Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 7/31/17 11:12 am
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In Empire of the Racnoss, the Fifth Doctor receives a rather forceful distress call, and he's dragged into a war between the Time Lords and the Racnoss Empress (Adjoa Andhoh) and her forces. A merciful choice leads the Doctor to have his life spared, and the Doctor is instead taken on a mission with the Racnoss Empress, to recover the hatcheries from the former Racnoss Emperor. But does the Racnoss Empress really want peace, or does she have ulterior motives? The second story of Classic Doctors, New Monsters, Volume 02 is a rather curious story, largely eschewing any action in place of some measured dialogue throughout. On the surface, it's a rather odd story for the grandiose Racnoss. But Scott Handcock took an over-the-top villain, and added some subtlety to the character, something I greatly appreciate. And while the writing for the story was excellent, the cast left a little to be desired. Adjoa Andhoh was excellent as the Racnoss Empress, and Peter Davison certainly had his moments, but new companion Lisa Kay bored throughout the story, such that by the end of it, I was shocked she was joining the TARDIS crew. Overall, it was a strongly written story, but it wasn't quite realized to it's full potential.
Peter Davison once again returns as the Fifth Doctor in this story. Davison has long been one of my favorite TV Doctors, but I've never really liked him as much at Big Finish; he's always felt a little boring and deflated there, with none of the energy he possessed on the TV series. This story doesn't do much to buck that trend, with Davison seemingly phoning in his performance. All the right tics are there, certainly. The calm, measured pleading with the Racnoss Empress, the clever explanation of his plan, and his kindness towards the Racnoss Emperor (Nigel Planer), the last of which is one of my favorite scenes from the whole story. But while there are a few good moments, Davison seemingly sleepwalks through the story, possessing none of the drive or energy to make me believe it's anything other than a man reading off a script. I'm not sure if it's the lack of companions throughout this story that does that, because he's certainly not this boring in the Monthly Range, but it's a very sad thing to hear all the same.
The rest of the guest cast is largely much stronger than Davison. Adjoa Andhoh, known for playing the mother of Martha Jones, returns to Big Finish as the voice of the Racnoss Empress. Andhoh gives a delightfully enjoyable performance here, easily the best of the set. What I liked so much about her performance here is that, compared to Sarah Parish's original performance in The Runaway Bride, Andhoh shows a lot more restraint in her performance, matching up with the themes of the story. She's not screaming about world domination; you can actually believe that she's truly upset over what she perceives as the kidnapping of her children. While towards the end, she slips back into the rather boring megalomaniac hell bent on defeating her enemies, her performance at the beginning of the play was a delight to hear. Conversely, companion du jour (and future Fifth Doctor companion) Alayna, a Time Lord captured by the Racnoss Empress, is played rather boringly by Lisa Kay. She's a presence throughout the story, which is about as much as can be said for her. She's there, not doing much beyond occasionally interjecting about the war between the Racnoss and the Time Lords, but beyond that, there's very little to her. It came as something of a surprise that she joins the Doctor at the end of the story, clearly ready to set out on a series of adventures with him, because I didn't really think of her as anything other than a boring one-and-done character.
For all the faults in the cast of this story, one of the biggest shames here is that they were unable to realize Scott Handcock's excellent script. Handcock wrote a surprisingly excellent story, taking the over-the-top Racnoss Empress and giving her a more personal story, where some depth is given to the character. Handcock's story is pretty straightforward; I'm guessing it's probably set in the Time War, and the Doctor is taken off course, but once he arrives, he saves a wounded alien like he does, and is shown mercy for his actions. What follows is a tale that gives some insight into the Racnoss Empress and her motivations. I particularly liked the scene where the Racnoss Empress encountered the wounded former Racnoss Emperor, and they had their discussion. It was a powerful scene, as the Empress looked down and (seemingly) took some pity on him, allowing him to live out his days in peace, just as he wanted. It's such a great scene in a great story that really changes the perspective of the Racnoss Empress. Even the ending, where the Racnoss Empress goes and tries to destroy the former Emperor, while going against her development earlier in the story, still resonates, because she's clearly a snake throughout the story, and it paid not to trust her whatsoever.
The last thing I'd like to mention here is the music for the first two releases, which I felt really did a great job matching the tones of the stories. Done by Big Finish stalwart Howard Carter, the first story has a slight, claustrophobic feel to the soundtrack, while this story is a little more grandiose at times, but still gives off that feeling of being caught in a spider's web.The sound design work of Big Finish has always been strong, but Howard Carter has emerged as someone who really knows how to score a Big Finish story well.
Overall, Empire of the Racnoss is a bit of a mixed bag. It's a strong story by Scott Handcock that gives a lot of backstory to the Racnoss Empress and portrays her as more of a sympathetic character. Adjoa Andhoh does a brilliant job running the gamut in her performance as the Racnoss Empress as well. However, parts of the cast, especially Davison and new companion Lisa Kay really phoned it in their performances. Davison in particular was a disappointment, sounding exactly like a man simply reading off a script, rather than giving a performance. It was disappointing to see Scott Handcock's excellent script wasted by a distinct lack in the cast, such that it makes this story a decidedly average affair.