Ravenous 3 continues the latest Paul McGann Doctor Who saga, and it also continues to confirm my reservations about the overarching storyline. The more the Ravenous are developed, the more certain I am that they’re simply just not interesting, yet for some reason Big Finish are fashioning a 16-part epic around them.
The Ravenous themselves are the focus of two instalments, Deeptime Frontier and The Odds Against. The former attempts to be the Aliens to Ravenous 2’s Alien; the latter has the Doctor and his companions on a desperate search for a weapon capable of beating the Ravenous. Deeptime Frontier didn’t set my world alight, but is a competent enough space horror story. It attempts to flesh out the Ravenous, but pausing the plot so that Paul McGann can tell a spooky story from the days of Rassilon just isn’t enough. I wonder if Ken Bentley’s direction is to blame. The Ravenous might work if these tales were slow and creepy, ratcheting up the tension, but instead they’re big, bright action runarounds, like an audio version of a Russell T Davies series premiere. This is a genre that (as UNIT has shown) just doesn’t play to the strengths of audio. If you want to have a story with a “creepy campfire tale” scene, you need to have a story that a creepy campfire tale would belong in, and Deeptime Frontier is not such a story. It’s entertaining but insubstantial, like too much of Ravenous. Add on to that the fact that I am a little sceptical of any story that begins by introducing an old Time Lord friend of the Doctor whom we have never met before — surely a hoary old trope at this point.
To be honest, I’m not sure why the Ravenous are so deeply tied into Time Lord mythology, anyway. Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition both focused on their machinations, and of course The Eighth Doctor: The Time War must do, and I’m getting Time Lord-ed out. Adding Time Lords to something often feels like a cheap attempt to create scale if the storytelling doesn’t have the weight to support it, as in The Invasion of Time or Arc of Infinity on television. Let’s hear Paul McGann explore the universe instead of kowtowing to under-cardinals. I know it was on the cover of Volume 2, but that the Ravenous look like creepy clowns is confirmed in dialogue here. A snarling army of aliens with a creepy visual appearance just doesn’t play to the strengths of the medium. Like, I can’t see them. Them looking like something (that I’ve never found) creepy will not creep me out on audio.
The standout story of the set is Companion Piece; it’s the one that lets Big Finish put Alex Kingston, India Fisher, and Rakhee Thakrar on the cover. The Nine is collecting companions of the Doctor, and while he tortures River Song, Liv and Helen are tossed in a cell with Charley Pollard and Bliss. The five women have to work together to escape. It’s a fun story with some great moments, but it ultimately feels a little hollow. One feels that in teaming Liv, Helen, Bliss, and Charley together, I should gain some kind of insight into what it means to be a companion of the Doctor, but instead it’s just an hour of hearing some well-loved characters and Bliss do their standard thing. Sure, I’m glad I get to hear it, but shouldn’t it be more special? It’s kind of like one of the weaker DC Comics Crises — there’s a base pleasure in seeing Wally West hanging out with Adam Strange, but it’s creatively pointless. Now, John Dorney is a better writer than Geoff Johns, so I wouldn’t call it that, but I’m not really sure why this story had to be told. But I did really enjoy listening to it, and there were a number of “punch the air” moments. Give me a good “team up to break out of prison” story any day, and this is indeed a good one.
It does have one up on L.E.G.E.N.D., though, a mediocre combination of excellent ingredients. Matt Fitton expresses his surprised in the extras that “Doctor Who Meets the Brothers Grimm” had never before been done on screen or audio, but now that it has been, it doesn’t seem worth it. Fairy tales are fertile ground for Doctor Who, but instead we get a story about an alien celebrity professor who specialises in both folklore and biotech for some reason unleashing slow-moving goo on nineteenth-century Germany. Paul McGann talks in the extras about the powerful cultural functions fairy tales perform, but you wouldn’t know they perform any by listening to this story. The Brothers Grimm are a disappointment, their characterisations basically amounting to “likes alcohol and women” and “is asleep”.
The last story, The Odds Against, has a couple clever moments but otherwise isn’t up to a whole lot. It’s a John Dorney story, so the whole thing has been built around those clever moments, but to the exclusion of maintaining interest along the way. Parts of it are very generic, and that’s obviously by design, but you still have to listen to it be generic along the way. That said, the scenes at the end of the play are worth the price of admission alone.
Surprisingly, in a set where Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, Mark Bonnar, Alex Kingston, and India Fisher all play major roles, the standout performance comes from John Heffernan as the Nine, who livens up every story he appears in. Bonnar as the Eleven has become increasingly manic and unthreatening post-Doom Coalition, but Hefferman is fun and malevolent all at once. He does a great job in all his scenes. I don’t know if I want more of him per se (it seems to me that the numbered renegade Time Lord is in danger of being overexposed), but I really enjoyed what I did get. (Part of the reason he stands out so much, though, is that the regulars are given comparatively little of interest to do.)
Though I thought this set had more substance than some of the other Ravenous ones, it still suffers from many of the same weaknesses. There’s some fannish potential in the big finale, though, if nothing else, so here’s hoping.
Ravenous 3 (by Matt Fitton, John Dorney; starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan) was released by Big Finish Productions in April 2019.