It’s the New Year! We’re back after a break (so I could go to work more, so, for me, not a break at all), and River Song is back! Big Finish is giving us a peek into her diary once again with the second series of adventures focussing on River’s travels. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first episode, The Unknown.
A planetary anomaly. A scientific impossibility. A mystery to be solved.
Of course, River Song expects to be consulted. She expects her valuable knowledge and experience will help the crew of the Saturnius unlock the strange phenomenon that has appeared in Earth’s solar system.
But what River doesn’t expect is a stowaway. An infuriating little man, calling himself the Doctor.
Let’s start at the beginning shall we? River Song kicks off The Unknown in the middle of an adventure, one that she’s not sure how to solve. The stars are going out, and she’s asking a prisoner for help. A prisoner with a slightly Scottish accent and a question mark umbrella… Luckily for River, this stranger seems willing to help her out.
The theme tune for The Diary of River Song really needs to be talked about. So here I am talking about it; (or typing about it if you want to be pedantic, yes Guy, this parenthesis is just for you because I know how much of a brilliant pedant you can be and I know you can’t help but read these reviews*) the theme, for me at least, is so cinematic it almost seems wasted on a purely audio adventure. The minds eye conjures up Bond-like imagery, imagining a silhouette of River escaping from all sorts of scrapes before running into a familiar blue box and smiling at the man/Time Lord she loves. It’s a brilliant piece of music and just goes to show that Big Finish really thinks about every aspect of a release.
Anyway, back to the story. The stars are going out, (is this set during The Stolen Earth I wonder?) and nobody quite knows what to do. It seems that River and a crew are trying to explore a new planet, but they can’t find it. Obviously, if you’re planning on exploring a thing, it always helps to start with finding that thing. If not, you’re thingless and you can’t find a thing on the thing. Nothing to see here. Which is a problem if your mission is to find a thing. Luckily, the prisoner (who, if you haven’t realised, is the Seventh Doctor) is on board, and River wants to utilise him, even if she isn’t sure who he is.
One thing I love about Guy’s writing is how he plants these little, seemingly unimportant details into a line or a scene that have no lasting effect on events, but I think he know’s I can’t help but writing about them. An example of this early on, is when River calls the Seventh Doctor ‘coy’. Is this a joke because the Seventh Doctor is played by Sylvester McCoy? Who knows? Well Guy does, and I’m sure he’ll tweet me telling me if I hit the nail on the head or if I imagined the nail. I’ll keep you posted, reader.
The fact that River doesn’t know she’s talking with the Doctor makes the rapport between the pair so different and refreshing, as she’s not constantly flirting or trying to get him to not notice her (like in Doom Coalition, it’s pretty much all she does), and it reminds me of the events during the first half of The Husbands of River Song. We see River as River; not trying to impress the Doctor or prove herself to him. She’s being brilliant of her own accord. Just like River should be.
A detail that I really enjoyed in The Unknown is how the Doctor can’t help but draw parallels between River Song and his friend Bernice Summerfield. (I’d love to see a story of those two just digging things up in space. Call it Bernice Songerfield. Guy, get to work.) Considering they’re both brilliant female characters when written that way, it’s a comparison I’ve made before too, and I’m glad that the Doctor can instantly see the similarities, as it shows that his companions are always in his mind.
Of course, it’s not long before things go awry, and the ship that River and the Doctor are on, the Saturnius, goes slightly haywire when attempting to correct it’s course. River assumes that it’s something to do with the Doctor, but, for once, the Doctor hasn’t been interfering. It seems as if that something is definitely awry though, as nobody can quite remember what has happened in the recent past…
There’s a computer malfunction about the Saturnius that makes the computer pretty much turn into HAL. (I hope you know what I’m on about, you should be into sci-fi enough to know what HAL is.) Talk about throwing a spanner in the already breaking works.
The last twenty-five minutes or so really remind me of a mashup between three Doctor Who stories, Journey To The Centre of The TARDIS, Scenes From Her Life and The Doctor’s Wife when House is messing about with the interior of the TARDIS. Now, I know that, strictly speaking, these aren’t similar to the events of The Unknown exactly, but I can’t help but wonder if Guy Adams took some inspiration from these three tales.
The last few chapters really go to show the differences between River and the Doctor, with the Doctor taking a moral high ground, but River taking logical steps to keep as many people alive as possible. Following your hearts against following your head, the difference between the Doctor and River summed up, I think.
During the concluding moments of The Unknown, we see a resolution that I think we all expected to be coming, but with a few slight twists and turns. If anything, I think the ending of The Unknown just reminds you how timey-wimey things can be when Professor River Song is around.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Unknown, it’s not my favourite script from Guy Adams, but it’s not a flop either. It’s a great romp with some really dark repercussions and somewhat morbid moments, which is fast becoming Guy’s trademark writing style. I, for one, can’t wait to see where Guy’s writing takes him next. As usual, the performances were second-to-none, the sound design and the music were superb and, if I’m being honest, I feel like I don’t really have to mention these things when talking about a Big Finish release any more, as it’s pretty much assumed it’ll be brilliantly produced. What a way for the site to kick off 2017, let’s hope everything else Doctor Who related this year can keep up with this impressive start!
Should you want to purchase The Diary of River Song 2, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on digital download, or £23 for the CD box set.
*For anyone unaware, myself and Guy Adams, the author of this story are close friends, and I love him dearly as a person and as a pseudo-mentor in the world of scriptwriting. And he’s handsome.