Four to Doomsday (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who - Four To Doomsday (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Matthew Waterhouse

Released by BBC Worldwide - March 2017
Available from Amazon UK

Four to Doomsday seems like the type of story that is rarely going to make anyone's Top Ten list. It is a rather tedious and boring story, it doesn't have much of a thought provoking plot, and it lacks any real exciting action to make up for that.  I actually rewatched this story not too long ago when I was in the mood for some Fifth Doctor style stories, and even having recently rewatched it, most of it ended up being forgotten. If nothing else, Terrance Dicks' novelization really captures just how boring and forgettable the original serial was. 

The Fifth Doctor - along with Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric - land on a spaceship lead by some aliens who have visited Earth throughout it's history and gathered up locals each time they make it to Earth.  So there are some humans from various time periods in Earth's history aboard as well. But now they seem to be heading back to Earth to overtake it. Adric gets hypnotised or something by the evil leader, nd Tegan pouts about how much she wants to get to work some more....and eventually the only thing I remember from the story happens, which is that the Doctor uses the bounce of a cricket ball off a spaceship to propel himself back towards the TARDIS while floating in space.

It is a dul story, but I must give Matthew Waterhouse, who originally portrayed Adric, some credit, he does his best reading this dull story.  As much as I never cared for his character on screen, he proves himself a decent narrator, and actually does a pretty good impression of Peter Davison's Doctor as well! 

This is a release only for completists.  It is a lame story, and despite being nicely read by Waterhouse, that really can't make up for how uninteresting the story always has been. 





Genesis of the Daleks (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 9 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who and The Genesis of The Daleks (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Jon Culshaw
With Dalek Voices by Nicholas Briggs

Released by BBC Worldwide - October 2017
Available from Amazon UK
Genesis of the Daleks is one of the strongest serials in all of Doctor Who. Not just of the classic series, but to this day you can still see ripples from it.  Davros made another modern reappearance fairly recently in the Series 9 opening two-parter. His story, and one can even argue that one of the earliest seeds of the Time War that served as the series main background when it relaunched in 2005, began in that wonderful story.  It has a ton of memorable moments, from the introduction of Davros, the great scene between the Doctor and Davros discussing philosophical questions, the Doctor's moral dilemma about whether or not to destroy the Daleks...up to the big finale with the Daleks taking over and turning on their own creator.  It's a great story, that never feels too padded despite it's six episode lengths.  Such an iconic story could, in theory, be lessened by it's adaptation in another form of media.  But the book only enhances the story, adds a bit more behind what the characters are thinking and motivations, and this audiobook of that book is equally excellent.  
 
Read by Impressionist/Comedian/Voice Actor Jon Culshaw, and enhanced by some sound effects, music, and even Daleks voiced by Nicholas Briggs...there are moments that make you forget you are even listening to an audiobook.  Culshaw's top notch impression of Tom Baker's tones is so perfect that it is beyond parody. There were genuine times I could have sworn I was just hearing Baker himself in the recording.  And since Culshaw also uses the same voice modulation device that Briggs uses for the Daleks to voice Davros...the conversations between The Doctor and Davros leave you completely caught up in the story. 
 
Audiobooks are, for me, the most entertaining when the narrator can do a wide range of voices and keep the listening interesting.  Culshaw is then the perfect narrator for me, as he can do so many different voices, and his Fourth Doctor is pitch perfect.  Having Briggs' Dalek voices mixed in as well keeps this one of the most entertaining of these audiobooks that I have listened to thus far.  
 
It also made me think.  I remember watching a classic story of the series, and someone who really enjoyed the modern show watched a bit with me out of curiosity.  They struggled with the old effects and cheap look. But the audiobooks can take an interesting story, and remove that element. The lesser visuals are no longer part of the equation, only the story.  I actually tried to forget what I know of the classic story, and try and picture it with more modern visuals. This story holds up, and I think if old fans who can't quite get past the old show's visual cheapness, but want a taste of these great old stories, these could be an interesting way to jump in.  
 
This is a classic story, one of the all time greats, and it is wonderfully brought to life by Terrance Dicks adaptation and Culshaw, with the help of Briggs, make the listening a true joy.  




Doctor Who - Short Trips - MEL-EVOLENT (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 6 March 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Mel-evolent (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Simon A Forward
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Bonnie Langford

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released:  February 2018
Running Time: 35 minutes)

 
Mirror, mirror on the wall, something stalks the TARDIS halls…..
 
A glimpsed reflection in a dark and dusty corner leads Mel on a journey Through The Looking Glass.
 
Witchcraft and shadows reign.
 
Mel must face the evil at the heart of it all, while the Doctor battles to save the TARDIS determined to prove it’s not only bigger on the inside but darker. Much darker.
 
As alluded to in  Big Finish's blurb for Mel-evolent (above), this latest Short Trip opens up a fairytale world that borrows a lot from classic literature, but essentially boils down to Mel having to imitate an evil queen who happens to look startlingly like her in order to stop the TARDIS being torn apart by the goblin-like Thrusks.
 
The story does conjure some great visual imagery, especially in the huge theatre hidden away in the TARDIS (the theatre rather handily has a costume department that includes a ready-made evil witch outfit). There is also the return of the Time-Space Visualiser, which was first introduced 1965's The Chase.
 
I new timelord is introduced in this story; Lady Tamara. In quite an interesting twist Lady Tamara has had to enter a constant state of regeneration in order to help her deal with the Thrusk.
 
There are some fun elements in this story, but sadly for me, it didn't all quite gel. I was never a fan of Mel when the character was on television, and this story didn't make me warm to her any further. It was also all a bit predictable and theatrical for my taste.
 
Mel-evolent is written by Simon A Forward and directed by Helen Goldwyn. Narration duties are of course carried out by Bonnie Langford
 

Mel-evolent is available now, from Big Finish.






The Time War: Volume 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
The Eighth Doctor: The Time War (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish
Released: Tuesday 31st October 2017
Running Time: 5 hours

Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has enjoyed something of a resurgence in recent years, most notably, in audio, via the Dark Eyes and Doom Coalition sagas.  Now, however, we journey back into a period of The Doctor’s canon that is largely undocumented compared to his classic incarnations, namely the war between the Daleks and the Time Lords, more commonly known as the Time War.

 

1.1: The Starship of Theseus

The eerie opening of this first episode evokes a time when Doctor Who, as a show, was less about the complicated story arcs and more about cybermen with silver foil suits.  However, with cinematic ideals close at hand, we join a commander of a squad of Time Lords on a mission that, at this point, still leaves us in the dark.  After an opening theme with sweeping orchestral tones, we are then hit by the comic relief of ending up in an unexpected scenario.  Specifically, in a broom cupboard with The Doctor and an unfamiliar individual who is, ostensibly, his companion.

As per usual though, the unfamiliarity with characters is quickly surpassed by the potential for comedy, curiosity and confusion, even if things seem to remain unclear for a while.  Eventually, however, the confusing and seemingly tenuously linked threads do converge and not really in the way you would necessarily expect.  Not wishing to spoil anything, the opening story of this box set, whilst it starts off rather mundanely in comparison to some, has a conclusion that is worth waiting for.

 

1.2: Echoes of War

This episode starts out with a rather comedic opening that, like the story preceding it, seems to share vague similarities with The Sirens of Time.  It also serves to make sure that the Daleks are in the foreground, as they rightly should be given the subject matter.  The jungle world that The Doctor and those traveling with him land on is nowhere near as peaceful as they might like.  Various elements of adumbration direct Whovians familiar with Dalek history to a particular train of thought that is unfortunately not explored further or quelled in any way.

Rather than an action-packed chase through the undergrowth, this is an interesting exploration of the impact of the Time War on those not directly on the front line.  Briggs’ delivery of the Dalek lines is almost certainly the highlight of the episode, with the insight into the psyche of The Doctor’s greatest enemy being interspersed with moments of reflection on just how volatile that foe can be.  We also gain a partial insight into the Time Lords determination to eliminate any opposition, regardless of the end result.

 

1.3: The Conscript

Instead of being a standard Doctor and an enemy story, this continuation introduces us directly to the Gallifreyan army and their training regimen.  References to some of The Doctor’s television appearances are very much appreciated, with confident scriptwriting and delivery showing a great difference between those fighting the Time War and those caught up in the chaos.  Whilst plot-wise, strictly speaking, very little actually happens, we as the audience get to see new sides to The Doctor and the Time Lords as a whole.  Regardless of opinions on the actual plot of this episode, the resultant cliff-hanger is worth the wait.

 

1.4: One Life

A so far linear story now takes a turn into the confusing, with the concept of a Time Lord weapon and it’s ramifications on the timeline.  Interspersed with flashbacks of two characters new to the Whoniverse, this final episode is very much the interesting denouement that is expected, even from a first box set in a series.

A well-formulated script, with several interesting twists and turns, combined with a cast who deliver their lines with a flare to bring this story to fruition.  This installment, if nothing else, shows promise for the rest of the exploration of The Eighth Doctor’s adventures during the Time War.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Dec 2017
48% off
The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 1 (Doctor Who - The Eighth Doctor: The Time War)



The Robots of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 1 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who And The Robots Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Louise Jameson

Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Louise Jameson, who portrayed Leela alongside the Fourth Doctor in the 70s, reads Terrence Dicks' Target Novelization of one of her earliest episodes, and it's another solid unabridged audiobook of this classic line of novels.  As I stated in my review of The Ambassadors of Death, my familiarty with the Target line is somewhat limited.  I only really knew that they existed and that in the years prior to home video, a lot of fans were more familiar with the books than they were the original TV episodes. But from what I've gathered just listening to these two audiobooks, this really was a wonderful line of books, faithfully adapting their TV counterparts, while still feeling fresh. I've seen The Robots of Death a couple of times, I know the story, and yet this audiobook still felt fresh.  There are scenes I remember quite clearly, like the early TARDIS scene with the yo-yo and the Doctor giving his enigmatic explanation of how the TARDIS can be bigger on the inside...but Jameson's reading of it felt like I was getting it new again.

One thing I am enjoying is that these audiobooks, while unabridged, aren't terribly long.  This one was only about three hours or so long.  I listened to it in an afternoon while cleaning up around the house. A real long novel unabridge on audio can be up to 11 hours long, but these little adaptations of the show weren't terribly long books, but they weren't dumbed down either. Dicks does a great job taking the televised version, and turning it into a book that is both short and sweet, yet not compromising what the television version was all about. 

Jameson does a solid job reading this as well, and the occassional bit of music or sound effects help make the action soar. I don't know if I'd ever have time to sit and actually read every Target Novelization, but getting to sample them via the audiobook is not a bad route to take.  If you are curious about these old books, find a story you like that has been released in this format by BBC Worldwide so far, and give them a listen.  This was always a good story, and at three hours your time commitment is minimal. 





Gallifrey: Time War (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time War (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish
 Released on: Wednesday 28th February 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

Just how did the Time Lords get into such a major conflict with the Daleks?  Big Finish's latest entry into their Time War saga attempts to answer just that via their long-running series Gallifrey, which has long focused on the adventures of Romana and Leela on the Time Lord homeworld, often in Political and Spy thrillers. It will be difficult to write this review without Spoilers, so reader beware, while I will try my best to limit them, but this review may feature an element of SPOILERS AHEAD! (Skip to Final Paragraph for my recommendation)

Celesital Intervention, the opening episode revolves around Romana (now heading up the Celestial Intervention Agency) and her increasing worry about the War Council and it's Secret Operations.  She and her CIA cohort Narvin recruit Leela to at first spy on the War Council, and then desperately recruit her again to travel into the Death Zone to see what the War Council may be cooking up there.  Meanwhile, a fellow time traveling race, and Time Lord ally, have had their planet destroyed by the Daleks, and the remaining 500 refugees from the Planet come to Gallifrey seeking asylum.  While the War Council initially opposes letting Refugees onto their homeworld, and thus open them up to more risk, political games are played and the poor souls are allowed in...but at a price that Romana fears may be too high, as it gives the War Council even more power and free reign.  In the end, the President Livia (the new TIme Lord President), declares War upon the Daleks...the Time War officially begins, and we find out that some of the creepy stuff the War Council is up to will have some long-lasting repercussions. 

This opening episode begins the set off with a bang, and Lalla Ward's increasingly desperate and frantic performance sells it.  You can just feel the stress and worry of what is happening to her and her world pushing down on her, and making her worry were they will end up when it is all said and done (and as we all know, it is nowhere pleasant).  While the whole cast is great, Ward's frustrated Romana makes this political thriller all the more entertaining. 

The box set continues with Soldier Obscura, and sees Ace and Braxiatel on a mission into The Obscura, a strange deadly region in Time and Space, which may hold a secret weapon within it. Ace is working for the CIA, having been left on Gallifrey by the Doctor at some point (at what exact point in Ace's mildly confusing spin-off material life this takes place, I've no real idea, but it doesn't really matter to the story), and she and Braxiatel head off into this dangerous area of space and meet Danna, a Time Lord mentor of Braxiatel who was once one of the best marksmen ever known, but has been living for years alone posted in the Obscura.  The Daleks have been trying to break into this region of space for a while, occasionally transforming themselves by adding wings and other mutations hoping to get in and get a weapon that could win the Time War.  But can Ace trust Braxiatel? 

While I found the second entry to contain good performances and some interesting Time War ideas, I think it just didn't work for me in the same way the opening episode did. That's not to say it is bad (fr from it), but it wasn't as great as I felt the opening was.  The reveals of what the Weapon was or might have been felt underwhelming, and the fake-out death of Ace is too predictable...you kind of know they won't kill her off (though really, why not?), and then after the theme music is played it is revealed that Braxiatel has wiped her memory and abandoned her on some random planet. I think this episode had some interesting concepts and good performances, but I wasn't as engaged with Ace or Braxiatel in the way I was with Ward or the supporting cast in the opener. 

With the Braxiatel/Ace plan not panning out and knowing that the Doctor has sworn off helping the Time Lords in this War, Romana decides to enlist the help of the other major Time Lord Renegade: the Master.  In The Devil You Know, they recall the Master to Gallifrey (the call he received in the middle of the War Master boxset), and he is tasked with retrieving a man called Finnian Valentine, who supposedly has knowledge of a weapon that is so powerful it could deter the Daleks and maybe even end the war.  Of course, things are never so simple, particularly in a war waging havoc upon Time and Space.  To keep the Master in check, Leela is assigned to go with him, and when they arrive on Valentine's alleged whereabouts, they find not one, but two versions of him.  One whose race was wiped out by the Time Lords, and another whose race only survived through the help of the Time Lords keeping the Daleks at bay.  Both are a little uneasy about helping The Master and Leela however.  And when the interrogations begin to go nowhere, The Master's more ruthless techniques must take hold, at a cost higher than anyone would like.  Major Spoilers here - learning that what they are after is not a weapon but a planet with a major power source, the Master disposes of Leela and sends her out into the Vortex in the midst of the Time War, hoping to leave her fate forever ambiguous to the Doctor...of course her fate was explored in the final War Doctor set, in which we had seen her in a far more fragile and lost state.  The Master then heads off to Arcking where the alleged power source is held, that story picks back up in The Good Master, the third story in the War Master boxset. 

The Devil You Know is excellent.  Derek Jacobi once again gets the chance to relish in the role he only os briefly got to play on television, and this episode is not another great showcase of just how great he is, it also fills in the gap of his own War Master set.  Louise Jameson is also quite good in this, as is Bryan Dick as the two Valentines, playing two slightly different versions of the same person quite well.  Just great performances, a great story, and another exciting audio performance from the great Derek Jacobi

The set concludes with Desperate Measures, which focuses on a new election for the President of the High Council. This section of the review has definite SPOILERS.  Livia no longers wishes to be a War President and looks for a way to get out with her dignity intact.  When her appointed successor is a General that is clearly being propped up by the War Council, Romana decides that she will challenge him and run to retake the office (offering to give her life for the seat, because she can only be elected President for another term if she has regenerated into a new body.  But when her secret attempts at trying to negotiate with the Daleks become public, it pretty much ends her chances.  Meanwhile, Narvin heads into the Death Zone to try and destroy the Resurrection machine which plans to bring dead Time Lords back from death in order to fight in the War...but the agent that is meant to be helping him betrays him.  And so during the new President's installation as Leader of the High Council, Livia, and the War Council's real plan comes to light. The General's familial ties to Rassilon are used for one purpose...to utilize the MAtrix and the Resurrection machine, along with a living descendant of Rassilon, to resurrect the famed former leader of the Time Lords.

This finale is excellent.  Ward is great, and the entire plot to bring Rassilon back from the dead is a lovely way to give us a cliffhanger for more.  When it comes to political games, espionage, and deep cuts into canon, this set really can't be beaten.

This was an excellent set, and I am genuinely looking forward to the next entry in this saga. Big Finish has really outdone themselves with their Time War entries...from the War Doctor sets starring John Hurt, to the War Master boxset, and now with the ongoing Eighth Doctor and Gallifrey: Time War sets...they are really exploring this untapped era of Who-lore with nothing but top-notch storytelling, almost as if for years when they didn't have the New Series license, they were just thinking it over and over for a decade.  They've been waiting for this, and they aren't wasting their chance. If I have a real criticism, it is that despite their best attempts to make this set easier to dive into for new fans, it really is better listened to with some background into other stories. You don't really need to listen to all of the Gallifrey audio series (I've only heard the first series from over a decade ago, which has little to do with this beyond introducing some key characters)...but listening to some War Doctor stories or the War Master set will definitely help in getting the big picture here.  I would say if you wanted to jump into some of Big Finish's Time War stuff, don't start here, but definitely GET HERE.  It's all well worth a listen, and they are killing it on the Time War stuff.