The world of ‘impossibly glamorous’ former bounty hunter and assassin Vienna Salvatore is turned upside down when she is arrested for the murder of her companion and partner-in-crime Jexie Reagan. Even worse for the distraught Vienna is that all of the seemingly irrefutable evidence points to her guilt.
What makes this latest series of Vienna adventures so intriguing is that its premise strips away all of Salvatore’s trademark confidence and bombast. This three-parter reveals a more vulnerable, chastened and self-doubting Vienna. Her grief over Jaxie’s death is compounded by her apparent culpability for it, and her belief that her incarceration on a merciless jail planet could be permanent (or will last until a serious infraction of the rules brings her sentence to an abrupt and unwelcome conclusion).
Big Finish scripting stalwart Guy Adams here pens all three instalments, and he makes the most of the opportunity to craft a consistent atmosphere and tone throughout. It also allows Adams to construct that little bit more complex and layered a storyline, and to find time to weave in those kinds of imaginative sci-fi flourishes that help to bring the listener a more immersive sense of a three-dimensional otherworld.
Chase Masterson revels in the opportunity to depict Vienna in her damaged and incarcerated state, a figure who only gradually recovers her self-belief as the story progresses. She delivers the kind of thoroughly grounded and believable performance that’s essential when an entire planet-hopping storyline pivots around your character.
The opening story is arguably the strongest of the three. As the investigation into Jexie’s death gets underway, an emotionally defeated Vienna is interrogated and recalls the events leading up to the shooting, as the pair’s investigation into a series of unexplained collective corporate “suicides” goes disastrously wrong. Some first-rate sound design vividly brings to life the cleverly constructed switches from the past to the present, as no-nonsense Prosecutor Grover (a winning turn by Edward Harrison) ratchets up the pressure on the accused.
The focus switches to the ‘impossibly grim’ prison complex The Splinter in the next episode, as Vienna is jailed and has to come to terms with losing everything from her former life. Adams builds a vision of the hellish jail that is as chilling as it is intense. As fellow inmates keen to ‘show her the ropes’, Mama Val (Annette Badland) and youngster with unsettling dietary habits, Ratz (Samuel Harris), characters as disturbed as they are compassionate, provide excellent foils for Vienna as she struggles to uncover the hidden truth of the facility.
The final episode picks up on the cliffhanger from the previous story and follows Vienna’s showdown with the figure who has been orchestrating things behind the scenes. The one-on-one confrontation between Vienna and this puppet-master are the highlight of this story, their tension enhanced by the astute choices director Scott Handcock is able to make when working with so capable a cast.
Despite the need to include a lot of exposition, working through the motivation behind the original crime-wave that Vienna was investigating, this remains an episode strong on action and full of surprising twists (one of which is especially welcome). What helps Vienna recover her mojo is her determination to thwart the authoritarian technological ambitions of her nemesis, as she takes on the persona of a freedom fighter.
Although it has the most straightforward narrative of the three, it’s a well-rendered story that brings matters to a very satisfying conclusion. With a newly re-energised and vindicated heroine now back in control of events, the doorway to further adventures has been flung wide open once again. Let’s hope Big Finish decide to let Vienna Salvatore step through it.
VIENNA: RETRIBUTION / WRITER: GUY ADAMS / DIRECTOR: SCOTT HANDCOCK / STARRING: CHASE MASTERSON, SAMANTHA BÉART, ANNETTE BADLAND, SAMUEL HARRIS, COLIN MCFARLANE / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE: OUT NOW