Muse of Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 25 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Muse Of Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Paul Magrs
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

‘Muse of Fire’ is the first of two Big Finish releases that graced listeners in December of 2018. The fifth seventh doctor release in a row, it saw the return of the popular Ace/Hex companion team and plonked them down in 1920’s Paris at the height of an artistic boom. Not only that but it features the return of Iris Wildthyme and her long term companion and friend- Panda. I must confess to being something of a humbug when it comes to overtly silly Doctor Who stories. I must also confess to not having experienced much Irirs before (indeed I had only heard The Wormery) and so I wasn’t really too excited about this particular release. However, I can not only claim it to be the best main range release of the year thus far, but I must also thank it for starting my obsessive love affair with a certain 10-inch tall panda….

Written by one of the real shining stars of the Doctor Who world, Paul Magrs, Muse of Fire is a multi-layered incredibly rich piece of storytelling that weaves an eccentric comedy around themes of art and poetry. It pits the TARDIS team against Iris and Panda with ease and manages to further the Doctor and Iris’s relationship, not as easy as it may sound given that she was first introduced into the Whoniverse (or he was first introduced into the multiverse!) in 1998. Of course, Magrs has a certain advantage over some of the other writers who have written for Iris, being her creator. It effortlessly manages to include some moments of genuine tension, even if the situation is absurd, without giving us any jarring shifts in tone. The concept of the Doctor immediately mistrusting her, particularly in this incarnation, results in some wonderful moments- with Magrs getting in some great digs at this ‘era’ of Doctor Who.

Katy Manning and David Benson are of course two of the highlights of this release. In the previous series of Iris Wildthyme (which thanks to this release, I recently binged when travelling), their team of Iris and Panda proved to be one of the prime points of amusement and the fact that it took them this long to meet the Doctor together, is criminal frankly. Admittedly some of their…’vices’ are toned down a little, though this is to be expected, given that this is a Doctor Who and not a Wildthyme release. Benson takes a little longer than Manning to enter into the story, however when he does I had to stop the playback in order to wipe the tears from my eyes. Panda’s dynamic with Ace will surely reduce any hardened Doctor Who fan to sobs of laughter. Not only that but whenever I sit down to write another Doctor Who review, I won’t be able to not picture Panda ripping into Dali.

The regular Tardis team all get some great moments and it’s nice to see this particular trio in something a little more light, though still containing an incredible richness. Phillip Oliver shows a talent for comedy and he takes an immediate shine to Iris, indeed perhaps somewhere out there, there’s an Iris and Hex miniseries waiting to happen? Sophie Aldred has some wonderful moments, particularly with David Benson and McCoy manages to play the straight man beautifully, this darker Doctor seeming a little lost amidst all the madness. Yearning for the past is almost always a bad idea, however, I’d still indulge in any more one-off adventures featuring this team reunited.

All in all Muse of Fire is an incredible piece of work. The highlight of the year.






Doctor Who - Big Finish - Short Trips 9.09 - The RevisionistsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
 Short Trips 9.09 - The Revisionists (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andy Frankham-Allen

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Louise Jameson (Narrator)

Guests at the Hôtel des Rois are being haunted by ancestors that never existed. The Brigadier was only in Geneva to finalise his retirement, but how could he resist? Investigating, the Brigadier quickly finds something unusual. A warrior in leathers. A warrior called Leela…

History is about to catch up with both of them. History that neither of them thinks is real.

 

The Revisionist is a clever little story that asks the questions – What would happen if our memories were erased? How would we go about getting them back? The Brigadier, Leela and the Doctor meet in a haunted hotel. They are each visited by an ghostly ancestor – but when the apparition fades, their memories of that ancestor also disappears.

The most interesting twist on this story is that we find that the Doctor thinks he is only in his third incarnation, ‘off camera’ he had been visited by this third self, and had this incarnation wiped from his memory. Of course the Brigadier is the only one to remember the third Doctor – it makes for quite an interesting premise.

Louise Jameson is always first rate as a narrator, and doesn’t disappoint here. The Leela in this story hails from quite early in her and the Doctor’s timeline, so is quite unrefined. There is an absolute belter of a moment when the Brigadier first meets Leela that I’ll leave to you to discover. It had me laughing out loud.

Written by Andy Frankham-Allen, who is no stranger to the Brigadier, having previously created and penned the Lethbridge-Stewart series for Candy Jar ensures that The Revisionist is a great addition to the Short Trips range, and is available here.

 





Doctor Who - Big Finish - Short Trips - The Last Day At WorkBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Last Day At Work (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Alfie Shaw, Script Editor Alfie Shaw
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Harry Draper, Directed By: Alfie Shaw

Cast

Nicholas Briggs (Narrator)

Constable Bernard Whittam is in for a special evening. Finally retiring from a lifetime in the police force, he’s celebrating with friends, family and the woman he loves. It’s all perfect. Apart from the noise in his head, the wheezing, groaning noise that has haunted his entire life. That and the unusual gatecrashers.

It’s going to be a night to remember…

 

The Last Day At Work is a very poignant, title for one of the best Short Trips I have listened to yet. The story features the Doctor and Jamie, and is set in 1968. 

 

Apart from the synopsis above, I'll let you discover how the story unfolds as you listen to it, there is a simple joy in this second Doctor tale that should never be ruined, or the story will lack the emotional punch that it aims squarely at your jaw. I did guess as to the direction that new(ish) writer Harry Draper was taking the listener....however I didn't fully realise exactly how deep into the shows rich mythology he would  delve, so much so to create a new mythology all of his own.

 

Nicholas Briggs is on narration duties, and makes for a mighty fine second Doctor....although I did think that his version of Jamie was some way off of the mark. However this is a minor quibble, as the Short Trip range is always more about story telling as opposed to full cast audio plays.

 

I really can't recommend The Last Day At Work enough, and with it being part of the Paul Spragg Short Trips Memorial Opportunity the story is FREE, and can be downloaded from Big Finish HERE.

 

DID I MENTION THIS STORY IS FREE? GET DOWNLOADING PEOPLE!!!!






Bernice Summerfield: The Story So Far (Volumes 1 and 2)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 February 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Bernice Summerfield - Story So Far.

Written by James Goss, Jacqueline Rayner, Simon Guerrier, Eddie Robson, David Llewellyn and Una McCormack
Produced by James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
Big Finish Productions, 2018
Stars: Lisa Bowerman, Miles Richardson,
David Warner, Michael Jayston,
Emily Laing, Stephen Fewell, Ayesha Antoine

Bernice Surprise Summerfield – archaeologist, adventurer, friend, cat lady! It was at the end of the 20th century that her audio adventures began, which makes her – as far as records tell us – the holder of the following accolades: the longest-running science fiction audio drama series; the longest-running audio drama series; the longest-running audio drama series starring a woman. What makes her so remarkable? Does she deserve all the praise that is heaped upon her?

Miles Richardson (as Irving Braxiatel), in the introduction to the Behind the Scenes discs

Even if you’re not necessarily a devoted follower of archaeologist and plucky adventurer Bernice Summerfield over the past 20 to 25 years, there’s a strong chance you’re nevertheless aware of her character – whether that be through Big Finish (via her own long-running audio series) or through the Virgin New Adventures novels (one of the few media in the “dark times” of the 1990s that continued Doctor Who as a property in the absence of a TV series).

Bernice (aka Benny) was a proto-River Song, an independent, hyper-intelligent and charming archaeologist who had a wicked sense of humour and fun and an arsenal of clever wisecracks (Benny predated Song by about 16 years). Created by veteran Doctor Who scribe Paul Cornell and modelled on actress Emma Thompson (one of Cornell’s crushes), the role of Benny has taken on a life of her own – not only thanks to a long line of dedicated writers and producers but the talent of Lisa Bowerman (whose relevance to Doctor Who before she played Benny was her role in the final classic serial Survival – as Cheetah Person Karra – in 1989).

Indeed, it is The Adventures of Bernice Summerfield audio series (which in 1998 began with adaptations of various New Adventures novels starring Bowerman and featuring actors associated with Doctor Who) that made it possible for Big Finish to ultimately capture the rights to make Doctor Who proper for audio. Despite that coup, BF never abandoned Benny – it instead provided a springboard for the character to have fresh adventures outside of the New Adventures adaptations – and the latest of those endeavours is Bernice Summerfield: The Story So Far, which celebrates 20 years of the character on audio.

The Story So Far comprises two volumes, each with three diverse tales set across different spans of Bernice’s life and career – from her youth to her role as a curator in the infamous Braxiatel collection to her strong relationship with David Warner’s “Unbound” universe Doctor.The standalone tales are also written by BF producers and contributors who have been instrumental in advancing Benny’s adventures over the past two decades – Jacqueline Rayner, Simon Guerrier, Eddie Robson, David Llewellyn, Una McCormack, current series producer and script editor James Goss and director Scott Handcock. Subsequently, in the behind the scenes extras on each volume, Goss interviews each of the contributors, alongside Bowerman, as they reflect on the directions they sought to take the character and the range while they were in charge. Cornell also discusses the character’s amazing trajectory – which he attests to being quite proud of, in spite of having minimal involvement in the range.

The highlight of Volume 1 is Goss’s peculiarly titled opener Ever After Happy which takes listeners right back to Benny’s origins as a rebellious cadet-cum-emotional guru on a military academy asteroid. Up and comer Emily Laing puts on a fantastic performance as the brash, overconfident and angst-ridden young Benny, virtually stealing the limelight from Bowerman. It’s more than likely this won’t be Ms Laing’s sole work for Big Finish – not only does she make a great Benny but she is ballsy Doctor Who companion material in her own right.  Whether BF chooses to cast Laing in another role across its output down the track or even contemplate a boxset celebrating Benny’s early adventures as an archaeologist, she is a talent they should be utilising now before she ends up with a British TV contract or a Hollywood career!

Rayner’s The Grel Invasion of Earth is the most satirical entry in these six celebratory stories. Not only does her script feature the long overdue return of comical Ood-like villains the Grel (who Cornell invented for the first Benny-centric New Adventure Oh No It Isn’t …) but the story is an unashamed parody of the classic Doctor Who serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth in terms of its structure, give or take some liberties.In fact, as it was Rayner who originally adapted some of the New Adventures novels for the Benny range, it’s clear that her brief was to adapt a traditional Doctor Who tale in a similar manner. The Grel Invasion of Earth is very much a playful and fun homage to those early Benny adaptations, as well as the original Doctor Who/Dalek serial it cheekily apes. Fact: Any Whovians who are offended by this imitation really ought to have a bex and a good lie down!

Bowerman is ably supported by Stephen Fewell, reprising his role as the hapless Jason Kane, Benny’s ex-husband. Fewell has some great comedic moments as Jason, as well as a few touching ones. His dialogue about Benny in one scene is vividly poetic and romantic until it is undercut by his own misunderstanding of the original question that prompted it!

Guerrier’s Braxiatel in Love takes the listener forward in time to Benny’s work as a curator at the Braxiatel Collection post-the Fifth Axis/Dalek invasion. What’s particularly interesting about this tale is that it seems to be narrated by the antagonist, the seemingly unassuming Veronica Bland (Gabrielle Glaister) who has inveigled herself into the Collection community and (much to Bernice’s astonishment and suspicion) become engaged to Irving Braxiatel (Miles Richardson).

Glaister gives a stand-out performance as Veronica and coupled with Guerrier’s characterisation, you cannot help but be charmed by her seductive, silky voice and feel some empathy for her character (although, as it transpires in the tale, these are all attributes of her magnetism). The manner in which the protagonists break out of her thrall is quite ironic, to say the least.

Volume 2 of The Story So Far is more specifically referential of Doctor Who, the “parent” concept that spawned Bernice, than Volume 1, which was deliberately vague, subtle and quite unsubtle in equal measure (eg in Ever After Happy, you presume the Daleks are the vaguely referenced “enemy” that attacks the military academy; it’s already been noted that The Grel Invasion of Earth is a none too subtle parody of The Dalek Invasion of Earth; and in Braxiatel in Love, references are made by Benny to Braxiatel’s brother without specifically referring to him as “the Doctor”). This is no doubt deliberate to keep Volume 1 true to the era in which it is purportedly set (even though the Bernice range actually more comfortably embraced its Doctor Who heritage pre-the Fifth Axis invasion) but Volume 2 exhibits no such limitations.

On one hand, the middle tale of Volume 2 – The Empress of Drahva – references the ruthless female Drahvins first encountered in the Hartnell tale Galaxy Four, thereby utilising one of Doctor Who’s lesser iconic villains as early “seasons” of the Benny range did in 2002-04 (when it used the Ice Warriors, the Rutans, the Draconians and the Sea Devils as antagonists). The Doctor’s murky dark side counterpart the Valeyard (Michael Jayston) in Eddie Robson’s Every Dark Thought (glimpsed on the boxset cover, so it’s only a mild spoiler on this writer’s behalf!) could also technically count as one of these “one-off” antagonists. Nevertheless, he seems a strange choice for an adversary in what is also a peculiar choice of tale for a boxset that is celebrating two decades of Bernice’s exploits.

While Bernice’s character is most commonly associated with the Seventh Doctor, she has met other incarnations of the Time Lord in the audios and books (eg the Eighth Doctor, the Twelfth Doctor, and more recently the “Unbound” Doctor in Volumes 3 and 4 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield). Therefore, Robson’s intention is to clearly show how Benny will shape up against an incarnation that lacks the Doctor’s moral fibre.

Benny confidently holds her own against this version and there are instances when even this personification is not immune from the Doctor’s proclivity for “mansplaining” and arrogantly dismissing the advice and counsel of his/her companions. However, stylistically the whole tale would probably be more fitting and interesting if it were part of The Diary of River Song saga than a Benny adventure. There would have been considerably more gravitas pitting the Doctor’s archaeologist wife against his darker alter ego. (Perhaps it’s still not too late for BF to consider such a pairing in the future but I digress …)

The Empress of Drahva, by comparison, is more traditional fare from David Llewellyn, as well as being a comedy adventure. Benny and her erstwhile assistant Ruth (Ayesha Antoine) crash-land on the torus-shaped world of Drahva, whose inhabitants are still to become the spacefaring conquerors the First Doctor encountered. By a quirk of fate, the black-skinned Ruth is mistaken for and worshipped by the blonde-haired, pale-skinned Drahvins as the reincarnation of an ancient empress.

The story has many parallels with another Hartnell era tale The Aztecs (eg false deities, human offerings and sacrifices, an engagement, efforts to break into a tomb to steal a space vessel), although the similarities do not make this tale the wholesale parody that The Grel Invasion of Earth definitely is. By contrast with The Aztecs, it’s a fun romp, with the luckless, naive Ruth thinking she’s hit the jackpot with chocolate for breakfast, foot massages, gold-layered four-poster beds and a suitor that to her smells of “sexy almonds” and whose name Bernice equates with a character from Lord of the Rings!

Indeed, Antoine almost literally upstages Bowerman in the humour and sarcasm stakes. It’s enough to make this novice eagerly seek out Professor Summerfield’s adventures earlier this decade when Ruth was a staple cast member!

The final instalment of the second volume – and of both celebratory volumes – is the bleak Angel of History which completely eschews much of the tongue in cheek atmosphere of Benny’s adventures. Given Volume 2 of The Story So Far preceded Season 11 of Doctor Who by a matter of weeks (it was released in September 2018), this serial could be described as perhaps this set’s answer to the recent TV episode Rosa. Una McCormack’s script enables Lisa Bowerman to stretch her acting range as Bernice literally steps into the shoes of another archaeologist, Annis, who is persecuted for her indigenous/ethnic heritage and for her theories about her people’s true history.

While there are some superficial parallels from McCormack’s serial that could be drawn with Rosa (eg the treatment at first of Annis’s people is akin to the discrimination of the African-Americans of the US deep south or European Jews prior to the Second World War), the tale becomes more sinister as it moves from prejudice to abhorrence to genocide. The old South African apartheid regime is also evoked as various authoritarian policemen are portrayed with intimidating Afrikaner-style accents and brutally break up and assault peaceful demonstrators.

Interestingly, while the fascistic nature of the governing regime is strongly implied, McCormack never reveals what it is about Annis and her people that makes them stand out from their world’s other inhabitants and justifies discrimination and persecution. Is it their appearance (eg skin colour)? Is it because they were the original, indigenous inhabitants? Is it because they outnumber the descendants of the original colonists? It’s never really explained even after the Doctor (David Warner) steps in to break Bernice out of an induced dream-like state.

Nevertheless, The Angel of History is a powerful tale about a courageous woman – not unlike Rosa Parkes – who stays true to herself and her convictions and defies a despotic regime that would prefer that she is meek and silent. Annis is a more introverted character than Bernice, but Bowerman’s performance is exceptional, as she dials back much of Benny’s outspokenness and expresses the vulnerability of Annis’s character.

The Story So Far is a fitting double set to celebrate Bernice Summerfield’s journey at Big Finish. While some of the stories are a strange fit for a celebratory set (Every Dark Thought, The Angel of History), they nevertheless demonstrate the versatility and imagination of the Benny range which – much like Doctor Who itself – has endured for as long as it has because the various writers, producers and directors have been prepared to take risks, be daring and (much like Benny herself) have fun.

The set is particularly a good primer for fans who are interested in learning more about Bernice but don’t necessarily know where in her range to start. There are enough “breadcrumbs”, so to speak, for casual listeners to have a taste of the fun to be had – especially at a time in Doctor Who’s life when the most recent TV series has been accused by some fans of being too “politically correct” and “preachy”, too character-focused at the expense of drama, and “devoid” of credible monsters and antagonists.  If you’re one of those fans, then Bernice is a welcome reprieve from those more “earnest” aspects of the program’s escapism – and as long as BF continues, long may Bernice continue to be a long-standing fixture!






Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Fourth Doctor - The Syndicate Masterplan: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard,
Paul Morris, Guy Adams. Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Neilson), Glynis Barber (Kathy Blake), Ewan Bailey (Hugo Blake), Nicholas Khan (Jimmy Lynch), Leon Williams (Tony Reynolds), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland), Finty Williams (Ada Lovelace), Andrew Havill (Colonel Wildman), Eve Webster (Hettie / Lady Cleverley), Barnaby Edwards (Mr Hobhouse), Glen McCready (Edvard Scheutz / Lord Byron / Harry), John Shrapnel (Nigel Colloon), Anna Acton (Brox), Blake Ritson (Elmore), Roger May(Mac Foley), Tracy Wiles (Drones).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson 
Script Editor John Dorney 
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The Sinestran Kill by Andrew Smith

 

"Oh...I see...you're THAT Doctor..."

 

When the Doctor decides to trace an anomalous energy signature on twentieth century Earth, he stumbles into an assassination attempt.

Gangland thugs are trying to murder a seemingly innocent shopkeeper, and it’s only the intervention of the Doctor and Ann Kelso – a WPC who happens to be on the scene – that prevents a tragedy. 

But why do the gangsters want the shopkeeper dead? And what does this have to do with alien technology?

The first stages of a grand conspiracy are about to be revealed. And finding the answers will take Ann Kelso on a journey like no other.

 

This new box set could almost be described as Series 15A. We find the Doctor travelling alone after leaving Leela on Galifrey. K9 Mark II isn't (quite) unpacked yet, and we are introduced to a brand new companion, WPC Ann Kelso, played by Jane Slavin. An actress  who is no stranger to Big Finish.

This first story is set in 1970's London, and written by Andrew Smith. After penning the classic episode Full Circle, Smith joined the police, and it is here that this knowledge is utilised well, as the Met feature heavily in what is essentially a plot about an interstellar, shapeshifting hit mob trying to kill a witness who has taken refuge on Earth. The action ends up as a wonderfully staged siege in New Scotland Yard.

Amongst the guest cast are Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Nelson), who is wary of the Doctor as in a previous role, the character had links with UNIT, and Glynis Barber who plays a classic East End gangsters moll.

The Sinestran Kill is a very strong opener, which ably introduces Ann Kelso as a new companion. The Alien threat is believable, and seemingly quite unstoppable. The mash up between classic East End villains and a professional alien hit squad is genius.

Andrew Smith has crafted a rather brilliant story, that positively romps along. Jane Slavin is great as the new companion, but the stand out performance for me was Frank Skinner as the world-weary DCI, who is surprised by nothing that might have the Doctor involved.

 

Planet of the Drashigs by Phil Mulryne

 

"Welcome's to Drashig World."

 

When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray.  Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld - a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests.

And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure.

It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.

 

Ah! The Drashigs! Those memorable chompers from 1973's Carnival of Monsters - who would have thought they would ever get a whole story dedicated to them? 

Having just assembled the new K9, The Doctor and Liz land on a strange, marshy world. They soon find a Drashig on their tails and manage to escape via teleport to safety, only to find that they are in a theme park full of Drashigs, and the natives are getting VERY restless.

Planet of the Drashigs does fall in on itself a little by trying to be a bit too clever with its own theme. It is obviously a take on Michael Crichton's  Jurassic Park (the Doctor even stumbles across a pile of goat bones). Different breeds of Drashigs are in various enclosures for the amusement of the paying public. Oh - and of course there is the Emerald Drashig (read Tyrannosaurus Rex) which is extra fierce and intelligent. When these escape and run riot across the compound all hell really does breaks loose. 

The story should be so by the numbers, but it really is quite enjoyable. I loved it that the new K9 needs an overnight charge before proper use (his batteries kept failing because he only had a partial charge). There are some great set pieces, especially the Aliens homage where our heroes are trapped in a ventilation tunnels, being hunted down by ferocious Emerald Drashigs, all the while with K9 acting as a motion sensor in the dark.

The story is written by Phil Mulryne, who is obviously having a whale of the time with the source material. Vocal talent includes Fenella Woolgar (Call the Midwife), Jeremy Clyde and Lizzie Roper.

 

The Enchantress of Numbers by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

 

"We’ll just have to make-do with my unerring sense of direction!"

 

The TARDIS lands in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, in 1850. Mistaken for a medic and his maid, the Doctor and Ann are brought to meet Ada Lovelace - the mother of computing and daughter of Lord Byron - who has recently fallen ill. 

But the travellers are not here by chance. Something odd is happening on Earth, and they’ve determined that this place is the centre of it. 

Strange figures are walking the land. Strange figures wearing bird-like masks. What do they want with Ada? And how will it change the future of humanity?

 

I felt that The Enchantress of Numbers was the weakest story of this volume. It tries very hard, but I just didn’t find the story that involving. The whole idea of Bryon’s ghost, tied in with Block Transfer Computation, Ada Lovelace and mysterious figures shrouded in fog should really have been a perfect recipe for a Who story from this era. It just didn’t grab me, and felt rather run of the mill. I also felt that because of Lovelace’s larger than life characterisation (played with gusto by Finty Williams), it left Slavin’s Ann Kelso somewhat out in the cold.

 

The False Guardian by Guy Adams

 

"Maybe I left the HADS on!?"

 

Ann Kelso doesn’t like mysteries. Keen to investigate the trail of the Sinestrans, she sets the TARDIS on a new course... but flies into danger.

Arriving on a desolate world that the Doctor finds somehow familiar, the TARDIS crew discover that something is wrong with time. The inhabitants of an unusual complex are experimenting at the command of their enigmatic director... somebody who has quite a strong grudge against the Doctor.

Facing an old foe who was presumed dead, the travellers are soon trapped in a diabolical scheme. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?

 

Varga plants, HADS, Mavic Chen, Zephon, Kemble - The False Guardian is heavily steeped in Doctor Who history, and may at first seem like quite a daunting listen - but don’t worry - it isn’t. Guy Adams has crafted a fine story, dropping a few red herrings along the way that might just lead the listener to believe the story is heading one way, before it takes a sudden left turn in another direction. The cliff hanger at the end of part one of this story is brilliant, and so simply wrapped up at the start of part two…..and then there is the cliff hanger at the end of part two….

The False Guardian is of course essentially a means to set up parts three and four (which are coming in the next box set folks!), but is still an enjoyable ride, with a very rich guest cast, and brilliant sound design. Voice actors include John Shrapnel and Anna Acton.

I will never tire of Tom Baker in this role, and here we delve into a rather interesting, and so far unexplored time in the show’s history, that opens up new possibilities for this Big Finish range. I’m rather looking forward to volume two!

Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1 is available from Big Finish HERE.






The War Master: Master of Callous (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 7 January 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master: The Master of Callous (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Derek Jacobi (The Master), Silas Carson (The Ood), Maeve Bluebell Wells (Cassandra King), Samantha Béart (Martine King), Simon Ludders (Elliot King), Pippa Haywood (Teremon), David Menkin (Herschel), Barnaby Edwards (Jaques), Richard Earl (Sassanby), Kai Owen (Porrit), Joe Shire (Calia), Angela Bruce (Mother), Wilf Scolding (First Soldier) and Tom Forrister (Second Soldier). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott Handcock

Script Editor Nicholas Briggs

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Derek Jacobi returns to the role of the Master for the second set of stories, this time it is four episodes that follow a single storyline, as opposed to the slightly more episodic nature of the first box set.  The story takes place on a colony planet called Callous, in which a small group of artists attempted and sort of failed to make a home. Their livelihood depends upon a mine, and the story revolves around this mine, its contents, the people who give everything to make the mine viable, the planetary governor who wants to take everything she can from the inhabitants, and the Master who has his own secret plans and machinations.  In short...it is an excellent story. I recommend this box set, there will likely be SPOILERS ahead, so reader beware.

The opening episode, Call for the Dead follows Elliot King, the frustrated would-be leader of Callous, whose long attempts to make the mine worthwhile have yielded very few positive results, and the Governor bleeds him dry whenever she gets the chance.  He has spent so much time trying to make the mine earn just enough money to keep up with his payments that he has basically lost his family...his wife and daughter moved off-world, and while his wife is very ill, his daughter misses him daily. Meanwhile, he is being stalked by an odd with a ringing telephone, and when he finally answers the call, the Master is on the line.  Without getting too deep into it, Elliot decides to take his own life not long after his chat with the Master, and whatever plans the Master has are clearly set into motion.  Elliot's daughter Cassie and her wife Martine come to Callous to take over where her father left off.  Only Cassie is more adept with the mine than her father ever was.  He was an artist trying to make a living digging in a mine, as she went to school specifically to learn how to mine properly.  But when she too runs into trouble...another Ood phone call comes her way, only this time the Master offers his help.

The set continues with The Glittering Prize, and this time the Master is posing as Mr. Orman, a kindly gentleman helping Cassie to get the mine working.  They strike a substance that could make them all rich...but if the Governor finds out they have it, she is sure to come and attempt to skim even more profits off their hard work.  The Master offers his help yet again, helping them plot to sneak the substance off the planet and hide it from the governor until they can safely make their money off of it.  But the substance has a psychic side effect, as it slowly can drive people mad or hallucinate, and it seems to drive the Ood workers completely out of sorts.

The Persistence of Dreams focuses solely on Martine as she tries to keep her sanity guarding the substance.  She is accompanied only by an Ood bt finds herself hallucinating about her late mother, Cassie, Mr Orman and more...never knowing what is real and being driven to the brink of sanity by the awful substance. When the Ood seems to go mad as well and attempt to kill her, she launches herself into space, and hopes that hope can reach her in time...but of course, the Master has other plans.

The set is closed out by Sins of the Father which sees the Governor arrive on Callous and demand the substance because someone tipped her off that they had found it.  She has captured and is torturing the Master daily for answers, but no mere Governor can really get anything out of the Master! Cassie has been cast out by most of the inhabitants of Callous, who blame her of much of their current woes, particularly the homicidal Governor who intends to kill them all for answers.  But the Governor didn't count on her prisoner actually being someone of influence.  She didn't count on his control of the Ood, or his ability to escape his chains...and the Master's plan finally comes into focus. He just needed the substance. Callous just happened to be his best route of getting the rare stuff, and he has beaten everyone before they even knew he was a threat.

The story concludes with the Master meeting a Time Lord to sell off the substance so the Time Lords can build a new weapon against the Daleks.  It seemed almost odd to me that the Master would do all this for such a petty thing as money and helping the Time Lord cause. Just seemed off...but then a smaller item was thrown in for his payment. The Chameleon Arch.  It nicely tied in with the very item he was using when we first met this Doctor on TV (and actually used at the end of the previous box set, putting this one ahead of that timeline wise), and makes all his efforts in this story seem perfectly worth it for his character.  It may have been a mild hassle putting all those pieces into place, but he got what he truly wanted out of it. An eventual escape from the Time War.

This is an excellent set, that somehow managed to top the first War Master set. And that was a tall order, as that first set was wonderful. I am already excited for more, as Big Finish have clearly been chomping at the bit for years to tell Time War tales, and they are reveling in it with every chance they get. Whether they focus on the War Doctor, the War Master, or just seeing the seeds of the war in the Eighth Doctor or Gallifrey sets. In all attempts, they have made some exciting stuff.