The Graceless sisters are back, and this time they’re joined by the Doctor (Peter Davison) and Leela (Louise Jameson) in Wicked Sisters: a new three-part audio boxset from Big Finish Productions. Having delved into the Graceless series over the summer (which I absolutely loved- check out my review of series one here), I’m looking forward to diving into some more adventures with Abby and Zara. So, without further ado, here’s my review of Doctor Who: Wicked Sisters!
1. “The Garden of Storms” by Simon Guerrier
We open right in the middle of the action, with the Doctor and Leela on the run, fleeing from creatures on an alien planet. As they race towards the TARDIS, Leela tells the Doctor that the Time Lords have ordered him to track down and kill Abby and Zara as their actions are damaging spacetime. This is the central conceit of Wicked Sisters: the Doctor grappling with this mission and choosing between saving the universe or saving his friends.
Flying into a temporal storm, the Doctor and Leela find themselves in a mysterious garden, where, for reasons unknown, people are sentenced to death on their fortieth birthday. As they investigate, they encounter Abby (Ciara Janson) and Zara (Laura Doddington), who have become part of this strange society. It’s great to hear more from these characters, and the two actresses slip effortlessly back into their roles.
Pandora Clifford and Tom Mahy star here too, playing Zeeb and Brody, two inhabitants of the garden. They put in suitably strong performances, helping to flesh out the weird and wonderful society that Guerrier has set this story in.
The story itself is a brilliant combination of Doctor Who and Graceless, with Guerrier mixing the fun and adventure of the former with the more complex, philosophical nature of the latter. It’s a striking combination, and makes for a story that feels, above all else, new. Part of this is down to the refreshingly different vibe created by teaming up Peter Davison and Louise Jameson. The two actors have excellent chemistry, and the combination of a more down-to-earth Doctor and an older, wiser Leela, is one of my favourite things about this boxset.
Overall, while the plot of The Garden of Storms isn’t the strongest, becoming a little overcomplicated towards the end, there’s still so much to enjoy in this episode and it’s a great start to the boxset.
2. “The Moonrakers” by Simon Guerrier
After being separated from Leela and Abby at the end of the previous story, the Doctor and Zara find themselves on the Moon, which is occupied by a group of Sontarans. As they are captured by the Sontaran leader, Stent (Dan Starkey), Leela and Abby arrive and fall in with Captain Riya Nehru (Anjli Mohindra): a human who has shed her ties to Earth and emigrated to the Moon.
What follows is a story full of twists and turns that gradually explains why the humans and the Sontarans have come to be in this predicament. Even the episode title (which is fantastic, by the way) isn’t as it seems, and hints at one of the best twists in the story. Because of all these rug-pulls, Guerrier keeps the listener entertained throughout and the story never gets boring.
The Sontarans themselves are portrayed a little differently to the usual, having given up their warlike tendencies. This puts an interesting spin on a familiar foe, making sure that this story isn’t just a rehash of what’s gone before. It’s a complete reversal from Guerrier’s previous Sontaran story (the absolutely brilliant The Sontarans from the Early Adventures series), which saw them at their most deadly, but it’s always good to experiment with such iconic characters, and this is definitely an experiment that pays off.
All in all, this is definitely the best episode of the three, with a gripping plot and strong characters.
3. “The People Made of Smoke” by Simon Guerrier
Wicked Sisters closes with The People Made of Smoke, which sees the titular villains resurface after being absent in the previous episode. With history having been changed, the gang find themselves in the same society as in The Garden of Storms, but altered somewhat, and under attack from the smoke creatures from earlier in the set.
As the Doctor continues to grapple with his mission to kill Abby and Zara, he must also work with them (and Leela) to defeat this new enemy, leading to a highly interesting moral dilemma. How this dilemma is solved I’ll keep a secret, but be assured that Guerrier writes an interesting conclusion…
Pandora Clifford returns here, playing Zeet: Zeeb’s counterpart in the new timeline. She does a good job at distinguishing the two incarnations of the character from one another. Paul Courtenay Hyu also stars here, playing the widowed husband of Brody from the first story, and puts in a good performance too.
The smoke creatures are brought to life wonderfully by a combination of Lisa Bowerman‘s performance and Lee Adams‘ sound design. They’re a delightfully creepy foe, suitably menacing throughout, but I was more than a little underwhelmed about the way they’re dealt with at the end.
Besides that, The People Made of Smoke is a pretty strong finale to Wicked Sisters, tying up all the boxset’s loose ends while leaving some things open to exploration in the future. Good stuff!
Wicked Sisters is a fun, fresh and exciting release that brilliantly combines the worlds of Doctor Who and Graceless. Full of complex morality, strong characters and intense, thrilling situations, Simon Guerrier‘s scripts are some of his best, and are bolstered by very strong performances from Davison, Jameson, Janson and Doddington and great direction from Lisa Bowerman. Add to that some great sound design and music by Lee Adams and Howard Carter, and you get a collection of three really strong stories. Highly recommended.
Doctor Who: Wicked Sisters is available now on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com