If someone ever wrote a list of “Top Ten Big Finish Spin-Offs That Need To Exist”, I doubt Vienna would place. I’m still mildly surprised that Counter-Measures exists, and this seems to have much less viability: a mildly interesting supporting character from the third part of a mediocre trilogy. Where’s Glitz & Dibber, Philanthropists? Or even Evelyn Smythe: The Graduate School Years? Or, you know, From the Memoirs of an Edwardian Adventuress?
Let’s just count our luck that we didn’t end up with Becky Lee the Vampire Slayer. Obviously nothing compels you to pick up every Doctor Who spin-off (and I don’t), but in a saturated market, one wonders why Big Finish didn’t go with a more sure thing than this. But here Vienna is, and so I’m gonna give it a spin. When Jonathan Morris is on form, he’s quite good, and maybe if I’m really lucky, the space snail will pop up eventually.
Vienna: The Memory Box begins with a couple cops en route to a murder — a murder that Vienna Salvatori, the eponymous bounty hunter, quite obviously committed, and she’s about to escape. What follows is surprisingly fun and complicated. Unlike many one-disc releases, The Memory Box crams its one-hour length with incident and revelations: every time you think you’ve got a handle on the events, it turns out something still more has happened than you expected. I do wonder if the revelations all make sense (it was getting a little absurd by the end), but I appreciated that Morris was doing anything but a straightforward bounty hunter story. As the title indicates, there’s some playing about with memory and identity, which Morris in the extras compares to the work of Philip K. Dick. That wouldn’t’ve sprung to mind, but it makes sense.
Chase Masterson is back as the anonymous character, of course, recreating her role from The Shadow Heart. It’s a pretty deadpan part, which Masterson plays much the same, though she seems a little softer here. She does a good job, though the character has yet to impress me a lot. I get the feeling this is going to be a character who unfolds over time (or rather, I hope so), but as a result, I’m not very invested in her for her own sake. The plot is more than interesting enough to carry you through The Memory Box, but one wishes the character was doing the same.
The various side characters are kind of stock, with the exception of Tom Price (Torchwood’s PC Andy) as the hapless tourist whose spaceship Vienna co-opts to make her escape from the law. Price is nice and funny in a part that calls for it, and I enjoyed his performance a lot. The two cops, on the other hand, have a dynamic a whole lot like that of the two Imperial Navy officers from The Shadow Heart (John Banks even plays the senior partner in both!).
There are a few nice callouts in The Memory Box: this clearly takes place in the same colourful milieu as The Shadow Heart, and by extension, the rest of the Drashani Empire stories, with a few little reference I wasn’t expecting. Even more excitingly, we have our first Slithergee in ten years. I loved those blind slugs in Flip-Flop, and was looking forward to their return, but the performance here (by someone doubling up — probably John Banks) isn’t quite as splendidly obsequious as Daniel Hogarth’s in Flip-Flop, and there’s a distracting effect on the voice. Indeed, The Memory Box is one of those releases that extends its small cast by having some of them double up with heavily digitised voices, and unfortunately, some of the effects by Jamie Robertson make the voices unintelligible. On the other hand, I enjoyed the 1990s-tastic main theme for the series. Otherwise, the sound design is at the typical Big Finish standard.
So while I’m still not convinced a Vienna spin-off needs to exist, this was a reasonably diverting way to spend 65 minutes. If you have the time and energy, pick it up, but if you’re already weary of an oversaturated Doctor Who audio drama market, you’re probably better off giving this a wide berth.
The Memory Box (by Jonathan Morris; starring Chase Masterson) was released by Big Finish Productions in February 2013.