Doctor Who: Ravenous 4 – Starring: Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan, Mark Bonnar, Geoffrey Beevers, Derek Jacobi, Michelle Gomez & Eric Roberts & Written by Matt Fitton & John Dorney. Directed by Ken Bentley – 5xCD / Download (Big Finish)
Four box sets. More or less sixteen hours of storytelling.
It all culminates here.
Ultimately, the tale of the Ravenous – a very odd species that are pitched as the Time Lord’s natural predator from the dawn of Time Lord history and that look strangely like evil clowns (because go figure) – has taken the Eighth Doctor’s Tardis team on quite the journey, including a stop-off of a year or so for Liv Chenka to allegedly mend some fences with her sister (We’ll hear how that goes in upcoming spin-off series The Robots), Helen Sinclair ageing more or less to the point of death, only to be rescued from a fate very much like death by something which would be spoilery if you haven’t heard an earlier Ravenous box set, and the Doctor going on a journey of attempted redemption of a long-held enemy.
But this set is where the story of the Ravenous ends, so it needs a few things to happen: it needs either to explain the Ravenous properly or to defeat them utterly; it needs a sense of the epic, of scales so enormous they warrant the previous twelve hours and the four of this set. It needs to pay off story arcs, to reward characterisation and development, and to make us nod once we’re done, satisfied that we’ve come to the end of a full-on saga.
The set opens up in the suitably low-key Whisper, by Matt Fitton, with the Doctor and friends – loosely including the Eleven in that collective – needing a break and some recuperation time after the high-stress ending of box set 3.
They arrive on a planet with a predator which hunts based on loud sounds – so every conversation on the surface has to be conducted in whispers. For those who know the movie, this will be familiar territory from A Quiet Place. Lots of planets, it turns out, have a quiet place. This one though has something altogether more creepy going on. We mean that literally – when the Doctor and Co are separated, they each encounter survivors of an expedition to the planet, who have a subterranean base, where the predator can’t catch them.
Events unfold like a smashing together of a classic base under siege story with a dash of post-modern horror movie (Did you lock the enemy out, or trap them inside with you? And, which is worse to contemplate, how do you find out without risking your life?). Matt Fitton creates a situation which is inherently tense and puts people on edge – the idea of whispering is instinctively linked to secrets, to hiding, to doing something wrong and not wanting to be found out, so you listen to this story with a heightened intensity, not just to clearly hear everything that’s being said, but because the very premise puts your fight or flight response on high alert. The revelation of the truth of the planet is delivered with practiced aplomb – you almost feel it coming, and yet when it arrives, it craaaawls up your consciousness, taking its time to deliver the fullness of its horror to your brain.
And then you yelp, and whimper, and rely on the Time Lord with the once-floppy hair to get you out of the story alive.
So with nerves freshly jangled, you’re almost relieved to escape to a seemingly barren desert world – the Planet Of Dust of Fitton’s second story. There’s a touch of Revelation of the Daleks about this one (Disclaimer – no Daleks appear in this story), in that the Master is coming over all ‘Great Provider’ on the planet Parak, despite of course being in reality a life-stealing, slave-driving cowl-covered ultra-git. More than in most Geoffrey Beevers Master stories though, there’s an edge of urgency in his sadism here, because the Master is running out of time. Finally. Actually. The constant reversion of his stolen bodies to the decayed, burned appearance of the Pratt and Beevers Masters is wearing thin, and wearing him out. So the Master is on Parak looking for one very specific thing. And if he finds it, he hopes, he’ll be able to avoid the destiny of his death and go on again.
But the Doctor and friends arrive to mess up his desperate archaeology (Oh for a pal with a sonic trowel – it’s not like the Doctor doesn’t have a couple to spare), while the Eleven becomes a major factor – will he join with the Doctor to stop the Master’s obscene and terrifying plan, or will he jump ship and join the Master in his excavations for the secret of an immortality beyond anything Rassilon ever hoped for? Or, just possibly, does he have a gameplan of his own in coming to Parak? And what of the Ravenous? With the Master seeking to uncover an endless supply of Time Lord life, how long can the Ravenous be held at bay?
There’s a feeling in The Planet Of Dust of it not being an Eighth Doctor story at all, but actually the long, hard, action-packed version of a Caves Of Androzani for the Beevers Master, his ultimate facedown of his own mortality showing his diligence, his monstrosity, his determination to burn the universe to death if it will let him live as king of the wasteland. It’s a powerhouse piece that showcases the Beevers Master, while allowing room for many other forceful characters to run about, make plans, connive, rebel, revolt, and try to steal the potential of his triumph from under his fingertips. Without giving away too much, if you’re a fan of the Beevers Master and the journey he’s so far had on audio, this is always going to be a special story for you. It’s also got enough underlying oomph to offer listeners more directly interested in the story of the Ravenous their fair share of the action and story development too. And if you’re a fan of Liv Chenka’s no-nonsense pragmatism about people in the universe in which she lives, you’ll love and laugh at this story too, as Liv’s appraisal of what’s going on turns out to be blisteringly accurate.
It’s possible you could have got all the way to listening to it without realising that the culmination of the Ravenous story arc is a two-part epic entitled Day Of The Master and written by John Dorney. It’s not likely you’ll have done that, but if you have, apologies. There are Masters everywhere you look in this final two-hour extravaganza – Derek Jacobi’s War Master matching wits and bullets with Liv Chenka. Michelle Gomez’s Missy reprising her pointy stick routine, but this time with the more acquiescent Helen. And the Eric Roberts Master…
Well, the Eric Roberts Master has gone somewhere very, very special. Tres dangereuse. Maximum ‘Are you out of your tiny freakin’ mind?!’
Needless to say of course, it’s where the Eighth Doctor decides to go too, so there’s a pitched battle between these two reunited adversaries, for the heart and soul of Time Lord history. You know of Omega. You know of Rassilon. You’re about to meet a third figure from the days when time travel was new and regeneration was just a glint in a Gallifreyan eye. You’ll know their name, but never necessarily have appreciated their place in the Time Lord hierarchy. So, buckle up – your understanding of the Doctor Who universe is about to change, probably forever.
In addition to which, there are significant, important callbacks here to earlier in the Ravenous story arc – in fact, without having listened to one particular interlude in the arc, you may find yourself spun off the ride at this point because – guess what? – Things Were Not As They Seemed.
I know – shocking.
The point of all of this though is that the reason and the way in which things weren’t as they seemed ties in with a shedload of previously unexplored Gallifreyan history, what the Beevers Master was looking for, the origin of the Ravenous, the Eleven’s ultimate plans, three Masters working together to secure both their past and their future, and an ending which involves the expansion of a Time Lord gift to the whole universe, Liv Chenka getting increasingly angry every time she gets shot (well, you would, wouldn’t you?), Helen Sinclair flying out of a window and the conversation she has there, and the finding of a way to undo what was done before the Ravenous turn the universe into a feeding frenzy.
It’s an epic battle that creeps up on you – the symphony of Masters working together is utterly sublime, and a peculiarity about the Roberts incarnation is put to good use within the story, but it’s the consequences of the McGann-Roberts battle that chiefly decides the future. It ends with the sewing up of strands from across the whole story arc, and with a final scene that is glorious in ways it would be an absolute crime to spoiler for you. In a way, it’s the end, but by the time we get there, the moment has been well and truly prepared for.
The fourth Ravenous box set had a lot to do. That it does it in a satisfyingly, air-punching way that delivers treat after treat along the journey is not really the surprising thing. The surprise is the way in which the storyline escalates, creeping up on you from Whisper through Planet Of Dust to the full-on tonto-fest of wonder that is Day of The Master, delivering character development all the way and still managing an epic, Time Lord history-shifting nail-biter, with three freakin’ Masters (at least) in at the death.
If you’ve come through three Ravenous box sets, you’re going to have to get this one whatever we say. The fact that it rewards you for your loyalty on such a cosmic canvas is just a significant perk. More importantly, if you haven’t followed the Ravenous arc as of yet – you’re gonna need to bite the bullet and do that, because this is an ending you really, truly, hand on both hearts, won’t want to miss. Tony Fyler