Iris Wildthyme
1: Wildthyme at Large

Starring: Katy Manning
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN 1 84435 145 9
Available 27 November 2005

It's ten years since Tom's adventures aboard Iris Wildthyme's trans-dimensional bus. He has now settled into a life of writing novels about his erstwhile friend. Then one night there's a ruckus at a book launch, and suddenly the loud-mouthed floozy of the multiverse is back in his life. Before Tom knows it, Iris has entrusted him with her most precious possession, ridden off into the night with Robin Hood, and revealed that she's being hunted by evil forces from a higher dimension...

This new series of audio adventures bursts forth into our ears with an appropriate degree of whimsy and innuendo. The wonderful Katy Manning is as dotty as ever as the "sort of" Time Lady Iris Wildthyme, while Ortis Deley sounds uncannily like CBBC presenter Andi Peters in his role as Iris' former travelling companion Tom.

Tom previously appeared in the BBC Doctor Who novel Verdigris, which also featured the Third Doctor and Jo Grant. Iris herself was in a different incarnation at the time, but here's an idea for an audio adventure: Jo Grant meets Katy Manning's Iris! Maybe one day...

However, the most intriguing aspect of this series is the addition of a new character to the mythology. Panda, voiced by David Benson as a kind of hybrid of Frankie Howerd, Leslie Phillips and the sinister baby Stewie from Family Guy (if such a combination is possible to imagine), is a haughty, sardonic, frequently exasperated creature of superior intelligence, whose origins and true nature have yet to be explained. Just don't dare call him a bear!

Since I seem to be comparing characters' voices with those of other people, I might as well add that the evil, ranting disembodied Head (Stephen Chance) sounds a lot like Gareth Thomas' villainous Editor from MJTV's Soldiers of Love. In fact, SoL fans will find plenty to enjoy in this wacky sci-fi comedy drama, penned by Iris' creator, Paul Magrs, though the double entendres don't (ahem) come quite as thick and fast.

Though Big Finish currently holds a licence to produce Doctor Who merchandise, the company evidently wishes to maintain the Iris Wildthyme series as a separate entity (though with undoubted cross-over appeal to Who fans). The words "Time Lord" and "TARDIS" are never once uttered, and when Iris' trans-temporal double-decker bus disappears it is accompanied by a different sound than the familiar TARDIS dematerialisation effect.

Whether you happen to regard this as an extension of the Whoniverse or something distinct from it (after all, Iris started out as a character in a non-Who Magrs novel, Marked for Life), Wildthyme is most certainly back and doing it large!

Richard McGinlay