For those unaware, Big Finish Productions have been making Doctor Who audio dramas since 1999, featuring a myriad of Doctors, companions and monsters. If there’s a particular niche of Doctor Who expanded media you’re interested in seeing – or rather, listening to – Big Finish is the place to go. This makes their inclusion in the multi-platform event Time Lord Victorious both inevitable and brilliant, opening up the floor for actors from the TV series to reprise their roles in new stories. In this case, the Eighth Doctor enters Time Lord Victorious, with Paul McGann reprising the role for the first in a trilogy of adventures: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not.
The story sees the Eighth Doctor journey to the world of Atharna – a huge ocean planet with cities made of ships and a statue so impressive it’s one of the wonders of the universe – but when he arrives, things are not as he was expecting. The place is a literal desert, complete with a Western-style town in the centre. Soon, the Doctor becomes embroiled in a dangerous hostage situation as a violent assassin, having taken a Princess hostage, seeks his intended victim across the desert planes. The assassin’s name? Brian the Ood.
Writer Carrie Thompson clearly has a lot of fun with the Western influences of the story, complete with a sinister foe, a sheriff intent on maintaining the peace, and a lone traveller entering at just the wrong – or perhaps right – moment. The central romance between Sophie and Felicity may feel a little expository – the two characters barely share any time together, in this brief fifty-minute episode – but Brian the Ood is the clear standout. Thompson’s dialogue is wonderful, both funny and sinister, and Silas Carson‘s soothing tones only serve to bring a brilliant charismatic menace to the part. Brian was a fun inclusion in the first novel – The Knight, the Fool and the Dead – but here becomes the main antagonist, and at times genuinely quite a chilling threat too. It’s almost a shame that there are no plans for more Brian the Ood on audio, as Carson’s vocal performance brings the character to life spectacularly.
I was initially hesitant with Paul McGann‘s performance – the story was recorded primarily in lockdown, and thus the actors had little-to-no real interaction with one another – but he quickly develops the welcome energy he’s imbued in his Doctor for nearly twenty years on audio. Based entirely on the cover artwork, this adventure seems to be set somewhere between his ongoing Stranded series and Time War, but there’s no references to other stories. For those looking for an entry-point to Time Lord Victorious, or Big Finish as a whole, this is an excellent place to start.
The key component to He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not is the tension. Because of Silas Carson‘s superb performance, Brian has a real presence over the rest of the narrative, and Carrie Thompson‘s script escalates the admittedly small stakes to a place where no clear resolution is present. It’s almost a shame then that the story isn’t allowed to wrap-up too neatly, instead ending on a cliff-hanger leading into the next Eighth Doctor adventure. All of the main story-lines are concluded though, and this adventure is a nicely-standalone piece, aside from its final moments. There’s some nice bits of world-building – the characters have to wear heat shields on their wrists – and the incidental music by Ioan Morris is very atmospheric (and included as an extra on this release). Strangely, David Arnold‘s eerie Eighth Doctor theme isn’t present (despite being so for almost all of his run on Big Finish), and is instead replaced by the theme from the late John Hurt‘s adventures as the War Doctor. Perhaps this is to set it during the Time War? Regardless, it’s only a small nit-pick on an otherwise excellent story.