The Silurian Candidate (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 7 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Silurian Candidate (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matthew J Elliott

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Fiona Sheehan (Ruth Drexler/ Avvox), Nicholas Asbury (Chairman Bart Falco), Nicholas Briggs (Chordok),
 Caitlin Thorburn (Karlas), Ignatius Anthony (Gorrister),
 Louise Mai Newberry (Director Shen)

Big Finish Productions - Released September 2017

Available Now on General Release

The latest trilogy of adventures for the reunited team of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor and both of his TV companions Ace and Mel played by Sophie Aldred and Bonnie Langford respectively, concludes with an interesting story from Matthew J Elliott. As the title suggests there are shades of The Manchurian Candidate, although anyone expecting a political thriller in the mould of The Deadly Assassin may find themselves slightly disappointed.

The story serves as a direct sequel of sorts to 1984 TV story Warriors of the Deep with the action taking place in 2085, exactly a year after the disastrous events on the seabase. Sylvester McCoy revels in the opportunity to once again show off his Doctor’s mysterious side as we once again see him following him on unfinished business without letting either Mel or Ace in on his secrets.

The story takes advantage of having four episodes to play with by using the first two episodes mainly to establish the setting and the threat as the Doctor, Ace and Mel find themselves teaming up with a mercenary expedition into what the Doctor knows full well to be a Silurian jungle base. What he hasn’t reckoned on, however, is that the Silurians have enacted a plan to bring destruction to, rather than peace with, the human occupiers of planet Earth. To do this they have taken control of one of the leaders of the two power blocs which control Earth who coincidentally are due to meet. And so, the second half of this play brings into play the characters of Director Shen (played with admirable restraint byLouise Mai Newberry) and Chairman Bart Falco, enjoyably portrayed as a sort of Australian Donald Trump by Nicholas Asbury. The cast is also ably supported by Big Finish exec producer and all-round monster voice Nicholas Briggs and Sinead Keenan in the roles of Professor Ruth Drexler and a Silurian named Avvox.

Without wanting to give too much away once again the play works by playing to the character strengths of both Ace and Mel. However, once again this reviewer is mildly frustrated that Big Finish seem to have abandoned the slightly more adult version of Ace which they established over the many years of her adventures alongside the younger character of Hex. Of course, it could be suggested that maybe these new adventures are set at an earlier point in the Seventh Doctor and Ace’s timeline. However, this story and several of the other previous stories since Mel re-joined the TARDIS crew, clearly features theTV Movie console. It was previously established within the Big Finish canon that this console first came into being just prior to the 7th, Ace and Hex release The Settling (2006) so therefore these adventures cannot be said to be taking place prior to Hex’s arrival. This aside, this is a more than worthwhile conclusion to this second trilogy featuring Ace and Mel and minor character gripes aside this reviewer will be very much looking forward to the trio’s return for another trilogy of adventures beginning in August 2018 with Red Planets.





The Wreck of the World (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Wreck Of The World (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Timothy X Atack
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Cast
Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Judith Roddy (Commander Lorne), Adam Newington (Twenty), Don McCorkindale (Porthintus), Richenda Carey (Professor Blavatsky).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Originally Released December 2017

The Wreck of the World is a rare case of a Doctor Who episode title both poetic and literal. "The World" is the name of a long lost colony ship, a huge vessel sent out from a dying Earth like a message in a bottle. But its wreck has now been found, it’s crumbling metal bones creaking and shifting in protest as human feet step upon it for the first time in thousands of years. And naturally, one of the first things encountered by the expedition blunt and pragmatic Commander Lorne leads to the World is a funny little crumpled man, a Scotsman and a petite genius in a silvery catsuit.

The mutual suspicions that are the bread and butter of many Part Ones are present and correct here, but done with unusual charm. In particular, the expedition’s resident muscle, Porthintus, is a fun mish-mash of a Kroton, a Klingon, and the archetypical dictionary-swallowing NCO. The double act that emerges between him and Jamie lends an extra spark to the two groups teaming up, as they alternate between trying to beat the hell out of each other (Porthintus doing a little less ‘trying’ and a little more ‘beating’) and a jovial bond between soldiers. In parallel, Zoe teams up with her own opposite number, Twenty, though this is a bit less successful as it hinges on them both being ‘processed’ humans with artificially expanded intelligences and limited emotional range – something perhaps briefly mentioned about Zoe on TV but is depicted here into as essential an element of her character as being Vulcan is to Star Trek’s Spock.

Needless to say, there’s more to worry about than whether Lorne and company are pirates or genuine in their desire to rescue the artefacts of thousands of years of ancient Earth, from ancient Babylonian stones to early 20th century steam trains, and bring them to museums. Soon enough there’s an army of zombies to contend with, as the mysteriously undead occupants of the long broken down cryogenic chambers emerge by the hundred and swarm to overcome our heroes. A keen sense of menace and claustrophobia hangs over the whole story, and scenes of Porthintus, Jamie and Zoe making desperate scrambles through pipes while the former colonists close in, or of games of hide and seek (or hunt the needle) among the shadows and relics of the museum decks evoke the likes of Aliens and Pandorum.

Although, like other Early Adventures, we get narration it’s probably the least unintrusive yet, simply fading into the background for the most part. It takes a little while for Wendy Padbury to warm up to sounding like her four decades younger self, but by the second episode it’s hard to notice any difference and if Zoe seems a little sterner and more remote that’s largely down to a script that emphasizes that aspect of her character above all else. Frazer Hines’ hit-and-miss Second Doctor is sadly back to mostly missing the mark, though that’s largely down to a script that maintains such a high pace throughout that his Doctor doesn’t get as much room for the wit or character moments that Hines excels at.  In compensation, it’s a very good story for Jamie, who really shines here, both in the script and in Hines' good humoured performance. Plus, it has a sweet and melancholic maintenance droid that, with shades of D84 in The Robots of Death, will leave you a bit sad when she doesn’t hop aboard the TARDIS at the end.

All in all, The Wreck of the World is a fine, tense, survival thriller which excels in the sense of atmosphere it creates about the dying World. If some of the cast feel like an alternate take on well established characters, exploring roads largely untaken on screen, then it only distracts a little from an exciting entry in the Early Adventures series which matches the basics of the typical Troughton tale with the scares of a more modern horror film.

 





The Tenth Planet AudiobookBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney

Doctor Who novelisations are endlessly fascinating due to their continued necessity. Before Home Video, there were books to let viewers know what amazing adventures they missed. For Who viewers too young to have witnessed the original transmissions of stories featuring earlier Doctors, those previous incarnations were mere myths. If it weren't for the novels, who knows if those Doctors would have been anything more than fading, black and white memories?

In a world where we can pull up any existing Doctor Who episode we want with the push of a button, the novelisations remain just as vital. Thanks to the expense of tape in the early days of the series, far too many William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories were destroyed in favor of other programs. Although there have been attempts to give some the animated, or the audio drama, treatment nothing is as crucial to the survival of these stories than the novelisations.

Although I’ve seen the existing clips of The Tenth Planet, I have never known the full story, until listening to this audiobook. I have to imagine that this may be the ultimate way to experience Bill Hartnell’s swan song. Few things can place you right in the center of a tale like a novel, and nothing does it better than an audiobook.

From our earliest years, stories are told to us. Parents and teachers read us books. Friends recount experiences. Stories are best shared through speaking. This particular audiobook, complete with haunting, droning music, crackling sound effects, Nicholas Briggs’ unnerving Cybermen voices, and Anneke Wills’ superb narration, communicates everything to you beyond what can be achieved in prose. Your imagination holds no budgetary constraints, so the bounds of cheap set design can’t restrict you, and the perfectly timed touches of sound give you all the help you need in envisioning the atmosphere crafted within the novel’s pages.

While listening to the reveal of the Cybermen moving through the snow, killing the men in their way, I couldn’t help but think, “What were kids thinking when they saw this in ‘66? They must’ve been terrified!” The coldness of their surroundings, matched with the lack of empathy is wonderfully depicted in the book, making this jaded listener a little nervous, wondering what these monsters I’ve seen numerous times before might be capable of.

I’ve come to place Doctor Who stories into categories. You’ve got the historical, the base under siege, invasion stories, horror stories, and romps. Often times these categories intermingle. You might get a historical horror story, a base under siege  horror story, a historical romp, and so on. The Tenth Planet blends base under siege, invasion, and horror. What we’re witnessing is a small element to the larger story at play. A handful of frightening Cybermen are invading this base and killing the men inside, while all over the world more Cybermen are doing the same thing, AND there’s a whole new planet in the sky draining Earth of all its energy!

This is epic storytelling on par with anything the current series would do. You don’t need to see the fleet of Cyberships, armies marching through cities, or the Mondas sucking up all our energy, because you feel it. We know the Doctor, Ben, and Polly, we’ve just met the faculty of the base, and their reactions to the situation are enough to inform the massive scale of what’s going on elsewhere.

That being said, there is a downside. A few too many sentences are spent detailing Polly’s long legs and the reaction aroused in men upon viewing her form. The tendency of summing up a character by their ethnicity is more than tad dated and simplistic. Miss. Wills’ American accent, with all those hard R’s, can get a bit grating, but those are nitpicks. True, I would have preferred if such things were omitted, but the novel is what it is.

The majority of The Tenth Planet is devoted to the men spending their careers in a bunker below the frozen surface of the South Pole. This is something utterly unique to Classic Who. The Doctor may be the title character, Ben and Polly may be his friends and second leads, but the stories aren’t about them. Classic Who stories are about the people the Doctor saves. One would imagine that a show like Doctor Who would deal with WHO this Doctor person is and why they do what they do. Superman isn’t about the various citizens of Metropolis going about their day and being saved by the Blue Boy Scout. Why would Doctor Who be about the people he encounters, rather than the Doctor himself?

The answer, I believe, has to do with another reason the novelisations are so important to the survival of Doctor Who. This is a literary show. They’re not simply interested in giving you a cool new monster. The creators of the show are building a world and a world is populated with lots and lots of people. While making the Doctor the point of view character for every adventure would result in a thrilling good time, it wouldn’t construct a believable world. By experiencing the space these military men and scientists inhabit, getting small insights into their background and personalities (however shallow) and how they treat each other sets the scene for the terror about to unfold. The Cybermen are a scary concept, sure, but what makes them effective is that we know the people in danger. We’re set up to understand who these people are, thus making the threat of invaders that much more menacing. That is a trope you find more in literary storytelling than a visual medium like television.

This story doesn't only launch the legendary Cybermen. More importantly, of course, it is the introduction of regeneration. Without this plot-convenient aspect to the Doctor’s Gallifreyan biology, Doctor Who would have ended in the late ‘60s. Had the producers said, “Well, this Doctor Who concept is wearing a bit thin,” then there would have been no UNIT, tin dogs, long scarves, celery lapel pins,  bizarro rainbow jackets, question mark umbrellas, body hopping Time Lord lizards, Time War, lonely gods, cool bow ties, or sonic sunglasses. We would never meet Jamie Mccrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, Tegan, Peri, ACE!, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, The Ponds, Bill Potts, or Nardole. Who would face off against Santaurons, Vervoids, Silurians, or Weeping Angels?

How different would the pop cultural landscape be if William Hartnell was the one and only Doctor? It’s a question too big to be answered in one audiobook review. The importance of regeneration cannot be understated. It is, along with the Tardis,  the mechanism which keeps this universe fresh, and it all started with The Tenth Planet.

 




The War Master: Only the Good (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 22 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs, Janine H Jones, James Goss, Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi (The Master), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Jacqueline King (Nius), Deirdre Mullins (Osen), Mark Elstob (Glortz), Rachel Atkins (Major Desra), Hannah Barker (Phila), Jonny Green (Cole Jarnish), Jacob Dudman (Arcking 12 Computer), Emily Barber (Elidh), Robert Daws (Anvar), Nerys Hughes (Mrs Wilson), Jonathan Bailey (Marigold Lane Computer)

Released December 14, 2017

Derek Jacobi only made one appearance as the Master on television (ignoring his earlier non-canonical appearance as a Robot Master in the Scream of the Shalka cartoon), and for the most part, is true persona was hidden away. We really only got a brief glimpse of Jacobi as the actual Master, but it sure was a memorable 5 minutes!  So memorable that I still remember that moment when I first saw him declare himself the Master vividly, a whole decade on.  And while I loved Simm's fresh modern interpretation that followed, it was hard not to wish for just a bit more from Jacobi as the mad Time Lord. And hey...that is just where Big Finish is meant to come in. They don't disappoint.  I will warn, I don't delve to deep into anything, but there may be some SPOILERS ahead. Reader beware!

The set opens with Beneath the Viscoid, with the Master being hidden away from the Last Great Time War in a capsule under the viscous water of an ocean world. The Daleks are pursuing the Master and his TARDIS, but his TARDIS is leaking temporal energy. The Master poses as The Doctor, using the Doctor's reputation to gain the confidence of the team that finds him, but can he play both the humans and the Daleks for fools and find a new escape from the War?  Right off the bat Jacobi is excellent, though honestly who would doubt an actor of his calibre delievering anything less. You get the impression that he wanted to take a bigger bite out of the role than he was allowed time for in Utopia.

The second story in this collection, The Good Master, has the Master settled into the role of a medical doctor on a planet that is somehow protected from the effects of the Time War. He is posing in this do-gooder role for the exactly the reason you'd expect from him...to somehow control whatever power is keeping this one planet safe, the consequences of tampering with that be damned. Jacobi is again excellent, showcasing his range within this role, often playing his Master as a kinder gentlemen, before relishing in the moments where he goes full-on evil. 

The Sky Man is the third entry on the boxset, and it may very well be the best episode of the whole venture, which is somewhat odd considering that the Master's part is f not very promnient. But it is what the Master is up to behind the scenes that makes this such a great Master story. Taking Cole Jarnish, a young man from the previous story, along with him, the Master allows him the choice to save a single world that will soon be lost in the Time War.  They land on a quaint planet of farmers, all of whom stopped using technology fearing it would bring about their end (as they can see stars going out in the sky). Cole wants to save these people.  He goes abut fixing up worn out techology around the place, and falling in love with a girl.  But when everyone begins to get sick from some kind of fallout from the War...Cole attempts to save them all, including the woman he loves, by encasing them in Suits of Armour. He essentially makes a kind of Cybermen-type race by mistake. And he regrets his decision immediately.  

The events of The Sky Man lead directly into the final story The Heavenly Paradigm. The Master has a scheme to end the war, using a major Time Lord weapon which has been hidden away on Earth, in hopes that the Daleks will not find it.  The device will essentially take away all choice in the universe, making sure that only the right choices would be made by every individual.  Take the concept of Turn Left, which saw Donna seeing what her life had been if one day she turned right instead of left.  The choice she made had major repurcussions, she had to turn right for certain events to unfold...and this story bacisally has a device that says "let's make sure everyone Turns Left."  That is the kind of high concept weirdness I want in Doctor Who, particualy in the Time War storyline.  tTo power the machine, the Master needs a battery, and the only battery that will do is a paradox, say someone who was never meant to live and then went onto to save another race that was never meant to live and accidentally created monsters. Of course, The Master's latest scheme to use the Time War to his advantage and find a way to rule the Universe doesn't really pan out, and it leads him to hide away as Yana as we saw in Utopia

One of the things that I've rather enjoyed about Big Finish digging into the Time War, is that the story ideas can go in weird directions, play with Time, and have this weird ethereal element to it. They aren't just having battle scenes between Daleks and Tiem Lords, but they are telling stories that show what happens on the outskirts of this war, and the weirder effects of Time changing around characters and messing up the universe. The War Master: Only the Good is an excellent set of stories.  Jacobi is fantastic in the role, and it is lovely to hear him get a real full performance in the role. The stories in the set are fantastic, and for anyone who always wanted a little bit more of Jacobi in the role, here is your chance! This particular boxset can't be recommended enough.  






Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 18 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Credit: Big Finish)

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Read By: Duncan Wisbey
)Originally Released: September 2017

 

An unapologetically slight tale, The Switching jettisons having much of a plot at all in favour of some fun character moments grounded in the UNIT family dynamic.

Though the blurb makes a half hearted attempt to play coy, and the script takes its time to say it out loud, it’s pretty clear from the off that we’re getting a classic Freaky Friday scenario with a Time Lord twist. In a way, it’s such a perfect idea it’s almost a surprise we never saw a version from Letts and Dicks on screen though I’m not sure Jon Pertwee’s pride could have taken playing across from another actor doing their best impression of him. As it is, we get Duncan Wisbey doing a remarkable job of capturing the Third Doctor’s sibilance and that slightly ragged edge to his voice. Except this isn’t the Third Doctor, of course, but the Master.

Surprisingly charming and pragmatic as he makes a nuisance of himself at UNIT HQ, it’s a reminder that, back in the day, the Master didn’t tend to kill unless it actually advanced his agenda. Instead, quickly discovering that the Doctor’s TARDIS is in parts all over the place and not fit for making an escape from Earth in, he restricts himself to having a bit of fun at his best frenemy’s expense.If there’s a flaw, it’s the Master’s surprise that the Doctor is clearly so habitually rude and disrespectful to his UNIT colleagues (everyone reacts with slight suspicion as to why ‘the Doctor’ is being so nice and pleasant to them). It feels like the Master should know the Third Doctor better than that. All the supporting characters are perfectly drawn, however, with Jo in particular note perfect.

Essentially a throwaway novelty, it’s nicely wry humour and talented and flexible reader this is well worth the handful of coins and half hour of your time it will cost you.

 





The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
Written By: Nicholas Pegg
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg
Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Susan Jameson (Mrs Moynihan), Barnaby Edwards (Philip Ludgate/Scryfan), Toby Longworth (Professor Morgan/Sancreda/UNIT Sentry), James Bolam (Sir Archibald Flint), Helen Goldwyn (Nikki Hunter/Pelagia Stamatis/Corporal Croft), Nicholas Pegg (Captain Ashforde)
Cover by Clayton Hickman
Originally released: June 2000
The early days of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range still vibrate with innovation and excitement even all these years later. Relics from a time before things settled down into a polished, professional operation with a large, regular company of actors to draw from, there’s a powerful sense here of true fanatics who can’t quite believe their luck that they’re getting to play in this universe. Whom are keenly aware that it might not last and so fire off all their best ideas into it. This extends as well to the guest cast, with big names grabbing with both hands what might have been their only chance to be in Doctor Who, when the announcement of its TV revival was still three years away. Where Spectre of Lanyon Moor's contemporary Phantasmagoria boasted Mark Gatiss and David Walliams, here James Bolam (JAMES BOLAM!) adds a touch of real class to proceedings and proves a great foil for Maggie Stables’ Evelyn in a series of verbal sparring matches between her and his Sir Archibald. There may never be any better putdown of a Doctor Who villain in mid monomaniacal monologue about ‘the little people’ and the divine right to rule than “Don’t let’s get above ourselves, old chum; you’re only a baronet you know.”

 

Fantastically conceived by Nicholas Pegg (a man who perhaps doesn’t get his full due credit for all he’s contributed to Doctor Who in various ways down the years) Spectre of Lanyon Moor is, to an extent, a mash up of Terror of the Zygons, The Curse of Fenric and The Daemons. In its Cornish setting, there’s a corner of Britain possessed of a desolate beauty and a wealth of local myths and legend, while an archaeological investigation of an ancient structure, a legendary being of vast supernatural power which turns out to be an alien and a local lord who’s openly friendly but undoubtedly shady add to the sense of a greatest hits collection of, oddly enough, entirely the wrong era for Colin Baker’s Doctor to wander into.But it’s hard to complain about that.

 

Not only because this story is from the days long, long before Big Finish ensnared Tom Baker into its den of fabulous lunches, but because it gives an opportunity for the Sixth Doctor to finally adventure alongside the Brigadier. For the first episode and a half or so I had a rising fear that this was going to be a missed opportunity, with the semi-retired Brigadier simply used to ease the Doctor’s entry into the story and vouch for him with the other characters. Thankfully, as the story proceeds he moves beyond being a moustachioed Psychic Paper and instead this proves to be one of the Brig’s strongest, most heroic personal contributions to the action. In addition, it’s lovely, especially since his death, to hear Nicholas Courtney in such sparkling form. Courtney’s performance, as it often was, is a work of subtle genius – a tightrope rope between projecting unflappable decency that grounds the outrageousness around him and a twinkle in the voice to show he’s in on the joke.

 

UNIT are back too, in a small way, though low level UNIT troops seem as adorably incompetent as ever. With the name and description of a villain possessing a planet destroying device that must be kept apart from the ancient site at all costs distributed, one sentry still just ‘ums’ and ‘aws’ as said villain shows up, describes her disdain for lesser mortals and plans to revenge herself on them all, very slowly takes out her alien technology from her handbag and kills him.

 

The creature at the heart of the mystery is presented as an alien twist on the old idea that faeries are maybe a great deal more malignant than advertised in children’s books. Short but superhumanly strong, and given to cackling madly while messily and noisily tearing people limb from limb despite constant boasting about civilized and advanced his species are, Sancreda is a monster in the true sense. Doctor Who often treats villains and alien species as having a point of view, no matter how destructive their actions – even the first Dalek story circled the issue of whether the Daleks were actually evil or just driven by paranoia and fear of the previously war like Thals. But Sancreda is an out and out gibberingly sadistic maniac, if one driven mad by millennia of imprisonment. This leads to some nastily violent scenes but also helps sell the level of threat involved.It’s also a great showcase for Toby Longworth, who plays both the harsh voiced alien maniac, pompous old duffer Professor Morgan, and the aforementioned UNIT sentry, a fact which astonished me when I saw the cast list after. His ability to make all three totally distinct with such seemingly effortless ease is extraordinary. Elsewhere in the cast future Mrs. Wibbsey Susan Jameson is to be found as housekeeper Mrs. Monyhian, a kind of twised mirror of her later, more famous Doctor Who role.

 

The only possible criticism here is that the story unfolds in rather predictable fashion, with every strand evolving and climaxing pretty much exactly as you’d expect. However, that simply adds to the sense of being enveloped in a lovely, warm blanket of cosy familiarity. And, perhaps as a result of since seeing how the revived series handles such things, it would perhaps have been nice to see Evelyn still in a phase of learning the ropes or TARDIS travel. Instead there’s the sense of a number of adventures having being skipped over, with the unreliability of the TARDIS to get where its supposed to be going already a running joke between the Doctor and Evelyn.

 

As a rare opportunity to hear Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier swing into action once again, and as a fine homage to the Hinchcliffe Era of Doctor Who, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor is a must on any short list of early Big Finish plays for people to explore and discover.



Associated Products

Books
Released 1 Jun 2000
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Doctor Who)
$97.12