March 8th was International Women’s Day 2019, a celebration of how far women’s rights have come, and the challenges still left to face. Big Finish decided to celebrate this day in style with the release of The Eighth of March, a boxset of four full-cast audio drama set in the worlds of Doctor Who, all written and directed by women, featuring the best female characters from throughout the Whoniverse, and boy is it a treat!
The first episode, “Emancipation”, takes us into The Diary of River Song, where the modern era’s time-travelling archeologist Professor River Song (Alex Kingston) meets the classic era’s warrior savage Leela (Louise Jameson), a pairing I personally hadn’t imagined, but it really works! River and Leela team up to stop the kidnapping of a princess, but soon discover they’ve stopped her salvation. Together, they will have to fix the mistakes they have made to save two lives! This fast-paced romp is a brilliant opening to the series, a stand-alone drama featuring of two of the sassiest Doctor Who companions from the show’s history. The audio is brilliantly written by Lisa McMullin, who has truly captured the essence of both River and Leela and leads me to want a series where River and Leela travel the universe together getting up to mischief.
Story two, “The Big Blue Book”, takes us on an adventure with the Seventh Doctor’s companions Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Professor Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman), who are left to their own devices on Valentines Day in the early 1990s in Liverpool, while the Doctor has gone AWOL. Benny is offered an invitation to a Library, one she probably shouldn’t have taken, as she promptly disappears, and Ace is left to find out what’s happened to her. Although the opening sequence lacked any suspense, ending with Ace simply shouting at the TARDIS, in general, this episode was written incredibly well. Writer Lizzie Hopley captures the essence of Ace perfectly – a line about an ejector seat particularly sealed it for me – and this episode shows, if proof were needed, that Ace is be a strong character, and that she is quite capable of holding a gripping story by herself. Along with her recent appearance in the Class series, I can see a future box set of “Ace Adventures” coming our way very soon! Hopley’s characterisation of Benny is also very good too, in the few scenes she is in. Personally, I haven’t experienced much of her character on audio, but this story left me wanting to experience more.
The third instalment in this series, “Inside Every Warrior”, we journey to Victorian London, where Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), her wife Jenny (Caitlin Stewart), and Sontaran valet Strax (Dan Starkey), are looking into a series of mysterious break-ins. An eccentric scientist and his put-upon assistant are the latest victims, as evidence mounts, with animal footprints and a trail of destruction. This is the first adventure for the Paternoster Gang for Big Finish, a teaser for the forthcoming boxset to be released in June; a boxset I am very much looking forward to after hearing this episode. Dan Starkey as Strax is once again brilliant, bringing in comic lines left to right and centre, and his domestic argument at the start of the piece with his horse is brilliant, and very Strax indeed. The flirting between Vastra and Jenny is also very well done and feels like the writer has truly captured their essence perfectly. The choice of a werewolf as the central monster in this audio is an interesting one. Long-time Who fans may recall that Queen Victoria herself is possibly a werewolf; however, the writer decided to stay away from this idea, but this did not detract from the quality of this adventure at all.
The final adventure in this boxset is “Narcissus”, an instalment featuring the modern incarnation of UNIT, lead by Kate Stewart (Jenna Redgrave) and her twin assistants, the two Osgoods (both Ingrid Oliver) – consisting of the original and a Zygon duplicate. When a member of UNIT goes missing, Kate and the Osgoods decide to investigate. Narcissus is interested only in the most beautiful people, but as the UNIT operatives are about to discover, its true purpose is something far from desirable. This concluding adventure stands up to the rest of the series’ brilliance; Sarah Grochala has captured the characters perfectly, and the story is a perfect end to the set of female lead stories, proving indeed that the future (and the past) is female.
As a boxset of four purely standalone stories, The Eighth of March worked really well; I was glad that there wasn’t an overarching theme across all of them, as it would have diminished the strength of each story. Each episode is a pure celebration of the female characters of the Whoniverse, and they have been produced with brilliance and style. Hints have been made of future sets, and it leads me to wonder who they will show together next… Maybe original companion (and the Doctor’s granddaughter) Susan with Time Lady Romana; or Antipodean mouth-on-legs Tegan with best-temp-in-Chiswick Donna Noble; or Lucy Bleedin’ Miller with Impossible Girl Clara – the possibilities are endless. I look forward to seeing what the future holds.
[amazon_link asins=’1787037932′ template=’ProductAd-ExcitingStuff’ store=’editonli-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’8a803259-bc01-4070-9860-4f2e485c9162′]The Eighth of March is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish and will be available from Amazon and other retailers from May 31st.