Doctor Who At The BFI - Planet of the Daleks & Q and A with Katy ManningBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 June 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

CAN I JUST SAY THAT I WAS SAT IN THE SAME ROW AS KATY MANNING, AND TWO ROWS DOWN FROM FRANK SKINNER!?

 

Anyway, that’s enough of that fan...........wallowing! So, on Saturday 15th June, DWN was invited along to the BFI to see this special edition episode of the Pertwee classic, Planet of the Daleks. A story that is now 46 years old and that is showing to promote not only the upcoming series 10 Blu-ray box set but also to show off what the restoration team have managed to do with the original material. So, to the (literal) strains of Roberta Tovey's Who's Who, I entered the auditorium.

 

I have to confess, I’ve not seen this story since it’s release on DVD some years ago, but it does have a fond place in my heart. Why? Well, it has the Pertwee ‘A-Team’ in it; he and Manning never looked better on the small screen than during series 10. Pertwee himself was at the top of his game, and the show looked great. Yes, you can see the studio walls, but the jungle setting looks sumptuous, and the vicious plants incredibly imaginative. I love this TARDIS set, with its pull out bed, hidden oxygen tanks, and that weird entry threshold thing where you can see the outside....from the inside through the interior doors of the TARDIS. Odd, but very cool.

 

Being a direct follow on from Frontier In Space, which I always thought was just a long and drawn out trailer for this very story, it does suffer somewhat from Terry Nation’s writing tropes, but it’s still a cracking Dalek story, with some great cliffhangers, and fantastic character actors such as Prentis Hancock, and Bernard Horsefall. There is also David Maloney on directing duties.

 

As with a lot of the content on these new Blu-ray releases, the special effects have been spruced up somewhat (a feature that you can toggle on and off when watching the Blu-ray at home). Some of the effects are very impressive (the Dalek ship for instance) and some are so well blended in that you don’t notice them until the story has moved on. The standout, however, is, of course, the destruction of the Dalek army in the final episode. When I think back to the original, all I remember is awfully rendered, pathetic looking toy Daleks and bad lava effects. What we have here though is a complete CGI reimagining of the scene that adds real gravitas to the whole thing, and brings the effects bang up to date.

 

Sadly, upscaling a story like this is not all good. I thought as nice as the picture was, it suffered a bit by being on the big screen (I’m hoping it will look better at home). I also noticed a string on an ascending Dalek, Pertwee’s makeup, and how poor a state the Dalek props were in.

 

Story-wise, as mentioned earlier, it’s a Nation classic. He knows how to handle his Daleks and his mercenaries. But his female characters not so much. Some of the dialogue had the audience in stitches, especially that classic scene where Jo goes to find the bombs....and please, the less said about her brief 'romance', the better. Obviously, this is a window into a very different era of storytelling, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh.

 

After the show, there was a quiz, that Katy helped out with, running up and down the auditorium like a blind teenager. There was also a look at some of the newly filmed extras - Keeping Up With The Jones looks absolutely lovely, as do the Behind the Sofa vignettes featuring Manning, John Levene and Richard Franklin - their chemistry together, even now positively sizzles.

 

We then moved onto the Q and A and I must say that Manning was charming, funny and very engaging. She regaled the audience from how Pertwee started to wear hair rollers to hide his bald spot (which Katy had pointed out to him to his horror), to her heartbreak at leaving the show and moving on all of those years ago.

 

This reviewer really enjoyed the afternoon, if I had one slightly negative observation....well not so much as an observation, as a feeling in my buttocks - it would be that these showings would be better suited to four-part stories.

 

Oh! I nearly forgot! Inside scoop! The next Blu-ray box set will be announced Tuesday 18th June. Make your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.

 




Torchwood - The Green Life (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 June 2019 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Green Life (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness); Katy Manning (Josephine Jones); Stewart Bevan (Voice of the Hive)

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“This isn’t the 1970s, Ms. Grant. You won’t find me in any one terminal, circuit board or roll of magnetic tape – I am everywhere.”

If there’s one established truth on which we Doctor Who universe aficionados can surely concur, it’s the undying appeal of the franchise’s various crossover outings. Whether these involve multiple Doctors, companions uniting in their own escapades or an overflowing melting pot of the pair as seen in “The Five Doctors” and “Journey's End”, these ever-anticipated ensemble pieces serve dual purposes, stoking our collective nostalgia while offering a worthwhile entry-point for those viewers who’ve yet to explore the past of the five-decade-spanning shared continuity.

Big Finish’s recently-announced plans to square off the Torchwood Three team (alongside their allies and occasional frenemies) against classic Who monsters in a new series of Main Range instalments thus seemed like a recipe for commercial and creative success from the outset. Sure enough, with April’s Gwen Cooper-starring Night of the Fendahl came a thrilling chamber piece which cunningly melded the titular supernatural antagonist’s mythology with #MeToo explorations; fast forward one month later and the results spawned by pairing the indomitable Captain Jack Harkness not only with “The Green Death”’s iconic maggots, but one Jo Jones, are no less delectable…for want of a better term given the subject matter.

Much as Fendahl rekindled its 1977 TV predecessor’s gothic chills and macabre tone for the modern listener, so too does The Green Life stay true to the unmistakable environmentalist undertones found in 1973’s “Death”, not to mention Jo’s own work to save the world as referenced in her Sarah Jane Adventures appearance. Of course, that Ms. Jones (née Grant) remains so dedicated to preserving life in all forms hardly makes her ideal company for Jack as they investigate a resurgent maggot infestation in the pollution-free village of Llanfairfach. Such crossovers wouldn’t prove half as fun without the odd heated confrontation, though, and true to form, writer David Llewellyn exploits this ideological tension of brawn vs. benevolence for all its worth. From exchanges as gloriously bonkers as the pair navigating sewers while Jo hunts for her missing car keys to unexpectedly explosive moments like the ex-Time Agent questioning why the Doctor truly parted ways with Jo in ’73, there’s dramatic and comedic mileage alike gleaned in abundance here.

It equally goes without saying that – beyond fitting neatly into the Torchwood Main Range’s four-part greatest hits tour – Life shares Night of the Fendahl’s painful topicality in 2019 by delving into the realms of environmental exploitation. Yet rather than simply banging the drum of global warming protest alongside those who took to the streets of London recently, Llewellyn takes an unexpectedly nuanced viewpoint of the situation. His depiction of a corporation manipulating society’s healthy foods drive recognises the dangers of us overlooking business malpractice for conservational ends on the one hand, only to simultaneously highlight the challenge that comes with tearing down these systems if it comes at the cost of whole communities’ workplaces and livelihoods. Who would represent the real villain in that situation? No lone audio drama can profess to provide a definitive answer, as with Fendahl’s necessarily open-ended take on Hollywood gender politics, but to leave Life with such (ironically) meaty food for thought certainly odes Llewellyn huge credit.

In case all of these weighty themes sound a tad overbearing for a one-hour Torchwood adventure, worry not; few thespians could provide greater catharsis in such circumstances than John Barrowman with his gung-ho bravado or Katy Manning with her bubbly wit and infectious wonder, a sentiment which holds doubly true with their overdue coupling., Both stars hit it off from the moment that we hit Play, with Manning’s passionate energy imbuing Jo with the same moral righteousness as ever and offering a perfect counter foil to Barrowman’s lovably infuriating take on Jack at his most self-important. Indeed, if Manning’s ever around the Big Finish studios at the same time as another Torchwood recording, then one can hardly imagine James Goss and company resisting the opportunity to pair her with another member of the team in light of Life’s electrifying results.

So will the naysayers find any excuses to pick nits this time around? The only notable blemish in Life’s structural integrity (at least to our minds) lies in its somewhat rushed introduction of Stewart Bevan’s mysterious behind-the-scenes string-puller. Rest assured that we shan’t reveal their identity here so as to preserve the enigmatic nature of his cast-list billing, but even once you’re fully up to speed, Bevan has scarcely received sufficient time to flesh out his character in any great depth, such that the outcome of our heroes’ inevitable stand-off with them fails to land with the dramatic weight that it arguably would’ve in a serial closer to the 150-minute runtime of “Death”. It’s a recurring issue which we’ve raised before in our Torchwood Main Range reviews and might well warrant the range producers’ consideration at some stage going forward, or alternatively necessitate writers like Llewellyn hastening their future scripts’ first acts somewhat to avoid a last-minute race to the finish line.

With that being said, this reviewer’s greatest concern with Life had long been whether pairing the grimmest and, well, campest aspects of the Doctor Who universe was a step too far, even for a string of releases so accomplished as these one-hour standalone Torchwood missions. What an immense relief it is, then, to confirm that any such reservations on other listeners’ parts are entirely unwarranted, since the above-mentioned minor character issues barely leave a scratch on this riotous crossover’s sturdy armour. There’s nostalgia aplenty for long-term Who fans, a formidable introduction to Jo Jones in all her glory for newcomers unfamiliar with her non-Torchwood antics and tonnes to chew on from a societal perspective as well – in short, the Doctor Who crossover’s undying appeal remains alive and kicking!

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – Just when you thought that the Torchwood team had expended every ounce of their creative juices brainstorming inspired Doctor Who-mashing plot premises, Lisa McMullin proposes yet another match made in heaven (or possibly Hell) for Sync: Suzie Costello and short-lived Cardiff mayor Margaret Blaine. Sparks will fly, towns will boom, and we’d wager that not even the God Among Us can save Wales’ capital city from the devastating carnage that awaits…






The Tenth Doctor Adventures - Volume Three (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Three (Credit: Big Finish)


Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Jacqueline King, Nicholas Briggs
Written by James Goss, Jenny T Colgan, & Roy Gill
Directed by Ken Bentley

Released by Big Finish - May 2019

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to Big Finish for Tennant's third and Tate's second boxset, and this time they've brought along some supporting characters from Series 4 as well: Wilf and Sylvia! 

The set opens with No Place, seeing all four characters in a haunted house, with the Doctor and Donna pretending to be newlyweds for some haunted house makeover show. Obviously, this is all in order to deal with whatever alien presence is stalking the house. In all honesty, the opener feels half baked, like they got part of an idea and never truly figured out the details...maybe hoping that the joy of hearing Bernard Cribbins as Wilf again would distract us from the fact that the story isn't terribly great.  And while it is great to hear Wilf and Sylvia in on the action, I can't say I even buy the idea that Sylvia would get involved in this plot.  It's nothing against Jacqueline King, she is good in this...but the way the character had always been written is contrary to her getting roped into a Doctor Scheme. She just wouldn't. And in the end, these are the kind of silly details I focus in on when the story itself isn't terribly interesting. 

Luckily the set bounces back with One Mile Down as the Doctor takes Donna to a tourist trap that was once a beautiful underwater city, but in order to make money with tourism they've encased it in a bubble, with the original fish like inhabitants forced into protective helmets, and essentially be treated as lower life forms despite having built the beautiful city everyone has come to see.  It can be a bit ham-fisted with it's social commentary, but that was the Tenth Doctor era I loved so much!  You've got 45 minutes to an hour to explain your premise, introduce your guest characters, build a world and solve it all for the next adventure...if you want to put in a message, well you just need to shove it in and get the point across quickly.  And I enjoyed this episode!

The set closes out with The Creeping Death, which takes place in Smoggy London in 1952. This was an actual thing that got really bad in December 1952, and a number of people got ill or died due to toxins in the air.  In this story, some minuscule alien lifeforms that live in those kinds of toxins have come to Earth and hope to make the smog last forever, and of course, it is up to the Doctor, Donna, and a small group of people to stop them.  This one has a fun atmosphere, and I enjoyed all the guest characters. It is definitely the best outing for this set. 

As the Tenth Doctor is probably my favourite version of the character, and Donna my favourite companion of his, I'd be hard pressed not to just enjoy hearing Tennant and Tate together again (even out of character the two are always a blast to listen to).  I think despite the lame opening effort, they bounce back and make stories that definitely feel like episodes that could've fit into Series 4.  The only thing that could capture the feel of that era better is Murray Gold's music.  Unlike the first set in which Tennant had to sort of find his Doctor voice again, and the second set in which Billie Piper didn't quite feel like the old Rose, this time Tennant and Tate are rock solid in their performances, and it's a fun ride. 





Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #7 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 22 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #7 (Credit: Titan)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

29 Pages

Published by Titan Comic 1 May 2019

The mystery of the history podcast and the flesh eating monsters continues, with Time Agents swooping in to investigate how the Doctor is wrapped up in it all.  The agents turn out to be the time traveling scientists that were so integral to the first story of this Thirteenth Doctor line. The Doctor seems to be a through line for this popular history podcast, and the Agents want to no why.  They also have the issue of the flesh eating monsters, who have evolved after feeding off the flesh of humans for so long, including one that is seemingly immortal due to having bit the Doctor.  

The story builds nicely from where the previous issue left off.  Taking the cliffhanging mystery and naturally building upon it. Seeing the agents turn out to be the duo from the first story from this series, and how their long time at the Time Agency has changed them since we last met.  It also (and pardon this) fleshes out the monsters a bit.  And leaves us wondering how this podcast will tie it all up. 

It is a strong installment in the latest comic adventures, and if we have to wait a long time for the show to return to the air, at least there is a solid regular comic adventures for the Thirteenth to fill in the gap. 





The War Machines (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Read By  Michael Cochrane
Released by BBC Audio - March 2019
Available from Amazon UK

I have always ranked The War Machines fairly high in First Doctor stories.  I've always felt Hartnell is quite good in it, and it drops dead weight companion Dodo in favor of the charming Ben and Polly, who at the time better represented modern youth. It also had fun robot villains trying to overtake London and the World, and what isn't fun about that? But somehow, I didn't really find myself that interested in this audiobook of the Target Novelization. 

Written by original script writer Ian Stuart Black, the novelization just isn't written with any energy. It highlights the deficiencies of the television story.  On TV they got away with some filler and a story that isn't full of action, because the performances of Hartnell, Anneke Wills, and Michael Craze keep you engaged. But as a novel or audiobook, I just found that there isn't much happening, and even though I finished listening to it a week ago, I've been struggling to think of much to really say about it. 

The only thing of note I truly remember is that the first chapter adds a bit of business between the Doctor and Dodo, in which both note secretly think they will be parting soon.  This is certainly more than the TV version ever did, as Dodo just disappears at one point, and at the end of the story, her replacements show up and say she's gone to live on a farm upstate somewhere, and then they callously steal her job. The book does the same, but at least there is this acknoweldgement of her exit in the beginning of the story.

I don't think it is the fault of the narrator, Michael Cochrane, who I think does a fine job.  His Hartnell impression is particularly great.  But the guy has little to work with. I find it so odd that a story I have always liked has left me so cold in the novelization. 





The Diary of River Song - Series 5Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 May 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Slipcase for The Diary of River Song (yoWritten by Jonathan Morris, Roy Gill,
Eddie Robson and Scott Handcock
Produced by David Richardson
Script edited by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Stars: Alex Kingston, Michelle Gomez, Geoffrey Beevers,
Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, Jacqueline King, Tom Price
Big Finish Productions, 2019

Sometimes I like to look back through my diary, to remind myself, to keep things in order. Sometimes I go all the way back to when I was first locked away in the Stormcage, back when the Doctor was “dead” and spending his afterlife treating his assassin to dinner – discreetly, of course. The first of my 12,000 consecutive life sentences … Only it was never just him I had to keep track of. Sometimes I’d find myself removed from custody for entirely different reasons. You see, when you marry someone like the Doctor, you take on his baggage as well …

River Song, The Diary of River Song: The Bekdel Test

Having all but exhausted her tour of the classic TV series Doctors – in reverse order, from Paul McGann to Tom Baker – in the first four volumes of The Diary of River Song, Alex Kingston’s intrepid and mischievous archaeologist and adventurer now rubs shoulders with multiple incarnations of another Gallifreyan renegade – the Doctor’s intellectual rival and the psychopathic Time Lord/Lady universally known as the Master (or latterly Missy).

Unlike earlier boxsets in the River Song series, which were episodes with a predominant story arc, this latest offering is an anthology of self-contained stories, each set at different points in River’s professional career (she is Dr Song in the first instalment, then professor in the others). The only linking theme is the character of the Master, albeit in different but otherwise lethal incarnations, eg Michelle Gomez’s madcap mistress of mirth, Derek Jacobi’s theatrical and manipulative genius, Geoffrey Beevers’ cadaverous yet still keenly intelligent and crafty persona, and Eric Roberts’ surprisingly subtle yet calculating father-figure.

The first instalment The Bekdel Test introduces River to the character’s female persona from the get-go. It is by far the best and most fun of the four episodes, thanks to the strength of the writing and dialogue, and great performances from Kingston and Gomez, who just chews up the scenery as Missy and literally steals the limelight from Kingston.

Author Jonathan Morris (as he indicates in the behind the scenes commentary) closely follows the Steven Moffat playbook of witty dialogue and banter to help drive the story along. The River/Missy dichotomy simply could not work without the pithy exchanges and the underlying sexual tension over the other’s relationship with the Doctor. For the listener there are plenty of amusing barbs and insults traded between them, even as they are forced to work together against a common foe:

Missy: I’ve been following your career with great interest – and some amusement, and a lot of envy. You see, you’ve just done the one thing that I never quite managed to do …

River: And what’s that?

Missy (raising her voice): You killed the Doctor!

River (mournful): Yes, and I will never forgive myself for it!

Missy: Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, dearie. [Pointed remark] I’ll never forgive you for it either!

River: What?

Missy (expressing mock hurt): I wanted to do that!

Morris’s script is well conceived and paced, with plenty of action and self-deprecating humour. Most importantly, the reason the two protagonists have been brought together is entirely plausible. Even with two alpha females striving for the spotlight, there are some other fascinating, albeit largely underused characters that liven up the narrative – from the Bekdel Institute’s nameless, yet smug Director (Laurence Kennedy) to Darial Cho’s (Richenda Carey) taste for “creative homicide”.

Perhaps Morris and Big Finish ought to consider revisiting these characters in future River Song instalments. It seems pretty clear from his description who the Director’s “silent partners” are, so perhaps there’s not really much more to add to his character development. However, Darial Cho is creepy enough that she could take centre stage in a tale of her own.

The second episode in the set – Animal Instinct – pits River against Geoffrey Beevers’ emaciated version of the Master (although it’s uncertain if it is Beevers’ incarnation pre-Keeper of Traken or post-Dust Breeding – it doesn’t really matter in either case, listeners can take their pick). Roy Gill’s script cleverly turns the tables on both characters in its prologue – following an ancient prophecy, River breaks the seal on a sarcophagus, expecting to rescue the Doctor, but instead frees the Master who set up the casket as a lure to snare the Doctor in the first place! The “crispy” Master and the Doctor’s wife soon become uneasy allies as they journey to a lunar colony where the Master was once worshipped as a god. The problem for the touring party is that the inhabitants of Cheska Minor – hyper-intelligent, feral werecats with sun goggles! – have rebelled against their god and are determined to remove the satellite array that the Master installed to keep their world in endless daylight and suppress their savage instincts.

Animal Instinct is an entertaining chapter, even if it does bear some superficial resemblance to the final classic Doctor Who TV serial Survival. That tale, too, featured the Master (portrayed by the late Anthony Ainley) lording it over a colony of feral werecats – the Cheetah People – in the ruins of a dying world. The difference, thanks to River’s presence, is that Animal Instinct is a lighter, less angsty tale – no teenagers trying to prove a point here, just archaeology student Luke Sulieman (Timothy Blore) trying to prove he is made of the right stuff to his mentor.

While he doesn’t steal the show from Kingston as Gomez does, Beevers’ performance is more urbane; his voice has lost none of that mellifluous tone that carries undercurrents of menace and guile. Gill not only contrasts this version of the Master to River but also expertly highlights some disturbingly similar characteristics. For example, River recognises that a wounded member of their exploration party will have to be sacrificed if they are to escape a werecat; the Master follows through on this without the slightest compunction and then remarks later that he can tell River would have done the same had the situation escalated.

One of the other comparisons (which is also inferred in in this boxset’s other instalments) is the “obsession” that the Master/Missy has with the Doctor – that is, the desire to impress or kill him (or in some instances both). The Beevers Master’s exclamation of outrage and disbelief when River reveals that she married his arch nemesis (implying that she beat him to it!) is an almost priceless moment.

The Lifeboat and the Deathboat is notable for reintroducing Eric Roberts, who reprises the part of the Master for the first time since the ill-fated 1996 TV movie (his dialogue was recorded in Los Angeles while the rest of the full cast recording was completed in London). Perhaps it’s partly down to Eddie Robson’s writing but Roberts’ performance is subtler and less hammy than it was on television. Indeed, Roberts shows in this episode why he was once an Academy Award nominee – he delivers an almost understated performance as an apparent doting father to a teenage daughter Alison (Lucy Heath). His performance is so convincing in the first 20 minutes that you’re left wondering if he is playing yet another hapless character (in the vein of his paramedic Bruce and Anthony Ainley’s Tremas) who will become another vessel for a disembodied Master. The truth, though (as River discovers), is literally stranger than fiction …

The only drawback to this more subtle, “human” portrayal is that Roberts’ voice seems too tender and easy-going – to the point that it lacks the resonance and authority you’d usually associate with the Master. Perhaps this is just a side effect of conducting separate recordings across two continents but it does intrude on the listening experience. Nonetheless, when Roberts is in full Master mode, there is an underlying menace and cold-bloodedness in his tone that takes you back to his 1996 portrayal.

The serial features quite an extensive supporting cast, considering it is mostly set aboard time/space flotsam in the time vortex. Alison is a moody, anxious teenager with a secret that not even she’s aware of, Admiral Eno (Sasha Behar) and Ayrton Valencia (Himesh Patel) provide an intriguing juxtaposition between confident soldier and hapless engineer, and their quarry Kaliopi Mileska (Eleanor Crooks) exudes enough “crazy” to be a convincing threat to everyone in the  time/space machines that have been cobbled together.

Further, only in a Doctor Who tale – or a Who-related spin-off – could a simple VHS video cassette of a rubbish 1980s US teen comedy feature be a catalyst for the chain of events that River encounters. It’s a reminder of how quirky and weird Doctor Who can be – but it’s also a perfect example of why we as fans love and adore it so much.

It’s also interesting that the Roberts Master’s fate – along with that of Mileska – is left open-ended. While it’s highly unlikely that this combination of psychopaths could get their own spin-off series, there’s a certain appeal to seeing what other havoc they might together wreak upon the rest of the universe.

Then again, the Master/Missy has often caused havoc quite comfortably on his/her own, and it’s doubtful the character would ever really enjoy being part of a psychotic, Natural Born Killers-type of couple. That’s definitely the impression you get from listening to the great Sir Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the Time War-era Master in the fourth and final serial Concealed Weapon. The Master in this tale enjoys his subtle manipulation, torture and murder of the supplementary characters far too immensely to ever let anyone else in on the fun. There’s almost a Hannibal Lechter-style levity, glee and mischievousness to Jacobi’s performance that rivals Gomez’s turn as Missy in The Bekdel Test.

However, whereas much of Missy’s antics are written to comical effect, the War Master’s humour is overtly more sinister because it occurs against a backdrop of claustrophobia, homicide and betrayal. All the while, Jacobi still comes across – through his jovial voice – as comely, polite, charming and paternal. The performance is even more powerful (and disconcerting) for this writer, considering he has endured several years of his two- and four-year old daughters being reared on the BBC children’s program In the Night Garden – in which Sir Derek is all of those qualities as a benign narrator!

Scott Handcock’s script is very clearly – and unashamedly – a “love letter” to Ridley Scott’s original Alien film (with a nod as well to its inferior prequel Prometheus). There are certainly parallels - a deep space exploration crew that (like the hapless members of the Nostromo) emerges from hypersleep; an ill-fated French-accented captain (played by Jacqueline King, formerly Sylvia Noble, Donna’s mother on TV!) with a name reminiscent of one of the Nostromo crew; an airlock sequence; a homicidal maniac; and a highly dangerous nascent creature that said maniac wants to exploit and weaponise.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of originality in the premise, Handcock still conveys an atmosphere of dread and impending doom, particularly through the emotionless, relaxed tones of Torchwood’s Tom Price (the former PC Andy Davidson). Price is the only other male voice in the serial – apart from Jacobi himself – and does an outstanding job of playing the ship’s computer Hugo, which is hijacked and reprogrammed by the Master. There is a cold and calculating manner to Hugo even as it maintains a veneer of cheery friendliness and helpfulness that strongly evokes the cold, emotionless candour of the title characters in the classic Tom Baker serial The Robots of Death.

The mostly female supporting cast is very good and highly convincing, even as it becomes clear that they are nowhere near as harmonious or altruistic as they seem. Indeed, some of them harbour hidden agendas that ultimately doom them all – and leave their flanks horribly exposed to the Master’s machinations.

It’s particularly effective that the Master is also sparingly used in the tale – indeed (although we as listeners know it has to be the Master), for River, all the hints point to an incarnation of the Doctor being present. The fact Jacobi has only half the airtime that his successor and predecessors have in the preceding instalments makes his performance all the more impressive.

Throughout this review, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m talking about a Master boxset and not a River Song one, given all the praise lavished on the four actors who play the Master/Missy. Nevertheless, Alex Kingston continues to impress as River Song, and clearly enjoys the broad quality of the scripts on offer, as well as the ability to work with Gomez, Beevers and Jacobi. The character clearly holds her own against three of these “masterly” incarnations – but is clearly unnerved by the War Master, who strikes a decisive blow against her colleagues.

Concealed Weapon, if it is not the best of the four serials, certainly runs second to The Bekdel Test as amongst the best offerings of this latest River Song boxset. Overall, the quality of all the serials is extremely high, with only The Lifeboat and the Deathboat perhaps being the weakest of the four (even then it’s still superior to quite a few of the serials in the earlier River boxsets). Indeed, this is probably the best of the five River Song boxsets to date – and it has been (dare I say) a “masterstroke” by BF to pair River with different incarnations of the Doctor’s greatest “frenemy”, and not just the classic Doctors.

It also acts as a great primer for the final Ravenous boxset at the end of this year, when all four of these incarnations will square off with Paul McGann’s Doctor (and presumably each other) as that story arc reaches its conclusion. For future River Song releases, it would still be great to see a few more stories in the vein of The Husbands of River Song (in which River gets up to mischief without the intervention of different versions of renegade Time Lords) but for the most part, River’s adventures have gone from strength to strength as they have combed the depths of Doctor Who’s rich history. Although I favour a more long-term approach, I wouldn’t say “no” to more rounds between River and Missy or the War Master – nor to Professor Song eventually crossing paths with John Simms’ Master, and even Alex Macqueen’s and James Dreyfuss’ portrayals. There is a rich seam still to be tapped!