Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/31/18 3:43 pm
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In Up in the Air, the opening story of Big Finish’s first Big Finish Originals release, with her beloved husband missing, and looking to join the war effort Daphne Coyne (Anna Andresen) joins the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), hoping to put her flying skills to good use. But she soon discovers her estranged sister, Rebecca (Tor Clark) has joined the ATA in the hopes of making amends. As Daphne slowly moves up in the ranks, she soon finds herself growing closer to her instructor, David Stein (Oliver Dimsdale), and finds that she not only excels at flying, but also has a passion for it. But when David begs Daphne to save his family in Belgium, Daphne may be making a rash decision, which jeopardize the future of everyone she knows and loves. Up in the Air opens up ATA Girl with a passionate and highly enjoyable tale of the unsung heroes of World War II, the ATA girls. Big Finish newcomer Gemma Page delivers a smashing first story, with a powerful tale, filled with themes of loss, love, broken relationships, and a strongly feminist bit of writing. The starring cast of Anna Andresen, Tor Clark, and Oliver Dimsdale work well together to make act out the fantastically written story, with the performance of Tor Clark the highlight of the story, and the chemistry between Anna Andresen and Oliver Dimsdale standing out well. Big Finish took a big gamble with the Big Finish Originals, but if the opening story is any indication, the range is well worth it, as producer Louise Jameson has brought together an incredible group of people to tell a powerful, incredibly important story.
ATA Girl’s cast is a rotating one, as each story features the framing narrative of Alicia Ambrose-Bayly as Amelia reminiscing about friends of hers from her days as an ATA girl who didn’t make it. The opening story features a strong cast of characters, led by Tor Clark, Anna Andresen, and Oliver Dimsdale. Andresen and Clark play the Coyne sisters, Daphne and Rebecca, respectively, and both carry different halves of the story. Andresen is delightful as the beleaguered Daphne; she brings forward all the pain and suffering that her character has experienced, from the infidelity of her husband and sister to the death of her husband, but also harnesses a newfound sense of purpose well, as her character works to help out Stein’s daughter. Her performance is a mix of powerful emotions, and is deeply engaging throughout. Clark carries the latter half of the story, in contrast with Andresen, and, while her performance is enjoyable in the first half, she truly comes into the role in the latter half, once Andresen’s character exits the story. The guilt she portrays in her character throughout the story is powerful, but in the latter half, she delivers a spellbinding performance, as her character breaks down, unable to cope with the guilt of her actions towards her sister in the face of her sister’s disappearance in Belgium. It starts off the set with a powerful, deeply affecting performance, and truly sets the tone for the quality of these performances. Rounding out the main cast is Oliver Dimsdale as David Stein, an injured RAF pilot turned ATA instructor, who develops a relationship with Daphne. Dimsdale is strong as Stein throughout the story, with a gruffer exterior hiding a more sensitive side. I thought that the highlight of his performance was the wonderful chemistry that he shared with Andresen, as the two, during their shared scenes, seemed to feed off each other and developed a rather fantastic rapport throughout.
Gemma Page pens her first Big Finish story with Up in the Air, a powerful tale of the unsung heroes of World War II, the ATA girls. The story’s plot is a highlight, as Page tells an affecting tale of unsaid words between estranged sisters, and a person willing to risk everything to save the life of someone she loves. The highlight of the set is absolutely the fantastic characters that Page crafts in the story. Each character of the story, from main characters like Daphne, Rebecca, and Stein, to the more minor characters, like Widdley or Pauline, all jump out of the audio and into real life extremely well. The characters feel well-defined and like a lot of time and care were put into creating them. This is facilitated by the slower pace of the story, as it gives time for each character to develop over the story. Daphne starts out as a woman who is lost, and joins ATA to find a purpose, but is slowly frustrated by her perceived lack of impact, and takes the job of securing Stein’s daughter to find a sense of purpose. Rebecca starts out simply wishing to make amends with her sister for sleeping with her husband, and becomes guiltier and guiltier, especially once her sister disappears. They’re fascinating beats, and they’re part of what makes this story so engaging.
The plot too is a strong one, and it helps facilitate great character work. I particularly like the framing device, that of Amelia reminiscing several years after the war about lost friends and companions. It makes for a more poignant story than I thought it would. The main plot is a deeply moving character piece, and I think it works extremely well. As I’ve said earlier, I quite liked how Page let the story take its time, showing Daphne training to get her wings, showing the ATA girls in the canteen on a rainy day, and letting the story build slowly to the final moments of the story. The detail is superb, and really helps drive the character-driven plot forward. I also found myself absolutely adoring the last third of the story, as Rebecca works to uncover just what her sister was up to, and confronts Stein and then their commanding officer. Particularly, I found the gut punch of an ending, that presumably, Daphne did not make it back, to be one of the most powerful character moments of the year so far in a Big Finish story. It’s unapologetically dark, but it’s also deeply mature, and a powerful message; sometimes, war claims it’s victims. As the story description states, one out of ten ATA pilots died. These tales are the stories of those who died, doing what they did best, and they’re all the more powerful for it.
Overall, Up in the Air is a rather magnificent achievement for the set and the range. It starts out the Big Finish Originals range with a powerful tale of love and loss, of guilt and a desire to do more. It’s a powerful, character-driven piece of work by Big Finish newcomer Gemma Page, and it’s just absolutely superb. Page puts a lot of time and effort into making the story work; she lets the story take its time, she does some excellent writing for the various characters of the story, and she crafts a powerful, mature ending that resonates deeply, making it one of the most engaging stories of the year. The cast is as superb, as Anna Andresen and Tor Clark deliver powerful performances, in their own ways, as estranged sisters Daphne and Rebecca Coyne. Oliver Dimsdale joins the two as well, as David Stein, and shares a brilliant chemistry with Andresen throughout the story. The Big Finish Originals range, and ATA Girl is off to a rather brilliant start with this story, a magnificently crafted and well-realized opening story; all involved should be absolutely proud of their work here. Final Grade: 10/10