Vienna Salvatori is the best of the best. A bounty hunter, occasional criminal and ruthless killer when needed, Vienna deals with the universe on her terms. And now, she deals with the universe with a partner. Former cop Jexie is serious, driven and just a little startled by her new career. But when they take a job that starts with a running firefight/audition and finishes on the theme world of London, startled doesn’t quite cover it for either of them…
This collection of three plays, produced by Cavan Scott and written by Ian Potter, Guy Adams and Steve Lyons respectively, is a perfect jumping on point for the series. Every primary character beat is here, from Vienna’s fondness for elegant crime to her surprising sense of fair play. The addition of Jexie brings that into focus too, and it’s interesting that while she doesn’t carry a badge anymore, she still thinks like a cop.
Jexie’s a subtle presence throughout the series, with a slight hint of ‘Companion’ to Vienna’s ‘Doctor’. However, there’s no inherent rank structure to them. If anything, Jexie serves more as magnetic south to Vienna’s charmingly amoral north. Or to put it another way; she’s a contract killer! Her partner’s an ex cop! They fight crime! Often by committing it!
The character dynamic between the two is sparky and fun without ever resorting to needless banter, and it gives the series a constant sense of pace that’s picked up by the arc plot. Introduced in ‘Self Improvement’, that begins with the pair being hired to protect Doctor Ludovic Glospan. Doctor Glospan has made a revolutionary discovery in a very odd research facility. Of course, things go horribly wrong but this being a Vienna story, they go wrong in very surprising ways. The story takes in ethical discussions of cloning and neural networking and combines them with some very nicely handled action and a real sense of danger. It’s a smart, pacy opening built around a terrific central premise and sets the tone for the stories that follow.
‘Big Society’ by Guy Adams builds on this and folds it into a story that touches on two fairly common factors in Doctor Who audio dramas; cultural satire and impossibly budgeted action sequences. The satire here is especially great, as the story revolves around the winner of The Selection, a reality TV show to find a new business partner for Chairman Sweet.
It’s not made clear if Chairman Sweet is a short, perennially angry man with the slight air of a disgusted hedgehog. But that’s because Adams trusts his listeners.
The impossible budget comes into play towards the end. The closing action sequence is a gloriously simple idea taken to the perfect ludicrous extreme. Weaponised classical musical is a throwaway gag here and that says a lot about the sheer amount of invention per square inch. It’s a sequel to the first disc but one that has an arc all of its own, some great guest turns and a truly magnificent payoff.
That payoff spins out into ‘Impossibly Glamorous’ by Steve Lyons. Following the job all the way to London, a theme world based on…well…London, Vienna and Jexie have a plan. But Vienna’s disappeared.
Or has she?
And just what is Kensington Fox hiding?
There’s a huge amount going on here and some of it doesn’t quite work. The complex grift and counter grift of the main plot is great but is slightly lost in the corporate politicking and theme world. The Bobbies, the world’s policemen in particular, feel a little like an idea too far. Although they do get to give Jexie one of her best moments in the series.
That being said, the central payoff is really smartly handled. Sophie Aldred turns in excellent work as the impossibly glamourous Kensington Fox and clearly relishes being the villain. It’s also smart to fold in the high society elements the story explores as Vienna always fits in well there. And, again, the ending is really smartly done and the story’s few problems come from the admirable position of trying too much not too little.
Verdict: Vienna releases are always a high water mark for Big Finish and this is no exception. The three scripts crackle with energy and wit, the arc is one of the strongest we’ve seen from the company to date and Masterson and Beart are great as the two heroines. Directed with typical excellence by Scott Handcock this is clever, ideas heavy, character driven science fiction and a set you should not be without. 9/10