Doctor Who - Short Trips 9.6: The Same FaceBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 July 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Same Face (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrator: Katy Manning
Written by: Julian Richards
Director: Nicholas Briggs

No one survives in politics on Samael. Felicity Morgan has learnt this the hard way, as she keeps being assassinated. However, she has a secret. A secret that has kept her alive. A secret that has propelled her to the top job. When the Doctor and Jo arrive on Samael, they learn the impossible truth.

One woman. One face. Many lives.

The story for The Same Face is a third Doctor classic template. An alien government in crisis - with the Doctor turning up just in the nick of time. I must admit to rolling my eyes a little when I started listening to the story unfold, thinking to myself how unoriginal it was.

Then something happened that gave the story a much-needed kick up the rear end, something that perhaps I should have seen coming, but didn't....and THEN well, the least said about that big second twist, the better!

In short, The Same Face takes a (very) well-worn plot and adds a lot of magic to it. What also helps is that Katy Manning is on ABSOLUTE top form, slipping back into Jo Grant with startling ease. I expected the character to sound different with age, but no, not at all.

Julian Richards has created a mini-masterpiece with this story. An absolute gift to fans of this era that was an absolute joy to listen to.

The Same Face is available from Big Finish HERE.

 






The Legacy Of Time - Big Finish - 20th Anniversary SpecialBookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 July 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

“Brave heart…….ermmmm……all of me…?”

 

The Legacy of Time is an epic six-part adventure, celebrating 20 years of Doctor Who at Big Finish!

Time is collapsing. Incidents of chaos and devastation are appearing throughout the lives of one Time Lord and his many friends – all fallout from one terrible disaster. From Earth’s past and present to timeless alien worlds, from the cloisters of Gallifrey into the Vortex itself….The Doctor must save universal history – and he needs all the help he can get.

 

Lies In Ruins by James Goss

At the opening of Lies in Ruins, we join River Song (Alex Kingston) and her team excavating some ruins, only to find that one Bernice Somerfield (Lisa Bowerman) had beaten her to it. It seems that the ruins lie on a mysterious planet, a planet that until very recently didn't exist. The planet is rich with ruined temples and towers…as well as ghosts from the past. 

Not being able to resist a mystery, the pair are joined by the eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and new companion Ria (Alexandria Riley). Between the four of them, they discover the identity of the planet, while at the same time fending off a rather ruthless salvage attempt.

Lies in Ruins is a story that is jam-packed with action. It hits the ground running, and doesn't let up that rather frantic pace. I found the plot with its slow reveals quite intriguing, and was genuinely surprised with the final twist as to what the new planet actually was.

My one gripe would be Ria. She really grates, and yes, this is a part of the plot - but did they really need to make her quite so unlikeable?

 

The Split Infinitive by John Dorney

The Counter-Measures team are investigating a gangster who seems to be aging people to death. Without warning, they are visited by Ace (Sophie Aldred)  and the seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), who are investigating a very strange, temporal anomaly  The twist is that Ace is visiting them in the 1960's and the Doctor in the 1970's.

Once again, things unfold at breakneck speed. I'm beginning to wonder if it is because there is simply so much to cram into these stories!

The plot device of having the narrative split across two time zones is a great idea, especially when the story relating to the earlier time zone needs to play out in order to see how the later time zone will deal with any ramifications, which is probably the dictionary definition of timey-wimey.

What really stood out for me though was Howard Carter's music. It had a proper old school jazz vibe about it, quite unique, and something that went well with the story.

 

The Sacrifice Of Jo Grant by Guy Adams

In the present Jo Grant (Katy Manning), Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) are investigating a spate of wormholes, when Jo and Kate are inadvertently sucked into one and deposited in the middle of a UNIT adventure from the 1970’s (or is it the 1980’s). This lends itself to quite a touching reunion between the much older Jo Grant and the third Doctor (here voiced by Tim Treloar). We also find that Kate Stewart’s father is contactable on the other end of a radio link – will she take this opportunity to talk to him? 

Sadly, it is with Kate’s dilemma on whether to contact her father where the story falls down. I found the writing that shows Kate ‘agonising’ over whether to contact the Brigadier to be incredibly trite – it just seemed so out of character, and I just didn’t buy it.

Despite that, I think The Sacrifice of Jo Grant is my favourite of this collection. It is after all a classic Pertwee tale of holes in time and dinosaurs.

Let’s address the title of this segment. The story starts with a voiceover declaring Jo Grant dead and a hero, so we know straight away where this story is going – does it fulfil its promise – I’ll let you find out.

 

Relative by Matt Fitton

Relative is a rather light-hearted story (and a great play on words), with the fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) thrown together with his (future) daughter Jenny (Georgia Tennant). It's also the first story in the set to truly try to bring together some of the dangling plot threads that might prove a link to the previous entries. 

It seems that a TARDIS has exploded and is creating some sort of temporal event. The TARDIS is forced to materialise on a ship full of tourists…and a stowaway, Jenny. There’s a lot of humour to be mined from the situation especially when Jenny keeps referring to the fifth Doctor her “Great, great, great, great, great Gramps”, much to his obvious annoyance.

The Sirens are introduced to the story arc here (previously seen in Sirens of Time). These are creatures that feed on temporal energy and positively feast on a paradox…..and space tourists. The kleptomaniac Time Lord the Nine (John Heffernan) is also thrown into the mix to complicate the Doctor and Jenny’s rescue attempt.

Ultimately the story is quite throw away, but at least by the end of it, the listener starts to have a good idea of what might be going on.

 

The Avenues of Possibility by Jonathan Morris

When DI Patricia Menzies (Anna Hope) is called to a case where a man has seemingly stumbled out of the eighteenth century, things appear to be getting strange. When that man then asks for the Doctor, she knows something is very wrong.  Of course, the sixth Doctor (Colin Baker)  and Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher) are at hand to help. It appears that Earth is peppered with faults in time. There are wormholes that connect to possible futures and probable pasts everywhere.

Things are then further complicated when one possible future, where Britain is a dictatorship suddenly takes an interest in invading its own past, creating a huge paradox that attracts the attention of the Sirens, meaning that time itself could be torn apart.

Jonathan Morris has created an interesting take on a paradox with The Avenues of Possibility, which is another strong entry into this celebratory box set which really delivers the goods. The writing is slick and very clever, and well delivered by a very strong cast.

 

Collision Course by Guy Adams

Now we come to the grand finale. A fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Leela (Louise Jameson) and Romana (Lalla Ward) adventure split across two time periods, and two versions of the same planet. A planet that is steeped in Time Lord legend, and where the first-ever TARDIS had it's very first test flight with rather disastrous results. It'll take at least six Time Lords to save the day (and maybe a couple of others just for good measure). Where ever could we find them?

I found Collision Course, for the most part to be the weakest of six stories included in this set. I think mainly because of the way the action is split (again) across two time periods, everything after a while blurs together. There is also a lot of technobabble, and some very earnest monologues, describing how dire the situation is, and how there can be no resolution.

Collision Course also features the money shot that we have all been waiting for, and that is the payoff of having multiple Doctors in the same room, bickering away about their own self-importance.

So, here is the thing with The Legacy Of Time, I was looking for a proper multi-Doctor story, and yes, I got it for about 10 minutes of the 480 plus minute run time. However, I wanted more. As a sum of it's parts the overall story is very enjoyable and included some iconic characters that were solely the creation of Big Finish......but  I felt as if I was a bit short-changed by the lack of Doctor on Doctor action. I understand that this is Big Finish's huge 20 year finale - and that is truly a wondrous milestone to hit. But there could have been a lot more interaction between the Doctors.

I appreciate that there is a lot of celebration going on. With odd pairings of companions past and present and some nice, unexpected cameos from others, but - this story is nearly forty quid! That’s a lot of money. Rest assured, The Legacy of Time is no Zagreus (thank goodness), but it could have been a better celebration, maybe by pairing some Doctors together with the companions?

Overall, a very good effort, all expertly directed by Ken Bentley, and as mentioned previously, as individual stories, very enjoyable. But as a multi-Doctor epic? Not quite so much.

 

 

 






The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master: The Rage of the Time Lords (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Tim Foley & David Llewellyn

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Mina Anwar, Taj Atwal, Paul Clayton, Lu Corfield, Su Douglas, Ryan Forde Iosco, Youssef Kerkour, James MacCallum, Shvorne Marks, Ricky Nixon, Katherine Pearce, Laura Riseborough, Anjela Lauren Smith, Liz Sutherland-Lim, Dominic Thorburn

Released by Big Finish - July 2019

 

 

As much as I have enjoyed Big Finish's exploration of the Time War the last few years, I don't think any series they have running explores this corner of the Doctor who universe better than The War Master. While the Gallifrey series has taken to exploring the political consequences on the Time Lord's homeworld in an interesting way, it is still exploring the earliest days of the conflict and is all about the political strife that comes with it. The War Doctor and Eighth Doctor series did/do a  good job of exploring the Time War and it's effects on the universe, but the Doctor as the lead character does limit how far they can take the concept.  Even the War Doctor has to be inherently good, otherwise the audience may turn on him.  They could only take the character too dark.  But that isn't the case with the War Master, you can take him as dark and deep as you want, as as such, you can really explore the cruelest aspects of the Time War.  

Throughout Rage of the Time Lords, the Master is collecting unique individuals for nefarious reasons (what else), and this plot begins with The Survivor.  He has infiltrated a small rural British town during World War II, posing as a Minister and has taken a particular liking to a young girl named Alice.  He tricks her into causing some trouble, culminating in her hurting another girl, and then he exploits this to turn the entire town against her, and then takes her away.

In The Coney Island Chameleon the Master chases down an Italian Strongman and a girl who can change her skin to match her surroundings (even taking on the properties of brick walls and velvet curtains), seemingly after the young girl and her powers.  Here the Master doesn't make any attempt to play a good guy, and is more of a sinister figure from the outset. First offering to buy the girl, then chasing them down until he gets what he wants.  

From there we travel off of Earth, to a facility where the Master has been keeping all of his specimens. We find that he is working on creating some kind of weapon from all these beings he has collected and caged.  The Master is searching for the very thing that will complete his project, the titular Missing Link, and finally he arrives:  The Doctor.  Obviously a big draw for this set is that we get to hear Derek Jacobi's Master face off with Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.  And it's worth it.  The moment McGann shows up I perked right up....and I'd been loving the set up this point.  

The big finale for the set comes in Darkness and Light, and sees the Doctor forced to help the Master as his creation, The Rage, breaks loose in the facility.  It's a great ending to the set, fun to hear Jacobi and McGann spar...and the conclusion for the Doctor is painful and sad...but totally works. 

The set is excellent. Not a bad story in the bunch.  The build-up to the Mastyer's plan, the introduction of the Doctor in the back half, the reveal of the Master's scheme: it is all perfectly executed.  And the fact that the Master is a villain means that Big Finish can truly explore the most sinister aspects of the Time War.  Highly recommended. 






The Paternoster Gang - Heritage 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Paternoster Gang  (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Jonathan Morris, Roy Gill, Paul Morris
Director: Ken Bentley
 
Featuring: Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released June 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

The Paternoster Gang was originally introduced midway through the Sixth Series of Doctor Who's revival, with Madame Vastra and her assistant/wife Jenny being recruited to help the Doctor at Demon's Run, along with a Sontaran nurse named Strax who owed the Doctor a debt.  They then returned midway through the Seventh Series, where a few prequels set up that the duo became a trio when they brought Strax back with them, to act as their butler and in their investigations.  They made a few appearances during the rest of Series Seven, and also played a role in the Twelfth Doctor's debut story.  They were fairly popular with fans, and calls for a spin-off where not unheard at the time.  But showrunner Steven Moffat had enough on his plate with both Who and Sherlock, and his busy schedule meant spin-offs weren't really in the cards.  I also suspect that a period show that would require detailed sets and two of the leads to be in heavy prosthetic make-up was never really going to get the green-light when it mostly appealed to a niche fanbase.

But that is what Big Finish exists for!  They excel at giving every side character a spin-off of their own on audio.  They've certainly doubled down on that in recent years, particularly with the license for the new series opening up new avenues for them to explore.  Sure getting Eccleston, Smith and Capaldi is difficult, and even the game Tennant is so busy he can't really record as any sets as older Doctors...but if you can't get the new Doctors, why not give all of their friends a show! So we have River Song, Jenny, Missy, the War Master, Captain Jack, Lady Christina, Rose, UNIT, even Winston Churchill and new series of Torchwood and Class.  Now the Paternoster Gang gets in on the action, and their adventures are fairly fun. 

I was a little unsure how well they would fair as their own series if I am honest.  I remember when I first saw Deep Breath, that as much as I loved Strax, I was beginning to tire of the shtick of Vastra and Jenny.  They didn't really seem like a believable relationship to me.  So I went into this set a little unsure if the team could maintain my interest for a whole set.  Luckily the cast is quite likable in this.  Whether they are fighting early Electric Cars that turn into robots to wreak havoc on Victorian London, facing off with a Bizarro version of themselves (and zombies), or chasing down ghosts in Greenwich...they are a fun team to adventure with.  And this set is worth a listen. 






The Tenth Doctor Adventures - Volume Three (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Three (Credit: Big Finish)


Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Jacqueline King, Nicholas Briggs
Written by James Goss, Jenny T Colgan, & Roy Gill
Directed by Ken Bentley

Released by Big Finish - May 2019

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to Big Finish for Tennant's third and Tate's second boxset, and this time they've brought along some supporting characters from Series 4 as well: Wilf and Sylvia! 

The set opens with No Place, seeing all four characters in a haunted house, with the Doctor and Donna pretending to be newlyweds for some haunted house makeover show. Obviously, this is all in order to deal with whatever alien presence is stalking the house. In all honesty, the opener feels half baked, like they got part of an idea and never truly figured out the details...maybe hoping that the joy of hearing Bernard Cribbins as Wilf again would distract us from the fact that the story isn't terribly great.  And while it is great to hear Wilf and Sylvia in on the action, I can't say I even buy the idea that Sylvia would get involved in this plot.  It's nothing against Jacqueline King, she is good in this...but the way the character had always been written is contrary to her getting roped into a Doctor Scheme. She just wouldn't. And in the end, these are the kind of silly details I focus in on when the story itself isn't terribly interesting. 

Luckily the set bounces back with One Mile Down as the Doctor takes Donna to a tourist trap that was once a beautiful underwater city, but in order to make money with tourism they've encased it in a bubble, with the original fish like inhabitants forced into protective helmets, and essentially be treated as lower life forms despite having built the beautiful city everyone has come to see.  It can be a bit ham-fisted with it's social commentary, but that was the Tenth Doctor era I loved so much!  You've got 45 minutes to an hour to explain your premise, introduce your guest characters, build a world and solve it all for the next adventure...if you want to put in a message, well you just need to shove it in and get the point across quickly.  And I enjoyed this episode!

The set closes out with The Creeping Death, which takes place in Smoggy London in 1952. This was an actual thing that got really bad in December 1952, and a number of people got ill or died due to toxins in the air.  In this story, some minuscule alien lifeforms that live in those kinds of toxins have come to Earth and hope to make the smog last forever, and of course, it is up to the Doctor, Donna, and a small group of people to stop them.  This one has a fun atmosphere, and I enjoyed all the guest characters. It is definitely the best outing for this set. 

As the Tenth Doctor is probably my favourite version of the character, and Donna my favourite companion of his, I'd be hard pressed not to just enjoy hearing Tennant and Tate together again (even out of character the two are always a blast to listen to).  I think despite the lame opening effort, they bounce back and make stories that definitely feel like episodes that could've fit into Series 4.  The only thing that could capture the feel of that era better is Murray Gold's music.  Unlike the first set in which Tennant had to sort of find his Doctor voice again, and the second set in which Billie Piper didn't quite feel like the old Rose, this time Tennant and Tate are rock solid in their performances, and it's a fun ride. 





The War Machines (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Read By  Michael Cochrane
Released by BBC Audio - March 2019
Available from Amazon UK

I have always ranked The War Machines fairly high in First Doctor stories.  I've always felt Hartnell is quite good in it, and it drops dead weight companion Dodo in favor of the charming Ben and Polly, who at the time better represented modern youth. It also had fun robot villains trying to overtake London and the World, and what isn't fun about that? But somehow, I didn't really find myself that interested in this audiobook of the Target Novelization. 

Written by original script writer Ian Stuart Black, the novelization just isn't written with any energy. It highlights the deficiencies of the television story.  On TV they got away with some filler and a story that isn't full of action, because the performances of Hartnell, Anneke Wills, and Michael Craze keep you engaged. But as a novel or audiobook, I just found that there isn't much happening, and even though I finished listening to it a week ago, I've been struggling to think of much to really say about it. 

The only thing of note I truly remember is that the first chapter adds a bit of business between the Doctor and Dodo, in which both note secretly think they will be parting soon.  This is certainly more than the TV version ever did, as Dodo just disappears at one point, and at the end of the story, her replacements show up and say she's gone to live on a farm upstate somewhere, and then they callously steal her job. The book does the same, but at least there is this acknoweldgement of her exit in the beginning of the story.

I don't think it is the fault of the narrator, Michael Cochrane, who I think does a fine job.  His Hartnell impression is particularly great.  But the guy has little to work with. I find it so odd that a story I have always liked has left me so cold in the novelization.