Review by Jacob Licklider
So what happens when your production company switches to a box set structure but doesn’t necessarily have themes for every set? Well that has been something that the past ten months of Big Finish Productions’ output has been, switching away from numbering their sets as to not overboard potential new listeners with so much content they would have to catch up on. It is with this in mind that the Eighth Doctor Adventures range was changed from the four box set arc model to integrate it with the other releases which had some interesting side effects. This meant that this year Big Finish have scheduled four sets featuring the Eighth Doctor, the conclusion to Stranded, the two now standard 3-disc Eighth Doctor Adventures, and a special fourth set featuring Charley Pollard. The two standard sets were scheduled for the last two months of the year, most likely to have a gap for actual production of the sets, the first being What Lies Inside? released this month while the second, Connections, is out in December. What’s especially intriguing is that while there isn’t any sort of story arc, Rafe Wallbank crafted connected covers almost reminiscent of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels covers (Interference in particular comes to mind). What Lies Inside? is the first set that falls into the category of 2022 sets where each of the stories has been completely standalone, following Silver and Ice and The Outlaws, and like those sets the structure is a two hour adventure and a one hour adventure, though here each episode is an hour long.
Paradox of the Daleks opens the set and in the fan discussions I am mostly seeing is a story that people are praising for being somehow non-linear. While John Dorney does play around with a time travel narrative, and paradox is in the title, as a story it is a fairly linear story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. What Dorney actually does do that is impressive is the way he executes time travel concepts that peel back in layers as the story progresses, using a time loop structure and with this structure it means that listeners see events play out from different perspectives. This has an interesting effect on the tone of the story, as it starts out as your standard Doctor Who mystery plot, with the Doctor, Liv, and Helen arriving on a space station which has been doing experiments to develop time travel. The TARDIS being drawn off course and the Daleks being there, but these are Daleks the Doctor doesn’t recognise, they have too many rivets, and it seems there is something more beneath the surface on this space station. As the layers are peeled back the story shifts from a serious story into this almost wry farce mixing elements of a comedy of errors where the Doctor, Liv, and Helen are all attempting to ensure that when they arrive at the beginning of Part One everything is in place for their arrival. The Daleks themselves honestly feel like they don’t necessarily need to be there and really don’t become a focus of the story which is kind of a shame as Dorney could have used the story as a dark precursor to the Time War and explored more of Liv’s baggage from the ending of Dark Eyes, but wrapping the story up in that much lore would easily become off-putting to new listeners.
This is also a story where it feels as if Paul McGann as the Doctor is particularly sidelined, as the focus shifts just after the halfway point to Liv and Helen in the past before eventually shifting back towards the end. Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan are wonderful as Liv and Helen in this point post-Stranded where they’re just travelling to travel and not being bogged down by over the top, universe ending threats. Helen has her first experience with the Daleks here and it’s odd as this is such a non-standard Dalek story, trying to do something different with the character while Dorney includes quite a bit at the beginning building up how dangerous the Daleks are. This becomes a slight issue when the story doesn’t focus really on the danger of the Daleks, as said earlier they could have theoretically been any villain and you wouldn’t miss a lot of what the story is doing. When Liv and Helen are sent back in time at the cliffhanger of the first episode and we move into the second episode the wit of the story really improves a lot in my estimation. Mainly because Dorney is allowed to cut loose and really take the time to have fun with the premise he has been writing. It’s clear a lot of work went into the script to make the time loop storyline seem simple, Dorney’s Twitter feed has mentioned that some of the scenes have been the most difficult for him to write. Paradox of the Daleks perhaps takes too much time to get started but it becomes incredibly fun once it’s gotten going. 7/10.
It’s odd when a one-hour story becomes the sleeper hit of the box set. It happened with The Miniaturist and it happened with the hour long story of this set, The Dalby Spook. Lauren Mooney and Stewart Pringle are two newcomers to Big Finish Productions’ writing team, this being the first story they’ve written together but the third to be released. This is a story taking on spiritualism and involves a talking mongoose taking the role of a young girl’s imaginary friend. Now listening to this story you might be tempted like I was to believe this was a story completely from the minds of Mooney and Pringle, however this is false. Gef the Talking Mongoose was a story circulated in the early 1930s which the real Irving family claimed came to them and gave them acclaim in the press. The Dalby Spook puts the Doctor, Liv, and Helen down to find Gef, played by Harry Myers, being investigated by psychic investigator Harry Price, played by Philip Jackson. The sequence of investigations build to the Doctor discovering a rational explanation for Gef’s existence, one that is relevant to the life cycle of the mongoose, while Liv and Helen act as caretakers to the young girl Gef speaks with. Mooney and Pringle have crafted a story that does an excellent job of starting with dismissing Gef as just this imaginary friend and the layers being peeled back to see where things have gone wrong in this household before the alien plot can get going. McGann is the one to shine here as there’s this delightful skepticism mixed with wonder at the universe that has been missing from his characterisation for a long time and I hope that continues with the move away from the miniseries model. The story also just hits all the right emotional beats to really come together in the limited runtime. 9/10.
What Lies Inside? may not be a box set with a theme nor does it completely relaunch the Eighth Doctor with new companions, instead going on with Liv and Helen post-Stranded. The two stories are on opposite ends of what they are trying to accomplish while standing tall on their own as stories. 8/10.
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[…] well as establishing the exit of Liv Chenka). Despite having a cover that connects directly to What Lies Inside?, Connections is a set that doesn’t actually connect in terms of developing a story arc for the […]