney’s writing is as good as ever, and seems to complement Roberts’s own writing, typically imbued with comedy throughout, extremely well.
Across the two pieces, as ever, acting and sound design are superb. Add on a rather spiffing new theme tune to Damaged Goods, and overall these New Adventures are a great addition to the BF Whoniverse. Great fun, nicely chilling – well worth a punt and thoroughly recommended.
The Well Mannered War and Damaged Goods are available from BigFinish.com.