Flashpoint - Doctor Who - Short Trips - Big FinishBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 August 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Flashpoint (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Sheridan Smith (Narrator)

The Eighth Doctor and Lucie Miller (Sheridan Smith, here narrating) find themselves on a viewing platform high above Cerberin, a world where storms famously rage across it’s ravaged surface. They find themselves caught up in an attack by vicious assassins, and the pair are separated. The TARDIS has plummeted to the planet’s surface, and things most definitely don't look good.

 

Desperately trying to contact the Doctor, Lucie finds herself in the company of the very child that the assassins are hunting. Together, on the planet they must not only dodge cold, hard killers, but also deadly lightning strikes that are hitting all around. All the while trying to track down the Doctor, and striving to establish who might be a friend and who a foe.

 

The reviews on the Big Finish site are positively glowing for July’s Flashpoint, but to be honest it left me a little cold. I just didn't’t find it that engaging, and I found my mind wandering. Sheridan Smith performs the narration with absolute gusto, and is very good indeed, but the material that she has to work with was, I found was just.....lacking. The format of the story was very familiar, and VERY Doctor-lite. It’s essentially hard sci-fi riddled with clichés. The big reveal on the character who saves Lucie and the boy is very predictable. Nothing really surprised me, which is a shame as I am a great fan of writer Andrew Smith’s Full Circle.

 

The very nature of the Short Trips series is to expose as many different story telling styles to a wide audience. All of them in short, affordable, easily manageable stories. I'm sure Flashpoint has an audience, but unfortunately it just wasn't’t for me.

 

Flashpoint is available now as a digital download from Big Finish, and costs £2.99.





Shadow Planet / World Apart (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Shadow Planet / World Apart (Credit: Big Finish)
 Shadow Planet by AK Benedict

World Apart by Scott Handcock

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast:Sylvester McCoy(The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Belinda Lang (Mrs Wheeler), Sarah Thom (Sandy/Captain Karren), Nickolas Grace(Professor Grove), Ben Mansfield (Loglan/Shadow Loglan)

Big Finish Productions - Released June 2017 

 

The final instalment of this unlinked trilogy of double bill releases sees the welcome return to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range of long-running audio companion Staff Nurse Thomas Hector Schofield otherwise known as Hex, played once again byPhilip Olivier. After a decade of regular appearances alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, Hex was finally written out of the range in 2014’s Signs and Wonders. He returns alongside his two regular co-stars for two very enjoyable stories set during the early days of his travels before he started to become wise to the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative persona and the beginning of the story arc featuring the black and white TARDISes.

Shadow Planet by AK Benedict finds Ace and Hex ignore the Doctor’s warning about visiting a seemingly innocent planet called Unity which they soon discover has recently been opened to visitors by a group of colonists who have developed psychic technology to separate shadows into separate personas. The Unity corporation is headed by Mrs Wheeler, played a great sinister edge by Belinda Lang. The supporting cast also includes the always excellent Nickolas Grace as Professor Grove and a well-judged performance from Sarah Thom as Mrs Wheeler’s long suffering PA Sandy who is also a central character to the plot as the revelations as to how the planet Unity was colonised are revealed. Aldred and Olivier also get to have fun by playing twisted shadow versions of themselves. Overall a very enjoyable opening two-parter which, in a similar fashion to Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, ends on a neat cliff-hanger which segues directly into the second story.

World Apart by Scott Handcock continues directly from the end of the previous story with the TARDIS encountering a mysterious planet in the middle of the vortex. After landing and discovering that there is no else alive on the planet there is a nice two-hander scene between the Doctor and Ace which culminates in a shock for the Doctor when he learns that they are on a planet called Nirvana. It becomes apparent that they need to leave immediately, but having allowed Hex to go off on his own Ace refuses to leave him behind. Unfortunately, they are then too late getting back to the TARDIS which takes off with only the Doctor on board. Finding themselves stranded on this inhospitable planet provides some great two-handed scenes between Aldred and Olivier which shows just why they worked so well as a companion team and indicates that even now there is still potential to tell more stories featuring this pairing.

Both stories featured in this release are very enjoyable with the second being one of the best of the six two-part stories that have featured over this trilogy, largely due its only featuring the three main characters throughout aside from a brief cameo in one scene. It is a credit to both authors that these stories fit so seamlessly into the existing canon of previous audio adventures, given that neither has previously written for this particular TARDIS team.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace are back alongside Melanie Bush for the next trilogy of releases which resumes the main range’s traditional four-part story format beginning with The High Price of Parking.

 

Shadow Planet / World Apart  is available now from Big Finish and on general release from July 31st 2017






Vortex Ice / Cortex Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 10 July 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Vortex Ice / Cortex Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Vortex Ice by Jonathan Morris

Cortex Fire by Ian Potter

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Lisa Greenwood (Flip), Shobu Kapoor (Sai Chopra), Orlando Seale (Dylan Argent), Monty D’Inverno (Jannik Woolf), Rebecca Todd(Khoralla), Simon Kane (Halus), Eve Webster (Bav/ Cortex/ Enforcer) 
Katherine Senior (Holly Whitfield) 
Youssef Kerkour (Dakeem/Ambulance Pilot)

Big Finish Productions - Release May 2017

 

Following on from the previous release of two very enjoyable adventures for the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa, Big Finish's experiment with their release format continues with another double-bill of two part stories, this time featuring the Sixth Doctor and Flip. These are set prior to Flip's initial departure in 2014's Scavenger (from which she returned for last year's Quicksilver and will be heard again later this year alongside Constance Clarke).

Vortex Ice by Big Finish veteran writer Jonathan Morris is an enjoyable tale which may cause a little confusion for listeners during the first episode due to a certain amount of "timey-wimey"ness as the story unfolds. However once the story moves into its second episode, the truth of what's really going becomes more apparent and the listener is rewarded for their patience. Colin Baker and Lisa Greenwood are joined by a competent supporting cast of whom the standout is Shobu Kapoor still probably best remembered for having portayed Gita Kapoor in EastEnders (and Dimensions in Time) who convincingly portrays the leader of an underground expedition. Overall this is an enjoyable tale although it possibly could have done with a slightly happier resolution. 

Unlike the previous (and following) release Cortex Fire  by Ian Potter does not follow on directly from the first story but instead stands completely alone. It finds the Doctor and Flip having arrived on the futuristic and slightly dystopian city of Festin to witness an astronomical spectacle. However as they discover the truth behind the Cortex network which controls the city it becomes apparent that the entire population are in danger. This story also features a tight ensemble cast who are well directed by Ken Bentley including Eve Webster who voices several roles including the sinister Cortex. Fortunately, this is a more straightforward narrative and perhaps all the more enjoyable for being so.

Both stories also benefit from excellent music by Joe Kraemer, with Vortex Ice having a traditional 1980s feel and Cortex Fire featuring a nice homage to the film score of The Empire Strikes Back.

Overall this release features another enjoyable double-bill which shows that the range’s format deserves to be stretched occasionally. It also bodes very well for the next run of adventures featuring the Sixth Doctor, Flip and Constance beginning in October with The Behemoth. The double-bill trilogy concludes with the welcome reunion of the Seventh Doctor, Ace and Hex in Shadow Planet / World Apart .

 

Vortex Ice / Cortex Fire is available now from amazon.co.uk






The Doctor FallsBookmark and Share

Saturday, 1 July 2017 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Doctor Falls : The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay

Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
with Michelle Gomez, John Simm, Briana Shann,
Rosie Boore, Samantha Spiro, Simon Coombs,
Nicholas Briggs, Stephanie Hyam, and David Bradley

Produced by Peter Bennett
Executive Producers: Steven Moffat, Brian Minchin

A BBC Studios Cymru Wales Production for BBC ONE
First broadcast 6.30pm, Saturday 1 July 2017

 
This review contains spoilers and is based on an advance preview copy of the episode.
 

Last week Matt Hills described World Enough and Time as ‘the bleakest and darkest that Doctor Who has been for quite some time’. The Doctor Falls, befitting the second part of World Enough and Time’s story, maintains if not deepens this atmosphere. Nothing that is done in World Enough and Time is reversed. At times many of the lead characters seem to be competing to find which of them has the most profound death wish. The plan the Doctor comes up with can only obtain a minor respite for the embattled humans on floor 507. Indeed, when the Doctor argues that the emergence of Cybermen is inevitable in any human society, and where he also points out that in this closed and time-dilated environment their advantage is overwhelming, what point can there be to fighting on? It’s this question which The Doctor Falls seeks to explore, and in doing so say more than we have heard for some time, if ever, about both Steven Moffat’s and Peter Capaldi’s understanding of who the Doctor is. The result is oddly uplifting. My first reaction, as messaged to one of the editors of this page, was ‘Shining, brilliant, beautiful’; but I added that I think I needed more words to do the story justice. So:

The shift of setting between the first and second half of a two-part story is an established Steven Moffat device. As The Big Bang moved from the underhenge of the climax of The Pandorica Opens to the museum, so The Doctor Falls uses its pre-credit sequence to establish the society on floor 507. The Big Bang was itself a cornerstone for the edifice of mythology which Steven Moffat had (with characteristic use of paradox) already begun to build before the stone was set. The Doctor Falls finds Moffat readying and detonating the explosion which will bring down his own version of Doctor Who. The destruction is even more careful than that wrought by the Doctor within the episode, but the visuals suggest what happens: though so much is reduced to ash, burning the old growth might allow for the cultivation of the new.

Floor 507 displays a placeless but vaguely mid-Atlantic rusticity, neatly juxtaposed with the gas-choked dystopia over five hundred floors below. It’s an agricultural community where children are central and guarded against the predations of the topknots by a thin line of defenders. It recalls Russell T Davies's idea from his 2003/4 pitch document, that outer space stories should feature human pioneers so the audience have points of identification, perhaps unconsciously also recalling the western. In contrast to the masculine universalism of the Cybermen – both male in that there are no Cyberwomen, but genderless in that the Master insists Bill is now an it – the community has a matriarchal bent, with Hazran as its leader. The chief cook and chief executive are the same person, unproblematic and brought to the screen with authoritative warmth and human fear by Samantha Spiro. The character reminded me a little of Lucy Cohu's Deborah Goren in Ripper Street. There are at least nods to the New England orphanage of The Cider House Rules, and to the pioneer communities of Little House on the Prairie, but theirs are not the stories being told.

Introducing a child viewpoint character is an old familiar Moffatism, here used self-consciously. Briana Shann’s Alit recalls Caitlin Blackwood’s Amelia Pond; apparently parentless, independent, willing to confront her fears, and bearing enough of a resemblance to Pearl Mackie’s Bill (exaggerated by the hairstyling) to make one wonder if there is a direct connection between the characters. Perhaps this is Moffat once more embodying the child audience and acknowledging its link with the companion. Alit is the first person Bill sees when she arrives on floor 507, and the first person to make an empathic connection with her when she wakes up from the ‘sleep’ induced by the Doctor. Alit perhaps embodies the audience’s hopes that Bill can be restored to humanity, as well as the wish of her community and the Doctor for a non-cybernetic future. In reminding long-term viewers of lost friends, and present lookers-in on the current predicament, Alit helps to highlight the optimism underlying what could otherwise be read for much of its length as an overwhelmingly pessimistic episode.

The Doctor Falls follows the non-linear structure of World Enough and Time in its first act, containing flashbacks within flashbacks. However, opening the main narrative with a scene where the Doctor is undergoing torture and ritual humiliation is a good choice. There’s something Christ-like about suffering enabling the Doctor to restate his values, though I’d be cautious about following this parallel too far. The scene and the Doctor’s speeches also help divorce the episode from the detail of the setting: there will, the Doctor says, always be Cybermen, wherever there are human beings. The origin of the Cybermen is a tale Doctor Who has told elsewhere in other media, and it’s a legend which this episode supposes will be told again and again in different ways. Hence the nod to Doctor Who Magazine's The World Shapers with the mention of Marinus, and why it is perfectly acceptable in this context for the Cybermen to blast death rays from their headlamps in a way which they never managed before on television, but did on the back cover of  the first paperback edition of Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet. Cybermen created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis; but with embellishments by Chris Achilleos, Grant Morrison and many others. Moffat, like Russell T Davies, has never been reluctant to draw from non-television Doctor Who where it helps develop a concept. Likewise his attitude to the programme’s lore: the importance is not in the detail of where the Cybermen come from, but that the Cybermen’s conviction that turning people into Cybermen is a dead end for all the natural and moral sciences. As someone once said, they must be fought.

Bill is herself a battlefield. The Master likes to remind everybody (but particularly the Doctor) that she is a Cyberman, the result of a conversion process which stripped away anything deemed useless to Operation Exodus. From his point of view, Bill is dead. The programme shows the Master to be wrong, or at least that it disagrees with his view of the individual as nothing more than an organism. As long as Bill recognizes and believes in herself, she exists, even if the programming of a Cyberman rages like a hurricane in her head. The continuing presence of Pearl Mackie in the credits and her voiceover in the trailer tantalized exactly what role she would play, and doubtless many hoped or expected a speedy and conventional resolution. The Master’s brutal taunting is a reminder that we can obtain neither. The device of allowing the viewer to see, most of the time, Bill as she understands herself, not only avoids practical problems surrounding the uniformity and inflexibility of the Cyberman costumes, but allows Pearl Mackie’s talents to be displayed in a way they haven’t been so far. Mackie's physical awareness makes her fill the space of a Cyberman while remaining visibly Bill to us. We often see Bill as a Cyberman only when she is reminded that a Cyberman is what others see – such as when she walks in on Hazran and Nardole unannounced and Hazran blasts away with her shotgun. It’s a jarring, heartbreaking moment.

Also breaking hearts is Missy. Those hoping for an hour of multi-Master malevolence will be disappointed, but I think this episode does better with the scenario it presents than it would with the one some seem to have hoped for. Michelle Gomez plays Missy in the manner of an addict who keeps slipping from the wagon, deliberating giddily between new and old hits and guessing at some kind of peace beyond the spectre of withdrawal. It’s an irony that the Doctor never knows for certain that Missy was luring her former self into a trap which would have made her feel free to help the Doctor. In the meantime Missy and the Master flirt like bad fairy nobles making sport in the woods. Shakespeare scholars will know better, but their bickering seemed to me a sort of self-obsessed fusion of elements of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Much Ado About Nothing. Gomez and John Simm are very good at this, especially as there’s a genuinely disturbing undercurrent to their bantering. Simm in particular, with his beard, is a poisoned Pan, a violator whose lust for his next self reminds one of the brutality with which the Master treated his wife Lucy.

Despite his very real and effective threat (and history) of violence, John Simm’s Master is a hollow malevolence, harmful, damaging, self-consumed, but overall an evil with no point to it. I’ve been looking at academic Doctor Who books for another project, and remembered that in an interview with the writers of Doctor Who: The Unfolding Text, Douglas Adams complained that the Master’s plans had no meaning. The Doctor theorizes the path of the Master’s career on the ship in a way which assumes the emptiness and self-defeat in the pursuit and exercise of absolute power for its own sake. In return, later, the Master critiques the Doctor’s course of action on his way to floor 1056, arguing that if the Doctor hadn’t given his lecture on time dilation he would have arrived early enough to save Bill. This line of reasoning is possibly flawed in story terms, but anticipates (or echoes, depending on where one stands) the criticisms made by several reviewers of World Enough and Time. It’s an old fan observation that the Master often seems like a character who realizes that he is in a television series and behaves accordingly, but here his criticisms flag up his own powerlessness; he’s not willing to act in a way that helps anybody or contributes to the main narrative, so stands on the sidelines and plays critic until he can escape. It's tempting to think of this aspect of him as a departing showrunner who knows his successor is already in the office.

The Doctor Falls is a good episode for Nardole, a character whom we never really got to know and who has probably suffered from never having been the focus of an episode. A friend explained him to her enquiring mother as the Doctor’s butler, and perhaps that’s why he remained semi-visible, his full properties a secret. Here, though, Hazran makes her discovery of him one of her missions and Matt Lucas’s depiction of Nardole’s awkwardness must resound with everybody who has felt unworthy of another person’s esteem. It’s natural and credible and also very much part of Moffat’s observational writing of male self-effacement and overconfidence as a mask for doubt. How one greets it will depend on one’s patience with Moffat’s themes, but for me, here, it works unobtrusively, the Doctor and Nardole competing over their relative usefulness, or lack of it. Nardole’s departure doesn’t give him a chance to say a long goodbye; he leaves as part of an operation in much the way he might have done if he’d expected to see the Doctor again, but as he never had a conventional introduction this is appropriate.

As a title, The Doctor Falls intrigued me more after World Enough and Time because in one sense the Doctor had already fallen; he’d hubristically reduced his way of living to a formula by which he thought he could test Missy, and where stock phrases had replaced psychological insight. Instead we have a heroic fall which (like much else, as Matt Hills noted last week) calls back to the series trailer. The Doctor says he is a man of peace, but walks in war, and here he accepts the fate of the warrior, picking off more Cybermen than logic would perhaps expect with his absurdly versatile screwdriver until a Cyberman blasts him down through the chest, a wound which is one of at least two ways in which Bill’s fate has anticipated his own. The devastated landscape which the Doctor’s bomb leaves behind is as much a design achievement as anything Michael Pickwoad has hitherto accomplished – a landscape we’ve got to know has become a devastation of a kind previously associated in his time on the series with Skaro or Trenzalore, and this time the Doctor is the immediate cause.

Redemption and the chance of new beginnings come in part because the Doctor was wrong. There was hope and there was a witness, perhaps even a reward. I’m sure that in earlier seasons we’d have had glimpses of Heather now and then, as the series piled arc upon arc. None of Steven Moffat’s companions have been allowed to return to anything approximating their old lives; travelling with the Doctor means incorporation into the mythic substrata of the universe, and so it proves with Bill, reunited with a Heather whose personality has now re-emerged and seems dominant in the watery spaceship. It's good to see Stephanie Hyam once more; there's still a note of wondering in her performance but the dislocation has become the confidence of the explorer. As all the interaction between Bill and Heather is seen from Bill’s narrative point of view once Bill has been remade as a Heather-like creature, perhaps what we see is all a translation convention. Whatever, the choice to become human again is open; it’s intriguing that the door is not closed entirely on Pearl Mackie’s return. However, if this is a farewell, it’s a good one. There's irony in the Doctor’s regeneration being sparked by a tear (a rearranging of the meaning of grief expressed for the third Doctor in The Monster of Peladon and Planet of the Spiders, of course) from a protected friend who has now turned twice into a creature he has previously fought against. It recalls Russell T Davies’s theme of the Doctor as agent of liberation rather than reinforcer of parental authority. However, this year the Doctor has forgotten that lesson and become guardian and tutor to both Bill and Missy, with Nardole as an unteachable voice by the wings. The Doctor's efforts to protect people have not succeeded in the way he sought. As the first Doctor realized at the conclusion of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, beneficial change can come from taking the risk of being brave enough to let go. That was the real lesson of Susan's portrait seen on the Doctor's desk in The Pilot, and he had forgotten.

The problem, of course, is that the Doctor doesn’t want to let go. Bill, as a Cyberman, wanted to die if she couldn’t be herself any more. The Doctor wants to die too. Peter Capaldi’s performance of a fragmented Doctor, repeating the words of his earlier selves while holding on to his current physical form, was dizzying, helped by a camera which located him at once from several angles and levels in the TARDIS interior. Perhaps this Doctor’s changes of persona across series reflect an ongoing uncertainty about who he is which stretches beyond the ‘Am I a good man?’ interrogations of series eight. Back in 2010 Frank Collins wrote (in a review of The End of Time) of the tenth Doctor’s life as a Bildungsroman; the Doctor’s reward for personal development and the achievement of self-knowledge, was however to be returned to adolescence to begin the process again. Perhaps this older Doctor is about to change without having reached the point his two immediate predecessors did, and worse, can’t see any prospect of doing so.

What, then, can be made of the first Doctor’s emergence from what presumed convergence of narrative (over fifty-one years) leads us to believe is an Antarctic blizzard? I’d thought earlier this series that Steven Moffat’s valedictory notes weren’t only for the period he’s been showrunner, but for the entire period he’s been involved, from the time Doctor Who returned in 2005. The Logopolis homage of companions suggests this too in content, as well as calling further back in form. If nothing else, the montage will open up arguments about who counts as a companion again, which will keep a lot of people happy and angry at the same time. The first Doctor said, if only in the script of The Tenth Planet, that he would not go through with the change to his next self, and the meeting of the two Doctors benefits from that level of fan knowledge while I hope still working as a confounding moment – a ‘suspended enigma’, it was once called – for those who don’t know. In the brief time we see him, David Bradley gives a performance which is very much the first Doctor as opposed to his William Hartnell or his Hartnell as the first Doctor from An Adventure in Space and Time, which augurs well.

I’m always conscious that I tend to emphasize what works for me in these reviews, and they are often moments which leap out rather than broader themes or more thorough analysis. This article is based on one viewing of the episode and I’m still not sure why I found it so positive an experience. Throughout I imagined that the director, rather than the Doctor, must have the hidden arms of a Venusian Aikido practitioner; Rachel Talalay conducting with at least three batons like a hexapod, but with many more eyes than Alpha Centauri. The open vistas of floor 507 come to mind; the fatally wounded Doctor’s monologue about stars, too, was uplifting despite its note of disappointment, perhaps because it acknowledged that the Doctor’s belief and perhaps hope that this was the end for him was false. Heather’s return was a reminder that hope, even if apparently lost, can never be written off. Yet throughout there are sacrifices unappreciated and only postponed, with the sense that the inevitable is only being delayed. Perhaps the episode can be read as a musing on mortality, especially given that Cybermen, Time Lords, unconverted humans and indeed puddle-spaceship-creatures are all seeking to delay the inevitable, unless they are the Master, which is in a sense to be nothing at all because he can’t adequately empathize with others’ conditions. If so, it’s also the second part of three. The twelfth Doctor’s finale is begun, but it is not over, and we have to wait almost six months to conclude our verdicts on the whole.





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 - Episode 6 - SubterraneaBookmark and Share

Thursday, 29 June 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Subterranea (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Jonathan Morris; Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
Matthew Cottle (Mr Maxwell Wilberforce Bell)
Abigail McKern (Mrs Lucretia Bell)
Robbie Stevens (Mr Jelicho Wigg/ Mr Wilfer Wagstaff)
Jane Slavin (Miss Arabella Wagstaff/ Mrs Betsy Wagstaff)
 John Banks (Silex/ Mr Stoker)

The TARDIS somehow manages to materialise INSIDE a planet, but before the Doctor and Romana have time to work out the hows and whys, they are swallowed by a giant burrowing machine. It turns out the inhabitants of this planet have been forced to live underground, in giant Drill Towns, which are essentially monstrous ships with drills at the bow in which they roam beneath the surface, burrowing for minerals and anything else of use.

Of course though, nothing is simple in the world of Doctor Who, there is also something else lurking beneath the planet's surface - and that is the Silex.......and they are hunting!

Let me start by saying I loved Subterranea. On paper it should be just a simple, straight forward Who story. The TARDIS arrives on a strange planet, there are new aliens. The Doctor and Romana are quickly split up, and must work locally with different factions to overthrow a massive threat. You get the idea.

Perhaps it's that very simplicity of the story that adds to it's appeal. That said, Jonathan Morris injects some fantastic twists into the narrative that lifts the events way above run of the mill, and truly makes them sparkle.

The inhabitants of this planet are mole like people, who to prove how industrious they are speak with northern accents (well, why not? - every planet has a north!). The tech is all very steam punk, evoking a very Victorian time period, and the characters are all very reminiscent of those to be found in a cracking Dickens novel (with names like Maxwell Wilberforce Bell and Jericho Wigg, this does get hammered home somewhat). BUT this world is so believable, which is simply down to top notch writing and a cast that seem to gel perfectly.

The only slight issue with the story is that the treat is very familiar. The Silex are a scavenger cyborg race, somewhat more reminiscent of Star Trek's The Borg, more than our very own Cybermen. The solution to defeating them is, to be honest, a bit mundane (imagine a hive mind running on....shortwave radio), but again, it's about the overall journey. Which is a true joy. For me, this story reminded me of The The Crimson Horror, crossed with The Robots of Death (there are some great sound effects used for the Drill Towns, that will instantly put the listener in mind of a sand miner in Robots of Death) all of that AND a smattering of a certain Jules Verne classic. In my book, not one of those influences is a bad thing at all.

As mentioned, the cast are stellar. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are effortless at evoking Tom's final season, and as always gel together perfectly. The stand out of the supporting cast has to be Matthew Cottle (probably best known for the '90s sitcom Game On) as Maxwell Wilberforce Bell, a jobs worth of a character, who is very proud of his Drill Town, and very much devoted to his wife. Bell's character also provides a fair bit of comic relief to the proceedings. Among the others we have stage and television character actress Abigail McKern, who gives a suitably duplicitous performance as Bell's wife Lucretia. We also have Big Finish stalwarts Robbie Stevens as Mr Jelicho Wigg, and Jane Slavin as the heroic Arabella Wagstaff.

 

Subterranea is available now as a digital download, or audio CD from Big Finish.






World Enough and TimeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 June 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
World Enough and Time: Mondasian Cyberman, The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway))
Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie and Matt Lucas
Guest starring Michelle Gomez and John Simm
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Rachel Talalay
Executive-produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin

First broadcast on BBC1, Saturday June 24th, 6:45pm
 

This review is based on a BBC preview and discusses major spoilers from the very beginning

 

From its specially-shot 'A Time for Heroes' promo trailer onwards, Series Ten has raised the question of Bill's fate. And although Steven Moffat's writing is famed for reversing and undoing the loss of key characters, this episode has the feel of something truly irreversible. It's the bleakest and darkest that Doctor Who has been for quite some time, and hopefully it won't provoke audience complaints. But the Mondasian Cybermen are incredibly spooky and unsettling, thanks both to their authentic, old-school voices and the very visible remnants of their humanity. Moments such as a pre-Cyberman intoning "pain" over and over again seem a world away from stereotypical 'children's TV' (either that, or I need to adjust my sense of the stereotype). Bill's predicament is treated in a full-on stylized fantasy mode, though, as if to render it less shockingly 'realistic'. Of course, there was never going to be blood - Doctor Who has to make sure that it doesn't transgress BBC guidelines - but the impressively striking visual of Bill (and us, and the Doctor, and the camera) realising that there was gaping, empty space where flesh and blood should have been was a truly startling sequence. And this in an episode packed with reveals and surprises, right from the pre-titles.

Seeing the Doctor fighting his regeneration suggests that this must be the beginning of a three-parter that will only properly conclude at Christmas. Yet featuring a flash-forward (if that's what it is) to the Doctor's moment of regeneration doesn't quite seem to fit with recent publicity discussions of the regen's "complication" this time round. There must be more to it, I would have thought. And the opening's impact also felt a touch reduced thanks to the game-playing of Lie of the Land earlier this series: is this just another tease and fakeout, or is it the real deal? Hopefully the latter, but in a provisional world of stories and simulations, doubts can linger.

However, there's enough 'meta' and self-referential commentary on show to stock a supermarket shelf's worth of easter eggs; the Master seems passingly familiar with conventions of Doctor Who episode titling, for instance. He prefers 'Genesis of the Cybermen' to World Enough and Time, though is less familiar with the Big Finish story Spare Parts that this appears to supersede in canon. And Missy enjoys teasing her "disposables" (and the fan audience) with tales of the Doctor's "real name", resulting in the fourth wall at times appearing to have a ragged SFX hole punched right through it. Putting Missy and the Master together risks overloading the density of camp quippery, but sadly they share relatively little screen time during this outing.

World Enough and Time: Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Jon Hall))For an episode marked by the science of time dilation, there's an odd kind of temporal distortion going on throughout. In effect, 'time' has already passed much quicker in Doctor Who's hype and marketing than it does within the story: we already know that the Cybermen will show up, and that the Master is somehow behind proceedings. Consequently, World Enough and Time frequently feels like an episode striving to catch up with itself, yet remaining focused on almost pure delay (the emphasis on arriving elevators captures this perfectly well, along with the near freeze frames of Mr Razor's TV). This must surely count as one of Who's great set-up episodes. Even the Doctor gets in on the act, settling down to watch with a packet of crisps.  

Despite much grumbling about the recent (final?) series of Sherlock, one thing I thought it did extremely well was to mislead the audience into believing that a particular actor was actually a number of different characters. Prosthetics skill aside, the device is far less successful here. Depending on your facial recognition capabiities and knowledge of past Doctor Who, it may seem fairy obvious what trick is being pulled for the sake of a Masterful cliffhanger, and this aspect struck me as the least well achieved element of the episode. But given how hard-hitting the reveal of Cyber-Bill was, the Master's ornate scheming was always going to be left slightly in the shade, and it could be argued that its "dah-dah, it's me!" daffiness offered a lighter counterpoint to the terrifying narrative of Bill's situation. (As an aside, presumably part of the BBC's strategy behind live-streaming a Pearl Mackie Q&A right after this episode must be to reassure younger audiences that Pearl is fine in real life). And as a lead-in to episode 12, this multi-cliffhanger does its job perfectly.

'New' Doctor Who (though of course, it's not-so-new now) tends to be at its strongest when it intricately melds intimate moments of characterisation and emotion with epic science-fictional conceits. World Enough and Time displays this quality of 'intimate epic' by combining the vast Colony Ship with moments such as the Doctor and Bill discussing his history with Missy. This suffers slightly from the old 'show don't tell' maxim; a lot of the emotional weight behind the Doctor's fateful decision to test Missy's redemption/'goodness' relies on what we are told rather than what we're shown, and on how invested audiences are in the Doctor-Master/Missy backstory. Yes, the Doctor's hope was sharply delineated at the very end of last week's episode, but it still feels as if more emotional scene-setting would have been valuable for the Doctor-Missy storyline. As ever, though, Missy is a joy to behold, and her introductory sequence as she steps out of the TARDIS and shares her newly adopted name is simply brilliant. Michelle Gomez makes the absolute most of Moffat's zinging dialogue, whilst Missy's companions/pets look on, suitably aggravated.  

If the Master-Third Doctor era was marked by the 'UNIT family', then this moment in the show's history also carries a strong familial sense, and not just because Missy's continued presence echoes that of the Delgado Master. Bringing Rachel Talalay back behind the camera for another finale means reassembling a crack team, whilst Bill and Nardole have gelled extremely well across this series, with Capaldi's Doctor undoubtedly benefitting from Doctor-companion relationships designed to World Enough and Time: Missy (Michelle Gomez), The Master (John Simm), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) (Credit: BBC/BBC Worldwide (Simon Ridgway/Ray Burmiston))suit his characterisation. 

Talalay's direction makes the Mondasian Cybermen genuinely scary; the decision not to directly show Bill's partial conversion is also a sound one, as it ramps up the tension when we realise that a cyber chest-unit must have been installed, whilst the eventual 'full' Cyberman emerging from shadows is a memorably familiar sequence. Although the body horror that could have been pursued is dialled down somewhat, the partial conversions' monotone cries of anguish remain bleakly forceful. Who has rarely been this disturbing or this existentially raw. Thankfully, Talalay also has some fun with the time dilation (assuming this wasn't purely an editor's choice), as various sequences cut stylishly in and out of freeze frame. It is only the treatment of Mr. Razor that feels a little curious; he is featured so directly, even in relative close-up, that it's difficult not to discern the stunt being entertained, even though this kind of disguise has a well-established history in the programme. Presumably it was decided, directorially, that it didn't really matter when the penny dropped for audiences as they'd be waiting for the cliffhanger pay-off in any case.     

Given that the 'iconic poster image' for this episode so strongly echoes that from Day of the Doctor, next week's title seems equally likely to refer back to the "Gallifrey Falls" strand of Steven Moffat's overarching plot. Will we see more of the Doctor's regeneration... perhaps even a number of different possible new faces starting to coalesce as the twelfth Doctor progresses towards the thirteenth? This transition has been more of a tease than ever before, and no doubt the showrunner hasn't run out of tricks yet. 

Bring it, as the Doctor would say.