Last year, Big Finish took a risk by combining classic Doctors with monsters from the revived era of the show, and it paid off extremely well. It highlighted how strong both eras of the show can be and it was because of this success that a second volume was immediately greenlit, and the result is something of a mixed bag with two great stories at the beginning and end with two problematic stories in the middle. John Dorney’s ‘Night of the Vashta Nerada’ is a great start with Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor up against the piranhas in the air last seen in 2008’s legendary two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. This plays out like your typical horror story with your band of drones waiting to get axed off one by one, a spooky setting in a yet-to-be-opened amusement park, and a hungry monster, while also containing elements of the 2008 two-parter yet doing something unique and creative with them.
We have the manic Fourth Doctor completely out of his depth as he’s up against a threat he’s vaguely familiar with, which helps raise the tension throughout the story as well as empathising just how formidable the Vashta Nerada are. Tom Baker is great here and there is a solid supporting performance from Pam Ferris, whose character goes on an interesting character arc that pays off well. This story is brilliant from across the board and works well at giving each of these characters vastly contrasting personalities and placing them in a seemingly impossible situation. ‘Empire of the Racnoss’ by Scott Handcock, however, is a average story that highlights just how problematic the Racnoss as monsters are. Introduced in 2006’s The Runaway Bride, the Racnoss had a great design that was let down by having an overacting, hammy personality, which is carried over here and yet there isn’t anything to make improvements on that. Despite both Adjoa Andoh and Nigel Planner giving their all, as well as some neat twists and turns along the way, this story felt didn’t do anything to further the Racnoss or show them in a new light.
The same can also be said of Simon Guerrier’s ‘The Carrionite Curse’, which feels like a lazy retread of 2007’s The Shakespeare Code. Almost beat for beat, this story uses the exact same elements, even right down to the “14 sides” angle, and while the 2007 story had an interesting supporting character in the Bard, this story has nothing but uninteresting blank slates. Colin Baker does his best, but overall, this story feels like a mediocre rehash filled with plot holes and a bad sense of déjà vu. However, the boxset ends with a bang thanks to Matt Fitton’s ‘Day of the Vashta Nerada’, which takes place during the early years of the Time War with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. Not only does this feel like a great follow-on from the first story, this also feels like a great companion story to the War Doctor audio series, right down to having the Doctor team-up with Jacqueline Pearce’s Cardinal Ollistra, who here has an antagonistic relationship with McGann’s Doctor as opposed to admiring John Hurt’s War incarnation. This takes the Vashta Nerada in bold and new directions that feel risky, yet it pays off well within the context of the story, and it shows just how far the Time Lords would go to try and win the war.
In the end, this second volume feels like a set of two halves with one half delivering what we want, while the other half fails to offer anything fresh or invigorating. If a volume 3 does happen, Big Finish could benefit by including other new monsters like the Silence into the mix, but until then, this is a solid outing that’s worth checking out for the most part.
CLASSIC DOCTORS, NEW MONSTERS VOL. 2 / WRITERS: JOHN DORNEY, SCOTT HANDCOCK, SIMON GUERRIER, MATT FITTON / DIRECTOR: BARNABY EDWARDS / TOM BAKER, PETER DAVISON, COLIN BAKER, PAUL MCGANN, ADJOA ANDOH, NIGEL PLANER, ANDREW FRENCH, LISA KAY, PAM FERRIS, LORELEI KING / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW