One of my favourite eras of Doctor Who is Seasons 25 and 26. One of my favourite aspects of those seasons is how the writers were always careful to give Ace a “friend” character, usually another young woman. And one of my favourite of those characters is Jessica Martin’s Mags, the werewolf that the Doctor and Ace met at the Psychic Circus in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
As they do, Big Finish have brought Mags back for a trilogy of adventures, making her into a regular companion for the Seventh Doctor. He rediscovers Mags in Matt Fitton’s The Monsters of Gokroth, takes her back to her home planet in Emma Reeves’s The Moons of Vulpana, and takes her to Earth for a reunion with Ace in An Alien Werewolf in London. By making Mags into a lead, the stories promise some sense of what makes her tick, as does the trilogy’s hook that Mags is struggling to control her metamorphoses.
There are times Matt Fitton cranks out something interesting, but of late it feels like he writes the most generic of Doctor Who plots with the blandest of characters. The Monsters of Gokroth is no exception; a group of xenophobic villages are being beset by monsters, while nearby a mad scientist conducts her experiments. There are some attempts to tweak the formula, but building dramatic reveals into the plot doesn’t matter at all if one doesn’t care about who the reveals happen to. An idealistic but uncertain leader, a pair of idealistic lovers, a space con man… you’ve heard them all before, and he does nothing to make you interested in them.
I did enjoy, however, the return to Mags’s home planet. I feel like Big Finish doesn’t often go in for worldbuilding, preferring sketchy, generic sci-fi takes on alien societies. Vulpana in The Moons of Vulpana feels real and lived-in, with different classes, different clans, and differences within classes and clans. I liked the idea that the werewolves are the upper classes of Vulpana: it leads to some interesting commentary, in that the upper classes are the monsters, but cover it in a veneer of civilisation. Mags finds herself somewhat seduced by this new world and new way of life, but soon figures out her place in it all. It’s not a perfect story — Part Four felt like it went on too long, and had some improbable contrivances — but I enjoyed it, and felt it was reaching for complexity of character and setting in a way that Big Finish’s monthly Doctor Who range rarely does of late.
The trilogy wraps up with An Alien Werewolf in London. Sometimes Alan Barnes just goes for “barmy” and this one sure does, with an evil vampire plot being premised on the spread of an awful 1990s Australian soap opera. It has some great moments and good twists, but in a character sense, it doesn’t really feel like it follows on from either The Moons of Vulpana or The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, in that Mags barely features, and neither does the Ace/Mags relationship. I feel like there was room to do something interesting here — a Mags struggling to grow up meets an Ace who finally has — but Barnes’s script gets too detailed into the machinations of alien politics on Earth, and the character threads are neglected. If this is a “Mags trilogy”, one might expect Mags to play a bigger role in its climax, or for its climax to play a bigger role in her character. I thought this one was fine, if weird, on its own merits, but unsatisfactory where it was slotted in.
Like its predecessor trilogy, this return of a 1980s character feels misjudged. There was room to do something interesting, but it never really materialised. If you felt Mags was a lost opportunity for a companion, this is a trilogy that will still leave you thinking that way.
The Monsters of Gokroth (by Matt Fitton; starring Sylvester McCoy, Jessica Martin), The Moons of Vulpana (by Emma Reeves; starring Sylvester McCoy, Jessica Martin), and An Alien Werewolf in London (by Alan Barnes; starring Sylvester McCoy, Jessica Martin, Sophie Aldred) were released by Big Finish Productions in April, May, and June 2019 respectively.