River Song is back in Two Rivers and a Firewall: an exciting new audio boxset from Big Finish Productions! Whereas her last set of audio adventures, New Recruit, was a series of linked tales involving the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and UNIT, this release is an anthology of stories set all throughout River’s timeline, seeing her face off against the deadly Autons and another River Song, before culminating in a first look at her digital afterlife. Tantalising concepts to be sure, but are the stories any good? Read on for our thoughts!
With The Two Rivers, writer Tim Foley opens this boxset with a concept so enticing it’s a wonder it’s never been done before… what if River Song meets herself? This story takes this idea and runs with it, pitting our River up against a completely different woman who also claims to be River, and has the intelligence, sass and ruthlessness to prove it. While the plot itself isn’t anything to write home about, the interactions Foley writes between the two Rivers are excellent; it’s honestly a shame that this story is just an hour long, because the chemistry between Alex Kingston and Mimî M Khayisa, who plays the Other River, could sustain a whole boxset. All in all, it’s a strong opener to the set, albeit one which could have benefited from a bit more emotional depth, particularly regarding Other River, whose backstory is tantalising but scarcely explored.
The next story, Lizzie Hopley‘s Beauty on the Inside is comfortably the least effective episode in the boxset, though I don’t think it’s by any means bad story. The problem is that the script is a total mess which doesn’t do any justice to any of Lizzie Hopley‘s brilliant ideas. A mysteriously immortal royal family who will kill to ensure their secret is kept is a fantastic concept for a story, and the Tremagi themselves are delightfully creepy creations, but the way the story is structured- with gripping scenes followed by periods where nothing seems to happen- simply doesn’t work. Overall, Beauty on the Inside is full of some nice ideas, but its flawed script prevents it from getting a higher score.
In the third story, Black Friday, River visits Omnia Prime, a planet-sized shopping mall, where she meets scared shopper Mikhail. Soon, the two are on the run from the Autons, and must fight to escape this shopping trip with their lives! This is a really fun story which feels a lot like a rom-com, with River and Mikhail (played brilliantly by Paul Bazeley) sharing some excellent chemistry. As writers Lauren Mooney and Stuart Pringle point out in the extras, it’s quite hard to use the Autons on audio, because they’re basically silent, but thanks to the strength of their script and Lee Adams‘ sound design, they come across well. Good stuff.
With boxset finale Firewall, we travel for the first time beyond River’s death in Forest of the Dead, and writer Barnaby Kay gives us some intriguing insights into what her afterlife entails. There isn’t a huge amount of exploration here beyond what we already knew, which is definitely the story’s biggest weakness, but there’s enough to mean this is a worthwhile listen. Alex Kingston is joined here by Harry Peacock, who reprises his role of Proper Dave from Silence in the Library, as well as Merryn Dowley, who takes on the role of Charlotte, the young girl who also featured in that story. Neither character is explored particularly deeply, but it’s nice to hear them back, and there’s a tantalising hint of a spin-off at the story’s close, which I’d definitely be game for. The best part of this story, though, is Jason Forbes, who plays villains Alan and Mal with huge flair; here’s hoping we hear more of him in future Big Finish productions.
Two Rivers and a Firewall is odd in that its four stories are packed with creative ideas, and yet nothing here is really groundbreaking. The standout has got to be The Two Rivers, which thrives on brilliant interactions between Alex Kingston and Mimî M Khayisa, but Black Friday is also, by and large, a success, with great use of the Autons and a strong guest performance from Paul Bazeley. While Beauty on the Inside and Firewall aren’t quite as strong structurally, they’re by no means bad stories either, with Lizzie Hopley and Barnaby Kay contributing some interesting ideas in their respective scripts. This boxset is by no means an essential purchase, but for fans of The Diary of River Song, it’s a good way to spend four hours.
The Diary of River Song: Two Rivers and a Firewall is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com