REVIEW | The Eighth Doctor – Time War: Cass

Big Finish are really feeding fans of the Eighth Doctor recently; this is the third month in a row where we’ve been treated with a new boxset of audio adventures starring Paul McGann… though this one’s a little different. While the last two boxsets, What Lies Inside? (review here) and Connections (review here), have told small-scale, character-based tales, Cass returns to the explosiveness of the Time War, giving us four new timey-wimey, action-packed tales.

As its title suggests, this set resurrects the character of Cass Fermazzi (Emma Campbell-Jones) from the minisode The Night of the Doctor, seeing the character join the Eighth Doctor and his great-grandson Alex Campbell (Sonny McGann) as they travel through time and space. How? Why? And wasn’t the Doctor previously travelling with someone else? Whatever happened to her? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out.

Cass is reintroduced to us in Tim Foley‘s opening episode Meanwhile, Elsewhere, a simple but effective tale that serves mostly to set up this new TARDIS team, a front on which it most definitely succeeds. Investigating a series of temporal disturbances, the Doctor and Alex not only encounter Cass, but shady diplomat Hieronyma Friend (excellent name!), played with charisma by Jaye Griffiths. She’s a compelling character, elevating a slightly thin plot, though the strength of the interactions between the McGanns and Campbell-Jones means this is never really much of an issue.

We then travel to a frigid world in Lou Morgan‘s evocatively-named Vespertine, where the team join a group of researchers as they uncover a long-lost ship trapped beneath the ice. Indigo Griffiths impresses as secretive scientist Rin, but the standout performance is that of Simon Shepherd as legendary explorer Hudson Sage. He’s an intriguing character with ties to the Doctor that will prove interesting to explore further in the Time War range going forward. He’s also known to Cass, and her recollections of his exploits lead to some nice exploration of her past.

The set concludes with a two-part finale called Previously, Next Time, written by James Moran. It’s the most Time War-focused story here, and the most experimental, giving us a tale set over two time periods with paradoxes, time loops and non-sequential storytelling. Unfortunately, however, this isn’t to the story’s benefit; all of these bells and whistles mean there isn’t much in the way of character exploration or development, and it’s not quite clear why the story had to be told out of order, as the extended flashbacks that make up much of the first part don’t tell us much of anything we didn’t already know.

They’re also- and I hate to say it- really boring. The repeated throwbacks to the Doctor, Alex and Cass languidly trekking through a Dalek factory were honestly some of the most mind-numbing scenes I’ve ever listened to, elevated only by the strong rapport and sparky dialogue Moran writes for the characters.

It’s also odd that, in a story whose resolution hinges entirely on the fate of the guest characters, none of them are fleshed out in any way, or even particularly likeable. They’re certainly well-performed, especially Nadia Albina‘s Oshia, but because they’re all so one-dimensional, the conclusion to this tale falls completely flat.

It’s a shame Cass ends on such a bum note, because the first two stories are genuinely quite good, with lots of neat little ideas and interesting side characters. Nevertheless, Paul McGann, Sonny McGann and Emma Campbell-Jones are excellent throughout, forming a really compelling and fresh-feeling TARDIS team that I’m really looking forward to hearing more from in the future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Time War: Cass is available on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com

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