After this years Christmas special, The Husbands of River Song, Big Finish pushed forward their latest New-Who inspired box set The Diary of River Song forward from January to Boxing Day; then, immediately after the episode aired, they pushed it forward even further to Christmas Day. It certainly seems that December is the month of River Song. In this new box set, featuring four hour long stories, we get to see what our favourite Time Lady(ish) archaeologist (part time) gets up to when the Doctor isn’t around, and even when he is. In this review, we’ll be looking at the final story; The Rulers Of The Universe by Matt Fitton.
As shocking secrets are exposed, and a grand plan for the universe is revealed, River decides it’s time she took control of events once and for all.
Out in deep space, a clandestine society faces off with an ancient and powerful alien force – but, for River, there’s an added complication.
The Eighth Doctor has been caught in the middle, and she must make sure her future husband can arrive at his own destiny with all his memories – not to mention his lives – intact…
Now this is common knowledge to anyone who has read any of my Eighth Doctor reviews, whether it be Big Finish audios or one of the two televised episodes; but I absolutely adore Paul McGann’s Doctor. So, even before I heard a second of this story, I had extremely high hopes. Luckily for me, the writer, Matt Fitton is one of my favourite Big Finish writers too. Adding these facts to the fact that the last story in this box set, Signs, got GallifreyArchive’s first ever 10; this story should really be the audio equivalent to my lucky day.
At the beginning of this story, we’re told exactly where in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline this story is set for him. Apparently it’s set during the Time War, so we’re between the events of Doom Coalition and The Night of The Doctor, whereas with River, we’re between the events of The Angels Take Manhattan and The Husbands of River Song. Isn’t time travel confusing?
The beginning of the story is set aboard the Party Ship we were last on during I Went To A Marvellous Party with our favourite whimpering bad guy, Bertie Potts and our favourite Time Lord, the Doctor as he’s been mysteriously summoned by the Rulers of the universe. Alexander Vlahos’ performance is brilliant again, something radically different from his performance as Dorian Gray (another Big Finish series you should totally listen to).
The fact that River and the Doctor aren’t together for over half of the story is utterly infuriating to an Eighth Doctor fanboy like myself, however it’s totally needed for the narrative. When River realises that it’s the Eighth incarnation of the Doctor that has been entangled in this debacle, it is utterly heartbreaking. Apparently there are certain Doctor’s that River can never meet or interfere with. Something that I’m sure will also be utilised in Doom Coalition 2.
It’s hard to review this episode whilst keeping it even mildly spoiler free; however I can confirm that the Eighth Doctor and River Song actually never meet face to face; all of their interaction is through an intercom with River on the Party Ship and the Eighth Doctor on a SporeShip, trying to make his way back to his TARDIS. As we’ve yet to see River and Eight physically be in close proximity of one another (knowingly or not), I’m not sure if I like the idea that River can’t get too involved with the Doctor, as one of my favourite aspects to her character is the way she interacts with him. It’s still extremely clear that River cares about every incarnation of her future husband (or past husband, depending on your viewpoint) however, which is rather heartwarming if you’re fond of River’s character. If you’re not a fan of River though, I’m scared that you might just find it rather annoying.
If there’s one thing I’m not a massive fan of in this story, it’s that River seems to be pushed slightly to the sidelines; whereas River has been at the centre of the action in the previous three stories; especially The Boundless Sea, it seems that the Doctor is the main action hero of this tale; he’s the one that is facing the big bad of the story, whilst River is rather helpless stuck on the Party Ship. If this story was part of an Eighth Doctor box set, I don’t think I would have minded as much; but, as this is a box set that is focussed on River Song, it is slightly disappointing that River is back to the role of companion again.
Even though I feel that River was somewhat sidelined in this story, I have to admit that I still enjoyed it. Paul McGann slipped perfectly back into the role of the Time Lord, and his chemistry with River seemed extremely natural. The one thing that gives me hope that this interaction between River and the Eighth Doctor is going to be important in regards to continuity is that both this story and the story in Doom Coalition 2 that River features in, entitled The Sonomancer is written by Matt Fitton. Seen as River seemed sidelined in this River Song story, I’m hoping that the Eighth Doctor is somewhat sidelined in Doom Coalition 2 to make up for it. What will be especially interesting is if the events of The Rulers of The Universe will be in the past for River during the events of The Sonomancer. Time travel is so confusing to write about.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For The Rulers Of The Universe , I will give a rating of: