Guest contributor Kieran Brennan tackles the epic, and controversial, fortieth anniversary special: Zagreus!
Spoiler warning for all of the Eighth Doctor’s monthly adventures up until this point, most notably Neverland for which I’ll be dropping major spoilers. Also worth noting this is the type of story one might want to know as little about as possible, especially when it comes to the voice cast, which I will be discussing.
The Doctor is dead. Zagreus is born. The TARDIS is hurting. Charley is scared. The Divergence are here. Zagreus sits inside your head, Zagreus lives among the dead, Zagreus sees you in your bed… and eats you while you’re sleeping.
I’ve mentioned briefly before that the entire reason I wanted to explore the Eighth Doctor’s Big Finish catalogue was to listen to a few specific adventures. The Chimes of Midnight, Blood of the Daleks, An Earthly Child, Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition, Stranded and perhaps most of all Zagreus. Watch any video about Big Finish, look at any reddit thread, any article and it won’t be long before you hear the word Zagreus.
The 40th anniversary special of Doctor Who and 50th release in the Big Finish Monthly Adventures range lives in infamy and controversy. Advertising itself as a multi-doctor story, its far from it. Rather, Zagreus features a myriad of Doctor Who alumni, almost all of whom play different characters than usual. Also, without getting into spoilers, Zagreus tends to be a lot more fantastical than science fiction, a bold choice for an anniversary release of a science fiction programme. The final nail in the coffin for many however, is its almost four hour length.
I quite enjoyed Zagreus. I didn’t despise it as some do, but I also didn’t love it as others seem to. I see and agree with the major complaints, but also find the story to at times be extremely well written and clever. Did this need to be touching the four hour mark? No of course not, but at least it’s filled to the absolute brim with fresh ideas. Is it frustrating to see a story advertised as a multi-doctor story not really be one? Yes of course, but McCoy, Baker and Davison are all so wonderful in this. Actually thinking of it now, everyone is so fantastic in this.
It’s arguably the best cast Big Finish has ever assembled, but three people in particular must be mentioned. Nicholas Courtney returns once again and is incredible. The material he’s given is interesting, but he brings the script to the next level with his brilliant performance. India Fisher has topped herself once again, giving her best performance yet in what turns out to be a very Charley-heavy story. She’s developed Charley into a truly great companion for the Doctor that I’ve totally fallen for in the way any Doctor Who fans hopes they will when a new companion is introduced.
Last, but most definitely not least, Paul McGann plays Zagreus. No, that feels unfair, Paul McGann truly becomes Zagreus. Like Fisher, he’s upped his game once again here with a blisteringly fantastic performance as the confused and terrifying Zagreus. Of any Doctors to reprise their roles in Big Finish, I think McGann is my favorite, I understand people have a soft spot for Colin Baker and the redemption of Old Sixie, but listening to McGann’s run of adventures has been eye opening. I can finally really understand why people have begged for his on screen return, and why his minisode The Night of The Doctor is so loved.
Zagreus is one of the most ambitious stories Big Finish have ever put out. It’s full of fresh ideas and concepts enough of which land to really make the whole thing work, even if you may have to listen to it over a few sessions. What really brings everything together is the amazing cast and their ability to totally go for the material in exciting ways you may not expect, but are always pleased by. The 40th anniversary of Doctor Who is a controversial one, but for my money is well worth your time.
Oh, a quick side note. Every release I’ve talked about up until this point is available for free, in full, on Spotify. Or if that doesn’t suit, they’re all available on the Big Finish website for extremely reasonable prices. I’m having a great time going through, and if you’re reading this review series and haven’t yet tried any of them out, now’s your chance!
Zagreus is available as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com, or for free on Spotify