The Sound Of DrumsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
John Simm as The Master in The Sound of Drums (Credit: BBC)

Series Three - Episode 12 - "The Sound Of Drums".

STARRING:

David Tennant , Freema Agyeman , John Barrowman, 
WITH John Simm and Alexandra Moen 

ALSO FEATURING: Adjoa Andoh, Trevor Laird,
Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Reggie Yates, Elize du Toit,
Nichola McAuliffe, Nicholas Gecks, 
Colin Stinton, Olivia Hill, Daniel Ming,
Lachele Carl, Sharon Osbourne. 

ALSO WITH VOICE WORK BY:
Zoe Thorne, Gerard Logan, and Johnnie Lyne-Pirkis 

WITH CAMEOS by McFly, and Ann Widdecombe. 


Written By - Russell T Davies,

Script Editor - Simon Winstone

Directed By - Colin Teague
Music - Murray Gold
Produced By - Phil Collinson

Executive Producers - Russell T. Davies + Julie Gardner

Originally Transmitted 23rd June 2007, BBC 1

This middle component of the storyline that saw out the 2007 run of modern Doctor Who is a dynamic, compelling slice of action and political satire. As good as it had been to have the likes of Autons and Macra come back from days long gone, and especially welcome to see the Who staple monsters that are the Daleks and the Cybermen return with a vengeance, the show badly needed the most masterly of humanoid villains to keep the Doctor on his toes.


John Simm's Master can be best likened to 'The Joker from Batman. He is utterly unhinged, and without remorse for the crimes he commits.  He actively enjoys causing chaos and misery. But such is this prolific performer's calibre of acting, the viewer cannot help but like him on some level. This is a quality inherent in all the more effective Masters – with other notable names being those of Delgado, Ainley, Jacobi (albeit mainly resting on the fake Yana persona), and Gomez.

Of course I will acknowledge the pure villainous qualities of the 'decayed' Master that showed up in the Tom Baker era, and in places also in the 1996 TV Movie. To my mind though, the ideal variant has some level of dark charm, and humorous edginess.

A great idea that makes this episode work, is putting the TARDIS crew firmly on the back foot. They do not even have their magic ship as a 'home base', and arrive late on the scene as the Master Plan has already unfolded to near finality. 'Harold Saxon' has become the British Prime Minister, and virtually the whole population are enthralled by his charisma and decidedly alternate style to politics.

The manner in which he sweeps aside all dissenting voices in his Cabinet through the method of poisonous gas, and tapping his hand on the table to the 'Sound of Drums' is a fine scene. He even gives some warning to his victims, but in such a way that he is comically obtuse, thus catching some of the supposed smartest people in the land completely off-guard.

It is hard to tell which is the more disturbing death in these 10 Downing Street sections: the prolonged suffocation of senior politicians by gas, or the way the Toclafane slice-and-dice Vivien Rook - a reporter rather too bold and determined for her own good.

                                   "I'm taking control, Uncle Sam, starting with you. Kill him!"

By contrast, the execution of the American President is played very much as black comedy. We have a boisterous and self-important world leader, and one perhaps looking down on Britain; no doubt due to the "ass" elected by the population. In this day and age, with such a controversial new president in charge this scene plays out on a different level. Even the very current affairs savvy Davies could not have anticipated this dimension his work would take.

Having a wife by the Master's side is a neat spin on an antagonist that was normally a lone wolf. Whilst he may have temporary stooges to help him (and usually hypnotised ones at that), this is the first time it appears he has a stone cold lover to endorse his villainy. In the Colin Baker portion of the Classic Series, there were tentative alliances with The Rani and Glitz respectively. However, in Lucy the Master has someone who seems to love his unending ambition, ruthlessness and even his sadism. (But of course there are limits to what evil a spouse can put up with, and this is explored effectively in the concluding episode).                                                                                                                                
The Sound of Drums (Credit: {s{LastoftheTimeLords}})The telephone conversation scene gives both Simm and Tennant a chance to share screentime equally. When they finally meet in the same frame the effect is even more marked.  However, whilst the Tenth Doctor swansong The End Of Time is inferior to this Series Three closer, it is ahead in terms of offering decent one-on-one material for two of Britain's most respected screen actors.

The 'Toclafane' - a name from young Gallifreyan fairy tales – essentially act as the Master’s force of marauding assassins. But they are a pretty neat invention, in that they combine a distinct monster look with some semblance of a disturbingly imbalanced personality. Having multiple voices to breathe life into them is also a great production choice. The story behind who these creatures are is kept mysterious for now in this particular outing. If one were to be overly critical, they could be accused of looking somewhat like the confectionary Maltesers - especially when the pulsating Voodoo Child track plays out for a distinctly long stretch. Using a piece of popular chart music was a bold move by Davies and can perhaps be seen as risking dating the production. But taken as a suitably offbeat piece of rhythmical noise, that the Master would choose to celebrate his crowning moment with, it is more than appropriate. Also, this is one of the few moments in the show at the time when composer Murray Gold is not providing persistently stirring backing music to the onscreen drama. 

Series Three did a serviceable job of giving the viewer a clan of relatives to make Martha’s attachment to Earth mean something, and managed to be both similar enough but also distinctly different from the dynamic that Rose Tyler had in terms of her original 'home'. Furthermore, some good groundwork was done in terms of exploring just why Martha eventually chose not to remain by the Doctor's side full time. Adjoa Andoh is probably the best performer out of this family group, and combines steely determination with a subtle sense of really caring for all those closest to her. She would justifiably return in Series Four's closing pair of episodes, as well. Trevor Laird is notably stronger in his acting, than the very tired and ineffectual henchman role that was part of 1986's Mindwarp. He makes for a devoted father figure, and shows some real bravery in helping the Doctor's party evade capture. Reggie Yates is the kind of casting choice that peppered the 1980s under John Nathan-Turner's watch, and is engaging enough. It is a rather generic brother role as Leo, however, and there is virtually no character development that the show normally pulled off so well by now. Also, for whatever reason, Yates barely features in this episode, and contributes even less in the following one. Martha's other sibling Tish, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw is perhaps the best used recurring character in terms of the Saxon Arc itself, and is performed with conviction throughout. Much like Freema Agyeman, Mbatha-Raw has had a very fine career post-Doctor Who.

Martha herself remains a solid companion, with Ageyman really selling the reveal that the Master is the most powerful man in the country. The response to the startling impact of her 'normal' world being so drastically changed is a strong core theme of this multiparter, and plays out with full effect in the ensuing Last Of The Time Lords. As this episode comes to its cliff-hanger ending, the viewer is utterly captivated as to how Dr Jones will cope without her near-immortal mentor. Like Rose she is capable and independent, but has usually needed some superior experience and incredible intellect from the Doctor to overcome the problem at hand. This particular challenge is mountainous to put it mildly.

The Tenth Doctor putting his mind to work (Credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/s4/images/S3_12)

Captain Jack perhaps is just more along for the ride after some very good material in the preceding episode where he sought some kind of acknowledgement from the Doctor. Of course, he does helps with the escape back to present day Earth - conveyed in a frenetic flash back - and he also gets to do a (very deliberate) plug for his own spin off Torchwood. Otherwise he is arguably surplus to immediate story requirements, and also suffers yet another helpless 'death' - this time at the hands of the Master, and his upgraded sonic screwdriver. This disconcerting cycle of painful demise and lurching back to life in traumatic fashion has been echoed in more recent times in the Forever TV series. Whilst short-lived at just one season, that particular show had a lead character - Henry Morgan - that has some minor similarities with the Jack Harkness character.

Pacing in this story is mostly good, and the episode packs a lot into its duration (which is slightly longer than the average of most episodes that year). The climax plays out for a good ten minutes, and thus is both truly riveting and furthers the long-running story concerning Harold Saxon, that first was glimpsed back in Love And Monsters. Most of the earlier sections are breathless chasing or exposition, with some detail on the Master's raison d'etre, and what he means to the Doctor. The whole thing could so easily be rushed, but in the hands of the dependable Colin Teague, it all comes together sufficiently well.

One recurring plot point which was a little less welcome was the call-back to The Lazarus Experiment, which many still regard as the weakest story of the run of thirteen episodes. Having the Doctor rendered helpless was a good idea on paper, but the choice here is to make him look like an especially ancient-looking man. Whilst showcasing good make up it never really adds much to the overall story, and would lead to the regrettable 'Harry Potter' CGI imp the following week. Perhaps something different, which rendered our main man immobile and slow of wits, would have worked better. 

Although much of the episode is focused on action, satire or re-establishing the Doctor-Master rivalry, the most moving and powerful portion concerns some exposition and visual display of Gallifrey and its orange skies. This is portrayed so much better on a respectable TV budget, compared to the closest precedent in the six-part 1970s serial The Invasion of Time. The narrated flashback makes use again of the poignant music Gold previously used in Utopia, and this backing track seems even more appropriate, as the key to the scene is making the viewer care for the Master through showing him in the form of a mere innocent child. Some mysterious and anonymous Time Lords also feature, with the scene notably breaking the ethnic onscreen barrier which for so long had been a minus point concerning the Doctors home world TV stories.


SUMMARY :

Whilst a little lacking in fully combining both fun adventure and true depth in terms of themes and moral lessons, this is still a good episode in a generally strong second full season for the Tenth Doctor. In comparison to the prior Utopia, it is a small step down in most respects, but many other stories would also struggle to compare favourably. Taken on its own merits, it is still a great watch, and has stood the test of time well. Back in mid-2007, the season finale was set up with a very dark and intriguing premise, and most regular viewers at the time were left desperate to see how it played out.





Ninth Doctor Issue 4 - The Transformed (Part 1 of 2)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Ninth Doctor Issue 4 'The Transformed' (Part 1 of 2) Titan Comics  (Credit: http://media.titan-comics.com/dynamic-images/comics/issues/DW_9D_Ongoing_04_Cover_A_Verity_Glass_1z7XcBF.jpg.size-600.jpg)
WRITER - Cavan Scott
ARTIST - Chris Bolson
COLORIST - Marco Lesko

LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS
AND COMICRAFT’S JIMMY BETANCOURT

DESIGNER - ROB FARMER

SENIOR EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES

ASSISTANT EDITORS - JESSICA BURTON &
AMOONA SAOHIN

Published 10 August 2016 - Titan Comics

"You never listen, do you? We can’t do this.The Web Of Time.."

"Oh, an expert now,are we?"

"Look, they’re in [the TARDIS], aren’t they? Rose and Jack Sparrow? They see me and you can wave goodbye to the timeline. History rewritten. You know that!"


Mickey arguing with the Doctor over how much discretion should be taken, given the point in time concerned for the Doctor's various allies.


 

The main hook in this opening instalment of another new storyline in the ongoing monthly comic, for the short-lived Ninth Doctor, is that Mickey Smith is not the rather hapless, insecure on-off boyfriend of the independent Rose Tyler.  Instead we have the toughened, quick-witted and battle ready figure last seen fighting at Martha’s side, in the ‘victory parade’ that closed out The End Of Time.

It is an interesting idea by regular writer Cavan Scott to have a companion meet the Doctor out of order, and for our hero to somehow not have his future self - or selves - compromised in terms of future actions. Nonetheless the Doctor is extra careful to not have Jack or Rose cross paths with this friend from the future.

The main plot point of normal human beings gaining unearthly powers, but then the mutations spiralling out of control, leaving the people in (perhaps permanent form as) ‘monsters’ is a pretty solid core idea. In some ways it echoes the themes of the Doctormania three-parter that just came beforehand in this series. There is focus on image, reputation and mistaken identity. It also is a somewhat reordered working of the Solonian life cycle in the Mutants story from the Third Doctor era.

Having a change up back to Earth, but this time in 2016 San Francisco, is a fine idea. This city has little precedent in the Who canon, and certainly the USA is still not mined on television often, mainly due to budget concerns

The art is up to the higher standards set by this publisher since the inaugural issue that revisited Eccleston's Doctor back in Spring of 2015. Chris Bolson is on board for the first time in these Titan bundles of escapism. He knows how to tell a story clearly with both character expression and some sweeping action. Panelling is a little more varied than is the norm, and some pages need to be read as a 'double' so digital readers should take care accordingly to follow the words and pictures in a meaningful fashion.

Although the essential story has been done many times before, we have some good new characters, and some mystery over just what has happened to the 'missing' people. It also is welcome to not have a clear enemy - on the evidence of this opener that is. The pacing is strong throughout, and the references to various Who continuity from the main series is done in a careful way so that newcomers will not be overly confused.

Altogether another fine example of a monthly series that deserved its chance, both on the shelves of comic book stores and newsagents, as well as the digital market.

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6, Episode 2 - The Eternal BattleBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 21 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures: The Eternal Battle (Credit: Big Finish)

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana) 
John Leeson (K9) 
Dan Starkey(Field Major Lenk/Sergeant Major Stom) 
Jane Slavin (Captain Nina Albiston/Sycon Computer) 
John Banks (Brennan/Trooper Varn)

Producer David Richardson Script Editor John Dorney Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Cavan Scott and Mark Wright
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

This review contains spoilers!

Sontaran zombie eat flesh!

Now, if that short sentence doesn't send a thrill down your spine, I don't know what will. The Eternal Battle finds the Doctor, Romana and K9 aiming the TARDIS for the Lake District, where the Doctor wants to go and visit (much to Romana's joy) a pencil museum. However, they find themselves stranded on an alien no mans land, in the midst of a great war, a war that nobody involved seems to really know quite how long has has been raging (here is a small clue faithful DWN reader: the story is called THE ETERNAL WAR).

Our space and time traveling trio are saved from certain death by a rather large Sontaran tank, the occupants of, when they find out that they have rescued the Doctor, insist on killing the enemy of the Sontarans there and then. Can the Doctor sweet talk himself out of this one? Of course he can. Before you can say "Probic vent" there is an uneasy truce between the Doctor and the Sontarans as he strives to help them in a rather strange war against humans.....and undead Sontarans.

Just to make things matters worse, the TARDIS has rather handily gone missing, and Romana and K9 are trapped in a bunker with a dying Sontaran (the zombie rules are pretty standard - in this story, you die, then come back hungry for flesh).

I really enjoyed The Eternal Battle. What a great idea to have the Sontarans, the greatest warriors in the universe, fighting undead versions of themselves, whose masses will only grow as more Sontarans die in  battle. Brilliant. Plus, just to complicate matters more, the dead humans turn into zombies as well. 

The writers Cavan Scott and Mark Wright have really struck gold here, with a fantastically original spin on rejuvenating an old foe. As the art work on the cover suggests, these are classic seriesl Sontarans, two of whom, in the extras, Dan Starkey himself says are based on Linx from The Time Warrior and Styre from The Sontaran Experiment, the similarities to those two classic characters are very evident, especially in the calculating way that they react to a situation. Scott and Wright have truly taken the Sontarans back to their roots, away from the more comedic characters that they have become.

Talking of Dan Starkey, he really does steal the show. He has perfected Sontarans in a way that Nicholas Briggs has done with perfecting the daleks. I have absolutely no problem at all with Strax, the Sontaran that Starkey plays in New Who, I think his comic timing is absolutely spot on - but here he proves that he can play old school.

Of course Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and John Leeson come across as if they are having a whale of a time, and this carries into the story's extras. Ward seems particularly overjoyed to have her version of Romana finally meeting the famous 'Potato Heads'. As always the trio of leads play off of each other very well, creating some classic moments (Romana's enthusiasm for the pencil museum is indeed a classic moment that would have been at home in any of her televised episodes) The rest of the cast, most notably Big Finish stalwarts Jane Slavin and John Banks are all excellent also.

Directed by Nicholas Briggs himself, The Eternal Battle is a joy to listen to. A thrilling ride that I would definitel, most highly recommend.

 

The Eternal Battle is available now from Big Finish.

 






The Star Men (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Star Men (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Andrew Smith

Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sue Holderness (Kala Tace), Sophie Wu (Autumn Tace), Peter Guinness (Rovus), Damian Lynch (Fell/Lom), Kris Dyer (Nomar/Vedrin / Surgical Robot/ Pilot), Barnaby Edwards (Computer).

Big Finish Productions - Released January 2017

Big Finish’s first trilogy of main range releases for 2017 gets off to a flying start with this enjoyable entry from stalwart Andrew Smith. After the critical success of 2014’s The Fifth Doctor Box Set, it was only a matter of time before Big Finish persuaded Matthew Waterhouse to reprise the role of Adric once again and so this story sees his debut in the main Fifth Doctor range. Once the usual season 19 checklist is ticked off (Adric learning how to fly the TARDIS in the opening scene, an obligatory line for Tegan about them not yet reached Heathrow during which you can almost sense Janet Fielding’s eyes rolling as she says it), the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the Gallius U space station at a pivotal moment in the history of space exploration. The typical scenario of the TARDIS crew being mistaken for stowaways is quickly bypassed as Adric is given the first of several hero moments in this story (presumably this was incident which led to an interesting exchange on twitter between Waterhouse and Fielding last year).

The team are sensibly split up with Adric and Nyssa remaining on the Gallius U whilst the Doctor and Tegan head off to explore the mysterious goings on in the Large Magellenic Cloud (a nice touch to include a genuine astronomical phenomenon) which leads to the first direct encounter with the eponymous Star Men, led with menacing example by the excellent Peter Guinness as their ruler Rovus. There is further strong cast support from Sue Holderness as Kala Trace and Sophie Wu as her daughter Autumn, who proves to be something of a potential love interest for Adric. Knowing that fate has another path in store for our favourite Alzarian the audience is kept guessing as to how the story will resolve itself. Although it is to be hope that the remaining stories in this trilogy will resist the urge to continuously foreshadow that fate. Whilst Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are on their usual great form as the Doctor and Nyssa, this particular story belongs most to Tegan and Adric. The only mild criticism this reviewer can think of is the author’s occasional over use of the phrase “lead on” which brought to mind some of the author’s previous plays at inopportune moments.

Overall though, this play sets a high bar for the remaining plays in this trilogy to match up to and certainly left this reviewer looking forward to this TARDIS crew’s next adventure which will see them return to Victorian London for a visit to The Contingency Club.

 

The Star Men is available now from Big Finish and on general release from February 28th 2017



Associated Products

Audio
Released 28 Feb 2017
Doctor Who Main Range 221 - The Star Men
$24.99



The War Doctor - Box Set 3: Agents of ChaosBookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The War Doctor: Agents of Chaos (Credit: Big Finish)





 

STARRING:
John Hurt (The War Doctor) +
Jacqueline Pearce (Cardinal Ollistra)

WITH:
Neve McIntosh (Lara), Honeysuckle Weeks (Heleyna), 
Timothy Speyer (Kruger), Helen Goldwyn (Professor Crane), 
Gunnar Cauthery (Kavarin), Matthew Cottle (Leith), 
Dan Starkey (General Fesk/Sontarans), Josh Bolt (Kalan), 
Barnaby Edwards (Vassarian), Andrew French (Muren) +
Nicholas Briggs (Dalek Time Strategist/Daleks)

PRODUCTION CREDITS:
 

Written By: David Llewellyn, Andrew Smith + Ken Bentley

Director: Nicholas Briggs, Sound Design/ Music: Howard Carter

Producer: David Richardson, Script Editor: Matt Fitton

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery + Nicholas Briggs

Cover Art: Tom Webster

Duration: 250 Mins

Product Format: 4-disc CD (slipcover box set)



Released October 2016

BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS

He was once intended as just a one-shot player in The Day Of The Doctor. But over the ensuing four or so years, the War Doctor has garnered plenty of new material. He had his own full length novel in the shape of Engines of War (written by George Mann), and also was designated the opening short story in the Heroes And Monsters anthology, as well as popping up in The Shakespeare Notebooks. (All three of these were published by BBC Books). More recently, this most destructive, but no less noble incarnation of the title hero was instrumental in the timey-wimey contortions of the Year Two arc in Titan's Eleventh Doctor comic book line, (having already featured in The Four Doctors 'event' of 2015).

Although when first introduced in the Series 7 finale, there was a sense of shame and terrible wrongdoing connected to him, Who followers quickly came to bond with the War Doctor, and have a firm investment concerning both his wellbeing, and his effectiveness in saving the day.

We now have sadly lost the main force behind this character being so enduring, as John Hurt passed away in January of this year. However, he obviously leaves behind a considerable legacy owing to his many years in TV and film, as well as radio and theatre. This is the third box set from Big Finish to afford Hurt the primary starring role, and was released last Autumn. A fourth and final one is due to come to the market soon.

As with the first and second miniseries, there is both standard adventurous narrative, with twists and turns typical of most Doctor Who, but also a vein of dark comedy and satire; one example being the standard under-estimation of how Dalek armour can withstand standard 20th Century Earth handguns. Also persisting, in terms of the thematic core behind the storytelling, is the sense of war time chaos and suffering, which underlines the long history of human conflict in real life on our planet. 

In comparison to how he was portrayed in the Eleventh Doctor comics, this War Doctor embodies perhaps a little more typical humour that we associate with the 'regular' Doctor of any given TV era, and he also is quick to bond with strangers, too. But then again, such is the tempestuous nature of war, and the effects it has, there should be no surprise that can be more open to accepting others' company at different points in this (unofficial) regeneration than others.

Regarding the other major starring performer of these original stories from Big Finish - namely Jacqueline Pearce  - this set offers the character of Ollistra the most audio time so far, and therefore also the most character development. Pearce is quite incapable of a dull and phoned-in performance, and like Tom Baker, or Hurt himself, has a richly unique voice.
 

The Shadow Vortex (Credit: Big Finish)The Shadow Vortex is a fun romp, if perhaps the least successful in overall impact of the three plays. It is set in the Cold War - 1961 to be exact - and involves the British, Germans and Russians .. plus of course the Daleks themselves. It is also yet another adventure where the Daleks have a ruthless and duplicitous agent working on their behalf - namely Lara Zannis (Neve McIntosh). 

There is also some fine development for one of the Stasi officials, who initially tries to subdue the (English-accented) War Doctor. Kruger, however, is outwitted by a man he thought he could break, before going onto assume the perennial - yet always intriguing - 'pseudo companion' role. Added into the mix, are some internal political tensions running amongst  the British scientific establishment, not to mention threats to causality, time lines, and planet Earth. It all comes together into making a season opener that will engage and surprise enough, thus leaving the listener wanting access to the next story - and in double-quick time.

 


The second entry - denominated The Eternity Cage - is arguably the jewel in the crown of the set, and one of the best stories altogether in the War Doctor's saga. It offers the possibility of the brutal Sontarans becoming a viable faction in the Time War. There are some great plot twists and revelations. It also is welcome to see the mutually captive Dalek Time Strategist and Cardinal form an alliance; however temporary and involuntary in nature that may be. The Doctor acquires a motley crew of would-be rescuers to help him in extricating Ollistra from the clutches of the squat and brutal warmongers from Sontar, who are led by the uncompromising General Fesk (Dan Starkey). Chief amongst his new allies is a boy called Kalan, who is native to Rovidia (where the action mostly takes place). He reminds one of Leela, in that he is technically primitive but loyal and proactive. This supporting character also features in the ensuing finale to the box set.

It of course helps that so many TV viewers will know the Sontarans. This may be in connection to Strax, who was part of the recurring Paternoster Gang, or owing to one of the stories to feature them as out-and-out foes. They always have made for a worthy antagonist, but some degree of humour is always involved too. In this middle episode, we do get a pretty emphatic reminder that sometimes their ambitions are simply a little too bold.

It also is an asset that Andrew Smith is behind the play's script. Smith first broke into the Doctor Who business, when the program was still in its 'classic era' phase, all the way back in Season 18. He has more recently done a good number of these Big Finish audios. Knowing just how to merge with the house style, but also to offer something that typifies the show in having a mesmerising 'hook' or conceit behind the narrative, he paces this story to perfection. Consequently its 'cliff-hanger' works to the very best effect.

 

The Eternity Cage  (Credit: Big Finish)The third and final story is primarily set in the TARDIS itself, but makes full and profitable use of the Eye Of Harmony aspect. Despite having the story take place in one location, the TARDIS is never a dull place - such is its endlessly changing and infinite nature. And by having a small cast, all concerned get their chance to contribute in a meaningful fashion. The main point of interest is the extent of Ollistra's involvement in the final outcome. She displays some more overt heroism, as well as seemingly genuine concern for others' wellbeing. However, the coda, which is brilliantly executed, reminds everyone of just how fickle and opportunistic high-ranking politicians can be.

 


With this particular box set being released, the Time War mystery is slightly less opaque. However, there are some more questions raised along with the answers: Just how confined was it in terms of space and time, despite the assertions of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Doctors? And how many other races tried to muscle their way into the aeons-old conflict between the children of Davros, and the Gallifreyans?

These three stories can all stand on their own, but together in this set they all resonate stronger. The initial story in mid 20th century Europe is more separate, in the sense that it barely qualifies for Time War status, but still offers jeopardy in terms of changing history and its effect on the wider Web of Time. The other two entries are rather more traditionally located back in the broader war occurring across the cosmos. Yet, clearly a lot of careful work has been done by script editor Matt Fitton to make the trinity of Time War episodes feel suitably cohesive.

The theme of a traitor (or two) in the ranks is well-utilised, as is the major new Dalek character. The Dalek Time Strategist is unrelentingly sure in its abilities to forecast what is come, and for much of the trilogy this clairvoyance appears to be a most formidable tool in the Dalek's arsenal. Nicholas Briggs does fine work with the Dalek ‘foot soldiers’, but his main achievement as a cast member is breathing life into the strategist. Chilling, loathsome and yet also arresting, this thorn in the War Doctor's side can be ranked amongst some of the best villains. 

Compared to Only The Monstrous and Infernal Devices, there is a little more mellow side to the Doctor here, that complements his moral outrage and consternation at the horrors he comes across. His "Not that old chestnut" retort, when threatened with either the "easy" or "hard way" interrogation method, shows much of the more 'normal' Doctor of years and decades gone by. Also, his confidence in leading a team, or issuing orders shows how much he welcomes slipping into his 'old shoes', and becoming a somewhat standard hero - at least for the time being.

But still, at times difficult choices are required of him. And the very ending of the third story sees him powerless to save all he would have intended to.

Where the fourth and final set of adventure - Casualties Of War - will take Hurt's Doctor is still open to speculation - especially given his mixed fortunes in overcoming opposition, and keeping the Time Lords' chances of triumph as strong as he possibly can.

 

Eye of Harmony  (Credit: Big Finish)The supporting cast here are generally strong, with several exceptional performances. Kalan - portrayed by Josh Bolt - is consistently engaging, and helps to give his two stories some emotional heart and soul. As good as the plots are, there is much sci-fi technobabble and large scale action, that require some serious 'mind's eye' work on the part of the listener.  Bolt manages to diminish the conscious effort involved. Dan Starkey is also tremendous fun as Fesk, as well as the Sontarans that serve under him. Whilst Kevin Lindsay set a high standard in the 1970s as Linx and Styre, Starkey is the definitive modern Doctor Who clone warrior - much in the same way Briggs encapsulates latter-day Daleks. Out of the guest female cast, I would say that Honeysuckle Weeks is more memorable than Neve McIntosh, but it also helps that she is given more to do, and that her character has a fuller back-story that is linked to previous adventures for the War Doctor. Elsewhere, Timothy SpeyerHelen GoldwynMatthew CottleBarnaby Edwards and Andrew French all authentically portray the given attributes and drawbacks of a particular character.

Music is first-rate yet again, thanks to the creative gifts of Howard Carter, and also makes for a welcome separate track, that can be enjoyed in isolation from the sound and fury of the plays themselves. This bonus feature allows the listener to recall the most stirring moments of the three tales, and is just as welcome as the standard inclusion of cast and crew interviews. 

Carter also is again at hand to provide some convincing audio effects, amongst them are various weapons firing, as well as unusual devices such as The Eternity Cage itself, not to mention the startling portrayal of the War Doctor drifting away (potentially endlessly) - thanks to the actions of someone who is not all they appear to be. Whatever the punctuation of sound needed to make these stories feel fully alive, the appropriate effect is invariably selected.

 


SUMMARY

Whilst the loss of John Hurt will resonate for a long time to come, this CD/ Digital Download release is yet another example of us being able to celebrate all the great skill and magnetism the man was capable of. From the (typically revealing) behind the scenes material, there is a clear sense of how others put their all into collaborating with him, and make a strong, firm effort to raise their own bar so as to match his sheer class and artistic integrity.

Furthermore, out of the three box sets released thus far, this works best in offering straightforward, easy-to-follow entertainment. Perhaps less new ground is broken here than in some of the earlier stories of Sets One and Two, but regardless there is a palpable sense of a cast and crew totally in synch with the material that they are working on.

David Richardson, alongside Jason Haigh-Ellery, has once again assembled a top-notch original production, which does justice to the core idea that sprung from Nicholas Brigg's seemingly boundless creativity.

 

 

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Dec 2016
The War Doctor 3: Agents of Chaos (Doctor Who - The War Doctor)



Short Trips - The World Beyond The Trees (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 February 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The World Beyond The Trees (Credit: Big Finish )
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January’s short trip sees a very Doctor-lite entry (if that is even possible when the narrator is usually a companion). Paul McGann may be peering heroically out of  the cover, but his character is only mentioned fleetingly.

 

The story is narrated by Liv Chenka (Nicola Wood), and features quite a few references to a previously released Short Trip from last year - Damascus, that featured the third Doctor. Jonathan Barnes wrote both Damascus and The World Beyond The Trees.

 

I must confess that I found myself at a bit of a disadvantage with this story, which probably dented my enjoyment somewhat. I’ve not listened to Damascus, and I’m also not familiar with Liv Chenka, a character who started with the seventh Doctor, but is more of a companion to the eighth.

 

In The World Beyond The Trees, the Doctor is seemingly communicating with Liv through a dreamthat she has. In the dream, the Doctor is in a rose garden, he mentions Damascus, and that she should knock four times (does that ring any bells reader?). Liv is living in Baker street, with another of the eighth Doctor’s companions, Molly. When she wakes from her dream though, something is wrong. Molly is unresponsive, staring into space. When Liv ventures outside, she finds the whole of London has been affected by what is revealed to be a 'Listless Field', rendering the population prone and inert…..except one other person….

 

Nicola Wood reads well, and is quite engaging, ensuring that there is a differentiation between her and the other major character. The stories undertones are about grief, and losing someone who is dear to you (in this case Liv’s father), and that message is relayed well.

 

For me there were two main problems, the first being the lack of the Doctor’s presence. I’m a big fan of most of the ‘Doctor-lite’ television episodes, but when you are relying on a story based around a character that might not be as familiar with the general audience as others, then the missing Time Lord becomes a problem. The other issue is that it seemed to heavily rely on the listener’s knowledge of previous Paul McGann audio’s, which - as they are now released in big chunks of series box sets can be a big ask if you haven't listened to them before.

 

The World Beyond The Trees is a fine science fiction story, but not a particularly great Doctor Who entry.

 








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