River Song is back once again, letting us glimpse at her infamous diary in the third series of The Diary of River Song. She’s previously encountered the Eighth, Seventh and Sixth incarnations of her husband, the Doctor, but now she’s getting ready to meet the Fifth, as well as an old enemy… Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in the box set, The Lady In The Lake by Nev Fountain.
On Terminus Prime, clients choose their own means of demise. Something exciting, meaningful, or heroic to end it all.
But when River discovers that there are repeat customers, she knows something more is going on.
She begins to uncover a cult with worrying abilities. Its members can apparently cheat death, and that’s not all they have in common with River…
Tell you what, I bloody love these Diary of River Song box sets. The first two were great, and River got to meet the Eighth, Seventh and Sixth Doctors. Now, she’s getting the chance to meet the Fifth, with the Fourth due for some adventures in August. Is it cheating if it’s the same man with a different face? That’s for you to decide in this age of “micro-cheating”, but one thing I need to reaffirm, the previous two River box sets have been great.
The Lady In The Lake starts with River seemingly digging a grave for a woman she loves and hates. Talk about starting off with a great stonking mystery.
We’re then introduced to Lake, a man who knows things but isn’t sure why or how he knows them; a man with a philosophical and psychological problem regarding himself. Nev Fountain has no problem giving listeners these morally complex characters, and I have to thank him for that. We learn that Lake was there at Demons Run, which, as you probably already know, was a big day for River. She was born, she was found, and she was uncovered. Pretty much at the same time, too.
There’s a great scene with Lake that shows you the other side of the coin at Demon’s Run, where the Doctor is a demon. He is the bad guy in all of this. He made people lose their faith in the church. The Doctor is only a saviour to half of the people he encounters, and history is often told just from the winning side’s point of view. It’s clear, to me at least, that The Lady In The Lake is going to be a tale all about morality and points of view. Just the type of story you should throw River Song into.
After we’re introduced to Lake, we’re introduced to Death. Who’s also known as Kevin. Death is there to… well, kill you. What else is Death for? Death is getting ready to kill someone who is wanting to die. Well, kind of. He just removes all of their life force from them. Somewhat unsurprisingly, River and Death don’t see eye to eye, and it leads to a great moment of comedy.
There’s a huge revelation too, Lake and River might have more in common than water-based names. And River wants answers from Lake. Unfortunately, he had a run in with Death. River, however wants to know what Death won’t tell her, but if there’s one person who can flirt with Death, it’s River Song.
If you’d’ve told me before I listened to this release, that a lot of it is to do with euthanasia, I would have immediately thought that it would have been one of River’s more heavy-hitting adventures. What Nev Fountain’s script manages to do, however, is make it extremely light-hearted and farcical; and I have to say it’s somewhat refreshing. Could making light of such a controversial topic be deemed inappropriate by some? Probably. Do I care at all? Not a jot. I think sometimes you have to find the humour in the morbid otherwise you’d go mad.
It’s not long before things get timey-wimey, with River having a chat with River about River things. It’s all very River.
The latter half of this story is a rather gruesome cat and mouse mission, with River and Death chasing Tarn, another person who was there at Demons Run and has a special connection with River. There’s a cult called The Great Lake which relishes death. The strange thing is, all of the members can’t just die straight away. They keep coming back. It turns out that River isn’t the only person Madame Kovarian meddled with. It transpires that there are seven others, with fates almost as doomed as River’s, and River wants to track these seven people down.
I know I’ve said that this story makes the process of euthanasia seem somewhat trivial and entertaining, even going so far as to inject some comedy into proceedings; but there’s a scene later on which, again, is very brave, but in a vastly different way. It’s written in a way that is uncommon for Big Finish, but it works spectacularly, and it poses (and in some cases, answers) a lot of questions that I don’t think have been brought to the fore before.
In the final act of the story, we’re introduced to another one of the followers of The Great Lake, a young girl who River names Lilly, who is, quite frankly, ridiculous. She’s quite possibly the most naive character in the Whoniverse. Unfortunately, naivety doesn’t do too well.
The conclusion of The Lady In The Lake is absolutely heartbreaking. Big Finish seems to know how to break my heart rather efficiently at the moment. It seems there’s not a month where I’m not left feeling somewhat morose, but in a good way. It proves that I’m able to get invested in these characters and their stories; and, when you’re doing that in an hour, that’s a testament to all involved.
Then there’s a monumental twist. The Fifth Doctor has a new companion. Brooke. River and Brooke. There’s no such thing as coincidence, is there?
Overall, I can honestly say I can’t think of a better way to kick off a box set than with a tale like The Lady In The Lake. Alex Kingston has to flex her acting chops as Nev Fountain’s script puts her through the emotional ringer, and both work splendidly hand in hand. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you question what humanity is. All in the space of an hour. This is how storytelling should be portrayed.
Should you want to purchase The Diary of River Song: Series 3, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for the download, or £23 for the CD box set.