Doctor Who: Ravenous 3 – Starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, India Fisher, Alex Kingston, John Heffernan, Mark Bonnar, Rakhee Thakrar, George Asprey & Dan Starkey. Written by Matt Fitton & John Dorney & Directed by Ken Bentley – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
You’re going to need a nice lie down in a dark room after Ravenous #3.
And possibly even before it. It’s that kind of timey-wimey effecty-causey rollercoaster ride.
There are three things to keep in mind about the Ravenous, which we’ve heard before, but which come into much clearer audio focus in this box set.
- They’re the Time Lords’ natural super-predator, and therefore Time Lords, used to swanning about the fiefdom of time and space like they own the place, are actually, intrinsically scared enough of these things to make impetuous mistakes.
- For reasons more or less of ‘Well, why wouldn’t they?’, they naturally look kiiiiind of like Pennywise the Clown. Creepy clowns, certainly, is their go-to physicality and style. So, yeah, good luck with the sleeping.
- And of course, they earn their name by being permanently starving, with Time Lord the absolute ribeye steak of their menu.
So, let’s play our game.
We kick off this time out with a Time Lord research station, mining dark chronons (time particles) as a theoretically limitless power source in the event of anything beggaring about with the Eye of Harmony. Because why the hell not? When a Ravenous nabs Time Lord researcher Brallix and frightens him into regeneration, an altercation means the station has a dead Ravenous to autopsy and a regenerated Brallix on hand to continue mining operations.
If only things were that simple in the Eighth Doctor’s universe.
Rule 1: things are never that simple in the Eighth Doctor’s universe. Without spoilering you, the encounter on Deeptime Frontier opens up the door for the Alien-style ‘one creepy thing following us round a dead Tardis’ scenario of Seizure, the final story of Ravenous 2, to become a full-on Aliens-style Ravenousfest in this third box set, and others to come. What’s perhaps most striking about Deeptime Frontier is that it hammers home the notion of the Ravenous as Time Lord predators – creatures that especially love to hunt the time-travelling folk in the stiff collars. And that one of the ways they do that is to literally make Time Lords frightened to distraction. The Doctor’s been frightened before, his exposure to the universe has arguably prepared him rather better than most Time Lords to deal with bladder-weakening terror, but here, he’s seen making irrational decisions and mistakes – rather more than his human companions do, because the humans aren’t part of this particular evolutionary battle of predator and prey. It’s taken a while to really get a handle on why we as an audience should care about the Ravenous (almost sixty pounds worth of time at even the download prices by the time we get to Ravenous 3), so Deeptime Frontier is a big step forward in helping us appreciate why we need all the box sets, and what particularly is the USP of this Big Bad.
Having said all which, Companion Piece by John Dorney ignores the Ravenous – and the Doctor, come to that – more or less entirely. It’s largely a fun, fan-serving piece, which has the Nine (Yes, the villain we’ve come to know as the Eleven, or the Twelve, just earlier in his lifetime) happily capturing friends of the Doctor, like he’s some demented action-figure fan, who has to get the whole set. No-one really seems adequately able to explain why precisely he’s collecting the set, though it seems to be an idea seeded by River Song. Yep, she’s here, furiously not meeting the Doctor but throwing a spanner in the works of the Nine’s plans more or less on principle. What this allows for is a handful of one or two-line vocal cameos from a host of companions, plus the return of Charley Pollard into an Eighth Doctor timeline – albeit, as with River, one from which he’s conspicuous by his absence – and the arrival of a companion who isn’t, at this point in the timeline, a companion.
We mentioned the part where it’s probably a good idea to have a nice lie down in a dark room, right?
If dark chronons didn’t get you, you should probably start at about this point.
Anyone who read the IDW comic Prisoners of Time might have a touch of déjà vu about this story, but the chance to get some of the Doctor’s friends together is never a particularly bad thing, and getting them to both realise what he sees in and gets from each of them, and then work together to defeat the frankly rather low-powered villain, is fun in and of itself. It ultimately feels like a bit of a Doctor Who pantomime where the Doctor only arrives in the final moments, and it seems to have very little, if anything, to do with the ongoing storyline of the Ravenous, but is it a fun listen? Absolutely, if you’re happy weaving timelines and listening to River be witty in the face of torture.
And be honest – who isn’t?
Episode 3, L.E.G.E.N.D., is the now semi-traditional ‘fairytale episode.’ Last time, the idea of the Krampus in Salzburg took us through the mid-section of the set, but here, we’re hanging out with the Brothers Grimm, at least one of whom manages to remain mostly conscious through most of the story. Again, there’s a fairly tangential connection to the overall Ravenous story-arc, in that it centres on the actions, and indeed the ego, of an alien professor who specialises in myths and folklore – the Ravenous are the folklore of Gallifrey, and she knows a lot about them, but that never really comes to the fore, because she’s decided to go and hang out with the Grimms, who of course are experts in the folklore of their own little corner of space-time. Unfortunately, she comes along with an intelligent and oddly aspirational AI, which has the power to make the world in its own image. Before you know where you are or largely why, Helen Sinclair’s turned into a fish, spell-rhymes change reality, and the Doctor and a new travelling companion are having to gnaw their way through a whole lot of gingerbread to make sense of a world gone mad. It’s a nice touch of satire from Matt Fitton that the havoc of this episode is unleashed by an AI earnestly trying to make the world ‘better’ – a touch of manifest destiny which of course, like all such destinies depends for its usefulness on how one determines what is ‘better.’ If you determine that ‘better’ means ‘more like a Grimm fairy tale,’ you’re in a world of really pretty dark, unDisneyfied folklore, from which escape is often deeply at odds with how we understand the actual world to work. As such, L.E.G.E.N.D. is rather a fun detour from the main thread in and of itself – it only becomes problematic when you’re paying for the Ravenous and the two mid-section stories have only a tangential connection to them.
Finally this time, John Dorney’s The Odds Against is…well more or less the Eighth Doctor meets the Riddler from Batman, but with a deeply interesting twist. Near the portal where the Ravenous were first imprisoned, there’s a gang of very understanding but mostly silent monks, and a dead body. The monks, naturally enough, being monks, have secrets, the Doctor extends his trust, Liv patently doesn’t, and an enemy does that so very Doctor Who thing of having everything in their sights, and then arguing themselves out of a small revenge, in order to play the longer game and necessitate a fourth box set. Oh and there are clues. Listen out and you can pick them up, thought to be fair, you could probably just leap to one big conclusion and be just as right. Along the way, there’s a very particular revelation which takes us all the way back to the events of Deeptime Frontier, and how exactly the Ravenous eat their Time Lords. Trust us – that’s gonna be important going forward.
Overall, Ravenous 3 delivers a lot of information pay-off for fans who’ve come three box sets in without any particularly clear idea what these uber-predators actually are, or why they should care. Absolutely, it delivers that in two of the four episodes, leaving the mid-section as entertaining sub-stories in their own right, or diversionary padding, depending on how kind you feel. There’s certainly enough in the middle two episodes to let you enjoy them. You just have to get over the slight sense of dislocation from a plot-arc to a couple of distracting adventures and back again. This time out though, there’s certainly more meat on the bones of the Ravenous to help you through, plus a companionfest, River Song being monstrously confusing with time and smart-alecry (smart-Alexry, even?) and fun with gingerbread cottages. There’s also significant evolution for one major character, along lines that could, just possibly, help explain a thing or two in the Eighth Doctor Time War range.
Have a dark room and perhaps a cup or two of soothing herbal tea on standby, because your brain may rather hate you once you’ve made it through the mayhem of Ravenous 3 – it’s as confusing as a River Song timeline, only with a couple of Time Lords, each of whom have a number of voices at various stages of their lives. But crack on with it – there’s enough here to make it worth the trip on its own merit, and without it, anything that follows is likely to make absolutely no sense whatsoever. Tony Fyler