The Mind Of Evil (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 May 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who - The Mind Of Evil (Credit: BBC Audio)

Novelization By -Terrance Dicks
(based on a story by Don Houghton)

Read By - Richard Franklin

Released: 6th April 2017

Available On DIgital Download, or on CD - (4 CDs)
Approx Duration - 246 Minutes

BBC AUDIO

This unabridged recording is the latest such release from BBC Audio to cover the novelizations of the Third Doctor Era, following different adventures featuring Daleks, Axons, and The Master (as here depicted in typically brilliant fashion by Chris Achilleos, on the retained book cover). 


Mind is a distinctive adventure in that whilst it immediately followed Terror Of The Autons, it was strongly implied that the Doctor, Jo, and UNIT all kept very busy, looking to consolidate their role as a professional group of defence - both for their native country, and the wider world in general. The Master also has kept himself occupied, and (for once) chooses to use a pseudonym in ‘Emile Keller' which gives no hint at his true nature.

The original TV story was for many years notorious for having a paucity of actual colour material, and yet by being in black-and-white it actually took on a more adult and 'horror-surreal' tone, than Don Houghton or Timothy Combe ever intended. Eventually it became 're-colourised' for DVD release, and works well enough in the format it was intended to be shown. Some Doctor Who stories have only mildly above-average scripts, but become strong or even outstanding due to first-rate work by their director. I would certainly place the opening and closing stories from Season Thirteen in that bracket. With Mind, there was a potential story idea to rival the first effort from Houghton, but the tale as transmitted did have some consistency and logic issues. It mattered little, as virtually the whole cast and the production values are as robust as any from the Jon Pertwee Years.

This adaptation comes courtesy of Terrance Dicks; which was the case for so many TARGET books at the time. The first half of the book seems to signify greater effort from the story's original script-editor, in terms of expanding on the characters and explaining the overall set-up of the story. Thereafter, nothing vital is lost, but opportunities to get into the inner thoughts of the principle characters, as well as to really explore the threat to Earth in terms of the missile and the shaky political situation are not really seized upon. However, choosing to keep the titular monster/machine as mysterious as possible is a good move, as much of its creepiness lies in the lack of clarity behind how it is alive, and how it is able to kill with greater ease as the narrative progresses.

Jo Grant in her second story would rarely have such strong material again - only The Curse of Peladon, and most of her final season would again see such heights of maturity, quick thinking and sheer likeability. Whilst Katy Manning never turned in a half-hearted televisual interpretation, she was forced to often portray a semi-helpless damsel, needing aid from the Doctor or one of the supporting characters.

The Doctor’s ‘Moriarty’ is rarely better than here, being both ruthless and generally very sure of himself, with only the autonomous Keller Machine getting him truly flustered. At one point, he is totally convincing when he threatens the Doctor - "You'll do nothing, or I'll put a bullet through both your hearts." Surely this is one of the few ways that a regeneration can be cut off and thus lead to a Time Lord's premature demise. (Turn Left gave us another example). And during the finale, the brutal manner in which the Master escapes a trap laid by the Doctor - partly due to the after-effects of his machine being tested on the hardened criminal Barnham - is a notable moment where a fictional character created for escapism, feels chillingly credible as a threat.

The biggest problem I have with the story - apart from how the Kellar Machine actually helps with the ‘World War Three plan - is the portrayal of the Chinese. The Talons of Weng Chiang has come under fire in the years following its transmission, but this story does itself even less favours. The sheer number of repeated references to a "Chinese Girl" (which is already suspect,given that she is an adult woman) are carried over into this novelisation. There is also some broadly played humour over the Doctor being able to speak to Fu Peng, but the Brigadier completely struggles to understand a single word. Also, the Doctor's somewhat boasting references to meeting Chairman Mao seem to be a somewhat questionable choice of political commentary by Barry Letts and Dicks, and have only become further awkward over the ensuing years. Finally, the TV cliffhanger for Episode Two was risible in the extreme. I could never credit a world-weary diplomat having any kind of phobia of a ceremonial symbol like a 'Chinese Dragon'. That Dicks tries to explain this away as a strong distrust of the Chinese in general perhaps was acceptable when the book was published, but is glaringly dated now. And for good measure, it really makes no sense that the others who intervene on Chin Lee (channelling the Kellar Machine) in this assassination attempt would see the same thing.

In this novel version the Master having a chauffeur of Afro-Caribbean roots is barely acknowledged, but then the original TV story gave no dialogue to the character either, and furthermore he is simply missing by the end of the story. Whether he was hypnotised or simply on good pay was also left to one’s interpretation. This is a more minor reservation I have, however,. The Master really does make a great initial appearance with cigar in hand, whilst cruelly giving his latest destructive orders to the mesmerised Captain, from the comfort of his limousine.

Also slightly disappointing is how economical the author is when it comes to UNIT ‘turning the tables’ at Stangmoor. A fantastic set piece - indicative of the TV production being so polished as to qualify as a borderline TV movie – is condensed to its barest details. This was presumably due to the restrictions of page count that the author had to meet. The Invasion of Time, (previously reviewed on this site), had many moments that could be condensed down, or left without embellishment, as the original story was made in trying circumstances and did not fully justify six episodes. But this 1971 action-thriller had a lot more meat on the bones – partly due to the three major plot threats - and more expansion was needed, instead of the opposite.

But now to turn to some praise. The depiction of all of the principle criminals that feature, is very nicely done by Dicks, with evocative and entertaining back stories. I also appreciated how Professor Kettering was depicted as a virtual quack, and was made far less likable in general than the original TV version. Whilst the Doctor would not have wanted him to lose his life, (and especially in the manner he did), there is consequently a tinge of poetic justice owing to how this man carelessly helped the Master with his scheme, with nary a concern for wider society.

As an audio book, this is a solid effort. Sound effects for the riots, the various high-speed vehicles, and the brutal gun shots, all manage to bring the right feeling of tension or excitement. As for the ‘Mind of Evil’ itself, the audio dressing used for this creepy monster/device is perhaps a little stripped-down compared to its TV counterpart, but still effective nonetheless in selling the threat it poses to both mental and physical well-being.

Richard Franklin does fine work in the overall narration of the story. I found his takes on Jo and Benton better than his previous interpretations of these two roles, (which in the parent TV show were classic cases of the actor and character being very close indeed to one another). He is at his very best when breathing life to the self-assured Third Doctor, and of course to the very familiar Yates persona.

The Brigadier gets a passable interpretation, but will always suffer in comparison to Nicholas Courtney's superlative voice. However Season Eight was a distinctly marked downturn in the character's initiative and general intelligence. (Whilst The Three Doctors had some infamous moments, it did not actually signal anything new at that point). As a result, the rather more lackadaisical take Franklin has on Lethbridge-Stewart is reflective of the change in depiction of this long-standing character in the show's history.


SUMMARY:

This story is entertaining and a definite change from the standard formula of many a Doctor Who tale. Whilst never getting to the dizzy heights of Inferno - or indeed a good handful of other Third Doctor stories - it is always worth a revisit. This digital and CD production is especially convenient for a person with some other tasks requiring attention, and likewise is a good listen when ‘on the go’. Thus, it ultimately succeeds as being a worthy alternative to one of the better stories, which featured the ‘Earthbound’ Doctor on increasingly prevalent colour television.





The Diary of River Song - Vol 2Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 May 2017 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Stars: Alex Kingston (River Song), Colin Baker (The Sixth Doctor), Sylvester McCoy (The Seventh Doctor), Anna Maxwell Martin (Maddie Bower), Gemma Saunders (Ellen Byrne), Justin Avoth (Robert Murphy), Salome Haertel (Rachel), Jessie Buckley (Sarah Dean), Ann Bell (Lisa Burrows), Robert Pugh (Emmett Burrows), Dan Starkey (Computer), Aaron Neil (Steven Godbold), Sara Powell (The PA), Sam Alexander (Todd the Pod), Barnaby Edwards (Autocorrect), Paul Keating (Isaac George), Robert Hands (Daniel Defoe), Alan Cox (Robert Harley)
Written by Guy Adams, John Dorney, James Goss, Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
Produced by David Richardson
Big Finish Productions, 2016

“Some days I dreamed of having two of you to play with – but not you two! You really shouldn’t have met!”

River Song to the Sixth and Seventh Doctors

Volume 1 of The Diary of River Song in 2016 was a good, if not brilliant, start to River Song’s adventures on audio. As this writer remarked in his review of that boxset, Alex Kingston could certainly hold her own in a River-centric series and the stories, as diverse as they were in terms of style and settings, showed there was great potential for ongoing adventures with the Doctor’s archaeologist wife.

Whereas Vol 1 contained two very good episodes and two very ‘so-so’ instalments, The Diary of River Song Vol 2 has three very strong scripts and one ‘so-so’ tale. This is already a significant improvement, you might say, on the first volume. Only two of the contributors from the first box set write for Vol 2 – James Goss and Matt Fitton while Guy Adams and John Dorney take up the writing duties from Jenny T Colgan and Justin Richards. Like Vol 1 (and also the recent adventures of Big Finish’s other resident archaeologist Professor Bernice Summerfield), the four tales, while distinct from each other in storytelling styles, form part of an overarching, epic narrative of quite ‘earthshattering’ dimensions (spoilers!). In Vol 1, there was a pay-off for the listener in the final instalment, as River encountered an earlier incarnation of her husband – the Eighth Doctor. In Vol 2, however, BF pulls out all the stops and pits River not only against temporal paradoxes, temporal zombies, and a horde of quantum squids and their malevolent queen, but two even earlier incarnations of her husband. While the linked storyline of Vol 2 is stronger than the ‘Rulers of the Universe’ sub-plot in Vol 1, it is debatable whether the inclusion of multiple Doctors is a strength or a weakness.

The Unknown, by Guy Adams, opens the box set in dramatic style. The Saturnius, an experimental starship, is despatched from Earth to investigate the arrival of a mysterious planet on the edge of the solar system. River is, without any real explanation given in the narrative, amongst the tiny four-person crew to investigate the phenomenon.  In the bargain, a pint-sized stranger with a Scots accent is also apprehended and detained in the brig. He seems to know what is happening to the structural integrity of the ship as it nears the planet and although River doesn’t automatically recognise him, he seems oddly familiar …

The Unknown is almost a virtual retelling of the Doctor Who TV episode Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, complete with its own variation of temporal zombies and the ‘get out of jail’ card at the conclusion (which is a pet hate of this writer!). However, the story’s strongest influences seem to be from Star Trek’s past incarnations – from the Federation-style starship to the captain’s Picard-like order for black coffee to the Irish-accented, testy chief engineer to the smug computer (voiced by BF regular Dan Starkey) to the staple temporal quandary that plagues the starship, and its inevitable reset at the conclusion (again a pet hate!), you’d be forgiven for thinking River and the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) had stepped into a generic Star Trek episode. It’s difficult to know if Adams is homaging or lampooning Trek (possibly the latter more than the former), although there’s scarcely a red shirt in sight …

That’s not to say the serial itself isn’t entertaining in parts (there is some very clever dialogue) or that the performers don’t do first class jobs (especially as they all play characters suffering from amnesia induced by the starship’s temporal distortions). However, given this style of tale has been done in Doctor Who before (fortunately on TV just the once, but a couple of times now by Big Finish) – and indeed was often done to death in Trek – it comes across as clichéd, tedious and ordinary. This makes The Unknown (itself a feeble title) the weakest of the four episodes.

John Dorney’s Five Twenty-Nine is a very different change of pace from the temporal hi-jinks of The Unknown and of the subsequent tales, and the highlight of the set. Having established the identity of the planet that the Saturnius was investigating, River travels back to the source of the time/space fluctuations that have engulfed it. The ensuing story is very much, in Dorney’s own words, a ‘quiet apocalypse’ piece, bearing some resemblance to another fan favourite telefantasy program in Survivors.

It is also a reflective, personal story, as River meets an elderly couple and their android ‘daughter’ Rachel (played by Alex Kingston’s own daughter Salome Haertel). Dorney shows why he is one of the best contributors to the BF range – he knows how to write stories that, while a little slow-moving in pace, are intimate, moving, persuasive and emotional. His characters are also very three-dimensional and sympathetic; both Emmett and Lisa Burrows (Robert Pugh and Ann Bell respectively) are very salt of the earth characters, practical and unpretentious while Steven Goldbold (Aaron Neil) is full of the controlled bravado which doubles for intensity and anxiety deep under the skin. They are all bewildered by the ‘event’ that consumes their world but they, along with the synthetic Rachel, are prepared to meet their fates with dignity and courage rather than abject terror.

World Enough and Time is, by comparison to Five Twenty-Nine, high farce. Indeed, writer James Goss takes many cues from the late Douglas Adams (not terribly surprising given Goss has in recent years novelised two of Adams’s classic Doctor Who serials The Pirate Planet and City of Death). River ends up working as a temp for an intergalactic corporation called Golden Futures, which trades off the back of dreamers in suspended animation. It’s no real surprise that with a 'too good to be true' name like Golden Futures, the company is a front for something incredibly nasty and ghastly. However, not only does River stumble upon a grand plan to replace the Earth with an imperfect copy (a feat of pan-dimensional engineering that no doubt Adams’ Slartibartfast would be incredibly proud of!) but is startled to learn that the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) is the CEO of Golden Futures by default after he bought a 51 per cent stake in the company. The problem is River cannot decide if the Doctor has been duped – thanks to the monotonous office politics, staff bureaucracy and human resources nonsense that seems to have swamped his new executive role (office life is very well satirised in the serial) – or if he is indeed truly aware of what is going on and simply doesn’t care …

The Eye of the Storm concludes the set as River and the the Sixth and the Seventh Doctors all come together – working at cross-purposes to the other in 18th century London. Matt Fitton’s script also throws in alien monsters, novelist Daniel Dafoe (of Robinson Cruesoe and Moll Flanders fame), the infamous Newgate Prison, the UK’s Great Storm of November 1703 and two star-crossed lovers. Remarkably it all coalesces beautifully, with River playing a substantial role in the denouement which is intimate and tragic. Like Dorney, Fitton also has a talent for showing the impact that grand events can have on a small-scale – in this instance, that a modest, innocent romance can influence the future direction of an entire world.

The chemistry between Alex Kingston and Colin Baker in the final two instalments is wonderfully cheeky and mischievous, as the Sixth Doctor encounters a character that is intellectually his equal and just as brash and impulsive as he is. Anyone who still hasn’t got over the original kiss between the Doctor and his companion more than two decades ago in the 1996 TV movie will be equally bamboozled to learn that perhaps it didn’t all start with the Eighth Doctor’s Byronic demeanour after all. It may in fact have been the much maligned Sixth Doctor, with a little prompting from River, who started that ball rolling …

River’s flirtation with the even more unfashionable Seventh Doctor is also memorable in the closing moments of the final episode. Both Kingston and McCoy are flawless in their execution of a scene in which River seeks to outflank the crafty, manipulative Seventh Doctor. It is both amusing and compelling – as the two Time Lords flirtatiously engage in a battle of wills. “Oh, you frustrating, gorgeous little man!” River exclaims before knocking him unconscious with a Ming vase!

Although the two Doctors are generally kept separate for much of the duration of Eye of the Storm (and indeed for three-quarters of the box set as a whole), when they do come together, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy are excellent. Their witty and disrespectful repartee is highly reminiscent of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee’s double act in The Three Doctors, and it’s clear Baker and McCoy inject a little bit of the faux rivalry they demonstrate at conventions into their Doctors’ characterisations (in the CD extras, McCoy even recalls how Baker continually teases that none of the actors that came after him are truly the Doctor because he never had a regeneration scene on TV!). “It’s always about the grand futile gestures with you, isn’t it?” the Seventh Doctor contemptuously shouts at the Sixth Doctor, disapproving of the latter’s compassion, selflessness and even heroism in dangerous situations, while the Sixth Doctor informs the “big bad” of the final instalment of the futility of feasting on his successor – “You don’t want to bother with him – rather stringy and very bitter, I imagine!”

As much as the interaction between River and the two Doctors is a highlight and strength of this box set, my biggest criticism is that it is also a weakness. With the exception of one story, River has to share the action with not just one, but two Doctors. While her husbands’ presence doesn’t diminish River’s feisty qualities and leadership characteristics or affect Alex Kingston’s magnificent performance, I really question the value of River having her own series when it seems nearly every second story will be gatecrashed in some fashion by one (or more) of the Doctor’s incarnations.

Instead, what we mostly get from this set is the usual style of storytelling faire that you’d expect from Big Finish’s regular Doctor Who releases or The Doom Coalition saga, in which River Song also appears. The Husbands of River Song strongly hinted that River was a con artist, rogue archaeologist and adventurer – a female Han Solo/Indiana Jones cross, if you will. Sadly, none of that characterisation is utilised in this box set, and therefore a fantastic opportunity to differentiate River’s solo adventures from the Doctor’s goes wasted.

The only real point of difference, in fact, that we have between River and the Doctor in this set is that (a) she is more prepared to use a weapon to kill, if necessary (much to the Seventh Doctor’s extreme disapproval), (b) that she can be ruthless in her management of antagonists, particularly if the Doctor’s life is at risk (as demonstrated in the climactic moments of World Enough and Time) and (c) she will act as the Doctor’s conscience in the event that he cannot (as occurs in The Eye of the Storm).

The Diary of River Song Vol 2 is, from a writing and production standpoint, a better box set than Vol 1. As usual, Big Finish’s sound quality and production values are excellent, and even with larger than life figures like Kingston, Baker and McCoy dominating proceedings, there are some excellent performances from the supporting actors such as the aforementioned Haertel, Bell and Pugh, Sara Powell as Golden Futures’ villainous personal assistant to the managing director (or MDPA), and Jessie Buckley and Paul Keating as star-crossed lovers Sarah and Isaac. Nevertheless, like Vol 1, there is great potential for ongoing adventures but it would be ideal if the next volume is more, dare I say it, 'adventurous' and leaves the Doctor out of the proceedings.

Now that Alex Kingston has worked with Paul McGann, Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker, surely it must be tempting for the BF crew to try to extend that company to Tom Baker and Peter Davison. I would prefer that temptation is ignored and the third box is full of more refreshing, innovative and original ideas. Perhaps there’s even scope for the android Rachel to become a companion to River – based on Salome Haertel's encouraging performance. And even if the next couple of volumes insist on still drawing on Doctor Who’s rich history, there are plenty of other characters and concepts that could be explored without directly involving the Doctor. After all, what did River do to the Daleks at some point that had one begging her for mercy back in The Big Bang?






Jago & Litefoot - Volume 11Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 May 2017 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Stars: Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago), Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot),  Lisa Bowerman (Ellie Higson), Conrad Asquith (Inspector Quick), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), James Joyce (Henry Gordon Jago Jr), Rowena Cooper (Jean Bazemore), Andy McKeane (Maurice Ravel), Jonathan Forbes (Bram Stoker), Edward de Souza (Sir Henry Irving), Robbie Stevens (Mr Manners/Stanley Harker), Maggie Ollerenshaw (Dame Wilhelmina Gusset), Rachel Atkins (Madame Sosotris/Bishop), Colin Baker (The Doctor)
Written by Nigel Fairs, Matthew Sweet, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris and Justin Richards
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Produced by David Richardson
Big Finish Productions, 2016

“Good Lord! Look at us, Professor – reflected in that puddle! We look positively ghastly – the both of us!”

“You’re right, Henry …”

Henry Gordon Jago and Prof George Litefoot

It’s amazing to think that 40 years ago last March, Doctor Who fans were introduced to the unlikely combination of Victorian showman Henry Gordon Jago and East London police pathologist Professor George Litefoot in the Tom Baker serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Although the two characters never formally returned in the TV series, they were so fondly remembered by fans that their popularity took on a life of its own. Indeed, it’s difficult to recall any other characters in the life of the classic and modern TV series that could have conceivably had spin-off adventures in the broader Whoniverse. Jago and Litefoot’s creator Robert Holmes created similar unconventional and roguish pairings in many of his Doctor Who serials (and even a few Blake’s 7 episodes), eg Spandrell and Engin in The Deadly Assassin, Garron and Unstoffe in The Ribos Operation, Glitz and Dibber in The Trial of a Time Lord – but none seem to have had the appeal of Jago and Litefoot.

Yet amazingly, since 2009, Big Finish has given the characters a whole new lease of life and a devoted fanbase, some of whom probably weren’t even alive at the time of the original broadcast of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Jago & Litefoot started as a seemingly one-off and obscure Companion Chronicle called The Mahogany Murderers and within the space of eight years has spawned 13 boxsets plus a special release pairing the duo with Sontaran butler Strax (the Sontarans being another Holmes creation).

This review focuses on Volume 11. Whereas much of BF’s recent output has sought to integrate and celebrate the mythology of Doctor Who’s classic and modern incarnations, Volume 11 of Jago and Litefoot’s adventures has delved further back into Doctor Who’s past and pitted the two amateur detectives against the Doctor’s arch nemesis the Master, who in 2016 year celebrated his/her own milestone of 45 years. While there’s great potential in the idea of pitting the two amateur sleuths against one of the Doctor’s deadliest adversaries, the execution is not quite as satisfying as the inspiration.

Certainly, the box set artwork hints that the Master must play a quite dominant role across the four tales in the box set (not to mention shoehorning the Sixth Doctor into the overall saga as well).  Yet while the Master is indeed present in the four tales, he is not (as you might think) the “big bad” – that is, someone who manipulates events from behind the scenes while getting others to do his bidding. It is not until the concluding chapter – Masterpiece – that the evil Time Lord comes into his own. The Master, though, does share some terrific dialogue in the opening and closing scenes of the second play Maurice with that serial’s villain and is wonderfully wicked in its climactic moments.

The villains in the opener Jago & Son are of an earthlier disposition than the Master, although their divine purpose is indeed based in the extra-terrestrial. Nevertheless, their incompetence would easily disappoint the evil Time Lord! In all, Nigel Fairs’ opener is farce from start to finish as Jago (Christopher Benjamin) encounters a mysterious young man who claims to be Henry Gordon Jago Junior (even though Mr J swears until he’s blue in the face in his own profligate, baroque Victorian lingo that he doesn’t have any offspring). Meanwhile, Professor Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) has caught up with an old flame in archaeologist Professor Jean Bazemore (the wonderfully pompous Rowena Cooper). Prof Bazemore has returned to the British Isles after years away unearthing ancient Egyptian tombs to uncover something infinitely older in London’s catacombs. Jean’s strong anti-establishment character is the opposite of the reserved and chivalrous Litefoot yet they gel brilliantly, even if the former’s more masculine demeanour blindsides both Jago and Inspector Quick (Conrad Asquith). Indeed, there are a few LGBT jokes and references that go over the heads of the Victorian characters but will leave a smile on the faces of 21st century listeners!

As for whether the “son” of the title is indeed Jago’s, time will tell. Regardless, there is a wonderful chemistry between Benjamin’s flamboyant, yet reticent and quite unheroic Jago and James Joyce’s Junior whose dialogue just oozes youthful enthusiasm and a hero worship of his father that leaves Jago duly beaming and mortified! There’s even a “bereavement” scene between the two characters that’s touching and humorous! You get the strong impression from Fairs’ writing that the story is only half-concluded and that its premise will be revisited later. Certainly, little to no explanation is given for the abnormalities that the principal characters encounter beneath Professor Bazemore’s dig ...

The second instalment Maurice, written by Matthew Sweet, is a very different “beast” in tone and pace to Jago & Son. The story focuses on French composer, pianist and conductor Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), better known for his composition Boléro, but set some 30 years before that famous piece. Indeed, the musical work that the young Ravel (played by Andy McKeane) works on in this tale - Gaspard de la nuit, which was inspired by the book by French author Aloysius Bertrand, and which premiered in Paris in 1909 – plays a pivotal role in the story. Litefoot finds himself thrust into a macabre fantasy world in which many strange elements of Ravel’s composition seemingly come to life. McKeane impresses as Ravel and the villain, even though his hackneyed French accent can sometimes grate on the listener.

The other interesting aspect of the story is the role of the Doctor in this tale. Although the Time Lord is only mentioned in Maurice, his influence is felt nonetheless. You are reminded of just how much of an impact the Time Lord must have on Earth’s history, even when he’s not particularly interventionist – and how he seemingly attracts danger whenever he appears. Even the simple, unselfish and gracious act of leaving a gift for a friend in the wrong time period can have serious repercussions – both for that friend and other peers in his circle.

We meet two more historical figures in Simon Barnard and Paul Morris’s The Woman in White – the  19th century Shakespearean thespian Sir Henry Irving (played by one-time Doctor Who guest star Edward de Souza) and Irving’s theatre manager Bram Stoker (Jonathan Forbes), the future author of Dracula. Aside from borrowing elements very heavily from Stoker’s famous novel and what is known of the Irving/Stoker partnership, Barnard and Morris’s titular character is also clearly influenced by the 2011 Doctor Who episode The Curse of the Black Spot. De Souza is wonderfully over the top as the intolerant, bewildered Irving while Forbes brings the right level of naivety to the fresh-faced, inexperienced yet effusive Stoker. Special mention should also go to BF alumni Robbie Stevens who again displays versatility as the villainous Mr Manners (Stevens previously impressed as both a crusty British MP and a union shop steward in 2015’s We are the Daleks).

The final instalment Masterpiece brings the investigative duo and publican Ellie (Lisa Bowerman) face to face with the Master himself, played throughout this box set by stalwart Geoffrey Beevers. Beevers’ silky tones, dripping with delicious mischief and menace (butter certainly doesn’t melt in this Time Lord’s mouth!), reinforce why his version of the Master is ideally suited to audio. It’s just a pity that the so-called “masterpiece” of the story is quite underwhelming. Admittedly the Master is in a weakened state (it is very clear by the climax exactly when in the Master’s timeline Masterpiece occurs) but even he would agree that it’s a pretty unambitious plot by his standards. Perhaps the blame should be levelled not so much at the Master as the writer in Justin Richards. Richards seems to have a penchant for delivering “by the numbers” stories that are quite dull, slow-moving and relatively undramatic (his concluding piece for the last series of the Blake’s 7 audio adventures was equally uninspiring, as was his contribution to The Diary of River Song Vol 1). Masterpiece sadly falls into that criteria. Perhaps it’s because Richards is often busy with other projects beyond BF but if that’s the case, then it’s even more reason for him to take a step back and let someone with fresh ideas take on the writing duties.

The performances and production qualities of this Jago & Litefoot box set live up to the bar that Big Finish regularly sets itself. Hearing Benjamin and Baxter’s voices unaltered by the years almost takes you back to their one-off appearance in The Talons of Weng-Chiang a good 40 years ago! Lisa Bowerman also impresses as feisty publican Ellie, a character that has been involved in the revival of the Jago & Litefoot saga since The Mahogany Murderers. Ellie’s cockney East London accent is completely unrecognisable from the more refined, cultured tones of 26th century archaeologist Bernice Summerfield – if you don’t necessarily follow the careers of many of the names that regularly contribute to the BF stable, then you wouldn’t even realise they are both Lisa Bowerman. And to boot, Bowerman also directs this box set as well. Colin Baker’s appearance as the Sixth Doctor is small but as you’d expect of the great man, his performance as “ol’ Sixie” is near perfect and his presence in the boxset’s climactic showdown does not overshadow the true protagonists in Jago and Litefoot.

It’s difficult to compare Vol 11 of Jago & Litefoot to previous or subsequent volumes (this reviewer hasn’t listened to the other box sets) but overall, when compared to BF’s broader Doctor Who-related content, it is highly entertaining. Apart from Masterpiece, the various serials are creative, comedic and even theatrical – not unlike the theatre manager that makes this amateur detective pairing so loved by fans. Vol 11 is both a good introduction to the Jago & Litefoot series (if you’re only familiar with the characters from The Talons of Weng-Chiang) and a great stepping-on point if you haven’t heard any of the other box sets. With 13 lots of adventures under their belts, these wily old dogs aren’t showing any signs of slowing down!



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 May 2016
50% off
Jago & Litefoot: Volume 11



Thin IceBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
 

Doctor Who - Series 10, Episode 3: THIN ICE

STARRING: Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, Matt Lucas

WITH: Nicholas Burns, Asiatu Koroma, Simon Ludders,
Tomi May, Guillaume Rivaud, Ellie Shenker, Peter Singh,
Badger Skelton, Austin Taylor, Kishaina Thiruselvan


Written By: Sarah Dollard
Directed By: Bill Anderson
      
Produced By: Peter Bennett

Executive Producers: Steven Moffatt, Brian Minchin

First Shown on BBC 1 - 29th April 2017

NB - This review contains a plethora of spoilers (based on a Preview Edition of the Episode).

The TARDIS has suddenly decided to take Bill and The Doctor off course. Both the precise location in England and the temporal zone are different to what was hoped for. Having been to the future of mankind, the ages-old academic and his youthful student find themselves instead in Regency London. It is a time of great development and industry, but also one where the slavery trade is in full swing. Many orphaned children struggle for survival on a daily basis. The Thames has been frozen over and this has led to a large-scale market being set up on the ice.

However, warning signs have (barely visibly) been laid out, so as to remind people of the ice being less sturdy in certain regions. And this is with good reason. People have begun to disappear, and it would appear there is a connection to some un-natural green lights that can be seen through the frosty surface.

Eventually the Doctor and Bill have to investigate in-depth, and some hard truths come to bear. For the first time, their relationship faces a test. But perhaps in facing a very human, very cold, monster in the form of Lord Sutcliffe, they can continue to function as a partnership of universe-weary wisdom, and fledgling careless brilliance.


 

This story continues to see the 2017 sequence of Doctor Who in fine fettle, and assure viewers that soon-to-depart Peter Capaldi is now producing some of his best form (as opposed to phoning it in for a nice pay check and exposure via prime time scheduling). By now it is standard practice that the first two adventures proper for a companion of the Doctor, after the season opener, see a quick succession of the past and future. (The order tends to fluctuate, depending on the season in question).

With these second and third episodes, at least there is a small change-up, utilising the secondary companion (as played by a confident Matt Lucas). The framing device of Nardole scolding the Doctor for going off world - which indeed is true for the events of Smile, if not technically this third adventure - is nicely done, and also includes a hint of what the Doctor and his part-robot-part-humanoid friend are guarding back in Bristol.

Lord SutcliffeSarah Dollard came up with a wonderful debut story last series, and provided a most memorable official demise for Clara Oswald, with Face The Raven. This story is not quite up on the same level, and continuity-wise is not a game-changer. However, the many virtues of world building and characterisation are all present and correct, once again. Virtually all the on-screen players who end up as nutrition for the aquatic alien being are sketched out effectively - even if they have rather limited screen time to work with, due to the primary character development being devoted to our two regulars.

This episode often makes no attempt to hide how it takes inspiration from previous stories in Doctor Who's lore. The Doctor advising Bill how to get to the wardrobe is a reminder of (the un-transmitted but frequently adapted) Shada. After the Doctor and Bill begin their explorations proper, the TARDIS pinpoints the size of the being under the ice, and also how much danger it poses, which is a faint echo of the ending moment of 1963's very first Who serial. More recent use of past convention is found in the use of the sonic screwdriver and psychic paper, with the former in particular driving the earlier parts of the story forward. 

Possibly even more so than prior episodes this year, the main heart of Thin Ice lies in the Doctor and Bill continuing to establish a working partnership together. Whilst the Twelfth Doctor noticeably ‘softened’ over the course of Series Nine, he still retained some darker edges, and these are particularly conspicuous at times. The cold manner in which he retrieves his sonic screwdriver from both the doomed Spider, and later one of Sutcliffe's thugs, leaves Bill repulsed and shocked. Noticeably she feels horror, irrespective of the actual personal qualities of the person who could not be saved from their fate.

The Doctor also deciding to be far more mysterious (certainly when compared to his Ninth and Tenth incarnations) over how he has had to make difficult choices when saving people, and also when to kill, is a very nicely-played scene by Capaldi and Mackie. True, it could easily appear in any given episode at any opportune time, and is not necessarily dependent on the story surrounding it. But it still is fine work from the writing/production team, and of course the main praise should be reserved for our two lead actors.

And in general, the Doctor is showing hints of his rather less personable qualities, which most of us have come to associate with his maiden season in 2014, rather than the somewhat breezier persona that crossed the airwaves on a weekly basis two autumns back. He is blunt to Peter Singh's 'Pie-Man' on their very first meaning, going so far as to undermine the legitimacy of the man's livelihood, back in a time of Earth history where ethics and truth did not have the same priority they do today. And whilst it is meant to be humorous for the audience (in a very knowing Roald Dahl fashion), his description of the lost children as being on the "menu", is indicative of his grim acceptance that the alien being simply is higher on the food chain than humans, regardless of whether it should belong in the Thames river in the first place.

But there are plenty of lighter/warmer sides to our title hero too, with the mention of a magic wand being a reminder that whilst Doctor Who is officially a sci-fi show, in many respects it takes sustenance from traditional fairy tales and legends. The very first actor to play the role on TV, William Hartnell, once described the main character as a combination of a Wizard and Father Christmas, and his point still stands many years down the line. Also, the quiet little scene as the Doctor tells a 'bedtime' story to some of the orphans is beautifully played and directed. Suddenly the moral dilemmas are secondary, and all that matters is a wise man with grey curls, presenting a narrative with conviction and gusto.

Come the end, as the remaining survivors find themselves fortunate to have a wonderful new property in which to live, there is a knowing look from the Doctor and Bill acknowledging that the deeds must be in the name of a male heir. Yet if the time-travelling genius could bend the law and change history to allow the charming Kitty to have the privilege of being the next in line, then he would. It is a moment that has huge impact on anyone with a semblance of heart and soul in them.


Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)Bill continues to put hardly a foot wrong, whether in terms of connecting with the audience or being acted authentically by the (comparatively inexperienced) Pearl Mackie. Along with other examples given here, there is a lovely moment where the Doctor's favourite student is overcome with wonder that she can walk on the Thames. Whilst the famous river is a great visual motif, it is also not associated with being crossed without the help of a vessel, and is heavily polluted. Later, when it is made clear what the villain's key motivation is in terms of the energy source he is obtaining, a very funny (if naughty) joke is made as Bill reacts point-blank. The full phrase would not pass the censors for a show like Doctor Who, even if movies shown even earlier on other TV channels get a free pass, but by being so coy in doing a quick edit, the effect is markedly pronounced. (And furthermore, another continuity echo is made, in terms of Rose teasing Cassandra, back in Series Two's opening story). 

The ending of the story is probably the most fully satisfying for the show in some time, with perhaps the last such occurrence being the conclusions of Heaven Sent and Hell Bent. Whilst perhaps simplistic, it is elegant and uses the decision to give just enough explanation via rapid editing, and travelling forward to the present day, with an archive newspaper article being knowingly referred by the Doctor. He often realises that sometimes an abridged account of the whole truth is for the best. That the ostensible monster of the story is not judged guilty of any wrongdoing, and is merely manipulated by Lord Sutcliffe, is welcome too. And show runner Moffat clearly has decided to steer away now from the overused 'everyone lives' trope. The good, the ambiguous, and the dastardly all firmly remain dead and buried. Thus, the Doctor's quiet admittance to Bill of the limits of his power to save people is not compromised in the final stanza.  

The episode also looks very impressive. The scenes underwater are built up to in a suitably suspenseful manner, before the efficient SFX work comes into play, accompanied by some of Murray Gold's best use of more subtle musical dressing. This ensures the core of the story is strong. Sometimes going into the murky depths of the aquatic can be a pace killer, but not here thanks to the decision by Bill Anderson to emphasise mood and uncertainty in the earlier sections of the story.

Elsewhere on ground level many extras are used, along with ‘convincing’ animals in the background, and props galore. There is a sword swallower, some play fighters, and countless other novelties. Never for a moment does it not feel like the capital city of England developing at a fast knot, back in the time of the Regency era. 

So far, the show has done fine work in establishing who Bill is, by giving her plenty of character and plot-relevant material, this latest instalment very effectively addresses her attitudes to sci-fi itself, and more significantly to her identity as a woman with a mixed ethnic background. The character material on Bill being something of a sci-fi fan herself is mostly played as light-hearted self awareness, which is so indicative of Steven Moffat’s general style – both in Doctor Who and in his many other TV (and film) projects over time. Asking the Doctor to clarify if they are on a parallel world, and just why he calls his sonic screwdriver that name are amusingly played out in dialogue.

However, the more worthy focus on attitudes of mankind concerning 'race' is made into a significant part of the story. Having the Doctor and Bill trying to integrate as best they can feels more important than in other episodes where the setting is simply pure fantasy/ sci-fi in nature. For the young lady from the 21st century England, there already is likely one too many a memory of being treated as inferior for the way she looks. To suddenly be back in her own country at a time when slavery was acceptable (be it of women, foreigners, those of 'other races', or even children) is a major jolt, and she immediately makes an effort to dress up so as to fit in, but clearly wishes this was not a requirement. And of course, eventually even that change of attire is not enough to stop a bigot from verbally abusing her.

The man in question is Lord Sutcliffe, and this main villain for the episode is not a pleasant person in many respects. He seems utterly without empathy, and has a detachment about his overall operation, even if the end result would see him become richer (and thus more powerful) still. However the denigration of his ‘inferiors’ who do not share ('enough of') the same bloodline as him remains the most deplorable aspect. Whilst the Doctor and Bill manage to set time 'right', the story very quietly yet noticeably makes a point that the evil of slavery is something mankind must realise over time is wholly wrong.

I have few real complaints with the basic narrative. It does in principle echo many episodes of yesteryear – something probably inevitable given how far the series has been in existence – but is never executed in anything less than an enthusiastic manner. Nonetheless, a general issue I have had with Series Ten again crops up here. We have at least one moment for the audience being ‘spoon-fed’, when the distinctive hat of Spider (the thieving little boy who could not be saved) is seen as rejected by the monster in the depths of the Thames, along with quick flashback of his thieving of the sonic device the Doctor so prizes. 

Thin Ice (Credit: BBC/Jon Hall)

This reminded me of the repetition used concerning Heather meeting Bill on a night out, when the original image was already striking enough in how it was shot to resonate with the viewer. Perhaps though, exposition and clarification of the mystery does not quite verge on being so heavy-handed, as during the scenes in Smile where the TARDIS duo found out the whole truth behind the dilemma they were presented with.

I mentioned Sutcliffe as serving the themes of the story well, but as an actual genre villain, he is rather middling overall. Whilst certainly played competently by Nicolas Burns, in that the audience is made to firmly dislike him, he also is very much out of his depth. The screen time afforded him is neither used efficiently enough to give us truly involving motivation and back story, nor abundant enough for him to be memorable in the viewers' minds after the episode has concluded. Sutcliffe's henchmen are never made into anything too chilling or threatening, but still have enough dialogue and commitment in the performances to convince viewers that they could have come from the criminal underworld, and are making the most of an employer with more money than most others. Dollard still does fine work with the villains, in terms of presenting the more corrupt and deplorable aspects of British society at the time, where gaps between the so-called upper and lower classes were wider than any cracks in the river's ice.

However, the performances of the children are uniformly terrific, which is pleasing to see after Smile had a winning turn from Kaizer Akhtar. When the Doctor needs some exposition from the locals, it is the orphans who whole-heartedly give him the information he requires, and the story smoothly advances as a result. Furthermore this authenticity of portraying urchins who barely are able to keep themselves fed really helps the end of the episode.

As the alien creature emerges from its 'prison' and is displayed in full, top-quality CGI glory, there is a great moment as Bill admires how it looks and is able to forgive it for being a killer. But the best part of the satisfying resolution is seeing the Doctor restore the barely surviving orphans to a place of safety – one far grander than any could have dreamed of. The wink in the eyes of both the Doctor and Bill as they turn the class expectations topsy-turvy, really helps this become a ‘punch-the-air’ moment. And it would not have been nearly so effective, if the children had not been as fully breathed to life in the performances by these youngsters. 

As good as our leads are here, and I expect even better work in the ‘bigger’ episodes to come, the main praise should be reserved for the quintet of Badger Skelton, Asiatu Koroma, Austin Taylor, Kishaina Thiruselvan, and Ellie Shenker.


OVERALL ASSESSMENT:

Series Ten's third individual story stands up well, as a very enjoyable outing in the early 19th Century. It is thoroughly watchable, whether the viewing takes place on a Saturday evening (as per tradition), or via a streaming device that does not have to be fixed down in a given time and place (like the TARDIS herself). And the icing on the cake? A snappy preview that sees the definitive Poirot actor – David Suchet – making a guest appearance, to potentially lend the hyperactive Time Lord some pearls of wisdom.

 





Classic TV Adventures - Collection OneBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 April 2017 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
Doctor Who: Classic TV Adventures - Collection One (Credit: BBC Audio)
Classic TV Adventures Collection One

Featuring narration by Frazer Hines, Caroline John,
Katy Manning, Elisabeth Sladen, John Leeson & Lalla Ward

Released by BBC Audio April 2017 (order from Amazon UK)

BBC Audio have of late been releasing items in their back catalogue in collections, with last year seeing audiobooks of the tenth and eleventh Doctors, Torchwood, and also audio adaptations of stories. This month sees a further collection released, this time focussing on televised adventures with linking narration.

With a couple of early exceptions, narrated soundtracks started to appear in the early 1990s, featuring a number of (mostly) missing stories being presented on audio cassette with linking narration by 'future' Doctors. This series was "rebooted" for CD in the late nineties, now featuring a contemporary actor providing the narration, and continued on apace throughout the first half of the new decade. However, by 2006 the "missing" well had dried up and so BBC Audio delved into the expanse of complete stories, extending the range until the company responsible for the audio range, AudioGo, went into administation in late 2013.

Whilst the release of missing/incomplete adventures was a welcome (if not essential) addtion to Doctor Who collections, there were fans who felt that there was little point to the later releases - after all, these were available in all their glory on VHS and steadily appearing on DVD. However, I've always felt that these were worthwhile additions, for two reasons.

Firstly, you can't watch a story when you're driving, but you can listen to a soundtrack and linking narration as you're doing housework, in bed, or as frequently happened to me crawling around the M25! Secondly, but perhaps far more importantly, they serve as an excellent accompaniment to the stories themselves as an audio-description track - something that the modern series has enjoyed throughout its transmission/commercial release for those with visual impairment, but the 'classic' era never accomodated (we were lucky for subtitles back then!).

Personally I think it is a shame that no further narrated soundtracks have been released since Random House took over the BBC Audio range, but at least the previous adventures are getting a new lease of life.

So what do we get with the first volume of Classic TV Adventures? The collection features seven stories covering adventures of the second, third and fourth Doctors. First up is the Patrick Troughton tale The Tomb of the Cybermen. This story is a curio in that it was one of the "original" run of missing story releases and orginally narrated by Jon Pertwee, but lost its "missing" status shortly before its release (thanks Hong Kong!). For its re-release in 2006 it featured a new narration by Frazer Hines (aka Jamie in the story).  Entering the Pertwee era there are two stories that were originally released in late 2006 as part of a Monsters on Earth collection, Doctor Who And The Silurians (with Caroline John aka Liz Shaw) and The Sea Devils (with Katy Manning aka Jo Grant) - however, the third in this set (no prizes for guessing what!) isn't in this collection, it's bumped over to the second set due in October.. Two more, connected tales continue the third Doctor's adventures, The Curse of Peladon (from 2007, also Katy) and its sequel The Monster of Peladon (2008, with Elisabeth Sladen aka Sarah Jane Smith). Rounding off the collection are two Tom Baker stories first released in 2012, The Pirate Planet (with John Leeson aka K9) and Destiny of the Daleks (with Lalla Ward aka Romana). With the latter, I'm surprised BBC Audio didn't include City of Death to have a Douglas Adams mini-theme, but I guess the Daleks are aways a selling point!

As well as the soundtracks themselves, each story includes an interview with their respective narrator, talking, so you can listen to anecdotes such as how Caroline first got involved with Doctor Who, how Katy learnt how to do a number of her own stunts, John's road to RADA and Lalla's artistic flair. There are a couple of other bits to be found, such as a BBC Radio 4 item from 2004 on caves in Derbyshire accompanying The Silurians, and a nice little dedication to Mary Tamm on The Pirate Planet. However, no additional content has been included in these re-releases (and some content has actually been lost from the originals - more on that below).

It is a perhaps tricky to determine exactly how effective the narration of existing stories actually is, being that we've (probably) watched the stories many times before and so can visualise the scenes playing out in our minds as we listen. However, I think the narration does a good job in reminding us of what's occuring (and the earlier, missing releases certainly demonstrate how the narration helps inform us as to what's happening "off-ear"!)

As the linking narration has to be scripted in such a way to minimise interuption to the stories' own narrative, it is often heard in short bursts when nobody is speaking during the episodes. Surprisingly this all works rather well, with only the occassional situation where this isn't possible: for example explaining how the Doctor surrepticiously helps Kleig resolve his logic problem to open the hatch during Tomb means Frazer's narration covers over Kleig's muttering - but that is mitigated somewhat by it being mostly repetition from a few moments ago. The choice of narrator can also make-or-break how effective the plot is imparted - a bland delivery could ruin any atmosphere that the story has built up. Fortunately, nobody falls short in this collection, though of course they have their own distinctive styles.

Narration-aside, one thing that stands out is the clarity of the soundtracks, which seems so much better than on the DVDs. This may be down to the uncompressed format of the CD, but here dialogue is crystal clear, and I found it also enhances the musical cues, too - full kudos to the audio restoration work of Mark Ayres and David Darlington.

In terms of packaging, this set follows the same format as other collections, i.e. a single central spindle that holds all the discs. This may save on space on the shelf, but it makes it fiddly to access latter stories as you spend your time lifting discs on and off to get at them. I prefer the older boxes, even with the danger of the teeth holding the CDs pinging off! The CDs themselves have new illustrated labels reflecting their collection as well as story status - though unfortunately the labels (not content!) for both discs of Destiny say CD1! These are new pressings and previous PC content is no longer present (such as the PDF camera scripts for The Pirate Planet). However, a bigger problem lies with the bonus content that is meant to be in the set: the inside cover indicates full credits and production notes are in a PDF on CD1, but the disc itself - on my laptop at least - seems to only be a standard audio disc, thus making the promised delights of Andrew Pixley missing (believed wiped?!!!).

EDITORIAL: BBC Audio have confirmed that the PDFs of both the production/credits and scripts previously available on The Pirate Planet and Destiny of the Daleks were indeed erroneously left off this collection - future pressings will be corrected, but those who have bought this collection can request the missing PDFs via email by contacting the company through us at TV-Adventures-Bonus-Material-Request@doctorwhonews.net.

 

So, all-in-all, is it worth getting this set of narrated soundtracks? If you just want the stories (which is arguably the point of the set) then it works out as an efficient way to get them - the original releases will work out more expensive (new), but have sleeve notes and other features absent here, so it will depend on how important those are to you as a listener or collector.

That aside, is it still something to get when you've probably got the original DVDs anyway? To me, it is far more convenient to listen to soundtracks in this way when I'm doing other things without the need to watch what's happening on-screen (e.g. writing this review as I listen!), and whilst it isn't too difficult to copy the audio from the DVD to listen to independently, that will be lacking the additional cues made by the narrators. This ultimately comes down to how "purist" you are with the soundtrack, of course, but this does give you the alternative option!

The second set of existing soundtracks comes out in October (featuing The Krotons, The Ambassadors of Death, The Mind of Evil, Horror of Fang Rock, City of Death and Warriors of the Deep), which completes the back catalogue. It's my hope that BBC Audio will resurrect the series in 2018, but I suspect that the interest in narrated soundtracks won't be sufficient to give the range that new lease of life (certainly not while the Target adaptations continue apace and new series tie-in releases remain popular).

However, I'll continue to 'champion' the audio-descriptive benefits of such releases - with any luck all 'classic' serials will have such accessibility in the future!





Zaltys (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 April 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Zaltys (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Matthew J Elliott
Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sean Barrett (Perrault),
Niamh Cusack (Clarimonde), Philip Franks (Gevaudan),
Rebecca Root (Sable), Alix Wilton Regan (Lusca/Siobhan), CarolSloman (Talia/Computer)

Big Finish Productions - Released March 2017

The first main range trilogy of 2017 concludes with another solid entry which once again allows all four members of the season 19 TARDIS crew to play to their strengths. Kudos due once again to director Barnaby Edwards, who once again has clearly done well to get the best possible performances from the lead characters and assembled yet another strong supporting cast. First up we have Niamh Cusack as Clarimonde, the main villain of the piece who convincingly portrays the role of old adversary (with a gentle nod the habit of the 1980s series to reference previously unseen adventures). Among a sea of great performances, honourable mentions also go to Philip Franks as Gevaudan and Carol Sloman, the daughter of The Green Death writer Roger Sloman, as Talia. Finally in what is possibly a first for Doctor Who, we have openly Trans actress Rebecca Root in the key role of the mercenary Sable, who is one of the most enjoyable characters in this play. Well done Big Finish for allowing such a significant step in LGBT representation.

Matthew J Elliott’s story of space vampirism and psychic attacks is another very strong evocation of the best of this era. There is also some clever retconning of Nyssa’s psychic abilities which have previously been alluded to in her solo adventures with the Doctor set during the gap between seasons 19 & 20. Overall, this is a strong conclusion to what has been an enjoyable trilogy of plays. Having very few ties to other plays or indeed each other, means these are all enjoyably accessible to fans of this TV era who may not have heard Big Finish’s extensive back catalogue. A massive credit is due to the original actors Peter Davison,Matthew Waterhouse, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton for proving that this TARDIS team still has an immense of storytelling potential. It is very much to be hoped that we will hear more from all four of them in the not too distant future. Although fans of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa can rejoice in the knowledge that they can shortly be heard in the next release which sees the main range experiment with a new release format of two linked stories in Alien Heart/Dalek Soul.

 

Zaltys is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 30th April 2017.