We’re back, with another Big Finish Doctor Who audio drama review! Today we’re listening to the Seventh Doctor’s contribution to the Short Trips, Volume 3 collection, The Riparian Ripper. Written by Andrew Cartmel, and featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, this story is read by Sophie Aldred. Let’s get started!
Spoilers ahead for anyone who has not listened to this audio drama! For a spoiler-free review, scroll down to the next picture.
The Seventh Doctor and Ace make their way to a crime scene along the Red River, where they encounter a reporter named Walter Orpheus. The Doctor—letting Ace call him the Professor—manages as usual to be taken for someone official, in this case from the nearby university. He produces a newspaper clipping about the situation—a series of nearly-deadly attacks near the river, perpetrated by an assailant who has been dubbed “the Riparian Ripper” (“Riparian” meaning “on or of the riverbank”). Oddly, none of the victims have died, despite their grievous injuries; but none of them can identify the attacker as well. The current victim, a teenage girl, is in St. Saviour’s hospital. Her name is Dolores Gorman, and her uncle, Stan Gorman, is in the crowd here at the scene. Stan intends to kill the Ripper if he can find him—or it, as the Doctor thinks it may be an animal instead of a human. The wounds, after all, don’t look like knife wounds.
At the hospital, the Doctor and Ace investigate the victims’ case histories. All have survived—but, with the help of Dr. Leonard Milroy, they learn that all the victims have had an organ removed, though without having actually had the proper surgery—but with surgical skill. More interestingly, prior to their attacks, they all suffered problems related to the organs, which were eased when the organs were removed.
The Doctor and Ace stay overnight in the university’s student halls. They are awakened to news: the Ripper has been found! Stan Gorman’s brother, Herb Gorman, was attacked in the early hours, and brought into the hospital. The Doctor correctly predicts that the wounds were to the chest and upper abdomen; Milroy had already stated that Herb suffered from lung cancer. Ace realizes that the Ripper is not harming anyone—he is performing successful surgeries! The problem is that no one will understand it—and that means the Ripper will be mobbed and killed if isolated.
They rush to the site of the Ripper’s entrapment: a nearby storm drain. There they find workers from Stan Gorman’s construction company, wiring the place with explosions. Stan confronts them, and says he intends to murder the “monster”; but the Doctor informs him that his brother is doing very well, and was not, in fact, tortured after all. Nevertheless, Stan intends to blow up the drain tunnels anyway. In spite, the Doctor leaps up and into the drain pipe; Ace and Milroy follow. The Doctor has Ace covertly cut the detonation wire; and then they head deeper into the tunnels.
Before they can find the Ripper, they hear sirens; but they are coming from the darkness ahead, not from outside. Something approaches; the Doctor manages to pull his companions aside, just in time to avoid something large and silver streaking past in the tunnels. The thing—the ship—shoots out of the tunnels and flies away; the Doctor, Ace, and Milroy make it outside just in time to see it vanish over the horizon.
The Doctor laments that their “friend” is gone; and indeed, he can’t blame the Ripper for leaving. On the bright side, Herb Gorman will go on to recover fully, free of tumors. As the Doctor and Ace depart, they gift Milroy with a telescope; he intends to watch the sky, hoping the silver ship will return. Ace is secretly sure it won’t.
We seem to be on a theme in this collection. Every story so far, with the exception of The Five Dimensional Man, has featured a villain that isn’t actually a villain, and in most cases is simply misunderstood. I, for one, wouldn’t want a steady diet of such stories; but it is a nice occasional diversion. It’s inevitable, in a universe as large as that of Doctor Who, that species or individuals with radically different outlooks on life will pop up; and it suits the Doctor’s character very well to defend them as well as humanity. This is a concept that goes back at least as far as Doctor Who and the Silurians, and probably much further (I’m a little short on time right now, and don’t have the time to look into it). We see it here, when the titular Riparian Ripper—whom we never actually see or identify—isn’t at all what he appears to be at first; and he nearly dies for his trouble, when in fact he is here to do good for the humans in the area. Unfortunately, that’s also a common theme in Doctor Who: that humans can be heavy-handed and insensitive to anything different and/or wondrous. (Related: The Ripper’s species and homeworld are never revealed, either; that wonderfully obscure word, “riparian”, means “of or on the riverbank”, which is where the attacks in this story take place.)
At just over sixteen minutes, this is one of the shorter entries in the collection. After the painful voice acting in the last two entries—at least where Peri Brown was concerned—hearing Sophie Aldred read this story is something of a relief; she doesn’t try to imitate the Seventh Doctor precisely, but settles for a suggestion of his brogue, which is all that’s really necessary. This story is told in first person from Ace’s perspective, which while unusual, is a good mode for Sophie Aldred’s narration. As is common in Seventh Doctor stories, there’s no real hint of any framing events; we don’t see the Doctor and Ace arrive or leave, and the TARDIS isn’t seen at all, nor do we get any indication of why they came here at this time. I always find that a little odd, given that the Seventh Doctor has such a reputation for manipulating events and scheming behind the scenes; nevertheless a lot of stories seem to happen in that way.
Overall: A short, pleasant story, and a nice change from the body horror and pain in recent entries (although, if “organ removal” counts, one could say there’s body horror here as well—but at least we don’t have to watch it happen). It’s almost a little too short, too easy; I would have liked to see the Doctor and Ace be involved in tracking down the Ripper, but that event is handled elsewhere and essentially handed to them. Otherwise, not bad at all.
Next time: We’ll wrap up with the Eighth—wait, no, we won’t! We’ll listen to the Eighth Doctor’s entry, All the Fun of the Fair, featuring Lucie Miller; but don’t forget, we’ve also put off the first Doctor’s entry, Seven to One, which is split among the various parts of this collection. We’ll try to get in both stories tomorrow, and start fresh on Monday with Volume Four, if possible. See you then!
All audio dramas featured in this series may be purchased from Big Finish Productions; this story’s purchase page is linked below.