After the dark tones of The Two Masters trilogy we’ve had for the past three months, it seems only fitting that we have something much more upbeat and playful. Oh, and who doesn’t want a humanoid raccoon on a cover? I’m surprised it’s taken Big Finish this long to be honest…
Come to Ricosta! Tropical climate, untouched beaches, fabulous cuisine… and no extradition treaties. The perfect retirement planet for a certain type of ‘business person’ – such as Ms Melanie Bush, formerly the co-owner of the Iceworld emporium, now on the run from her former criminal associate’s criminal associates…
Some other former associates of Ms Bush are abroad in this space Costa del Crime, however. Not long ago, the time and space traveller known as the Doctor arrived here, alongside his sometimes-criminal associate, the reformed juvenile offender Ace. But now the Doctor’s gone missing – and Melanie Bush is about to learn that on the planet Ricosta, the wages of sin… are death.
It’s not often that we start with a Doctor waking up in an empty sounding room. In fact, I’d go as far as saying, that this is the first story I’ve reviewed where that scenario is what opens the story. We’re then whisked away to the end of a funeral service of a man who a certain Melanie Bush wanted to visit. Everything seems to be very peculiar and reminded me of the opening of Bad Wolf.
The point in Mel’s timeline where this story is set is rather interesting too, as aficionados of the Seventh Doctor era would be able to tell you that Ace and Mel only ever shared one story; Dragonfire. It turns out that a lot more happened to Mel that we have yet to see, but we thankfully get to hear through Big Finish.
Ricosta’s criminal underworld seems to be under some distress; the mayor of Ricosta is embroiled in a web of treachery and deceit and Mel has been shown an all too familiar Police Box…
I have to admit that the score is reminiscent of one of my favourite BBC dramas, ‘Hustle’ (If you’ve never seen it, it’s on Netflix and I recommend you check it out) and it really reminded me of how important musical scores are in aiding the themes and moods in a piece of art. (Of course Big Finish is art, don’t even try and prove me wrong!)
One of the best things about having the Seventh Doctor land his TARDIS on Ricosta especially, is the fact that it means we’re given the joy of Sylvester McCoy’s performance as the Time Lord, and the rrrrrrolling of the ‘R’ that that entails. I also think that the sheer amount of rolled R’s in this story adds to the two hour and five minute run time of A Life of Crime.
Lefty Lonnigan, played by Des McLeer, is one of the most interesting characters in A Life of Crime; a softly spoken Irish sounding criminal with an unusual body, he seems to be a multilayered character, but I’m pretty certain that most of his layers are hidden to the listener and the characters in the story.
Big Finish are constantly great, and they obviously hire their writers with a great deal of thought; Matt Fitton, one of Big Finish’s regular contributors always manages to bring something into a tale that you never knew you wanted, but, once you’ve heard it, you’ll never know how you managed to live without it. There’s a small scene between Ace and the Mayor which contained one of these aforementioned moments. Who knew I wanted to hear Ace say ‘snood’ so much?
The cliffhanger to the first episode of A Life of Crime is quite possibly one of the best cliffhangers that Big Finish has produced this year. Well I say cliffhangers, there’s really more than one…
The second episode opens, as it often does in the Monthly Range, exactly where the previous episode left off. Mel is reunited with the Doctor, the Doctor is reunited with a friend whom he has been avoiding for so very long, and Ace is annoyed. One of the things that’s almost immediately paid off in the second episode is why the woman on the cover, known as Gloria, is wearing the Doctor’s hat. It’s probably not the reason that you expect either.
We get some needed exposition from both Lefty and Gloria in the second episode, explaining just who the Ricostans are, what they do, and why there’s a humanoid racoon on the cover.
One of the most famous lines in cinema of all time is arguably “Nobody puts baby in the corner” from Dirty Dancing. In this case however, I’d say it’s more apt that you say “Nobody puts Ace in a cell”. It’s a bad decision; like trapping a wasp in bottle and shaking it. Once it’s free, you’re almost guaranteed to get stung. It’s absolutely brilliant that 27 years on, Sophie Aldred can manage to still sound as youthful and as angry and as passionate as she did when playing Ace all those years ago.
As far as frustration goes, I can’t remember a time when I’ve wanted to scream so much at a character in any Big Finish story, or even any Doctor Who story for that matter. The fact that we as a listener knows something is wrong, and a character that we’re supposed to care about and be truly invested in doesn’t really makes you want to jump into the world of Ricosta and shout out the truth. It’s not often I’m emotionally invested in a story this kind of way, and boy is it refreshing. Well done Matt Fitton.
The heist during the latter half of the second episode is somewhat reminiscent of Time Heist with a dashing of Signs from The Diary of River Song. As with many of the Monthly Range stories from Big Finish though, there’s more than one plot thread happening at once though, and some of these threads start to pull together.
During the closing moments of the second episode, we finally get the reunion of Ace and Mel (or Ace and Donut) and some really surprising revelations; not everyone is who you expect them to be, and everyone who you are certain you know might become someone else entirely. Funny how people change.
The penultimate episode sees the Doctor, Ace and Mel all together once more, with Gloria and Lefty attempting to go their separate way. Unfortunately for Gloria and Lefty, there’s a Sperovore awaiting their arrival. The Sperovore themselves are absolutely fascinating creatures, and I hope that these creations from Matt Fitton’s mind get more adventures in the future (or past, or present, or even sideways in time, I’m not fussy).
Even though he’s not present in this story, a lot of the story is due to Glitz’s actions and connections. If you haven’t watched Dragonfire yet, I highly recommend that you do so before listening to A Life of Crime, otherwise you might be slightly lost.
The main concept behind the Sperovore (Or Sperovores, I’m not sure of the plural) is absolutely great for Doctor Who; an alien race that feeds off of possibilities and potential. It’s rather like the Time Beetle from Turn Left but different.
The final cliffhanger really manages to take the story in A Life of Crime in a rather different direction to the prior three episodes. Sometimes people have to set aside their differences for a greater cause. There’s a huge threat, and all of Ricosta is in immense danger.
It’s not often that Big Finish starts the final episode of an epic story like A Life of Crime with an incredibly small, intimate moment between two secondary characters; of course, with Matt Fitton at the helm it works, and it’s great and rather tender. It really reminded me just how the concept of humanity is normally the foundations of many varied types of Doctor Who stories.
Considering that A Life of Crime is a big, timey-wimey romp involving treachery, deceit and double crossing, some of the best moments in my opinion are the ones between the Doctor and Mel. Time has passed for both of them, and their reunion is not without its niggles. They say time changes a person, and I think that both Mel and the Doctor realise just how much people can change. Absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder.
Whilst the Doctor and Mel are getting to know each other once again, Ace is busy with her Nitro-9. Nothing really changes does it? You have one set of characters being tender and emotionally open and vulnerable, then you have a woman called Dorothy getting ready to blow sh*t up. If that sort of summary doesn’t sum up Doctor Who during the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s tenure, I’m not sure what does.
If you’d have told me the conclusion of A Life of Crime whilst I was listening to the first, second, or even third episode, I don’t think I would have believed you. It just goes to show you how a story can go off an absolutely brilliant tangents and become a very different story to the one that you assumed would happen. Matt Fitton has managed once again to make a highly enjoyable tale with a brilliant bootstrap paradox as the bow that ties everything all together.
The cover may be bright, garish, in your face and very ’80s, but A Life of Crime is far from a bright and happy story. Matt Fitton gives you enough curveballs to make you not quite know where the story is going to take you, and it’s great. After the epic three part tale that was The Two Masters Trilogy, it’s refreshing to have a much more self-contained and personal story.
Should you want to purchase A Life of Crime, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £14.99 on CD or a £12.99 download which you can purchase here.