Doctor Who’s River Song is a character I honestly wasn’t much into on television; I picked up her first Big Finish box set for Paul McGann, and ended up following the character through (as of this writing) seven box sets. I ended up with a new appreciation for Alex Kingston as an actress, especially as an audio actress, a new appreciation that has now seen me follow her into a starring role in Transference, an eight-part original serial from Big Finish.
In Transference, Kingston plays a psychotherapist named Sam Ross whose life comes tumbling down around her. Her sister’s dead, her newest client is insisting he’s a murderer, her best friend is being investigated for rape allegations, and someone is trying to kill her too.
I’m not much of a thriller watcher/listener, but when I do partake in one, what I like about it is that edge of suspense, that feeling that the world is crumbling apart around someone, so that they can’t rely on anything or anyone. The first few episodes of Transference do that extremely well. The first two are written by Jane Slavin, at first setting up Sam’s world so that it can be torn apart. Slavin is great at making Sam feel real and true — one assumes because Slavin, like Sam, is a middle-aged woman, unlike most Big Finish writers. Her episodes and Andrew Smith’s ratchet up the tension, and have some big, effective surprises in them.
The last four change focus. Roland Moore’s first episode sends Sam to a new location, which works for a change of pace, and also plummets her to her lowest point yet. But then comes the downside of all stories about mysteries: everything needs to explained. Unfortunately, Transference doesn’t do this very elegantly. Moore’s second episode is largely a series of flashbacks, and then so is the second-to-last episode, by John Dorney. It also gets somewhat convoluted and unbelievable — though I’m not sure it could be otherwise! With the story’s momentum disrupted, by the time we get to the finale, it feels like all the energy has been sapped from the set-up — and Dorney’s story doubles down on that, preferring to tell its tale in flashback, which is a bizarre choice that completely undermines the drama. But I think even if it hadn’t been told in flashback, this resolution would still lack any sense of drama; all of a sudden, things just become so easy for Sam at a time where they ought to be worse than ever. But how can you go from “worse than ever” to “satisfying conclusion” in the span of an hour-long episode?
One real highlight of the story is the casting. Kingston is great in a role where she is completely different from River Song, a woman very open with her true feelings, very afraid, and very out of control in her life. It was also nice to hear Warren Brown (the long-running “fetch” of Big Finish’s UNIT series as Sam Bishop) in a role that actually gave him something to do; he plays Keith, Sam’s mysterious patient, and finally I understand why David Richardson is always talking about what a good actor he is. The cast includes two other UNIT mainstays, actually, Ingrid Oliver (Osgood) and Tracy Wiles (the Scottish reporter), showing a real highlight of the whole Big Finish Originals project: getting to hear familiar voices do unfamiliar things. The real casting highlight for me, though, was Robert Whitelock as Sam’s best friend Paul. Whitelock convinces as a likeable guy, as a life-long friend, and as a police officer. I really enjoyed every scene he was in, and the moments where the story shifts to focus on him where some of the best ones.
Despite a limp second half, Transference is yet another successful outing for Big Finish Originals, showing that the company does have creative prowess no matter what one might think based on some of their tie-in materials. It’s well worth a listen, and I look forward to the range’s imminent (final?) release, The Human Frontier.
Transference (by Jane Slavin, Andrew Smith, Roland Moore, John Dorney; starring Alex Kingston, Warren Brown, Wendy Craig, Ingrid Oliver, Robert Whitelock) was released by Big Finish Productions in August 2019.