Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Fourth Doctor - The Syndicate Masterplan: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard,
Paul Morris, Guy Adams. Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Neilson), Glynis Barber (Kathy Blake), Ewan Bailey (Hugo Blake), Nicholas Khan (Jimmy Lynch), Leon Williams (Tony Reynolds), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland), Finty Williams (Ada Lovelace), Andrew Havill (Colonel Wildman), Eve Webster (Hettie / Lady Cleverley), Barnaby Edwards (Mr Hobhouse), Glen McCready (Edvard Scheutz / Lord Byron / Harry), John Shrapnel (Nigel Colloon), Anna Acton (Brox), Blake Ritson (Elmore), Roger May(Mac Foley), Tracy Wiles (Drones).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson 
Script Editor John Dorney 
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The Sinestran Kill by Andrew Smith

 

"Oh...I see...you're THAT Doctor..."

 

When the Doctor decides to trace an anomalous energy signature on twentieth century Earth, he stumbles into an assassination attempt.

Gangland thugs are trying to murder a seemingly innocent shopkeeper, and it’s only the intervention of the Doctor and Ann Kelso – a WPC who happens to be on the scene – that prevents a tragedy. 

But why do the gangsters want the shopkeeper dead? And what does this have to do with alien technology?

The first stages of a grand conspiracy are about to be revealed. And finding the answers will take Ann Kelso on a journey like no other.

 

This new box set could almost be described as Series 15A. We find the Doctor travelling alone after leaving Leela on Galifrey. K9 Mark II isn't (quite) unpacked yet, and we are introduced to a brand new companion, WPC Ann Kelso, played by Jane Slavin. An actress  who is no stranger to Big Finish.

This first story is set in 1970's London, and written by Andrew Smith. After penning the classic episode Full Circle, Smith joined the police, and it is here that this knowledge is utilised well, as the Met feature heavily in what is essentially a plot about an interstellar, shapeshifting hit mob trying to kill a witness who has taken refuge on Earth. The action ends up as a wonderfully staged siege in New Scotland Yard.

Amongst the guest cast are Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Nelson), who is wary of the Doctor as in a previous role, the character had links with UNIT, and Glynis Barber who plays a classic East End gangsters moll.

The Sinestran Kill is a very strong opener, which ably introduces Ann Kelso as a new companion. The Alien threat is believable, and seemingly quite unstoppable. The mash up between classic East End villains and a professional alien hit squad is genius.

Andrew Smith has crafted a rather brilliant story, that positively romps along. Jane Slavin is great as the new companion, but the stand out performance for me was Frank Skinner as the world-weary DCI, who is surprised by nothing that might have the Doctor involved.

 

Planet of the Drashigs by Phil Mulryne

 

"Welcome's to Drashig World."

 

When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray.  Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld - a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests.

And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure.

It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.

 

Ah! The Drashigs! Those memorable chompers from 1973's Carnival of Monsters - who would have thought they would ever get a whole story dedicated to them? 

Having just assembled the new K9, The Doctor and Liz land on a strange, marshy world. They soon find a Drashig on their tails and manage to escape via teleport to safety, only to find that they are in a theme park full of Drashigs, and the natives are getting VERY restless.

Planet of the Drashigs does fall in on itself a little by trying to be a bit too clever with its own theme. It is obviously a take on Michael Crichton's  Jurassic Park (the Doctor even stumbles across a pile of goat bones). Different breeds of Drashigs are in various enclosures for the amusement of the paying public. Oh - and of course there is the Emerald Drashig (read Tyrannosaurus Rex) which is extra fierce and intelligent. When these escape and run riot across the compound all hell really does breaks loose. 

The story should be so by the numbers, but it really is quite enjoyable. I loved it that the new K9 needs an overnight charge before proper use (his batteries kept failing because he only had a partial charge). There are some great set pieces, especially the Aliens homage where our heroes are trapped in a ventilation tunnels, being hunted down by ferocious Emerald Drashigs, all the while with K9 acting as a motion sensor in the dark.

The story is written by Phil Mulryne, who is obviously having a whale of the time with the source material. Vocal talent includes Fenella Woolgar (Call the Midwife), Jeremy Clyde and Lizzie Roper.

 

The Enchantress of Numbers by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

 

"We’ll just have to make-do with my unerring sense of direction!"

 

The TARDIS lands in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, in 1850. Mistaken for a medic and his maid, the Doctor and Ann are brought to meet Ada Lovelace - the mother of computing and daughter of Lord Byron - who has recently fallen ill. 

But the travellers are not here by chance. Something odd is happening on Earth, and they’ve determined that this place is the centre of it. 

Strange figures are walking the land. Strange figures wearing bird-like masks. What do they want with Ada? And how will it change the future of humanity?

 

I felt that The Enchantress of Numbers was the weakest story of this volume. It tries very hard, but I just didn’t find the story that involving. The whole idea of Bryon’s ghost, tied in with Block Transfer Computation, Ada Lovelace and mysterious figures shrouded in fog should really have been a perfect recipe for a Who story from this era. It just didn’t grab me, and felt rather run of the mill. I also felt that because of Lovelace’s larger than life characterisation (played with gusto by Finty Williams), it left Slavin’s Ann Kelso somewhat out in the cold.

 

The False Guardian by Guy Adams

 

"Maybe I left the HADS on!?"

 

Ann Kelso doesn’t like mysteries. Keen to investigate the trail of the Sinestrans, she sets the TARDIS on a new course... but flies into danger.

Arriving on a desolate world that the Doctor finds somehow familiar, the TARDIS crew discover that something is wrong with time. The inhabitants of an unusual complex are experimenting at the command of their enigmatic director... somebody who has quite a strong grudge against the Doctor.

Facing an old foe who was presumed dead, the travellers are soon trapped in a diabolical scheme. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?

 

Varga plants, HADS, Mavic Chen, Zephon, Kemble - The False Guardian is heavily steeped in Doctor Who history, and may at first seem like quite a daunting listen - but don’t worry - it isn’t. Guy Adams has crafted a fine story, dropping a few red herrings along the way that might just lead the listener to believe the story is heading one way, before it takes a sudden left turn in another direction. The cliff hanger at the end of part one of this story is brilliant, and so simply wrapped up at the start of part two…..and then there is the cliff hanger at the end of part two….

The False Guardian is of course essentially a means to set up parts three and four (which are coming in the next box set folks!), but is still an enjoyable ride, with a very rich guest cast, and brilliant sound design. Voice actors include John Shrapnel and Anna Acton.

I will never tire of Tom Baker in this role, and here we delve into a rather interesting, and so far unexplored time in the show’s history, that opens up new possibilities for this Big Finish range. I’m rather looking forward to volume two!

Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1 is available from Big Finish HERE.






The War Master: Master of Callous (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 7 January 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master: The Master of Callous (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Derek Jacobi (The Master), Silas Carson (The Ood), Maeve Bluebell Wells (Cassandra King), Samantha Béart (Martine King), Simon Ludders (Elliot King), Pippa Haywood (Teremon), David Menkin (Herschel), Barnaby Edwards (Jaques), Richard Earl (Sassanby), Kai Owen (Porrit), Joe Shire (Calia), Angela Bruce (Mother), Wilf Scolding (First Soldier) and Tom Forrister (Second Soldier). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott Handcock

Script Editor Nicholas Briggs

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Derek Jacobi returns to the role of the Master for the second set of stories, this time it is four episodes that follow a single storyline, as opposed to the slightly more episodic nature of the first box set.  The story takes place on a colony planet called Callous, in which a small group of artists attempted and sort of failed to make a home. Their livelihood depends upon a mine, and the story revolves around this mine, its contents, the people who give everything to make the mine viable, the planetary governor who wants to take everything she can from the inhabitants, and the Master who has his own secret plans and machinations.  In short...it is an excellent story. I recommend this box set, there will likely be SPOILERS ahead, so reader beware.

The opening episode, Call for the Dead follows Elliot King, the frustrated would-be leader of Callous, whose long attempts to make the mine worthwhile have yielded very few positive results, and the Governor bleeds him dry whenever she gets the chance.  He has spent so much time trying to make the mine earn just enough money to keep up with his payments that he has basically lost his family...his wife and daughter moved off-world, and while his wife is very ill, his daughter misses him daily. Meanwhile, he is being stalked by an odd with a ringing telephone, and when he finally answers the call, the Master is on the line.  Without getting too deep into it, Elliot decides to take his own life not long after his chat with the Master, and whatever plans the Master has are clearly set into motion.  Elliot's daughter Cassie and her wife Martine come to Callous to take over where her father left off.  Only Cassie is more adept with the mine than her father ever was.  He was an artist trying to make a living digging in a mine, as she went to school specifically to learn how to mine properly.  But when she too runs into trouble...another Ood phone call comes her way, only this time the Master offers his help.

The set continues with The Glittering Prize, and this time the Master is posing as Mr. Orman, a kindly gentleman helping Cassie to get the mine working.  They strike a substance that could make them all rich...but if the Governor finds out they have it, she is sure to come and attempt to skim even more profits off their hard work.  The Master offers his help yet again, helping them plot to sneak the substance off the planet and hide it from the governor until they can safely make their money off of it.  But the substance has a psychic side effect, as it slowly can drive people mad or hallucinate, and it seems to drive the Ood workers completely out of sorts.

The Persistence of Dreams focuses solely on Martine as she tries to keep her sanity guarding the substance.  She is accompanied only by an Ood bt finds herself hallucinating about her late mother, Cassie, Mr Orman and more...never knowing what is real and being driven to the brink of sanity by the awful substance. When the Ood seems to go mad as well and attempt to kill her, she launches herself into space, and hopes that hope can reach her in time...but of course, the Master has other plans.

The set is closed out by Sins of the Father which sees the Governor arrive on Callous and demand the substance because someone tipped her off that they had found it.  She has captured and is torturing the Master daily for answers, but no mere Governor can really get anything out of the Master! Cassie has been cast out by most of the inhabitants of Callous, who blame her of much of their current woes, particularly the homicidal Governor who intends to kill them all for answers.  But the Governor didn't count on her prisoner actually being someone of influence.  She didn't count on his control of the Ood, or his ability to escape his chains...and the Master's plan finally comes into focus. He just needed the substance. Callous just happened to be his best route of getting the rare stuff, and he has beaten everyone before they even knew he was a threat.

The story concludes with the Master meeting a Time Lord to sell off the substance so the Time Lords can build a new weapon against the Daleks.  It seemed almost odd to me that the Master would do all this for such a petty thing as money and helping the Time Lord cause. Just seemed off...but then a smaller item was thrown in for his payment. The Chameleon Arch.  It nicely tied in with the very item he was using when we first met this Doctor on TV (and actually used at the end of the previous box set, putting this one ahead of that timeline wise), and makes all his efforts in this story seem perfectly worth it for his character.  It may have been a mild hassle putting all those pieces into place, but he got what he truly wanted out of it. An eventual escape from the Time War.

This is an excellent set, that somehow managed to top the first War Master set. And that was a tall order, as that first set was wonderful. I am already excited for more, as Big Finish have clearly been chomping at the bit for years to tell Time War tales, and they are reveling in it with every chance they get. Whether they focus on the War Doctor, the War Master, or just seeing the seeds of the war in the Eighth Doctor or Gallifrey sets. In all attempts, they have made some exciting stuff.






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.12 - The Devil's FootprintsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 January 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Devil's Footprints (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins; Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Penelope Faith; Directed By: Helen Goldwyn

Cast

Bonnie Langford (Narrator)

The Doctor's old friend, the reverend HT Ellacombe, has been out of touch for too long. But when the Doctor goes to find him, he and Mel discover something else entirely: unidentifiable footprints in the snow around the Victorian village where he lives.

The villagers are terrified that the very Devil walks their lands in the wintry nights, but with the Doctor distracted by finding his friend, it seems it’s up to Mel to do the snooping around in attempt to uncover the truth.....

 

The Devil's Footprints is the kind of story that Doctor Who does so very well. It takes a real event, and adds the Doctor into the mix. The actual event the story is based on happened in 1855, in Devon. Where after a heavy snowfall a trail of hoof-like imprints in the snow appeared, stretching up to 100 miles.

 

In this latest entry to the Short Trips range, writer Penelope Faith expertly weaves the Seventh Doctor, Mel and alien possession into the mix. The TARDIS materialises in Devon, in the year 1885, where the Doctor bumps into an old friend, who the Doctor discovers, might not be quite what he was the last time they met.

 

The story is read by Bonnie Langford, in it her character Mel takes the lions share of the action. The plot romps along at quite a pace, and Langford really throws herself into narrating duties, even providing us with a great take on the seventh Doctor. Rolling R's, bluster and all.

 

The story of a small town harbouring a possible devil bears inevitable comparison to 1971's The Daemons, but manages to be original enough not to totally clash with that classic.

 

The Devil's Footprints is a story that is well worth a listen, and is available HERE from Big Finish.

 





Warlock's CrossBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 January 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Warlock's Cross (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Steve Lyons
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Tracey Childs (Klein), Blake Harrison (Daniel Hopkins), Genevieve Gaunt (Linda Maxwell), Richard Gibson (Colonel McKenna), Tom Milligan (Gregory Lord), Russ Bain (Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Price). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Nicholas Briggs
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

This year’s main range, ‘UNIT’ trilogy concludes with Warlocks Cross. So far the UNIT trilogy or the ‘Daniel Hopkins’ trilogy has been excessively dark, dealing with some incredibly bleak themes. The first, The Helliax Rift was a story that dealt with some interesting ideas in a way that had some gut-wrenching impact. The second, Hour of the Cybermen was an exercise in Sawardian nastiness and violent as a result. This final installment is no different. What results is an emotionally hard-hitting and bleak affair full of characters haunted by their past, be they Klein, Hopkins or UNIT itself. The story itself also certainly sits comfortably in that area of Doctor Who stories which can be described as having elements of horror within them. In short; it’s bloody frightening.

Steve Lyons script concerns the Doctor arriving at UNIT in its dark period of the 1990’s. When here he reunites with Dr. Elizabeth Klein and becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a forgotten psychic research facility, the titular Warlocks Cross and Daniel Hopkins, still alive after his part cyber-conversion. As I stated above, Lyons really has let his darker side come out here and those who were perhaps hoping for a more jolly installment in this year's trilogy may be disappointed. This is as adult as Doctor Who can get and the scenario he creates, allows for some interesting thematic scenarios involving themes of paranoia.

McCoy himself is wonderful here. After last months, The Quantum Possibility Engine allowing him to explore the lighter side of the 7th Doctor, it’s great to see him return to the more sinister aspects of his interpretation. McCoy gives a very quiet and understated performance throughout, the sequences with Hopkins are some of the highlights, as this Doctor shows a distinct lack of sympathy and seems to play games with Hopkins. And what of Daniel himself? Well if there’s one thing that has been consistently good throughout this year's trilogy, it’s been Blake Harrison's performance. In the space of three stories, Harrison has taken an incredibly likable character and managed to transform him into one of best original characters Big Finish has created in a long time. Original Doctor Who Villains are a hard thing to create, but Hopkins must sit among the best. Of course, another talking point of this release is the return of Elizabeth Childs as Klein. Admittedly this isn’t a Klein focussed story, she has a great deal of wonderful moments of course and she does get some character exploration, but she is very much a bit character here, which may disappoint some. However, Childs is great as always and honestly, it was refreshing to see a version of Klein more at peace with herself, despite a few underlying ‘ghosts’.

All in all, Warlocks Cross, can be seen as a rousing success. This UNIT trilogy has been the highlight of the main range this year, resulting in some wonderfully rich stories full of depth. Here’s hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Daniel Hopkins!

 

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Dec 2018
Doctor Who Main Range #244 - Warlock's Cross




The Quantum Possibility EngineBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 December 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Writer: Guy Adams
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: October 2018

Running Time: 2 hourss

The ‘Seventh Doctor Takeover’ continues with The Quantum Possibility Engine, bringing to a close much of Mel’s continuing storyline, as well as this main range trilogy. Not only that but it also features the return of Josiah W. Dogbolter, a character who made his debut in Doctor Who Magazine in the comic strip The Moderator in 1984, as one of the primary villains of the piece. In a sense that’s important to state as, The Quantum Possibility Engine, feels very much like a mid-80’s Doctor Who Magazine strip. There are bizarre characters and off the wall ideas, mixed with some less than subtle (in a good way) digs at reality and an oddly Meta sense of humour. Some things don’t make a lot of sense, but who cares? The rides worth it.

Our story opens with our hero’s (Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and of course Bonnie Langford) onboard a space station owned by the new president of the solar system; Dogbolter. Dogbolter wants the Tardis for a very specific reason, meanwhile, Mel tries to settle the score and the Doctor and Ace Find themselves locked inside the titular ‘Quantum Possibility Engine’. Oh and Narvin’s here.

The Quantum Possibility Engine is actually a pretty hard story to talk about. Part of the enjoyment of it comes from not knowing what’s coming next and to that end it’s almost impossible to discuss without spoiling anything. The ride that Guy Adams takes us on is so bizarre and outlandish that it would be unfair of me to discuss any of its elements here.  What it is fair to say is that this is one hell of an adventure and one that’s a lot of fun, certainly working more as a comedy than anything else. The return of Dogbolter is one which I’m very pleased with, he may seem like an odd choice to some but this parody of Sydney Greenstreet is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of The Maltease Penguin. Toby Longworth returns to the role and captures that Greenstreet-esque voice perfectly, apart from a few wonderful moments when he seems to be evoking Churchill instead. Wonderfully, Adams has chosen to give him a Robot assistant that sounds an awful lot like Peter Lorre (played with perfect sniveling menace by Wayne Forester), a logical thing to do given the Greenstreet connection.

Even away from Dogbolter, however, there’s still much fun to be had here. McCoy, Aldred and Sean Carlsen all get wonderful moments in the second half of the story. Carlsen especially is not someone I’m overly familiar with, never having listened to any of the Gallifrey stories (though I know Narvin has something of a fan base). Here he was extremely enjoyable and although played primarily for laughs (after all this is a comedy) I can see how his character could be more dramatic and sinister if required. The star of the show in terms of regulars (because sorry but Longworth really steals the limelight from everyone) however is Bonnie Langford. She gets some great comic moments with Wayne Forester and also some of the few seriously dramatic sequences in the entire story. Langford really has done wonders with Mel on Big Finish and I hope she gets more time to shine in successive years!

The Quantum Possibility Engine really is a hell of a blast. It may not be particularly dark or dramatic and so may not be for those who like their Doctor Who serious and straight, but for those who like I bit of fun I cannot recommend it enough.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Nov 2018
Main Range #243 - The Quantum Possibility Engine (Doctor Who Main Range)




Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.11 - The Mistpuddle MurdersBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 December 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Mistpuddle Murders (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Lisa Bowerman
 
Featuring: Sarah Sutton

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: November 2018

Running Time: 35 minutes

Welcome to Mistpuddle.
 
"I’m sure you’re all wondering why I’ve gathered you here. I’m sure you’re all wondering why the village is home to woodland creatures with a taste for tea, cakes and secrets. And I’m sure you’re all wondering where the Doctor has vanished to. The truth is not as quaint as the pretty cottages and mostly cute residents would have you believe.
 
Murder has come to Mistpuddle. And no-one is leaving until we uncover whodunnit."
 
So..... The Mistpuddle Murders is essentially Doctor Who, Beatrix Potter, Enid Blyton, Wind in the Willows and Miss Marple, all popped in a blender, shaken for a bit, and then left to set.
 
And sadly it wasn't my cup of tea.
 
Mistpuddle Murders (as well as featuring the characters Nyssa, Tegan and somewhat briefly the fifth Doctor), also features biologically engineered, human-sized woodland animals, who have dialogue gifted straight from Beatrix Potter. Now I'm not saying that this concept is any weirder than "little green blobs in bonded polycarbite armour"......but, for me......it just wasn't an exciting enough concept to hold my attention. In fact, I have to be honest - if I weren't reviewing the story for this very website, I probably would have bailed ten minutes in.
 
Sarah Sutton is on narration duties and also voicing Nyssa, she does so very well - taking the source material in her stride. She also does a very passable impression of Tegan, but sadly it wasn't enough to raise the story (for me anyway) above mediocre.
 
The writer, Simon A Forward's previous story for Short Trips was Mel-Evolent, which I also struggled with. At the time I thought it was because the story featured my least favourite companion (Mel), but perhaps I just don't get on with Mr Forward's style of storytelling.
 
The Mistpuddle Murders is available HERE to download from Big Finish for £2.99.