The Doctor isn't the only traveller in time and space fighting evils and righting wrongs. There are others and over the years, Big Finish have told their stories. They've introduced listeners to those you take up the Doctor's fight, whether it is in their Sarah Jane Smith range or UNIT and Bernice Summerfield. And then there is Iris Wildthyme. Iris has made her first appearances in books and on the Summerfield range and then in 2005, she got given her own range.
Four years after her initial two outings, Iris and actress Katy Manning came back. Created by Paul Margs in the novel, The Scarlet Empress and later in The Blue Angel, Verdigris and Mad Dogs and Englishmen, Iris is an old friend of the Doctor's or possibly an old flame - if her claims are to be believed. She is possibly a Time Lady and like the Doctor, she travels in a time machine, stuck in the form of a red double-decker bus to Putney Common. She also has companions, some are willing and some aren't. If the Doctor is definitely known for his eccentric manners and period dress, then Iris is known for her large hats and love of gin.
When we finally catch up with her in Iris Wildthyme and the Sound of Fear, Iris and her travelling companion, the two-foot tall, stuffed teddy bear - Panda, are en-route to Space Station Yesterday. Iris has trouble with her memories and the music from this channel brings them flooding back. Broadcasting music from the 60s or reasonable facsimiles, Station Yesterday broadcasts right across the galaxy. Radio Yesterday only has two humans on board, disc jockey, Sam Gold and his personal assistant Lezza Lewis. And then there is their stoned computer, Janice. Iris discovers a shocking personal connection to Gold - he is her husband that she left years ago meaning to return. But she had ruined his promising career and turned him into a burned out husk of his former self. But weird things are afoot in Radio Yesterday, something is causing feedback on the broadcast and something is skulking in the air ducts.
The first thing that will strike you about this series of Iris Wildthyme is the beautiful covers, done in a delightful Target Novelisation style. The second thing to notice is how well it does the sixties, 'base under siege' format, with a little touch of Eric Saward's later story, Slipback, thrown in for good measure. And the third thing to notice is Panda, the well-spoken stuffed animal who likes a drink! He steals every scene he is in.
The Sound of Fear also boasts the fact that it does a lot of things right. The acting is good and Miles Richardson plays a character far removed from the character he is best known for at Big Finish, Irving Braxiatel. Helen Goldwyn swings with that glorious voice and the leads, Katy Manning and David Benson have a rapport and chemistry that helps us believe they have been travelling around the multiverse for quite some time.
The writing is a bit of a different beast. In some places it is a brilliant metatextual exploration of Doctor Who with its dialogue. But the next minute the dialogue is absolutely absurd. A later scene of Iris having some sort of meltdown is brilliant but it wouldn't work on any other audio range. But when things get serious, the tone changes and something of the charm of the first half becomes completely tedious as the one-liners slowly dry up and all the humour is lost.
The Sound of Fear can be an awkward listen at times. It certainly a weak opening to Iris Wildthyme's second series and while it is driven by brilliant acting and strong character interplay but is let down by the uneven tones in its storytelling...