The Lure of the Nomad (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Lure of the Nomad (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Matthew J Elliott
Directed By: John Ainsworth


Colin Baker (The Doctor), George Sear (Mathew Sharpe), Matthew Holness (Eric Drazen), Susie Riddell (Esther Brak), Ruth Sillers (Willoway), Jonathan Christie (Captain Schumer), Anna Barry (Juniper Hartigan), Dan March (Varian). Other parts played by members of the cast.


Producer John Ainsworth
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The latest adventure for the Sixth Doctor in Big Finish's Monthly Range is a mildly enjoyable tale. Colin Baker, as always, delivers as the Doctor...but the story around him is average at best.  That is not to say there are not good ideas, but the best idea of the bunch is undercut by the presentation...but  will dive deeper into that in a moment. 

First, the story.  The Sixth Doctor has been adventuring lately with a fellow named Mathew Sharpe.  The two have been traveling for a bit, but the Doctor thinks it may be time for their adventures to come to a close. Before he takes Mathew home though, they answer a distress signal.  They end up on a big ship in space being renovated into some kind of resort, but the creatures in tentacle robot suits that are renovating it begin killing people. The question is why? 

It's all standard Who stuff, and it isn't really told in any new interesting way.  That isn't to say it can't be entertaining, but it certainly keeps it from being terribly memorable.  The best element of the story, for me, was also a bit of a letdown.  So...SPOILERS AHEAD:

The problem with the big reveal is that it is totally undercut by the fact that we had never heard of this Mathew character before now.  So the big reveal that he is actually an evil alien that was trying to trap the Doctor loses some impact in that we don't know Mathew.  We haven't spent time with him, so the reveal that he is secretly evil isn't too shocking.  As the story progressed I figured he was going to either die or be a villain.  If they had actually lead up to this story with Mathew, it may have had more impact.  But I don't care that the Doctor loses a friend here, because I never met him before this story. I am told they adventured together, but I never experienced it. 

So this is a hit and miss story for me. It doesn't do anything too new or creative, and the most intriguing element...a companion that is secretly evil all along, lacks the impact it may have had if they had actually had a series of adventures leading up to this moment.  Instead it feels like a climax to a story I missed out on. 

Project: Twilight (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Project: Twilight (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: August 2001
Running Time: 2 hours

There was a point in the early 2000s when the shadowy group known as the Forge were emerging as Big Finish’s big, original, villain. It’s a concept that will be fundamentally familiar to viewers of Doctor Who after its return to television – a sort of dark version of UNIT; utterly ruthless in its methods and devoted not to defending the human race against alien threats, but to exploiting such technologies to empower the British Empire.

But it’s the contrast to Torchwood that stands out when listening to these now. While Torchwood One gave us the natural businesslike extension of the concept of an organization for which busting interdimensional threats and exploring crashed spaceships were literally just another day at the office, and Torchwood Three gave us the sighing, grumbling, sloppiness of a team largely seeing it as ‘just a job,’ the Forge is full of howling fanatics and True Believers. Their main ‘hunter’ Nimrod is so given to pretentious monologuing about the nature of Absolute Power and Destiny that he’s frequently just short of ‘catharsis of spurious morality’ territory. He desperately needs the Doctor to puncture his pomposity with a bit of silly banter.

That doesn’t happen in Project: Twilight, however, which sits squarely in the uber dark and gritty corner of 80s Who and has zero tolerance for any whimsy or even wit. From the moment the Sixth Doctor finds the gruesomely disembowelled corpses of cats and dogs in an alley, the tone is pretty much set for the rest of the story.

Attempting to say something new about vampires, and explore moral relativity, Project: Twilight doesn’t really succeed in either regard. The coven of vampires lead by Reggie and Amelia are just so thoroughly and totally unpleasant – doubling as both creatures of the night and mob bosses – that their attempts to present themselves as victims of circumstance doesn’t really convince. Yes, the Forge may have infected them against their will, but their behaviour since is much more Near Dark than Interview with a Vampire (let alone the glittery remorse of Twilight). The Doctor’s agreeing to help with their experiments to reverse their condition is a little hard to accept, even as he tuts and sighs at their brutal methods. Even odder is quite how long it takes him to cop on that he’s working with vampires even after a couple of episodes working  on the genetic code and blood (never mind people trying to kill them with crossbow bolts through the heart, trouble crossing running water and the rest). Weirder still, Evelyn asks him to check his white, male Gallifyrean privilege and confront his racism against vampires when… y’know...  they kill and eat people. ‘You only dislike them because they kill and eat people’ is a deeply troubling high horse to choose to mount.

And that’s before the not so shocking twist Amelia isn’t interested in a cure for anything but their weaknesses so that she can breed a new race of super-vampires with which to conquer and enslave the human race.

Only Cassie, the single mother newly employed at Reggie’s casino the Dusk, comes across sympathetically. And by the final scenes of Nimrod promising the Doctor a future rematch, it sounds like not just a threat to the Time Lord, but to the viewer as well.Across all their ranges, there must now be the best part of five hundred Big Finish audios so they can’t all be brilliant. But that also just underlines that there’s no need for newer listeners dipping into the Big Finish back catalogue to listen to this.


Associated Products

Released 30 Aug 2001
Project: Twilight (Doctor Who)

Torchwood: Believe (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 8 May 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood; Believe (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Guy Adams
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring:John Barrowman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Eve Myles, Naoko Mori, Burn Gorman, Arthur Darvill
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 3 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

"We're responsible for everything we do, Val. Every book you've written for money that tells people what to think, every DVD you've produced for money that tells people what to change about their lives. Every speech, every assembly, every word - you don't get to do that and shrug away the responsibility."

Upon learning of Big Finish’s successful acquisition of the Torchwood licence back in 2015, fans the world over – this reviewer included – immediately began drafting their personal wish-lists for the franchise’s impending audio continuation. What happened next after Miracle Day? Could Owen and / or Tosh return to the fold despite their demises in 2008’s “Exit Wounds”? Was it time to learn the fabled secrets of Torchwood Two? And no, seriously, when were we moving on from Miracle Day so as to get that failed US soft reboot’s sour taste out of our palettes?

Perhaps the most pressing point on the agenda, however, was just how swiftly the studio could reunite Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper for any lost missions beyond those we witnessed on-screen in Seasons One and Two. Well, we’ve waited three years – the Owen-less 10th anniversary celebration The Torchwood Archive notwithstanding – to discover the answer, but it comes in the form of perhaps the range’s most satisfying boxset to date, Torchwood: Believe.

Isolating his latest scripts from both the sinister activities of the Committee in Big Finish’s monthly releases and Cardiff’s present apocalyptic state in Aliens Among Us proves a genuine masterstroke on Guy Adams’ part. Rather than forcing newcomers enticed by the return of all five Torchwood Three members to hit pause and purchase past releases in order to decipher what’s occurring here, the regular range contributor delivers a totally standalone affair, albeit one which still packs no shortage of emotional punches thanks to further exploring many thematic and character strands first established in the original show.

Part of what makes this approach so successful from the outset is how comfortably familiar Believe’s opening moments will seem to those fans who’ve followed the show in all its forms since Day One (episodic pun fully intended). At first, we’re presented with a run-of-the-mill debrief led by Owen into the ongoing exploits of the Church of the Outsiders, a seemingly innocuous religious cult whose efforts to hasten humanity’s ascent to meet – and interbreeding with – alien species include stealing classified UNIT data, dabbling in illegal cyber augmentation as well as setting up their own TV channel, community centres and full-fledged indoctrinatory academy.

It’s a quintessential sequence that feels ripped straight out of the TV show, with each cast member helping to remind us of the lead ensemble’s witty rapport: Owen (Gorman) righteously assured of his every move’s necessity, Toshiko (Mori)’s reserved tendency to serve as the voice of reason, Ianto (David-Lloyd)’s still-growing confidence within the team dynamic, Gwen (Myles)’s often gung-ho attitude tempered by the personal grounding that she brings to the agency and Jack (Barrowman) as enigmatic as he is charismatic. So far so Torchwood, then? Clearly, we’re in for three hours’ worth of Avengers: Infinity War-style crossover banter, right?

Not exactly. As Adams and producer James Goss accurately highlighted in the midst of Believe’s pre-release marketing campaign, the show – in its on-screen incarnation – would often split up the team to achieve different goals within the context of the wider mission, thereby allowing time to explore how each character’s individual passions and flaws affected their outlook on increasingly hostile situations. Indeed, the same rings true here as Ianto pairs himself with one of the Church’s devoted disciples to further investigate their goals, Tosh pursues the sect’s resident accountant Frank Layton (brought to life with self-titled and loathsomely complacent aplomb by ex-Doctor Who companion Arthur Darvill) and Gwen meets Church leader Val’s introverted daughter Andromeda, all while Owen oversees operations from the Hub and Jack heads off to pastures unknown.

Yet to simply describe Believe as but a scattershot collection of plot threads which eventually converge would severely undermine the scale of Adams’ achievement, not least in challenging each member of the team with dilemmas the likes of which they’ve arguably never faced before. The Church’s interstellar ambitions resonate in extremely different ways for each of our protagonists, with Jack for instance earnestly admitting his yearning to travel the stars as he once did with the Doctor, Ianto – as with The Last Beacon in April – once again forced to consider whether his ties with Torchwood Three threaten to rob him of any soul, hope or life meaning, and most notably the show’s beloved unrequited romance between Owen and Tosh taking the most disturbing detour imaginable.

For make no mistake, the scribe who showed us Suzie’s darkest inhibitions in Moving Target and took Gwen on a high-octane car chase with her local counsellor in More Than This has no qualms about taking further bold risks this time around either. Much as Gorman and Mori looked overjoyed to reunite their wayward almost-lovers when posting about their recording experiences on Twitter, the pair – both as actors and characters – are put through the dramatic ringer and then some here, Tosh’s efforts to extract any key intel possible from Layton about his supposedly selfless church-turned-charity soon developing into Children of Earth-level territory which could uproot her budding romantic tension with Mr. Harper forever. Think of a fall from grace on the scale of a Greek tragedy and you'll only just scratch the surface what's in store, as one of the pair colossally oversteps their reach to devastating effect.

Thank goodness, then, that both stars knock the ball out of the metaphorical park with captivating, psychologically intricate and often downright heartbreaking performances. We’ll avoid spoilers here for the sake of preserving your listening experience, save for that the Tosh-Layton storyline builds to an extremely unsettling crescendo, to a place where this reviewer isn’t entirely sure even the TV show would’ve dared to tread on BBC One / Two / Three. Heck, Big Finish themselves rarely tend to stray into territory as macabre as this, barring some of their early Doctor Who Main Release excursions like Colditz or the Doctor Who: Unbound range, but when the results are so painstakingly powerful and haunting as this, one almost wishes that they’d take the leap of faith more often.

Such narrative ambition on Adams’ part doesn’t end there – it pervades Believe on a conceptual level as well. Ever since juggling verbose duck companions with religious satire in The Holy Terror, Big Finish have shown their complete willingness to interrogate faith, its cathartic and chaos-inducing consequences for its followers / opponents, as well as whether anyone has the right to brazenly dispel theistic beliefs. Believe takes this contemplation to another level altogether, as Jack’s met with the profound existential dilemma of knowing that the Church’s desire to have humanity mingle with aliens will eventually come to pass, while Owen considers whether he’s fuelling the mission out of mere ego or indignation at religious groups’ naivety surrounding the afterlife, and Ianto undergoes an epiphany surrounding that aforementioned intervention by Torchwood into the beliefs of others without any consideration for the victims left behind come the mission’s denouement. Rhian Blundell's superb work as Ianto's endearingly sincere and passionate guide Erin helps immeasurably in the latter regard, with her and David-Lloyd's characters striking up a quaint college romance of sorts that won't fail to take even the biggest Jones-Harkness shippers off guard.

Two questions might justifiably have occurred to readers of this review by now: why didn’t Torchwood Season Two’s final episodes make mention of these character moments if they’re so pivotal, and where does the inevitable alien antagonist factor into processes? Let’s tackle those in linear order – unlike Believe’s refreshingly non-linear structure, with Episode 1 in particular zipping cleverly between Owen’s initial debrief and each teammate’s consequent mission. Considering that Adams’ exemplary three-part tale situates itself explicitly between the events of “A Day in the Death” and “Fragments”, that it’s so intent on progressing arguably unresolved threads from the show such as the extents of Tosh’s loyalty, Ianto’s increasingly challenged worldview and Jack’s tendency to withhold the truth even from his comrades might stretch the credibility of its status as a ‘canonical’ in-between-quel for some.

Nevertheless, just as some of Big Finish’s finest Who productions took slight liberties with continuity in the name of ambitious storytelling, so too does Believe admirably follow that route so as to truly test our perceptions of these evolving characters in fascinating, often remarkably unsettling ways. That also brings us onto its aforementioned extraterrestrial presence – again, staying clear of spoilers, Torchwood’s finest hours frequently arose from dealing with the worst of humanity rather than alien foes, which affords Adams the creative licence here to pit the team against fallible but equally rational members of their species whose sympathetic motivations only further the personal stakes for both factions.

So in spite of bringing together the Famous Five as well as temporarily restoring classic elements from the show such as the fully-operational Hub and – of course – the SUV, Torchwood: Believe fast cements itself as anything but your average all-guns-blazing detective drama. There’s no denying that its audacious character arcs, unspeakably heartrending performances from Gorman and Mori, and realistic shades of moral greyness will result in a challenging listening experience for long-term fans, but those elements also set the boxset apart as an awards-worthy tour de force in truly provocative science-fiction. Between the masterful Beacon and the game-changing Believe, 2018 could be the year where everything changes for Big Finish’s Torchwood range; if that’s the case, then one thing’s for sure – Guy Adams and his entire lead cast are ready.

Jago & Litefoot & Strax (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 May 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
 Jago & Litefoot & Strax (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: November 2015
Running Time: 2 hours

It is kind of amazing what Big Finish can do. They can somehow base a series around two characters that appeared in one story in 1977, make it a success, and then for a bit of a fun event, have them crossover with a recurring character from the new series. And it can still be fairly accessible for newcomers.  These adventures don't really require a ton of backstory for you to find them enjoyable.

I am aware of Jago & Litefoot from their lone appearance in the 70s, and while I've not really had too much chance to dive into their Big Finish run, I have enjoyed nearly all of their appearances in regular Doctor Who adventures. This adventure, in which they team up with New Series recurring Sontaran Strax.  It's a smart use the newly acquired Big Finish license, which gives them use of New Series characters.  Why not take your classic series spin-off featuring a couple of guys solving paranormal and alien mysteries in Late Victorian England, and team them up with at least one member of the New series team that does the same? 

In this Two-Part story, titled "The Haunting," Strax ends up assisting Jago & Litefoot on a supposedly haunted house mystery...though the entire time he thinks they are just Vastra and Jenny undercover. Strax is dumb. Which is fun!  The entire two-part mystery is good fun.  Jago & Litefoot have a good rapport, and Strax is usually a pretty funny comic relief to the Paternoster Gang, so the story has a good comedy line-up. Oddly, that comedy team is investigating murders in a haunted house.  That is the fun of it. 

I rather enjoyed this story.  It is light, funny, with just enough drama mixed in to balance it all out. As someone who was only mildly familiar with the Jago & Litefoot series before I began this, I can say it is definitely accessible to newcomers, and if anything it just makes you want to listen to more from this series. 

Associated Products

Released 31 Jan 2016
37% off
Jago & Litefoot & Strax 1 - The Haunting

The Mark of the Rani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
Read By Nicola Bryant

Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK

I was never a big fan of Pip and Jane Baker's writing on the series.  They only wrote three stories, but none of them thrilled me. "The Mark of the Rani" was probably the best of the three...but even then it was a little too campy. I didn't think the Rani was an interesting new villain, as she just seemed to be a pale imitation of Anthony Ainley's version of the Master, and her scientist goals seemed very anti-science in their depiction.  

Little did I know I'd need to write a review of the audiobook someday.  

This is the kind of sentence that seems to end a lot of sequences and chapters in this novelization.  "Little did they know..." and variations upon that permeate the book. The Bakers aren't particularly good writers in my opinion, not for the screen, not for the page.  While Nicola Bryant proves to be a great narrator, the story is only so-so.  

I don't remember disliking the original episodes, though I went back and read my review of when I last watched it many years ago, and my review is pretty critical of it.  I'd have to rewatch to see where I stand on the televised version.  But the novel is mediocre.  Not awful, but just somewhere in the middle...and there is little that is less interesting to talk about than something that is middle of the road in terms of quality.  

If you happen to be fan of this story, Nicola Bryant is giving her all to the audiobook. I would say her reading made up for the lack of story and interesting characters.  If you don't really care about this particular Sixth Doctor story, I wouldn't waste my time. 

Torchwood: The Last BeaconBookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Torchwood: The Last Beacon (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Gareth David-Lloyd
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Burn Gorman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Laura Dalgleish, Daniel Hawksford, Rick Yale, Marilyn Le Conte
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 1 hour

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

“I can’t go in there – it’s got a hygiene rating of 1!”
“Could be worse.”
“Could be 0!”

Since Big Finish acquired their prized license to continue the missions of Torchwood Three beyond their 2010 televised expiry date, we’ve seen their resultant monthly range deliver myriad unlikely character groupings: Captain Jack and Queen Victoria, Sergeant Andy and an enigmatic long-dead secret agent, Yvonne Hartman and Wales’ nightclubbing community, the list goes on. That trend of subversive matchmaking continues this month with The Last Beacon, wherein Cardiff’s famed coffee brewing extraordinaire Ianto Jones and its infamous soon-to-be eternal antihero Owen Harper must embark on the road trip to end all road trips. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we’re glad that you asked.

Such circumstances could’ve never come about without sufficient incentive for both participants, of course, and indeed the pair has their work cut out locating the source of the elusive signal which endows Beacon with its name. Containing the language of an alien species long thought extinct, the sudden transmission brings Ianto and Owen out to the Welsh countryside for a makeshift bonding exercise-turned-trial by fire – the former equipped with his trusty coffee kit, mittens and years of camping experience, the latter only his wits and trademark bitter sense of humour. By now any Torchwood devotee should already have sensed the rife potential for fraught inter-team dynamics and rural satire just waiting for the play’s writer to exploit, and the scribe’s name? Gareth David-Lloyd.

If the gamble of allowing one of the show’s lead stars to try his hand at penning their latest script, particularly with no prior writing credits to his name, seems a step too far even for a company as prone to risk-taking as Big Finish, then worry not; the studio couldn’t possibly have selected a more suitable custodian for this utterly spectacular buddy comedy. Whether he’s sending our heroes into pubs for spontaneous – if inevitable – brawls, eerie forests containing sinister visions of the past or abandoned clubhouses which Owen wryly brands as being “frozen in the ‘80s”, David-Lloyd evidently recalls transparently how the original series thrived on juggling humorous and horrific elements throughout its four-season run, straddling those contrasting tones with the same enviable ease as any of his fellow range wrights.

Less surprising, however, is the man’s ability to brilliantly capture Ianto’s complex personality – on the printed page and in the recording studio – as if TV’s second most iconic butler after Jeeves had never departed from our screens or airwaves. It’s easy to forget at times how impressively multi-faceted a character Mr. Jones became over the course of 30 episodes, his quiet sense of humour belying intense romantic passion, psychological vulnerability and strained familial ties which then came to the fore in Children of Earth. Fair play to David-Lloyd, then, for placing this emotionally versatile character’s internal struggles front-and-centre in Beacon, with his struggle to reconcile the innocent tyke who adored visiting the Welsh mountains to see his gran with the oft-isolated man that we see today a core thematic and narrative element that lends vital gravitas to the mission and to his dynamic with Owen.

Enter Burn Gorman, the return of whom to Torchwood marked by far one of the audio range’s biggest breakthroughs in 2017’s deeply unsettling masterpiece Corpse Day. Unsurprisingly Gorman – who successfully sent shivers down this viewer’s spine in the role of Oliver’s Bill Sykes on the West End a few years back – carries the performing mettle to simultaneously evolve Owen’s intricate relationship with Ianto, as the former discovers how the latter’s childhood experiences still inform his modern-day decisions, while also providing much of the tale’s pitch-perfect comic relief as Owen finds himself totally out of his element. Indeed, David-Lloyd confirms in Beacon's interview tracks that he and Goss conspired to bring Owen aboard what the former calls a spiritual successor to "Countrycide", knowing that he'd truly seem a fish out of water when met with the prospect of conversing with amicable bus drivers and alien badgers or indulging Ianto's newfound passopn for geocaching treasure hunts. That Gorman shares such obvious chemistry with David-Lloyd, particularly thanks to their hilarious good cop / bad cop approach, couldn’t have been predicted before recording, though; let’s hope that this month’s long-awaited team-up boxset Torchwood: Believe offers plenty more of this superb dynamic.

Beyond the fine tonal balancing and gripping character drama, there’s even time for some provocative thematic exploration of communities and species straying from their traditional roots along the way. Guest star Ellie Darvill does an utterly tremendous job conveying her character’s underlying yearning for our species return to simpler times before our gothic pursuit of technology at all costs, a return to the rare community spirit which anyone who’s ever camped near rural villages will attest pervades that refreshing escapist experience. Once again, though, that David-Lloyd effortlessly integrates this increasingly topical talking point into the context of a sci-fi narrative – and indeed Ianto’s personal arc over the course of hour – speaks wonders for his previously untapped literary talents, to the remarkable extent that even Big Finish’s veteran scribes could learn a thing or three for future reference.

Regular readers of our Torchwood audio verdicts might recall this reviewer previously calling out the range’s inconsistent approach to arc-building, but ultimately, if its – seemingly – standalone recent entries such as this one and last month’s brilliantly off-the-wall The Death of Captain Jack are even marginally indicative of what’s to come in future releases, then consider those qualms completely laid to rest. In The Last Beacon, Gareth David-Lloyd has delivered not only the definitive take on his still beloved character of Ianto Jones, but more importantly an incredible distillation of everything which made the show so successful on-air and which continues to ensure its hallowed place in fans’ hearts today.

Next Time on Torchwood – We’re off for another road trip, this time of the psychological horror variety, as the Cooper family test their longstanding theory that We Always Get Out Alive to its nerve-wracking limits. First, though, who fancies attending Torchwood Three’s much-vaunted reunion party, the guest list for which includes immortal Time Agents, space pig-hunting medics and a certain renowned butler? Apparently securing an invitation to this prestigious three-hour event doesn’t take much effort for those in the know – all one has to do is Believe