Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Following on from the previous months release, Moons of Vulpana see's the Doctor and Mags return to latter’s home world in a time long before she was born. This is the period when the four great wolfpacks, each devoted to one of the planets four moons, oversaw the height of Vulpanan civilisation. This is a feudal time, a time of honour and courtly relations. When Mags appears she is treated like royalty, seen as an opportunity to introduce new blood into the aristocracy. However, all is not right on Vulpana or more correctly above Vulpana and the Doctor becomes concerned that something or someone has been tampering with the moons…
Like the rest of this trilogy there is a large element of Gothic Horror at play here, primarily in the setting of the feudal aristocracy. Here it’s a lot subtler than in ‘Gokroth’ where, even for a Hammer Horror fan like myself, it was somewhat overblown and overplayed. There, practically every major trope Universal to Hammer Gothic movies was utilised. There were aspects that directly called back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein and Freaks to name just a small number. Here, mercifully, Emma Reeves crafts a story that is set within a Gothic horror-esque world but doesn’t overdo the references or allusions. This is an aristocratic society of castles and courts, of dark forests and secret labs. However, unlike the previous entry she does not feel the need to lift sequences from classic horror cinema- much to the stories benefit. Instead, Reeves chooses to focus on class politics and on building an effective and developed world. The result is a far slower piece than Gokroth, but one which effectively explores social and political elements introduced.
However the one negative to this is that whilst Reeves taking her time in exploring the world she creates can be interesting, it can also be a little dull. For those not interested in courtly dealings this is probably one to stay away, as for the most part it’s Mags attempting to mingle effectively. The slightly duller moments are not helped by a cast of primarily unlikeable and unengaging characters. This is by no means the fault of the actors but is instead the result of a lack of emphasis on those who are appealing (Barton for example). This is particularly noticeable in the case of Isaac and Tob who are given a running joke of overtly flirting with Mags, making her uncomfortable. The problem with this is that literally every other line delivered by one of these two characters is a flirtation and it get’s increasingly tiresome to the point that it really made me consider skipping ahead. Indeed this is Vulpana’s major issue, it feels like it needed one more draft, introducing and emphasising the mystery elements and action a little earlier and slimming back ever so slightly on the courtly romances. Whilst, as stated in the above paragraph, I did enjoy these aspects (and I could tell this was what Reeves was most passionate about) there can be too much of a good thing and it can tire your audience.
On the whole Vulpana is a fun listen. Flawed most certainly but it’s a story which boasts effective performances from it’s cast, skirts socio-political issues and manages to be extremely funny at points. Sadly, there are issues which hamper it from being one I’ll return to regularly but for those interested in Mags it’s a far more effective tale than Gokroth and a good direction to take the story.
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