Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 4/16/18 4:33 am
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In Their Finest Hour, the opening story of the new Eighth Doctor series, Ravenous, the Doctor (Paul McGann) and Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) are on the trail of their lost friend, Helen. But when a call comes from Winston Churchill (Ian McNeice) himself, requesting the Doctor’s presence, despite Liv’s objections, the Doctor races to 1940s England to help his old friend. Churchill has called the Doctor for his expertise: an invisible aircraft is destroying his airfleet, and he believes the Doctor can figure out what it is and stop it. The Doctor and Liv are about to be embroiled in two wars, as they investigate the mysterious aircraft; but war is hell, and the Doctor is about to find out the consequences of getting involved in war all too soon. Their Finest Hour is a good start to Ravenous 1, continuing the trend of an unrelated opening story for Eighth Doctor sets with an enjoyable trip to World War II England. Paul McGann and Nicola Walker are both on rare form throughout the story, with McGann turning up the charm to eleven for the story, and Nicola Walker again acting as a commanding presence in the story. Guest spots by Ian McNeice and Laurence Dobiesz help the story’s cast shine even more, with McNeice delivering a strong performance opposite McGann and Walker, while Dobiesz shares a strong chemistry with Walker throughout. John Dorney takes the helm for this story, writing an intriguing plot of the Eighth Doctor going to war, with some strong emotional beats and an interesting enemy for the TARDIS crew and friends to face. Their Finest Hour is certainly far from the greatest story to ever feature the Eighth Doctor, but the cast and crew combine well to deliver a solid opening story, starting off the next arc for the Eighth Doctor in a strong manner.
Paul McGann and Nicola Walker return together for the first time in over a year, portraying the Eighth Doctor and Liv Chenka, respectively. McGann and Walker have long ago established their fantastic chemistry with one another, and their quick, easy charm; after all, they’ve been acting together for four years now. But there’s still always a pleasure in hearing the fantastic rapport and back-and-forth that comes out in these audios between the two, because it feels so genuine and real. The two actors clearly like and respect each other, and that shows in their performances with one another, as the two chew up scenes and ably finish the other’s sentences. Individually, the performance are strong as well. Paul McGann has inhabited the role of the Eighth Doctor for so long now that his performances are like second nature to him. McGann’s greatest trick in the role is his ability to pivot his performance at the drop of a hat; one second, he’s joking around, polite yet awkward, and the next, he’s deadly serious. It’s a marvellous trick, and McGann does it absolutely effortlessly. Personally though, despite McGann’s strong performance, I think that Nicola Walker was the highlight of the cast. Walker is an exceptionally talented actor, and has stood out ever since her debut in Robophobia as Liv Chenka. She’s incredibly comfortable in the role as Liv, but she’s not complacent in her performances; on the contrary, she’s hard-working and genuine, to the point that you can hear it. She’s a delight in her dour, dry sense of humor, but I’ve also been delighted to note that Walker has picked up a bit of McGann’s obfuscatory humor, and incorporated that strongly into her performance. It adds an extra dimension to her performance, and makes it all the more engaging. But the most engaging part of her performance is the more dramatic pieces; her interrogation by the Heliyon (Beth Chalmers) is strong, as she refuses to give up any information and tears the Heliyon a new one for threatening Wilhelm is engaging, while the final scene where she finds out that Wilhelm was shot down by German soldiers, and laments that he was able to escape aliens, but was killed by simple, ordinary humans, is immensely powerful.
The guest cast for this story is rather strong, filled with performances by Big Finish mainstays Beth Chalmers, Tracy Wiles, and James Joyce, and strong guest performances from relative newcomers, like Gyuri Sarossy. But two performances in the guest cast stand out: Ian McNeice as Winston Churchill, and Laurence Dobiesz as Wilhelm Rozycki. Ian McNeice once again inhabits the role of Winston Churchill, a role he has played in eight audio stories now, but with a twist; McNeice plays Churchill for the first time in a full-cast story. The full-cast story affords McNeice the opportunity to simply double down on his performance as Churchill, ignoring the need to narrate or do impersonations, and that allows his performance to shine better than it has done in any of The Churchill Years sets. His performance and his chemistry with both Paul McGann and Nicola Walker is strong, and his performance is engaging throughout. I quite liked his scene trying to slyly enter the TARDIS with Liv, and his constant attempts to find out the future of the war from the Doctor. Laurence Dobiesz joins the cast as Wilhelm Rozycki, a Polish pilot drafted to help the Doctor and Liv investigate the alien menace. Dobiesz gives a good performance throughout the story, and shares an excellent chemistry with Nicola Walker’s character. In light of the final scene, and his character’s final fate, I thought that Dobiesz did a really fine job of creating a memorable character who, when he died, left an emotional impact on the character of Liv, and on the listener. As for some standout scenes, I particularly found myself enjoying the way that Dobiesz worked with Walker during their scenes as they escaped from the Heliyon ship, or the excellent, comedic chemistry between him and Gyuri Sarossy as their characters ignored Tracy Wiles’ Ground Control.
John Dorney wrote the first story of Ravenous, and chose to ground the story in a very similar way to some of his previous set introduction stories for the Eighth Doctor, like Dark Eyes 4 and Doom Coalition 3. Their Finest Hour is an unrelated adventure for the Eighth Doctor and Liv, as the two are drawn to World War II England to investigate a presumably alien aircraft stalking the skies over England and destroying English aircrafts. The plot of the story was pretty solid; Dorney does a great job of taking an inkling of an idea, in this case a spaceship full of fanatics getting involved in their own proxy war, and expanding it out well, filling it with interesting ideas to help support his main idea. Dorney does the same here, bringing in an interesting setting, World War II, and filled with interesting characters, namely Winston Churchill as played by Ian McNeice, but also supporting characters like Wilhelm and Jan, and the interesting Haliyon, to make an enjoyable, engaging story. Perhaps the strongest part of the story, apart from the excellent harnessing of McNeice’s Winston Churchill, and Dorney’s character work, was the plot of the Haliyons. Rather than fighting out a war themselves, the Haliyons use other wars as proxies, with the winner of that war being used to declare which side won the Haliyon war. It’s an interesting idea, and it’s not explored too deeply, which I think works in its favor a bit. It gives just a glimpse at some of the horrors of the universe, and just hints at the depravity that drives wars, in a way.
But Dorney’s greatest strength in this story lies in his excellent character work and the way he brings out the best in his existing characters, both in how they’re written and in what they say. His greatest assets here are the Eighth Doctor and Liv, as well as Winston Churchill. Dorney is the first to take a stab at a full-cast Ian McNeice Churchill story for Big Finish, and he does so laudably. Churchill is written very well, true to the character that’s been built up on screen and in The Churchill Years sets, but the full-cast setting really allows both the actor and the writer to give the character a more interesting angle to work from. The advantage of The Churchill Years is that you can hear exactly what Churchill is thinking and his motivations as such. But in this story, you don’t know what’s going on inside his head, and it makes the character a lot stronger. You’re not sure what his motivations are for wanting to get in the TARDIS; are they pure, like many stories, where he simply wants to win the war, or look to see what his actions will do, or is there something more sinister in there, like what was hinted at in the first set’s finale? It gives the character of Churchill a new angle to work from, and it helps elevate the story a good deal. Apart from Churchill, Dorney does an exceptional job crafting a very funny story that, like Paul McGann’s acting abilities, is able to pivot at the drop of a hat, and become something more emotionally powerful. There’s lots of moments that evidence this, from the excellent dialogue during Liv’s interrogation scene, as she obfuscates until her friends are threatened, or the final moments of the story, as the Doctor and Liv, the former lightly teasing the latter, have the rug pulled out from underneath them, as they’re told that Wilhelm died. That contrast is one of the most powerful tools that Dorney applies to his stories, and it makes for a deeply engaging, and deeply resonant story.
Overall, Their Finest Hour is a solid start to the Ravenous arc for the Eighth Doctor. Paul McGann is on rare form as the Eighth Doctor, with a strongly comedic performance, yet one that makes great use of his ability to pivot his performance’s tone at a moment’s notice. Nicola Walker is the highlight of the cast, turning in a brilliantly funny performance, but one that is also filled with more powerful, dramatic scenes, that she just chews up and spits out easily. The guest cast is strong, but it’s Ian McNeice and Laurence Dobiesz who stand out most as Winston Churchill and Wilhelm, respectively. John Dorney does a fine job crafting a smart, engaging story throughout, but also one with more interesting, dramatic moments. His work bringing Big Finish’s version of Churchill to a full-cast story for the first time is laudable, as is his interesting plot and fantastic character work. The opening story, despite its seeming lack of connection with everything that Doom Coalition built up, and everything that’s been promised to us with Ravenous, works well, with a fine cast and some fine writing, to start off the arc well.