REVIEW | Lady Christina: Series 2

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Lady Christina is back! After her first boxset of audio adventures back in 2018, Michelle Ryan reprises the role of everyone’s favourite aristocratic cat burglar in three new stories from Big Finish. While the first boxset was a lot of fun, with four entertaining-if-light episodes, Lady Christina: Series 2 promises to take things up a notch, with a tighter story arc and some returning characters from the first set. But is it any good? Read on to find out!


The Stories

  1. “The Wreck” by James Goss

Lord Alfred de Souza is enjoying a relaxing holiday off the coast of Zanzibar with his new girlfriend Bunny. Sun, sea and an expensive yacht: what could possibly go wrong? The arrival of his daughter, Lady Christina, that’s what! Christina has plans to raid a shipwreck embedded in a nearby coral reef, and drags her father along with her. But, deep underwater, the de Souzas find a lot more than they bargained for…

The Wreck‘s first half is taken up by this underwater heist which, while sounds like a strange thing to try on audio, but is actually brilliantly executed (see Sound Design section below). Now, something with such arresting imagery as this would probably be enough to take up a whole story on its own, but I’m glad Goss changes the focus a little in the second half of the story, because that’s where things really get good.

The treasures Christina and Alfred discover in the shipwreck soon turn out to be more malicious than precious, and the occupants of the yacht find themselves in serious danger. I won’t go into any more detail for fear of spoilers, but the main threat of this story is brilliantly creative, and ties well into the greater themes of this boxset. It’s even a bit gruesome at times; I could definitely imagine this being a Torchwood story, because things do get really rather unpleasant towards the end.

Overall, this is the strongest story in the set, and probably the strongest Lady Christina episode so far. Great stuff.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

2. “Outback” by Sarah Grochala

It’s off to Australia for the second instalment in the set: Outback, written by Sarah Grochala. After the events of the previous story, Lady Christina has come to the land down under in search of her Great Aunt Eugenia (Siân Philips), but soon discovers that she’s gone missing. Heading into the outback to investigate, little does she know she’s followed by Sam Bishop and Jacqui McGee of UNIT, who are on a very important mission indeed.

What follows is an exciting Australian adventure involving giant grubs, a mysterious mine and a quest to find the so-called Fountain of Youth. There are some great action scenes, and some moments of brilliant tension too, as our characters get closer and closer to uncovering the truth behind what’s going on.

Aside from a slightly weaker ending, this is another strong story in the set.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

3. “Long Shot” by John Dorney

We close with Long Shot by John Dorney, which sees the culmination of the various plot threads that were introduced in the previous two stories. Set before, during and after the famous Royal Northcote races, this story sees Lady Christina come up against UNIT as she tracks down her father. Christina, Sam and Jacqui are all major players in this one, each having their own storyline, which makes for some great exploration of all characters.

Sadly, the story is rather hard to follow and doesn’t quite make enough of its “at the races” setting. Told out of order, with scenes being repeated from different perspectives, Long Shot can be confusing at times and, although it all makes sense in hindsight, I was a little bit baffled while listening to it. I think part of that is down to the execution; there’s no differentiation between scenes taking place in the “present” and flashbacks, so

Despite that, Long Shot deftly ties up all of the loose threads from The Wreck and Outback, while proving an interesting story for Christina’s character that hints at what’s to come next on her adventures.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Theme

As I mentioned in the introduction, there’s only really one word to describe the first Lady Christina boxset: fun. Much like Christina’s debut story on TV, Planet of the Dead, the four stories contained within the set were undeniably well-told, but not what you’d exactly call challenging listening. Thankfully, Lady Christina: Series Two ups the ante, imbuing its stories and the characters who inhabit them with a little more profundity, which is definitely this box set’s greatest strength.

This entire boxset is, in essence, a story all about the consequences of greed. It’s a tale as old as time- even the simplest childhood stories tell us that greed is wrong- but the writers manage to get this message across in compelling and unique ways, and this is, by and large, due to the characters they have to play with.

Before this set, one of the biggest problems with Lady Christina, as a character, was her seeming invincibility. A rich, aristocratic cat burglar who steals from people and constantly gets away with it… it certainly makes for a fun character (especially with Michelle Ryan‘s winning performance), but it’s hardly very interesting.

Pleasingly, this boxset does a lot to show some of the consequences of this way of life, without suppressing any of that sense of fun that made the first series such a success. There’s an almost fairytale quality to these stories in the way they handles their themes: characters express greed, act on it, then suffer for it in horrible ways. Of course, Christina herself isn’t greedy, only stealing for the thrill of it, but the ways she reacts to those around her getting punished for their wicked ways really helps broaden and deepen her character in ways we haven’t really yet seen. Fantastic stuff.


Guest Cast

The guest cast for this boxset is consistently on top form, perfectly complementing the inimitable Michelle Ryan in the title role of Lady Christina. The opening story, The Wreck, is so successful due to the performances of William Gaminara and Rosa Coduri as Lord Alfred and his girlfriend. Gaminara excels in his role as the story’s hubristic villain, while Coduri simply exudes pathos in her heartbreaking role as as the lovable but ill-fated Bunny.

Outback also has a strong guest cast, led by the one and only Siân Philips, who gives a suitably layered performance as Christina’s Great Aunt Eugenia. James Smillie and Sarah Blackstone are also compelling as Aussie father-daughter duo John and Maisie Flint, who accompany Christina on her outback investigations.

This set also sees the return of Warren Brown and Tracy Wiles as UNIT operatives Sam Bishop and Jacqui McGee. Although, in the UNIT series from which they originate, these characters haven’t received much significant development, they’ve truly found their home in the world of Lady Christina, with the strong performances of Brown and Wiles being bolstered by some excellent scripting from the three writers.


Sound Design

Sound design and music here is handled by Wilfredo Acosta, who maintains the jazzy, spy movie-esque score from the first boxset, while adding in some exciting new elements. Outback is the musical highlight, with a lovely woodwind-y Australian soundtrack and some great moments of aural tension in the cave scenes, though Acosta also brings the underwater scenes in The Wreck to life with flair. And that wonderful, almost rock-like opening theme… just fantastic!


Overall

With an engaging, nuanced central performance from Michelle Ryan, and three strong scripts, Lady Christina: Series Two is one of the best releases of 2021 so far. Maintaining the enormous sense of fun from the first set, while incorporating darker, more serious elements, this box set is the perfect blend of easy listening and thought-provoking reflection. More Lady Christina, please, Big Finish! Highly recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lady Christina: Series 2 is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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