, , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Author David Llewellyn drafts a curious tale spanning centuries, which gives new listeners a taste of several series they may have heretofore missed out on.

The infamous Sisters of Terminus, Zara (Laura Doddington) and Abby (Ciara Janson) wind up investigating the murders of several Fahrenheit 451-style librarian/historians when they pay a visit to The Archive and make the acquaintance of Romulus Chang, chief archivist of the department of eschatology (Barnaby Edwards) and his apprentice Lucian Theta-Singh (Hugh Skinner). But why are they being killed off? And what is so special about one particular book?

“Why not just store everything digitally?”
“My dear girl, do you think we’re mad? Look at the cultures that have attempted to store ever greater quantities of information in ever smaller containers, and you’ll find civilizations that vanished without a trace!”

The framing story for everything that follows, The Archive is quite reminiscent of the old Bernice Summerfield series, specifically during the period she was given charge of the Braxatiel Collection. An atmospheric piece set almost entirely in a cavernous, nigh-abandoned library, it sets the stage admirably for a story that manages to pull together such odd bedfellows as Sherlock Holmes, Dorian Gray, Bernice Summerfield, Vienna Salvatore and Iris Wildthyme.

The show proper kicks off with The Adventure of the Bloomsbury Bomber, which features the esteemed David Warner as Mycroft Holmes and Big Finish stalwart Nick Briggs as little brother Sherlock. Someone is bombing bookshops, and only on streets lit by gaslamp, in the wee hours of the morning.

Who is behind this bizarre business of bibliophobia, and can Holmes put an end to it before the Victorian era is reduced to a reality TV level of mouth breathing illiterate idiocracy, a hundred years before its time?

Another plot heavy offering marked by fairly limited action and little subtext, the Bloomsbury Bomber is a somewhat dry piece touching on the burgeoning practice of psychoanalysis but limiting its assessment to a fairly cliched Svengali scenario. Warner enlivens matters considerably, but it’s a touch dull and hardly the sort of strong introduction to the Holmes series listeners might expect from a cross-company project like this.

Next we touch base with Alexander Vlahos’ delightfully dry Dorian Gray, who attends a rather swank private party at the estate of an old schoolmate, one whose festivities include a one way trip to hell for its attendees…

“I thought he was insane! Others thought him simply scandalous. But some considered him a visionary…”

With a nice nod to the Jazz Age predilection towards occultism, Llewellyn sets our time travelling antagonist up as an iconoclastic medium who uses the cover of a seance as a diabolistic evocation. Among the best of the stories herein, The Feast of Magog comes chock full of Round robin possessions, Biblical quotations, a typically innuendo laden Dorian Gray love affair and just a hint of sci-fi. What’s not to love?

Well, I could nitpick a bit…Dorian seems far more subdued than I remember him being, the affair is played down a bit more than usual (particularly as it seems to be something of a triangle!) and for a decadent Roaring 20’s shindig, the party seems rather tame, wouldn’t you say? But hey, it works, so let’s just set all that aside and go with it, shall we?

“I’d have much preferred Miss Austen’s work if she’d included the odd scene of violence or bloodshed…I prefer my books to have a bit of spunk in ’em.”
“That’s why we’re going where we’re going…early 21st century. They had all sorts of versions of Pride and Prejudice in them days: ones with murders, ones with zombies…you couldn’t move for blood, guts and bonnets.”

Next up we come to the return of the delightfully wacky Iris Wildthyme (Katy Manning), who with her new companion Captain Turner (Hugh Skinner) drops onto the set of “The World’s Strangest Mysteries” to discover the surprising presence of Kronos Vad’s History of Earth.

“This book…it shouldn’t be here. For one thing, it won’t be written for another 1200 years, and for another, this edition wasn’t even published in this universe!”

“So let me get this straight. You’re telling me over a hundred years ago, someone blew up a bookshop killing Sherlock Holmes…the actual Sherlock Holmes, just to erase a book from history…and now we’re about to travel back in time to 1911, because your bus is also a time machine.”

Iris and her trio of new friends consult the titular tome to foil an interdimensional invasion. That’s pretty much it, though as usual for the character, the fun is in the details: the verbal interplay, the tongue in cheek gags, the sheer exasperation she inspires in everyone who comes in contact with her. Another contender for highlight of the set.

“I’d like the book returned and I’d like to see her brought to justice.”
“That isn’t how most of my cases end, Mr. Zorn. I’m not usually hired to hand people over to the authorities. My services are often a little more final than that.”

Next up, futuristic bounty hunter Vienna Salvatori (Chase Masterson) gets hired to track down The Lady from Callisto Rhys, namely one Lara Memphis (Rebecca Night), who has run afoul of casino magnate Cage Zorn (Rhys Jennings) by absconding with the Kronos Vad volume. So why does everyone interviewed speak of Memphis in such glowing terms?

“It didn’t add up. Lara Memphis, the Lara described by those who knew her, sounded like such a goody two shoes. Would she really risk so much to steal a book – even one as priceless as this?”

“Why help them?”
“Because I’m bored.”

A bit lighter in tone than the two series of Vienna released to date, this is a short but enjoyable vignette in a Las Vegas style setting which, much as with the Iris Wildthyme tale that precedes it, primarily hangs on the likeability and snarky banter of the leading lady over any weight of narrative or heft of subtextual connotation. It’s quick, breezy, somewhat emptyheaded summertime popcorn material, but pleasant enough for all that.

Finally things come to a wrap with The Phantom Wreck, which brings another much missed Big Finish leading lady out of temporary retirement, specifically Ms. Bernice Summerfield, futuristic archaeologist, time traveller and all around fount of amusing sarcasm.

“Have you ever heard of Jim Irwin and Charles Duke?  They were among the first pioneers, the Apollo astronauts.  After they’d set foot on the moon on separate missions, do you know what they did?  They became ministers.  Preachers.

They rode on rockets designed and built by tech age engineers, landed on another world…and what they saw there only affirmed…maybe even inspired their faith in God.  Some people see something like that, and they have to believe in ghosts…or gods.”

Then the loveable Professor Edward Dunning himself, Terry Molloy joins the intrepid Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) for an investigation of the distant world Sisyphus 9, where they uncover the wreck of an alien spaceship which carried…an Earthborn charity telethon comedian?  And what is that mysterious void that shows up at the center of every scan of the ancient vessel?

A nice (twist and) turn from Molloy and Bowerman’s Summerfield make this one well worth your time, despite the entire opening hook being more or less dropped like a hot potato (and…whatever happened to Jack Oddward, mind?  For that matter, what about the Sisters of Terminus?).  There’s a quick tie in to bring Mmmes. Summerfield and Salvatori together and bring the book back to its proper place in The Archive, and it’s all over.

Well, you can’t say this wasn’t a big summer blockbuster, in every sense of the term. Huge scale, entertaining…and unfortunately rather empty. Like snacking on a tub of movie theater popcorn, you’re left feeling somewhat unfulfilled despite enjoying every bite – it’s all fluff and empty calories.

While characters are generally true to themselves, they never come off as well rounded or developed as they do in their own series, and this is especially noticeable with respect to Messrs. Grey, Wildthyme and Summerfield.  Think of it as a quickie introduction to the characters for those who’ve never indulged – a cameo in another, higher rated show to generate interest in some quieter, yet far more gripping and immersive “cult” series.

Whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, there’s no question you’ll find something (or more likely, several somethings) to entertain you herein – just don’t mind a few plot holes, and certainly don’t make the crucial mistake of expecting The Worlds of Big Finish to serve as a be all, end all representation of, well, any of them.