Big Finish: Gallifrey: Enemy LinesBookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Gallifrey: Enemy Lines (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by David Llewellyn

Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: Lalla Ward (Romana), Leela (Louise Jameson), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Seán Carlsen (Narvin) Miles Richardson (Braxiatel), Celia Imrie (Livia), Tom Allen (Plutus), George Watkins (Gaal), Hannah Genesius (Trave), Eve Karpf (The Watchmaker), Nigel Fairs (Kalbez), Sean Biggerstaff (Moros)

Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016

To start with, a polite warning that this review contains a spoiler for the previous instalment, Gallifrey: Intervention Earth. Also, a further warning that anyone who doesn’t like reading negative reviews, just as this reviewer really doesn’t especially enjoy writing them may also want to stop reading now.

Despite being left somewhat underwhelmed by this release as a whole, there are still some positives to focus on. Although this reviewer quite enjoyed the previous instalment which featured the future incarnation of Romana played by Juliet Landau, it is very welcome that this continuation is set at an earlier point in time and thus allows for the return of Lalla Ward’s incarnation of Romana alongside Louise Jameson as Leela. There are also some fun scenes between Seán Carlsen as Narvin and Sophie Aldred once again playing the Time Agent version of Ace who was properly introduced in Intervention Earth. The continuity of Ace’s arrival on Gallifrey, which was hinted at in the Lost Stories and UNIT:Dominion, seems somewhat confused as her characterisation in this release comes across as rather more juvenile than the slightly older version of the character who has emerged during the her Big Finish adventures with the Doctor and Hex. However, she remains a welcome addition to this cast and it is only a shame that the three former companions don’t get many scenes together.

Another welcome returnee is Miles Richardson reprising the complex character of Braxiatel. Again, another continuity quirk is that one of the characters refers to him using the first name Irving whereas in earlier series of Gallifrey he is only ever referred to using the title Cardinal Braxiatel. It has also been suggested in earlier releases that the Cardinal and Irving are either alternative versions of the character who belong to different universes or possibly different regenerations with a remarkable similarity of appearance. That being said the paradoxical nature of Braxiatel’s existence proves to be a central part of the story as we learn he is one and the same version who conveniently appeared at the climax of Intervention Earth to save the future version of Romana and in the first episode of this release makes a similarly timely appearance. One cannot complain too much about a character who instantly calls to mind Richardson’s father’s portrayal of Francis Urqhart with lines such as “I couldn’t possibly comment.”

A nod to I Claudius can be found in the introduction of new presidential hopeful Lady Livia, named after the first empress of Rome and played with relish by Celia Imrie. It is only a shame that having set her up as a great rival to Romana that the two don’t get to spar more. Sadly, the promise of Livia taking over the role vacated by the much-missed Lynda Bellingham as Inquisitor Darkel in the earlier series is never quite delivered. Other highlights include the delightfully sinister Watchmaker played by Eve Karpf.

 

In summary, despite quite a lot of enjoyable moments (this reviewer’s favourite being a clever nod to the TV episode Hell Bent) this release doesn’t quite manage to hit the heights of the earlier series. Whilst there are political machinations, the plot of this release is largely driven by (at times confusing) paradoxes and there are only a certain number of times you can listen to the same characters being killed off as a result of alternative versions of events without starting to lose interest. Ultimately, the over reliance on convenient resets to resolve the plot leads to a rather predictable conclusion which is likely leave anyone who was looking forward to the continuation of the story begun in Intervention Earth feeling somewhat disappointed.

 



Doctor Who The 1996 TV Movie: 20 Years OnBookmark and Share

Friday, 27 May 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The TV Movie (Credit: BBC)

Starring: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Eric Roberts (The Master),
Daphne Ashbrook (Dr Grace Holloway),
Sylvester McCoy (The Old Doctor), Yee Jee Tso (Chang Lee),
John Novak (Salinger), Michael David Simms (Dr Swift).

Written by Matthew Jacobs 
Directed by Geoffrey Sax 
Music by John Debney 
Additional Music By John Sponsler and Louis Febre

A Joint Production by Fox and the BBC.

Transmitted in May 1996.

It does seem scarcely conceivable to myself that it is now two whole decades since the transmission of the most lavish TV production thus far seen in Doctor Who history. This is a beautifully directed collection of character drama and hi-octane escapades, and still stands up visually to this day. Of course, the script is far from perfect and the running time is somewhat on the short side, no doubt dictated by the many ad breaks that Fox TV needed for it to be able to afford showing the story. This still is a good watch, and has a pace to it that few of even the strongest four-part stories from the original 1963-1989 run could really pretend to boast, when viewed in one go.

 

It is a shame that Sylvester McCoy had such a truncated and gratuitously dismissive exit, involving a very careless departure out of the TARDIS without checking the surrounding area by scanner first. And although the actor does some fine work with very little screen time, he would perhaps have made a better cameo as a flashback to the Seventh Doctor's last full adventure. At the time writer Matthew Jacobs wanted a transition from the last of the classic series Doctors into this arrestingly romantic 8th Doctor, in order to honour tradition. However as was proved 9 years later on, the better method was to jump straight in with a new leading man and allow him to fully establish his credentials. It is rather curious that Paul McGann actually is present as a narrator in the very early stages. The script has a rather muddled approach to trying to honour the past but look forward at the same time. And many have commented over the years that brand new viewers who had never seen a single story with the Doctor would have been rather befuddled by the way the key principles of the show are conveyed.

 

If only Paul had actually had the opportunity to truly show his great skills as an actor in a proper ongoing series. We have many big finish audios to enjoy but most doctor who fans regard the TV medium as predominant. He eventually came back for the short but enthralling Night Of The Doctor, and it managed to pack a lot of continuity for audio and book followers alike. He really can be seen as a great prototype for the much loved David Tennant incarnation. Endlessly energetic, not afraid to take risks, and always looking to please people that he encounters. McGann is a rather modest and self effacing man in real life, and rarely does a fan-related event in the way that Tennant, Matt Smith, or Peter Capaldi would. But he clearly appreciates the opportunities he has had over the years, and respects the institution that is Doctor Who. He may still have another chance to blaze on screen, and perhaps this would be a multi-Doctor vintage. I cannot be alone in hoping along those lines.

 

Regardless, McGann can still be counted as a worthy Time Lord and one that kept the franchise alive as the face of the various BBC books, official magazines, and other merchandise that dotted retailers' shelves. He is instantly likeable in this story, and really makes the idea of a more passionate and relationship -conversant alien from Gallifrey seem credible. The line about the Doctor being half-human is one of the glaring weaknesses from the script, however and takes some of this boldness in McGann characterisation away. The idea of a man of many lives, and infinitely more knowledge and experience having the patience for us mere Earthlings was a wonderful element of the never-ending continuity that first had its roots in the days of William Hartnell and grainy black-and-white experimental efforts.

 

A couple of new 'companion' figures were introduced as well along with the Eighth Doctor. We have initially the rather thinly sketched Chang Lee, who is innocuous and passive but does have some wells of anger and frustration simmering beneath the surface. Jacobs does not really give us enough of a reason to care for this character in the crucial opening act. He has obviously fallen in with the wrong crowd and got into the lethal environment of gang warfare. He is young and reckless, and easily won over by the thoroughly malicious Master; along the lines of Eve seduced by the serpent in Eden. Yee Jee Tso is likable enough for the most part, but does struggle to make this character breath full life in various aspects.

 

Grace Holloway however is almost the equal of the Doctor in terms of being a relatable and inspiring protagonist. She clearly has a full life of worries and torrid emotions, as she tries to find the right man who can appreciate her demanding duties as a surgeon in San Francisco. She is in the middle of a date with a handsome man, and wondering if he is the one for her, before a fate-defining phone call gets her straight back to work. She was certainly not expecting a seemingly manic, eccentric with a Scottish burr calling out "I am not human.. I am not like you!".

 

That she turns out to be the Seventh Doctor's inadvertent killer, by using a 'cutting edge' probe is an interesting irony. Bullets did not kill our beloved rogue wanderer, it was the lack of earth technology and a determined medicinal doctor that ended up doing that deed. This makes the eventual romance between Grace and the new Doctor truly interesting. She sees him as a miracle man, but also somewhat terrifying. Ultimately she takes a leap of faith and trusts him, and proves to be of great value thereafter on more than one occasion. By the end, and the rather too neat way Grace and Chang lee are returned from the dead by TARDIS 'gold dust' the audience has been taken on a journey with a really engaging and relatable person. Daphne Ashbrook deserves plaudits for her efforts. She has a long sustained career on television and showed much range. Her acting chops are indisputable and a great asset for what was a much hyped venture, for which those who were responsible had invested so much hope.

 

Crucially this TV movie needed a robust and chilling villain. For much of the running time it did have it. Eric Roberts has famously been in the shadow of his sister Julia much of his career, but is still a fine actor. I certainly enjoyed his brief turn in Christopher Nolan's triumphant The Dark Knight. He does well enough in the dual roles of Bruce and then the Master proper. This in itself was not unprecedented, as the Anthony Ainley incarnation of the renegade had first come about from the disturbing fate Tremas had in the early 1980s Tom Baker story The Keeper Of Traken.

 

It is rather silly, especially today after the three rather weaker films in The Terrminator franchise, that Roberts attempts to emulate Arnold Schwarzenegger's most celebrated alter-ego. When those shades are not used and the terrifying snake eyes are in full display then the stout-hearted and quick witted McGann Doctor has a true equal and opposite. And even when Roberts waltzes in for the final battle revolving around the TARDIS' Eye Of Harmony - something that went over the heads of many a casual British and American watcher - and oozes camp rather than creepiness, he has a dominant presence. Ultimately he does not really belong in the elite of onscreen Masters, but definitely is worth being remembered all these years later.

 

Paul McGann as The Doctor (publicity photo from The TV Movie) (Credit: BBC)In terms of the audience participation, this feature needed to have a double triumph in order to justify further expenditure into an ongoing series or mini-series. Whilst there were pretty good ratings on BBC 1 over in the UK, the US side of things was lukewarm at best. Things were not helped by the ever popular Roseanne having its finale being shown around the same time on the networks; an ironic reflection of how latter day Sylvester McCoy stories had to contend with the UK's powerhouse soap opera Coronation Street. As this was a limited success in terms of pure numbers, Doctor Who just could not carry on at that point in time. However a certain Russell T Davies was only just now coming into his own..

 

On a perhaps more personal level I found the lack of any new Doctor Who, and the frustration entailed, further compounded by the decision at the time by BBC Video to delete the majority of classic stories in the catalogue. This was to allow the maximum number of editions of the TV movie on shelves everywhere. There probably was some sound enough economic argument, but I cannot have been the only collector out there grimacing as I missed out on invaluable ways to witness capsules of history. For a 13 year old adolescent that got a rush from exploring shops on the sly, whilst also trying to fit in socially with various peer groups with more current and inherently Nineties pop culture in mind, it did feel undoubtedly cruel.

 

Of course before long there was another medium altogether in DVD which made the return of all those stories suddenly something to look forward to. And nowadays every Doctor Who story that exists in the archives is available via streaming across the internet. But at the time, even for someone wildly imaginative like myself, this felt as troublesome a setback as any other.

 

Over time as well the rating for this story has been modified. When it first was released in the UK on videotape some of the early stages had to be edited down so that the youngest fans, who traditionally are the target audience of Who, could be catered for in terms of the video being a viable 'present'. Some years later when the BBC did a Doctor Who theme night, the full version of the story was shown for viewers, and most notably gave the full account of how Chang Lee lost his pair of friends. And then on DVD release the story finally could be shown uncut and with the 12 certificate retained, obviously reflecting the changes in what was acceptable language and violence according to censors.

 

So let's raise a toast to this one proper story that represents the dynamic, vibrant universe of time travel and twin hearts, from the final decade of the 20th Century. There were of course high profile charity shorts in the form of Dimensions In Time, and The Curse Of Fatal Death, with the latter's case being a sign of greater things to come from Steven Moffat. All the same, this feature-length tale has a great deal of verve, and willingness to try new things, such as suggest the Doctor truly wants to love and be loved, and that there is more than one way for a Time Lord to survive a final incarnation. This fascinatingly unique entity is worth at least one look, if you yourself have yet to sample its many attributes.



Rivers of London: A Web Interview with Ben Aaronovitch, Andrew Cartmel and Lee SullivanBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 25 May 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Rivers Of London: Issue Two (Credit: Titan Comics)

 

Doctorwhonews.net was given the combined pleasure and honour of having an in-depth chat over the internet to these 3 imaginative and uniquely skilful individuals, who combine skill with words and pictures to tell spellbinding stories, based on Ben Aaronovitch's original book series 'Rivers of  London'. (A list of the novels follows at the end of this article).

The hope with the comics of 'Rivers' was to 'move the franchise a bit sideways' according to Ben  and '[have] a chance to get pictures drawn. The whole adventure of fun stuff. Comics are a lot of fun.'

Jokingly, and warmly Ben pointed out the sheer hard work Lee Sullivan puts into his visual, to which his response was "No I don't  think of [those] fondly at all [tricky] cafe scenes at the moment. Or don't do any [art] set in a fair ground."

Andrew Cartmel then elaborated on the aims and hopes further: "Ben always wanted to write comics because he kept having  these great comic ideas that he'd tell me. [And was especially keen to do Batman]".

That turned the conversation into which comic franchises and authors were favourites with Ben and Andrew:

Ben stated how he was '[an] agnostic in comics' and that he 'read ones that [he likes with no] favourite universe. "I like Alan Moore."

Andrew seconded this opinion: "You can put me down for that too. Alan Moore is the greatest comic writer who ever lived...[and] a huge influence on me as a writer".

I then queried Ben on the influence of London itself, asking how it generated ideas for stories, for characters, and social commentary:

 "[Based on my home city being London I choose to set the story [there]. I am blessed that [my home town] London is the greatest city in the world, and the most interesting. Apart from that it is mainly because I am a Londoner. Andrew is just stuck with it!

Some concurrence from Andrew: '[I was born in London myself]..and I do love London it is very true.'

I then turned to the topic of successfully balancing humour and drama; which to my mind, as a child of the McCoy era, was one of the biggest pluses of that period in Doctor Who history.

Andrew put it as such "When you are writing it has got to be a mountain range and not a plateau, or a prairie. It has got to have variation. Humour is a brilliant way of alternating with the drama; hence the term 'comic relief'. [If something is relentless drama] then you understand the desperate need for variation."

Ben agreed with his long-time colleague and friend: "What he said."

Characterisation and having believable villains was the next topic for debate with my interviewees:

Andrew believes that an 'interesting [villain] is the crucial thing', more so than how they might be relatable to a given reader.

Ben elaborated on the aim of a "realistic thing in quite a realistic world." and also how "[antagonists] have that kind of balance. We don't have super villains....We don't really have bad people."

Andrew then gave further elaboration "What Ben calls moustache twirlers [or]  melodramatic, one-dimensional villain[s]"

 

We then had a bit more of a chat on characterisation in general:

Andrew emphasised how "with character development, unless you create likeable [and] interesting characters, then all the stuff that happens to them is just irrelevant."

Ben then tied this to the central character of 'Rivers of London' - Peter Grant - being a detective and how he fulfilled a given 'function' in this kind of 'detective genre':

"If you think about the [most popular/ well-known] detectives like [Inspector] Morse, [Miss] Marple .. [and] Sherlock Holmes they are, what happens to other people to develop their characters...[thus] you don't need to worry quite so much with detectives. So [regarding overall characterization] it's organic, and [how much a given character grows depends] on what [those characters] want to do usually."

Then talk by Andrew over how the basic foundation of good character elements will allow a strong story to unfold overall  "[as a budding writer one finds] that other characters tend to take over [and the story writes itself] It's wonderful when that  happens, which it does if you just persist."

This then led to Lee sharing some of his own thoughts on how enjoyment can be found in giving visual interpretation  to characters: "Nightingale is the one that fascinated me most.. because he is a guy out of time [and..] quite a bit older  than he looks. So it's fun [making] him look a bit stiff and slightly ill at ease with today."

 Ben than showed his appreciation for Lee's work, adding to his statement into just how much work goes into the  characters being drawn:

 "The quality work you get with Lee [is considerable]. He does not just go [in kamikaze] with his artwork] ... None of the  [other artists Andrew and I were to work with before the Rivers series got off the ground] were not a patch on Lee, who is amazing."

 Having read and enjoyed the premiere issue of 'Rivers': Nightwitch and noticed its globe trotting aspects I decided to ask if  travel to other capital cities had inspired Lee in terms of his approach to comics' art and the portrayal of various things?

Lee stated how "Every city has got a good feel to it.. the impressive ones are [those with] most contrast to where you come from, I guess. Tokyo [stands out despite being] nearly 30 years ago... The western bits they bolted on top of their culture are very recognisable but then you realise that at home you don't put your washing machine outside of your house. That is a cultural difference and you can do that [there] because they are made of plastic. Because they are plastic, they can be made in all candy colours. And so these kind of things are wonderful without having to go somewhere different."

I then enquired about comic book storytelling as a specific storytelling framework, and how it can be used to try and get perhaps a less than realistic reflection on our world [on occasion]. Andrew responded "in terms of art.. Ben does something called an 'art shift', where we might move from he realistic to the cartoony."

Ben then backed this up stating "What I like about writing the comics is that you have access to all sorts of techniques you can't use in a book. and now we have acquired someone of} Lee's capabilities [to portray all these characters, and visual elements].."

Andrew gave a hint of an upcoming Rivers issue later on in the new Nightwitch run:  "he has just done a fantastic [art] piece that looks like a Russian icon, and is absolutely gorgeous I have to say." 

Ben again spoke of the storytelling techniques: "[with our] comic book storytelling techniques.. the people are more realistic, but not so much the settings or the things that happens to them."

I then queried how the comics and the ongoing novel series interlink with one another and Ben put across how he treats them all as the same thing. "Some are comics and some are books. I don't really think of [the two as separate entities]. They are all part of the same universe, and so all are equally important. I have a very playful attitude to my universe. I am not too po-faced about it. I have put as much creative energy into the comics [for [ the characters, the new things and the ideas. And I know that Andrew does. I don't have a hierarchy of canon."

I then asked Andrew how a climax or cliffhanger is shaped in the storytelling he and Ben serve up with each issue:

"We do put a lot of thought into what is a left hand page, and what is a right one, as that [is crucial in determining] what is a surprise to the reader. You wait for them to turn the page over and reveal something."

Unfortunately time was finite for us, even if the Doctor knows a way round that issue, so the interview did draw to a close, but a lot of laughter and amusement that (often) embodies a harmonious working unit was clearly evident, over the Skype internet connection that I had, with the talented triumvirate.

Please have a look at the full interview in the review section later this week, which includes further chat on Lee's illustrious back catalogue of work, and how he goes about realising his creative vision as an artist.

 

****

                                                                            Ben's published Rivers of London book series to date:

 

                                                                             1) Rivers of London

                                                                             2) Moon over Soho

                                                                             3) Whispers Underground

                                                                             4) Broken Homes

                                                                             5) Foxglove Summer

                                                                             6) The Hanging Tree



Twelfth Doctor Year 2: #1 - Clara Oswald and the School of Death (Part 1)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 22 May 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor – Year Two #1 (Credit: Titan)
Writer: Robbie Morrison; Artist: Rachael Stott; Colorist: Ivan Nunes; Letterer: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt; Editor: Andrew James; Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton & Gabriela Houston; Designer: Rob Farmer; Published January 6th 2016, Titan Comics

What makes a great season premiere, at least in the case of Doctor Who in its modern guise? Ask Russell T. Davies, and judging by the four openers he gave us between 2005-2008, odds are that he'd suggest a light-hearted tone which allows for a run's freshman episode to come off as a fast-paced, comedic romp, thereby easing both long-term fans and newcomers in gently before subsequent instalments up the ante in terms of scale, past continuity elements and developing an individual season'™s overarching plotline(s). As for Steven Moffat's preferred strategy, one would have to imagine based on recent debut outings like "Asylum of the Daleks", "œDeep Breath" and "The Magician'™s Apprentice" that he'™d advocate opting for a more ambitious start, one which doesn't so much ease the fandom back in as ensure they'll stick around for the remainder of the season, all while quite possibly resurrecting a monstrous species from the past.

Considering that he was tasked with scribing the first serial in what is only the second ever run of Twelfth Doctor strips from Titan Comics, one could hardly have blamed writer Robbie Morrison for taking the first of these two strategies, thus enabling those who've somehow managed to go their entire lives without watching or reading a single televised or printed episode of Who to approach the tale with ease. Yet quite to the contrary, with "Clara Oswald and the School of Death Part 1", Morrison has produced a storyline which not only harkens back to "œSchool Reunion" with its setting in the sinister Raven'™s Isle academic institute, but actively relies upon its readership having at least an above average awareness of the show's pre- and post-2005 mythology in order for them to fully appreciate the intricacies of the narrative being conveyed. Some touches are subtle, not least the uncanny resemblance Ms. Dee (the member of staff who calls Clara over to investigate mysterious happenings involving the waters surrounding the secluded Scottish school) bears to a certain presenter of the YouTube series Doctor Who: The Fan Show, but in other instances, this reliance upon past continuity has a clear detrimental impact on Part 1's overall structure and quality.

For the sake of preserving the issue'™s fan-appeasing cliff-hanger, this reviewer will refrain from spoiling the identities of this multi-part serial'™s antagonists, but suffice to say that their debut (in printed form, anyway) is foreshadowed in a manner not at all dissimilar to the way in which the Silurians made their return to the TV series in 2010's "The Hungry Earth / Cold Blood€", with the Twelfth Doctor investigating these extra-terrestrials' presence with shades almost identical to his immediate predecessor while Clara assesses matters from a position that places her in the firing line to a far greater extent than the Time Lord. This structural familiarity in itself unfortunately reeks of a lack of inspiration on Morrison's part, particularly given that he introduced threats like Hyperios in such an innovative manner in his Year One strips, as does Rachael Stott'™s designs for these antagonists. The latter essentially render one of the show's more iconic alien species as nothing more than an identikit bunch of reptilian humanoids who could quite easily find their way into just about any work of sci-fi and who lack virtually any resemblance to their classic era counterparts. Some visual tweaking of an alien race'™s appearance to modernize them slightly will always be expected, of course, but considering that the Silurians'™ reinvention at least allowed them to partially retain facets of their former appearance via their facial masks, that Stott has seemingly put much less effort into paying homage to the original design of these acclaimed alien creations from the Pertwee era -there'™s another clue -“ represents nothing less than a huge disappointment.

With all of that being said, branding this largely competent first chapter of Year Two as a complete failure would equally be a step too far. What Morrison and Stott lack in narrative ingenuity and satisfying creature design, they more than compensate for with a superb attention to detail -“ both visually and through dialogue - in terms of capturing the characters of the Doctor and Clara as we saw them in Season Nine last autumn, leading to both constructs exhibiting the same sassy wit, almost childish rebelliousness (particularly in the case of Capaldi's expertly reinvigorated incarnation) and overriding zest for life that made them such a dynamic duo to see develop over the course of the 2015 run. Better yet, we get some deliciously gothic visuals afforded by Stott to Dee's chilling capture as well as an inspired juxtaposition of the purposefully grim, drab vistas of Raven's Isle with the explosive opening set-piece's depiction of crowds of colourfully-dressed aristocrats. Indeed, it's an aesthetically bombastic opening outing which gets its leads just right even if the secondary cast mostly fall into the same archetypes of the shady teacher, the hapless miscreants who don't conform to the rest of the student body and the like.

Rather than matching some of Davies or Moffat'™s finest openers, then, "Clara Oswald and the School of Death - Part 1" kicks off proceedings for Year Two in somewhat unspectacular fashion. Much as it portrays the Doctor and Clara in their glory days with remarkable accuracy while keeping its imagery fresh by juxtaposing visually eclectic settings, the strip struggles to offer much in the way of original narrative material on account of its reliance on past episode structures and its failure to depict its returning antagonists in a satisfying way. As always, the final product remains perfectly readable - and a far cry from Who's weakest modern storylines, that'€s for sure - but given that fans of the comic-book medium aren't exactly lacking for alternative options to this strip these days, Morrison and Stott may well have to work that much harder in the issues ahead to convince readers to return immediately for future instalments rather than aping Clara's approach of taking "œthe long way round".



Big Finish: Vampire of the MindBookmark and Share

Friday, 20 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Vampire Of The Mind (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Justin Richards
Directed by Jamie Anderson

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Alex Macqueen (The Master), John Standing (Professor Threadstone), Kate Kennedy (Heather Threadstone), Neil Edmond (Boatman), Catriona Knox (Landlady), Elliot Levey (Gobernar)

Big Finish Productions – Released May 2016
Pre-order from Amazon UK

After a slightly average start to the new trilogy of Master stories with last month’s And You Will Obey Me, this reviewer is pleased to confirm that Vampire of the Mind is a much more enjoyable affair. It’s difficult to account for this and there are probably a number of factors such as Justin Richards’ writing, the more interesting cast of characters led by Colin Baker on top form even during the slightly predictable denouement, or just the simple fact (with the greatest respect to Geoffrey Beevers whose portrayal in Master set a high standard which no subsequent actor has yet reached although Michelle Gomez has come pretty close) that Alex Macqueen’s incarnation of the Master is just so much fun to listen to.

It seems to have become de rigueur in the Big Finish canon for the Master to regularly cross his own timeline and this play is certainly no exception. There remains an air of mystery around the origins of the Macqueen incarnation since he first appeared in 2012’s UNIT: Dominion, with the suggestion in subsequent releases that he originated at some point after the events of The TV Movie. There is the briefest suggestion of a post-regenerative trauma in this story which suggests that the eagerly anticipated team-up with his earlier self in next month’s The Two Masters may yet shed some more light on these matters. Of course, given that the Seventh Doctor had clearly had no recollection of meeting this incarnation there is a rather predictable ruse used in the story’s conclusion to ensure continuity is maintained but for the sake of enjoyment this is easily forgiven.

A particular mention should also be given to Kate Kennedy as Heather Threadstone, who becomes the Doctor’s de facto companion for this story (or to some extent he becomes hers with some verbal sparring which fondly reminds of his intellectual equality with the much-missed Maggie Stables as Evelyn). There is definitely scope left for Heather to return in future stories which would certainly be a welcome possibility.

Like last month’s release, this play has a mostly standalone plot although there are clear thematic similarities with the Master’s gift for mind control once again proving to be of major importance. However, the closing moments of the play suggest that there is definitely more going on than has at first been apparent and would definitely suggest that the conclusion of this trilogy will be something to look forward to. In the meantime, this play is very much to be enjoyed on its own merits. Even if not the most original story ever, it is still an awful lot of fun.



Big Finish: And You Will Obey MeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 May 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
211. And You Will Obey Me (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Jamie Anderson

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Sheena Bhattessa (Annie), Alex Foley (Colin), Peta Cornish (Helen/Jade Nymph), Russ Bain (Mikey/Grigor), Tessa Coates (Janine), Nick Ellsworth (Gomphus/Auctioneer)

Big Finish Productions – Released April 2016
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Following hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed The Peterloo Massacre, this is the start of a trilogy of adventures which will pitch three different Doctors against two incarnations of his long-running Time Lord nemesis, the Master, who first appeared on TV 45 years ago.

This play feels very much like a standalone story and it is a rare occasion that finds the Fifth Doctor unaccompanied by any of his usual companions (continuity is satisfied by a fleeting reference to Tegan, presumably accompanied by either Nyssa or Turlough, having been sent off to a garden centre in 1984). It is also the first time that there has been a direct confrontation on audio between just the Fifth Doctor and the Master (leaving aside the multi-Doctor confrontation with Geoffrey Beevers’ Master in the 2013 special The Light at the End and an encounter with the Anthony Ainley incarnation in the 2013 Destiny of the Doctor story Smoke and Mirrors, narrated by Janet Fielding). Leaving aside the obvious reasons for the Fifth Doctor having not met the Master since his TV era, writer Alan Barnes includes a seemingly obligatory reference to the Beevers’ incarnation having crossed his own timeline as the Doctor has already met his future self. Although long-time listeners will know that Beevers’ Master has a rather more complicated timeline than the Fifth Doctor realises and may just as easily have crossed his own past timeline from after the loss of his Trakenite body.

The story opens in the present day in the village of Hexford (whether this is intended to be one and the same as the Hexford which featured in the BBC Audio ‘Nest Cottage’ series which featured Tom Baker is unclear) and finds the Doctor accidentally starting a bidding war at a local auction from suspiciously familiar sounding grandfather clock. There is also a local mystery over a newly dug grave which purports to contain the mortal remains of a certain Michael Masterson which the Doctor assumes may be a rather obvious pseudonym. During the first half of the play, the Master remains very much a shadowy figure in the background although it is clear that his influence has been felt by several of the characters. Geoffrey Beevers finally arrives properly in the story for the start of Part Three which details a flashback to 1984 of how the Master originally arrived in Hexford, apparently on the run because there is a price on his head. Beevers clearly relishes playing the more manipulative side of the Master’s narture as he suborns some local teenagers into helping him survive by increasingly illegal means. The play reaches a suitably dramatic if not entirely unpredictable conclusion as the actions of the 1980s teenagers come back to haunt them in the present day and finally bringing the Doctor and the Master together. Peter Davison gives a convincing performance throughout the play which ultimately is rather standard Big Finish fare. He certainly seems to enjoy his scenes with Beevers. Some mention should also go to Sheena Bhattessa as Annie whose character proves to be the most interesting during the first half of the play but unfortunately undergoes a not entirely convincing development during the second half.

The play may at first seem a little unremarkable and stands very much on its own with no major plot threads left dangling at the end. There is however, one unanswered question relating to why the Master is suddenly on the run from bounty hunters which will presumably become apparent later in the trilogy. Possibly not the best audio play ever but still an enjoyable character piece. The next two plays will have to work a lot harder though to reach the high bar set by the 2003 play Master to which this trilogy will inevitably bear comparison.






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