Those of you who have read my previous articles may remember a few months ago I reviewed a Doctor Who production called All-Consuming Fire. That was released by a company I have grown very fond of called Big Finish Productions. Big Finish is most famous for the multiple different Doctor Who ranges they put out as well as adaptations of multiple other TV shows or famous characters ranging from The Prisoner and Sherlock Holmes to Dorian Gray and Star Trek. But they don’t only adapt other people’s work.
As well as writing original stories with their various licences last year they made a special announcement. The Big Finish Originals range was going to begin. The Big Finish Originals range was designed to act as their first attempt at doing purely original work with no underlying licence attached.
The first Original the company released was Cicero. Cicero is an interesting series of six interconnected hour long radio drama style productions focused on the legal career and personal life of famous Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. The series begins with Cicero taking on the case of a patricide where the son and father were sixty miles apart at the time of the father’s death. But to put it delicately Cicero does not have the best of luck when it comes to complications be they personal or business.
The series begins in the year 80BC during the dying days of the Roman Republic after previous Roman dictator Sulla renounced the dictatorship to become a consul – for those who wish to find out about the actual history of this time period look at The Storm Before The Storm: The Beginning Of The End Of The Roman Republic which I also previously reviewed. As a result of Sulla’s actions and many other things besides the general public in Rome is being frequently taken advantage of by the Senators and other figures of power. Cicero as a result becomes one of a small handful of figures trying to do ‘the right thing’ even if occasionally he goes about it in slightly bizarre ways.
For those of you who are interested in a Roman style legal drama but are nervous in case you don’t understand terms there’s no need to panic. The drama does a perfectly good job explaining most of the terms you need to know and the few it doesn’t are usually given explanations through people’s reactions.
When it comes to the cast everyone is clearly giving it their all. Main star Samuel Barnett makes Cicero very relatable even when his actions are sometimes wrong. You understand why he’s doing it and his motivations and his reasons for it fit the version of Cicero being told. That is down to excellent writing on the part of David Llewellyn as is his ability to make Cicero’s brother Quintus at moments switch from a joking flirting pretend playboy to a deadly serious ‘man on a mission’ and have it flow naturally from the story and the excellent performance of George Naylor. The two of them definitely work together well as the focus characters – especially whenever Marcus has to play straight man to Quintus’s comedian.
Another actor who must be congratulated is Laura Riseborough as Terentia – Marcus’s understanding albeit frustrated wife. She perfectly captures a good mix of the stereotypical ideal Roman wife and more modern values making her match Marcus well and more than capable of giving him a boot up the backside when needed.Marcus’s mother Helvia is also definitely a highlight!
I will also bring special attention to the sound design and music. The music is very much something that feels in the style of Rome. The age of imperial centurions and gladiators, senators and ‘barbarians’.
If there is one thing I would critique in the plot of the series it’s something that’s a spoiler. But to discuss it I’ll mention it in somewhat vague terms. But the easiest way to discuss it is to say this: There is one instance where an important character in the series seems to be actively removed before the end of their arc. The series justifies it well but it still seems to bother me personally. But other listeners may not be as bothered by it as I was. Another minor issue is that some of the jokes can sometimes fly over the listener’s head but that’s more of a nitpick than anything as the series is still very enjoyable.
Despite my few criticisms I still recommend Cicero. I personally found it very entertaining. There might be some criticisms others could level at it that I can’t but these reviews are supposed to be personal after all. For all of those who are interested Big Finish themselves put the first episode of Cicero up on their site as a taster for five pounds. If the first episode catches your interest the rest of the series is equally as engaging. However if the first episode doesn’t persuade you the rest of the series wouldn’t change your mind.
In short I consider Cicero a very good start to the Originals range and hope some of my readers will investigate Big Finish Productions and their various other releases. No matter your taste I’m sure there’s SOMETHING there for you.After all Big Finish love stories