15 May 2015

BF: The Archive

The Archive is the first episode of Big Finish's epic boxset spanning six of their Doctor-less series. Cunningly titled The Worlds of Big Finish, this is the second project from the minds of David Llewellyn and Scott Handcock, who seem to be the company's most exciting talents at the moment, for my money at least. Having already delivered a reboot of the long-running Gallifrey series (review here), they're set to deliver the same treatment to both Iris Wildthyme and Torchwood later this year. The considerable variance in setting and tone of these series ought to tell you that they're something special.

It was with this in mind that I preordered this new set, even though I've not heard of the series of the characters involved. Thanks to the sales this week, I've gone at least some way to remedying that.

This opening episode sets the scene very well. It features the return of the Graceless twins, who first appeared in 2009's Fifth Doctor 'Key 2 Time' trilogy. I do have Graceless ready to listen to once I reach Davison in my massive Target/Big Finish marathon but I'm nowhere near that stage yet. For anyone worried about spoilers for the series, you can happily listen to this without any plot points being discussed. Aside from the fact that they survive - which you've probably guessed by now anyway - The Archive is completely spoiler-free.

You might notice I'm avoiding talking much about the story itself. Given it's only just been released at time of writing, I don't want to give away all the plot points, but suffice to say it's an engaging opening. The titular Archive is a fascinating concept, and the mystery surrounding only makes it more so. Once the twins arrive, we meet Romulus Chang, the Chief Archivist of Eschatology and his apprentice Lucian. And so begins a saga that will span light-years and millennia alike... Barnaby Edwards and Hugh Skinner give impressively unrecognisable performances and manage to embody all the layers of Llewellyn's intelligent script with aplomb. Although I did guess the twist, it is given suitable emphasis that it feels like a significant revelation.

The characterisation of these two supporting characters is similarly well executed. The age and youth of Romulus and Lucian are contrasted well to show both the similarities in the pair and their inherent differences. The talk of living inside the Archive (as we all might) is as thought-provoking as this episode gets, beginning to deal with the ideas of solitude and confinement. On reflection, perhaps the isolation of the Archive is to blame for the events at the conclusion. The resolution of the story does feel a little quick and convenient, but the emotional weight it is given makes up for this. Abby and Zara are great characters, obviously played with easy familiarity by Ciara Janson and Laura Doddington. The pair know the twins well, and are able to switch tone in a moment. Oh how I'm looking forward to Graceless now.

I did wonder how exactly the story would progress from one wildly different series to another, but the way the baton is handed over at the end makes complete sense given the preceding half-hour. A lot of thought has clearly put into the way all of these characters can be tied together and I'm glad to see that so far they do all exist as part of the same universe (although perhaps that will be reversed later on given some of Romulus' comments). Handcock and Llewellyn are definitely a pairing to watch, and I look forward to hearing the magic they've made over the next five episodes. All in all this is a solid introduction to The Worlds of Big Finish and the format means I'm keen to move onto the next instalment. Without further ado...

You can buy The Worlds of Big Finish here.

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