Believe the hype – this box set continuing the Eighth Doctor adventures is as good as you’ve heard, with producer David Richardson overseeing writers John Dorney and Matt Fitton at the top of their games, assisted by assured direction from Ken Bentley and strong performances across the board from leads Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Morahan and Alex Kingston and the guest cast. There are strong emotional beats – particularly in Dorney’s opener, Absent Friends – as well as high dramatic stakes leavened with the sort of humour that only River Song’s totally unabashed free for all attitude to Time can provide. The appropriate hoops are jumped through to ensure that this time around River and the Doctor can interact together properly without it breaking the letter of the continuity law.
The first story, Absent Friends, is rather more standalone, set in the present day (which of course is a long way in the future for Helen) and follows the rules over what becomes a fixed point rather better than some other recent stories. You may find yourself desperately wanting the characters not to react in the way they do, but Dorney keeps things moving inexorably and just when you think that things might start to pan out, they take a sharp left turn.
Matt Fitton’s next two episodes aren’t as dark – at least initially – with the time travellers each pursuing leads separately. River interacts with all three of them in different ways, playing with Helen’s timeline (and the listener’s understanding of what’s happened) and finally ending up with the Doctor. In Dorney’s concluding part, Helen and Liv find themselves in a situation that long term fans will recognise but which is as effective here as it was over three decades ago.
The stakes are constantly ramped up across the set, with the threads left hanging from the first two box sets starting to be gathered together. There’s the hell of a cliffhanger to resolve… so roll on set four!
Verdict: Excellent work all round. 10/10