Here, on the eve of Stranded, I’m finally getting around to reviewing the finale of Big Finish’s previous Eighth Doctor epic, Ravenous. I feel like Ravenous 4 is an admission that the Ravenous never really worked. We have four discs of content here, and three of them focus on the Master.

The Doctor feels lost, only nominally the hero of his own story

Before we get to the Master, though, we have to deal with the Eleven, who managed to become a companion of sorts in an improbable turn of events in Ravenous 3. Guess what: he was bad all along. This is revealed to us in Whisper, a profoundly uninteresting base-under-siege story by Matt Fitton, set on a planet where you must be quiet, or die. It seems obvious that Fitton saw A Quiet Place and thought, “I’ll have that”. This is of course a venerable Doctor Who tradition, but Whisper is stunning in its complete lack of tension. Surely audio would be the medium where you could make speaking loudly a source of danger? But Ken Bentley’s direction means it really just feels like any other Doctor Who story. The explanation for the situation, too, is a bit of a Doctor Who cliché at this point, and has been done better elsewhere — and honestly, is gubbins even by “science of Doctor Who” standards. The character dynamics could carry you through, except the idea of the Eleven as a cheery companion to the Doctor, Helen, and Liv stopped making sense about 20 minutes into the third disc of Ravenous 3.

Planet of Dust brings in the Master. The Geoffrey Beevers incarnation is running a mining colony on a, well, planet of dust. It has basically one good moment (a joke about the TV Movie), and if you’ve heard one Doctor Who story where a bunch of generic nobodies have to be persuaded to rise up against a brutal dictator, you’ve heard this one. Plus, if you’ve ever felt the Big Finish audios don’t have enough bits where they explain bits of mythos that didn’t need explaining, we learn that “artron” is named after a person. But why!? Also the whole thing is almost hilariously careful about establishing chronological placements — this is the version of the Beevers Master who previously appeared in Mastermind, and we also get an explanation for how he can coexist with the version of the Eric Roberts Master heard in The Diary of River Song, who was also said to follow straight from the TVM. As a continuity wonk, I do appreciate this, but as someone trying to enjoy a story, I was thrown right out of it. You could hear the TARDIS Wiki being updated.

Everything climaxes with The Day of the Master, a big multi-Master story featuring four different incarnations of the Time Lord (Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, and Michelle Gomez are added to the mix). I don’t know why a totally different villain is the focus of this long-running story about the Ravenous — except that including the Master makes this a more interesting story than it would have been just focusing on the Ravenous alone. But omitting the Ravenous would have made it even better as a multi-Master story! The story also suffers from being a Paul McGann one, which dictates that two of the four featured Masters cannot meet the Doctor for continuity reasons. Within those confines, it’s enjoyable. Michelle Gomez steals the show up against a number of extremely more self-important incarnations, though Derek Jacobi has an utterly amazing moment with Liv Chenka, and I also liked Missy’s interplay with Helen. Eric Roberts doesn’t really shine, except as the butt of Missy’s jokes — but hey, I’ll take it. (Plus we get yet another bit of Master continuity tied up, though this one felt more organic to the story.)

As for the rest of the story, it, well, it exists. We finally learn the true origin of the Ravenous, and they are defeated, both things that really underwhelm. The Doctor feels lost in the middle of all this, only nominally the hero of his own story. Paul McGann is my favourite Doctor, but I feel as though (in terms of his ongoing story) Big Finish haven’t given him anything interesting to do as an actor since the original Dark Eyes. The character feels increasingly generic.

I’m happy to see that with the forthcoming Stranded sets Big Finish is at least tweaking the epic-sequence-of-box-sets format, even though they’re not abandoning it altogether. Having listened to Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition, and Ravenous now, my feeling is that Doom Coalition perfected the structure that haphazardly evolved in Dark Eyes, but keeping it going after that has been diminishing returns. No more ancient Time Lord whatevers, please, and make the overall story about the characters, rather than the characters being a thing the overall story periodically stops to focus on. Too much of these sets is sound and fury signifying nothing, and I want better for my favourite Doctor.

Ravenous 4 (by Matt Fitton, John Dorney; starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan) was released by Big Finish Productions in October 2019.