Big Finish Productions
Wildthyme at Large

Written by Paul Magrs Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2005

Starring Katy Manning

Synopsis: It's been ten years since Tom's adventures aboard Iris Wildthyme's transdimensional double-decker bus. One night at a book launch, there was a ruckus in the signing queue. Before Tom even knew it, Iris had entrusted him with her most precious possession, ridden off into the night with Robin Hood, and revealed that she was being hunted by evil forces from a higher dimension.


The bitch is back! by Joe Ford 31/5/06

To some, this would be the most horrifying conception, an Iris Wildthyme series! It's an intriguing concept but one that requires a lot of thought to make it work. I think that it could really work, but on the basis of Wildthyme at Large, I don't think this is going to explore the concept to its fullest. There is some good stuff, nice characters, fannish touches, giggly humour but what it lacks is a sense of importance. This audio is just like Magrs' books, light and frothy, like a sweet caramel cappuccino but freeing Iris from the restraints of literature could see a more intimate portrayal of the Intergalactic Adventuress. But I think we are in for a bunch of fluff, sugary-sweet tales that you can take or leave.

I would love to see what a non-fan's reaction to this would be! They would probably think Paul Magrs has lost his marbles, this story about a mad old drunk time traveller who conks about in a red bus with a cute gay boy and a talking stuffed panda. SFX recently reviewed the first two instalments of this series and wrote them off as jokes in need of a punchline and I think that is justified, if a little harsh.

The reason Iris works so well is because she is the polar opposite to the Doctor. For some reason or another, the Doctor lost that sense of naughtiness that he radiated in his first two incarnations, that idea of being on the run and doing things he shouldn't was lost when he became Time's Champion or some or some shit. Iris burst into life in the eighth Doctor book The Scarlet Empress and she was like a breath of fresh air, the sort who didn't give a toss about the timelines as long as she is having a laugh, got merrily drunk and relished her adventures... in a period when travelling around the universe was as black as night, (have you read some of those NAs/EDAs?!) she glowed. She shows the Doctor up, makes him seem po-faced and (god forbid) "establishment". Another facet of her character is the fact that she is Gallifreyan, so each subsequent visit she turns up in a new persona, so there is never a chance for us to get bored with the current Iris.

Big Finish have (wisely) chosen to include Iris in a number of stories with the Doctor (fifth, sixth) and Benny and have (for a sense of continuity) kept the character the same. Calling on the services of the glorious Katy Manning, Iris sprang to life on audio and remained as lively and exciting as she was in print.

Letting her loose on her own series is a whole new ball game, now she doesn't have the Doctor to complement her, now she has to prove herself on her own merits. And unfortunately she does rather come across as a one-joke wonder. I think this has something to do with her creator, who fails to add anything new to the mix and merely regurgitates everything we already knew. Okay maybe I'm harsh, this is a pilot after all, but I cannot imagine a non-fan reaching for this in their local Waterstones (if they would stock it!) and for us long-termers it is same old, same old. Iris, Tom, the bus, evil boogie-woogies after them, talk of sex and booze, camp goings on... I would have been more impressed if, just to shock us, Magrs had dished up a deathly serious drama. We saw an inkling of the potential of treating Iris seriously in both The Plague Herds of Excelis and The Wormery and it was riveting. I hope this series runs long enough to give us a taste of the darker side of Iris, to round her character and prove that she isn't just a one-joke wonder.

That's not to say that there isn't anything to like here. Being a fan I found lots of lovely touches that Magrs added, making my heart glow. Having Tom back (Verdigris) is lovely and although I never pictured him as being black, Ortis Deley provides a charming portrayal of a character who I never much cared for in his debut. It's always nice to catch up with characters later on life after they have met the Doctor (or Iris) and Tom clearly matured into a perfectly lovely young man. I look forward to further adventures with him. The second I heard the name Mida Slike I was laughing my head off, I have not long finished Mad Dogs and Englishmen and to have this reminder of the deviousness of MIAOW was hilarious. And of course there are the usual mentions, poor old Jenny who used to get the runs when they went through the vortex!

The plot is a little thin but that seems to characterise most of Magrs' audios and his real strength lies in dialogue, which, as usual, is lively and interesting. In the end the story turns out to be nothing but a protracted chase after Iris for something she doesn't even posses but it introduces all the central characters memorably.

I loved Panda with every fibre of my being and he was another concept idea like the TARDIS, the Doctor and the bus which works because it is so completely absurd but played so straight. It's a talking panda with an attitude problem, get over it. Played with enthusiasm and much humour by David Benson, this is the sort of stiff-upper-lipped character it is impossible to dislike. Unless you are the sort of sour old git who refuses to acknowledge anything that isn't proper Doctor Who and serious. The idea is ridiculous. That's the point.

Postproduction and music are fine but I really haven't complained about anything on that score from Big Finish for yonks now, such is the standard of their technical expertise. I think the director could have reigned in the actors at times; I love camp as much as the next man but character such as Mida and the bookshop owner are somewhere out in the stratosphere... it's impossible to take anybody seriously if they are allowed to ham it up or they are really stressing their words with a throaty wail... I loved the theme music though, a delightful reminder of Iris' singing debut in The Wormery!

I don't quite know how to take this series; it could go one of two ways. Explore its potential and release some more challenging stories and build a fan base and run, or die a quick death drowning in its own campness. I sincerely hope for the former but I rather suspect the latter.