Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 4/16/18 4:35 am
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In the finale of Ravenous 1, Sweet Salvation, the Eleven (Mark Bonnar) and the Kandyman (Nicholas Rowe) have done they unthinkable, and have taken over Rykerzon. Soon, they plan to take over a whole world, bringing everyone under the Eleven’s control, using the Kandyman’s treats. But thankfully, the Doctor (Paul McGann) and his friends Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan) are back together to save the day. Or that’s how it should be; but the Doctor doesn’t trust Helen. She’s spent a long time with the Eleven, and the Doctor fears that she’s been brought under his influence. When the fate of the universe is at stake, the Doctor can always rely on his friends; but maybe this is the first time his friends will betray him? Sweet Salvation ends Ravenous 1 with a pretty average affair, wrapping up the arc of the set in a decent way, but also struggling to sell itself too well. The cast is generally strong throughout, with the main trio of Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, and Hattie Morahan generally doing strong work, while guest stars Mark Bonnar and Pippa Bennett-Warner give strong guest performances. Matt Fitton is tasked with ending the set, and that’s pretty much exactly what he does. The plot is a bit dull, the dialogue and the action is a bit listless throughout, and the story just really drags. It’s certainly enjoyable, but it’s just not exactly memorable, and works to end the set with a shrug, rather than an explosive ending.
The Eighth Doctor’s latest TARDIS team is finally reunited, as Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, and Hattie Morahan star in the finale of Ravenous 1. McGann is strong as the Doctor throughout the story, balancing his optimism and his strong moral code against the truly despicable acts of those around him, and managing to come out on top. McGann usually turns in a phenomenal performance in his stories as the Eighth Doctor, and while the story’s writing may not serve him well, McGann does his best with what he’s given, and he emerges on top. Also reunited are Walker and Morahan as Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair, companions to the Eighth Doctor. Liv is something of a secret weapon for the Eighth Doctor, as of late. As time has gone on, her character development has somewhat stagnated a bit, as they’ve done a lot with her character already, but I keep being drawn in by the fantastic performance of Walker throughout. Her sardonic wit is a boon to any story, and it plays off the Doctor so well. But it’s also starting to bounce off of Helen a bit better now too, especially given the small amounts of character development Helen has been given. Morahan rounds out the regular cast as Helen, and does a generally strong job in the role. Her character still has flaws, and certainly the writing wasn’t the best for her to return on, but she’s got an excellent chemistry with Walker and guest star Mark Bonnar, and I enjoyed the relationship she shared with McGann throughout the story, up through the end.
The guest cast features a number of characters, but three stand out in my opinion: Mark Bonnar returning as the Eleven, Pippa Bennett-Warner returning as Ruzalla, and finally, Nicholas Rowe as the Kandyman. Rowe is sort of the elephant in the room here, as I had large problems with his character in the previous story. But Rowe improves a bit here, though I still dislike the characterization they went with. Rowe does a really fine job making the Kandyman subtle and menacing, but I just don’t think that is really suited for the Kandyman. I did very much enjoy the brief bit at the climax of the story, when Rowe’s voice was synthesized to sound more like the televised version of the character. I really wish they’d gone with that, because it’s infinitely more terrifying hearing the Kandyman screaming with his synthesized voice than it is to hear the dulcet tones of Nicholas Rowe crooning about his evil plans. Bonnar and Bennett-Warner both do fine jobs with their performances; Bonnar remains the highlight of the cast for his multi-faceted (quite literally) performance as the Eleven and his various incarnations. I particularly liked the venom that he conveyed in his final confrontation with Helen, as his character rebuffed her protests that she had been able to help him and make him a better person. Bennett-Warner did a fine job as well as Ruzalla, tagging alongside Nicola Walker’s Liv throughout the story. I thought that their pairing was a pretty good one, and that it brought out a lot of good qualities in Bennett-Warner’s performance.
Matt Fitton is tasked with wrapping up the box set, a task that he often seems to struggle with. Unfortunately, this story follows that trend, as Fitton tries to wrap up an already overstuffed arc with a neat little bow, and ends up with a bit of a dull, sort of by the books story. The strengths of this story are few and far between, but I think that the finest part of the story was Fitton’s characterization for the Eleven. It seems that the time of the Eleven is drawing to a close, with the announcement of the Twelve’s casting (Julia McKenzie) for The Eighth Doctor: The Time War, Series 02, and so Fitton gives the character one last chance to go out with a bang, and he largely succeeds there. Perhaps the biggest strength of this part of the story was that Fitton chose not to go the traditional route, as I’d worried he would in the previous story, and instead chose to have the Eleven truly be evil. There’s no sentimentality between him and Helen whatsoever; as he puts it, there may be a little bit of care in the Eleven’s personality for her, but there are at least three people who would happily kill her given the chance. It’s a smart choice, and helps assuage some fears I had going into the story. I also liked, but was somewhat frustrated by, the presence of the Kandyman’s “original” voice. The childlike, half-screaming voice of the Kandyman from The Happiness Patrol is rather iconic in my opinion, and I really enjoyed having it back here, if only for a brief moment. But unfortunately, this threw the rest of the scenes featuring Rowe as the Kandyman into a different light; it would’ve been really nice if Big Finish had found a way to incorporate that original voice more into Rowe’s performance. I would’ve really liked it if Rowe’s voice had a slightly synthesized quality to it, with occasional blips towards the “original” voice at times, as I think it would’ve made the Kandyman stand out quite a bit more.
Unfortunately for Fitton, the strengths of the story really don’t do a whole lot to outweigh the negatives of the story. The plot of the story is really not a particularly exciting thing; maybe it’s the fact that as time goes on, we know exactly what will happen with the Eighth Doctor. He’s going to survive up until he answers that distress call from Cass that seals his fate, and so each story we get with him now lacks that sense of mystery about what could happen. Big Finish have certainly found ways to work around this (A Death in the Family, Orbis, and more), but since Night of the Doctor came into existence, Big Finish has really struggled a lot more to make decisively quality stories for the Eighth Doctor, with few exceptions. This finale really underscores that, as Fitton tries to craft an interesting idea, and instead retreads very similar ground to the finale of Doom Coalition 1, The Satanic Mill. That story was arguably the weakest of the set, and really, the rehash doesn’t do the plot any favors. In addition to the rather dull plot, I really didn’t like the work that Fitton did on the dialogue between characters, and their respective characterizations, by and large. There’s a great scene early on in The Great War, from Dark Eyes, that gives perhaps the best representation of the Eighth Doctor in these box sets; the Doctor, having lost everything, his best friend, his great-grandson, and, in some way, his granddaughter, he careens off towards the end of existence, only to be stopped by the Time Lords. When asked why, the Doctor replies with a brilliant monologue. It’s dripping with rage, pain, heartbreak, reckless abandon, and also a sense of true adventure. The Eighth Doctor has never been better, in my opinion, than he was in that scene. But somewhere along the way, Big Finish seemed to drop that, in favor of making McGann simply a cheery, polite, and slightly sarcastic Doctor. It certainly has its moments, as Dorney harnessed earlier in the set, but it’s not exciting, or interesting. And really, this story is filled with that. The character of the Eighth Doctor is alright. Nothing more. He’s not brilliant, despite McGann giving it his all. He’s not infinitely engaging, and he’s certainly not terribly deep. It’s a change that’s really been noticeable ever since Dark Eyes 2 came out, and it’s really highlighted here in the poor characterization for the Eighth Doctor. This is really the first story that I truly felt the Eighth Doctor could’ve been replaced by any other Doctor, and still had the story stay largely the same.
The final piece that I’d like to mention here is the hints towards the series-long arc that are brought up in this story. At the end of the story, both the Doctor, Liv, and Helen, and the Eleven, separately encounter a group of spectres, that are described as a group of distorted figures with twisted faces, which are named as the Ravenous by Helen and the Eleven. An incarnation of the Eleven remarks that they’re entities from the Old Times that feed on something, presumably psychic energy, and that they best course of action when encountering them is to run. I’m intrigued by the small amount of information that we have on the Ravenous so far, and what they could possibly be. Presumably, they’re echoes that are drawn to powerful psychic events; with Helen now in possession of extremely powerful psychic abilities, they’re sure to attract the Ravenous, and provide the Eighth Doctor and Helen with a formidable foe for many stories to come.
Overall, the finale of Ravenous 1, Sweet Salvation is not a great story. Fitton struggles to craft an interesting finale, and instead crafts a dull story that retreads old ground and doesn’t do much good with the characters of the story, apart from the Eleven. For the quality of the script, the cast does a fine job; Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, and Hattie Morahan are all on rare form for the main cast, while Mark Bonnar and Pippa Bennett-Warner give memorable guest performances throughout. The underlying issues of the Kandyman are still frustratingly present, really solidifying the numerous issues this story has. Not even some admittedly tantalizing threads pointing to a larger arc help this story to be anything other than a subpar offering for both the Eighth Doctor and Matt Fitton, a usually strong writer.