The Big Bang Generation (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 20 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Big Bang Generation (Credit: BBC)
  Read by Lisa Bowerman,
Released October 2015, BBC AUDIO

Sydney Cove becomes something more than just another tourist spot when a time portal deposits a very large pyramid all of a sudden, causing inconvenience for those wanting to use Port Jackson harbor. But furthermore beings from other worlds and time arrive with designs on the incongruous pyramid, such as notorious mobster Cyrrus Globb, Professor Horace Jaanson, and deadly female assassin Kik.  Rival Professor Bernice Summerfield and some of her dearest friends throw one more spanner into the works, and likewise for a group of con-artists headed up by a most familiar gentleman who wants to be called 'Doc'.

Eventually time and space stands to get more than a fleeting makeover, when the Ancients of the Universe are abruptly brought out of slumber. The Doctor's moniker of Time Lord will never have been put under as much scrutiny as this scenario dictates..

Despite Peter Capaldi's well-worn and wise appearance taking up much of the cover, this is very much an ensemble piece and at least as much a Bernice Summerfield story as a 12th Doctor one. For those only really familiar with contemporary TV Doctor Who, Bernice may come across as something of an unknown quantity, despite narratorLisa Bowerman's profile being reasonably high over recent years.  And many other characters are returning from numerous other spin off stories as well.

 

Gary Russell originally wanted River Song to feature in this story. Her exploratory and independent nature meant that when the author was not allowed to feature her, he opted for Bernice; possessing similarities in archaeologist/professor and just an all-round smart cookie.

With so much (dis)continuity at work Russell chooses not to try and join the dots with every previous story featuring the main character, (e.g. the Eighth Doctor classic The Dying Days is glossed over).  But there are certainly fun supporting characters, even if somewhat limited in their depth and purpose.

Professor Summerfield gang include her very own son Peter - and definitely the most intriguing of the secondary characters -  along with engaged couple Ruth and Jack (the latter being a red-eyed Kadeptian humanoid) and Keri who is a long time friend for Bernice. We also have some 'loveable rogues' in the Doctor's own temporary cohort, that comprise Legs (as the comic relief), Dog Boy (for muscle and weapons handling), Shortie, (who can plan details to a fine art), and Da Trowel, (who knows more than a thing or two about excavation across the cosmos).

 

As stated, the Doctor himself is far from the dominant character, and takes a while to be utilised. It is worth paying heed to the fact that 'Big Bang' is one of a loose trilogy called The Glamour Chronicles. Hence the other stories have the tetchy Time Lord in a more traditionally focused role, and indeed can be read/listened to in any order.

The dynamics that involve a given character against another one or group is one reason to keep listening through a 5-CD release with just the one -admittedly conscientious - performer in Lisa Bowerman. But as much as the dialogue and characterisation are quite enjoyable, there is also something of a muddled story here. The sense of threat is somehow too abstract, and come the conclusion a lot of the prior events do end up feeling incosequential.

Also troublesome is that the story proper takes a real while to get going properly. Maybe Russell should have had some real incident happen first and then use characters' speeches (and flashbacks) to fill us in on the characters. He certainly has not broken his habit of referencing the past tales of Doctor Who, be they official televised ones or officially branded spin-off in nature. We even get a roll call of a good couple of dozen former companions, bringing to mind the retrospective nature of many a 1980s TV story, such as Resurrection of the Daleks.

Fortunately one original Eleventh Doctor book I know -The Glamour Chase -gave me some appreciation for the overall plot and its resolution. There just about is enough explanation for newcomers, but I do really recommend looking to get at least a summary on this unique form of shielding which has appeared in other original Doctor Who fiction and even Big Finish audio.

There is also a lack of any really good villain. Kik the Assassin and Globb are interestingly ruthless to an extent but ultimately a McGuffin is being sought and no dark scenario for the world/ universe feature directly in the antagonists' designs.

Bowerman is a stellar audio actress, and many old-school fans will remember her very good performance as Cheetah Person Karra in Survival. She does a fine job as the narrator, is even better as Bernice (who she has played so much over the years) and does a nice enough imitation of the incumbent TV Doctor, who is in a rather subdued mood for much of the story. Other voices though are variable, and one character ends up sounding like the Spitting Image mock-up of Queen Elizabeth I, which is funny but a little too distracting for those of us who saw that late satirical show in the past.

There is some good work in production terms with the sound effects matching the cataclysmic effects of the Ancients. Backing music is suitably subtle and non intrusive. As much as Murray Gold does a fine job on he TV it is good to have a very different style for audio books such as this.

Overall success of Big Bang comes down to how much a listener is prepared for a story lacking urgency; most likely deliberately so in favour of whimsy and 'screwball' humour. This certainly is along the lines of Gareth Roberts 'missing Season 17' stories and has more than a touch of Douglas Adams' own work from outside of Doctor Who. It passes the time tolerably enough but is quite likely to prove forgettable as well.

 





The Gods of WinterBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 August 2015 -  
 
The Gods of Winter (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written By: James Goss
Read By: Claire Higgins
Released by BBC Audio, 20 August 2015
Finding themselves yanked across the cosmos to a human colony world, the Doctor and his travelling companion are tasked with seemingly their most mundane mission yet: rescue an innocuous young girl’s missing cat. Suffice to say that as premises for a new yarn set in the limitless realms of Doctor Who go, this initial set-up seems neither as thrilling as that of recent TV serials like 42 nor indeed as continuity-shaking as that of The Day of the Doctor, yet it’s precisely the opening scenario which scribe James Goss lays before us with his latest contribution to the show’s mythology, The Gods of Winter.

The first instalment in a four-part series of BBC Audio releases featuring Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor as well as Jenna Coleman’s Clara Oswald – although only in name, since the studio have recruited the likes of David Schofield to narrate this interlinked quartet – Gods wastes no time in establishing the central plot arc which will bind together these otherwise standalone tales, introducing the aforementioned youth known as Diana Winter as she utilises an ominous "calling card" bestowed upon the Doctor to her ancestors for use on the worst day of each family member’s life. As was the case with Professor River Song back in 2008’s Silence in the Library / Forest of the Dead, however, the increasingly antagonistic Time Lord might well feel the desire to play Michael Buble’s "Haven’t Met You Yet" through the TARDIS’ speakers, since his initial meeting with the Winters clearly hasn’t occurred for him yet (and no doubt will be held back for the final instalment’s launch this December).

Regardless, even if answers regarding precisely why Diana’s family will have such a bearing on their newfound saviour’s life in days to come are a way off, Goss provides more than enough in the way of reasons for listeners to stick around in the meantime. Much as this reviewer jested about the subdued – to say the very least – nature of the quest placed on our time-travelling protagonists’ bigger-on-the-inside doorstep above, the situation involving the colony on which Diana resides and the apparently ruthless invaders plaguing its residents quickly escalates in unexpected ways, with the TARDIS crew forced to consider the origins of the Golhearn, a race whose motivations for serving as Gods’ supposed antagonists might not be all that they seem. Rest assured that we’ve no intent of spoiling any plot details beyond those offered in the audiobook’s précis, but we’ll at least tease that jumps in time, trips to other celestial bodies and commentaries on issues such as the dangers of blind faith and corporate legalities all factor into the piece’s overarching storyline in the seamless, inspired manner which only Goss can manage (as proven by his acclaimed past work on sub-plot laden Who romps including 2007’s The Infinite Quest).

Yet although the case of Diana’s lost feline companion does give way to a more layered, compelling adventure with political undertones aplenty, those hoping that Gods’ overall stakes would simultaneously be raised in the process might come away disappointed. Certainly, later set-pieces involving space shuttle flights across planet surfaces and seemingly abandoned religious temples up the ante in terms of action, placing both the Doctor and Clara – not to mention the first known member of the Winter dynasty – in occasionally grave danger, but if anything, this audiobook’s oft-relaxed tone at times seems far more reminiscent of that of a First Doctor serial (perhaps aptly given the representational similarities between Hartnell and Capaldi’s incarnations) than of one produced since Russell T Davies took the series’ helm just ten short years ago, a trait which could well deter any listener who approached the Twelfth Doctor’s latest audio voyage hoping for an adrenaline-fuelled experience along the lines of Into the Dalek or Death in Heaven. What Gods lacks in the way of substantial threats, however, the soon-to-be released tale compensates for with a hugely intelligent structure that initially lures the audience into wondering why Big Finish didn’t take the project on as one of their Short Trips scripts given the narrative’s supposed brevity, only for Goss to then throw a spanner in the works at the episode’s halfway point which ultimately more than justifies its (approximately) 60-minute running time.

Better yet, in the form of The Night of the Doctor star Claire Higgins (better known to series veterans as the mysterious figure who resurrected the Eighth Doctor shortly before kick-starting his successor’s plunge into the Time War), Goss has scored himself a simply ideal narrator, not least thanks to Higgins’ valiant attempts to distinguish the irritable Scottish tones of Capaldi’s Doctor, the remarkably more compassionate (if infrequently reckless) voice of Coleman’s Impossible Girl as well as the ever-maturing Diana. Whereas some of the previous contributors to BBC Audio’s various audiobook versions of the New Series Adventures novels have arguably tried and failed to capture the essence of either the programme’s current on-screen lead actors or indeed the one-off supporting players who’ve never featured on the TV show, there’s little point in denying that the first of the four thespians enlisted to bring the Winter escapades to life using their only vocal chords excels in both respects, effortlessly holding her audience’s attention as a result during both Gods’ (rare but appreciated) high-octane sequences and its calmer moments.

For a Who storyline which could quite easily have left its listeners baffled as to why BBC Audio didn’t simply transform it into a Sarah Jane Adventures novelisation, then, The Gods of Winter achieves a truly commendable number of feats, utilising its lack of action set-pieces as a means by which to tell a politically (and indeed philosophically) engaging yarn while bringing a hugely accomplished narrator into the fold so as to ensure that its audience never fails to remain captivated by proceedings. As with just about any tale intended largely to set up a broader plot arc, one could reasonably claim that the lack of genuine closure regarding the origins of Diana’s calling card robs Gods of a place amongst the higher echelons of off-screen Who, yet even if that’s indeed the case, this reviewer would gladly wager that the vast majority of those wise enough to pick Goss’ supremely accomplished latest work up will be too busy lapping up its myriad merits (not to mention attempting to predict how the story of Diana’s family tree might develop come October 1st in George Mann’s The House of Winter) to even begin to notice such incredibly minor shortcomings.
 




The Massacre - Audio BookBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 July 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Massacre (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written by John Lucarotti,
Read by Peter Purves,
Released by BBC Audio, 21 May 2015

This First Doctor historical was amongst the many early Doctor Who tales to be wiped by the BBC, at a time when home video releases were not yet introduced. Fortunately, as with all the other 'lost' stories, a soundtrack copy was retained and this story was the first of a wave of audio CD releases of various First and Second Doctor stories at the turn of the century.

Original viewers of all ages saw a sophisticated but non-preachy historical drama. The Doctor quickly leaves Steven to manage on his own in 1572 Paris; full of political turmoil between the Catholic and Huguenot religious groups. The Catholic Abbot of Amboise catches Steven's eye, and soon this loyal companion wonders if his older friend is playing a very risky game of impersonation. A young girl called Anne Chaplet soon needs Steven's help as she flees the Abbot and attempts to warn the Huguenots of a deadly conspiracy. But history tells of the inevitable Massacre of St Bartholomew's Day, and time cannot be rewritten despite the sheer pointlessness of the violence that ensued...

            A great cast was involved, many going on to be in later colour stories which all are now available. Examples include: The Deadly Assassin's Eric Chitty as Preslyn, Warriors' Gate's David Weston as Nicholas Muss and Arc of Infinity's Leonard Sachs as Admiral De Coligny. There is even a turn from Eric Thompson, father of the world-famous Emma. Also director Paddy Russell debuted here, and was behind later notable stories for the Third and Fourth Doctors.

 

The novelisation was published in the summer of 1987, and saw credited writer John Lucarotti bring to novel form the original scripts he created, after a number of amendments by script-editor Donald Tosh. Ultimately Tosh rewrote the story to be a very different one, but only received a co-author credit in the final episode.

Why Lucarotti did not approve of the final version is of real interest. Upon being promised a third historical story from initial showrunner Verity Lambert, Lucarotti then found the new team of John Wiles and Tosh to be rather less harmonious with his vision of Doctor Who. A rather darker show was being established, with grim endings such as the fate of the Drahvins, the fall of Troy, and the many tragedies in The Dalek Masterplan. This perhaps was for the best as the fledgling Saturday tea-time show made its case for continued existence, long before it was famous globally.  

Even after two other story rejections, and finally getting a green light on using the Huguenot massacre as the backdrop there were still problems. William Hartnell was getting more difficult to work with and had poor health, and the then-showrunners wanted to try and remove him as lead on the show. Lucarotti's proposal of a double role for Hartnell as Abbot and Doctor was not in line with this intended path. This reputable TV writer was ultimately so dismayed that he wanted no on-screen credit. He did not get that wish but was paid for all four instalments and many years later retained the right to adapt his intended story for book form.  The novelisation was enjoyed by both fans and general readers alike and now gets further exposure today as a CD/ Internet Download.

 

This story significantly manages to intertwine historical fact with fiction. Charles IX and Preslyn are real-life figures who are used for plot purpose; the former being a weak willed monarch under the thrall of his mother Catherine De Medici, the latter being a little paranoid but nonetheless a notable scientist of his time.

Notably unique to the novelisation is the framing device of Time Lords putting the Doctor through either an inquiry or another trial, but which future Doctor is not made too clear. More focus emerges as to the morality of his interference in events, and perhaps his eventual abandonment of the various people he meets to their fates.

The plot differs increasingly from Tosh's version after the initial sections that resemble Episode One. The key character difference is the Doctor is far more involved throughout. In theory William Hartnell would have shown his full range and poise (and as much as terrific glimmers of the Abbot did make it to screen).

As we know though, the production team were against the lead, and maybe his ill health would have also been too much also.

The paramount goal for our regulars is to survive, and it is particularly urgent, but we also care for the various Huguenots who try their best to fight a growing tide. Even  some sense of the pressure on the Catholics is generated by Lucarotti, though their ends certainly never justify their means. 

Peter Purves continues to impress, after my prior sampling of his efforts for Big Finish. He uses his theatre roots, which involved considerable variety from one play to the next, to solidly portray a host of players in the story, along with their myriad characteristics. The Doctor's voice again is done well, conveying the essence of Hartnell's rather complex interpretation. What music we do get generates a heightened atmosphere, and there are fine sound effects such as the gallops of hooves, crowd noise and other effects to signify action moments.

Our narrator only stumbles when attempting rage in voices that are markedly different  to Steven. Also while his Anne is passable, there is never any real doubt of this being a male imitation of a female, but then very few can overcome this downside of the solo-contributor format.

 

All the same, we are afforded a chance to experience the book's enticing prose, and how it plays to the mediums' best strengths. There is plenty of Steven's immediate perspective. How this man from the future uses his wits over any of his inbuilt skills or training is gripping, as is his role in partially defanging the Catholic conspiracy. Most fans agree that The Massacre is Steven's peak during his time as a companion.

Along with sterling heroes we need a good set of villains. The Catholics who ultimately win are to be respected as much as reviled. Simon Duvall is built up in the most notable antagonist, demonstrating a suave nature along with having a strong plan. How the Abbot and Duvall's fates are intertwined, not least due to the Doctor's ingenuity, is a payoff that works handsomely.

Of more trivial interest, we are introduced to some minor characters who were not retained for the final TV version, e.g. the bumbling locksmith who understandably is foiled by the TARDIS' secure door.

 

It is to be commended how Lucarotti has no easy answers and does not assume a moral highground. Even the characters we most empathise with such as Gaston, Lerans and Muss are not angelic by any means. The charismatic Admiral De Coligny is helped during the timeframe of Steven and the Doctor being around, but upon their departure he receives no better a fate than assassination. Such is the inevitable course of history. And had he been spared then he likely would have implemented methods little better than his religious enemies.

Praiseworthy also is the 'identical Doctor' aspect, which was repeated in other ways  throughout the TV show's long history. In this novel version the way both the Doctor and the Abbot show initiative and smarts is more exciting than the somewhat clumsy manner the TV Abbot saw himself into trouble. The Doctor is of course the wiser and sharper of the two, and having one of this religious zealot's own allies be manipulated into his downfall is most enjoyable.

A small flaw perhaps, but one most classic Who stories are guilty of, is the sheer lack of notable female characters in comparison to male. At least we do have two solid roles in the form of the ruthless Queen Mother and the young, vulnerable but brave Anne Chaplet.

The manner of how the Doctor manages to avoid the wrath Catherine shows the First Doctor at his typical smart best, and is especially exciting knowing he must convince as a man who only resembles him in appearance. Meanwhile the Steven-Anne dynamic is used very well to evoke real concern for the many innocents caught up between the scheming factions. It is one of the very first instances of a 'pseudo companion', i.e. who may qualify but circumstances finally say otherwise.

 

Catacombs has been a great trope over the years for Who, and they are sadly jettisoned in the TV equivalent. Along with the use of a crypt under Notre Dame, this story really has much to offer in terms of atmosphere.

Indeed, there is much suspense and intrigue, and yet the final sections do lack a touch of the all pervading sense of doom of Tosh's work. The debate between Steven and his mysterious mentor over what they can or cannot do regarding historical events is far less confrontational.

Tosh's rewrite saw potential descendant of Anne, Dodo, take up what initially appeared to be the Frenchwoman's place abroad the TARDIS. Yet I personally prefer the way that Anne is safe thanks to the Doctor's efforts. albeit with the only fleeting reference to Dodo in the epilogue Lucarotti opts for. At the same time, it is a shame that the famous soliloquy by Hartnell is nowhere to be found. It is a key moment  of Who folklore and wonderfully recreated by David Bradley in An Adventure In Time And Space from autumn 2013.

 

This is perhaps not a story to be digested in one sitting as the previous off-air soundtrack can be. It is very ambitious and intricate, and requires a lot of close attention from the listener, but is more than worth it as the foundations are rock solid. Whilst reflecting the deliberate pace of the Hartnell era, it never feels tedious. This pivotal historical is as relevant to our society and its political and religious unrest as it was back when first pieced together under the most fraught of circumstances. 

 





Destiny of the Doctor: The Time MachineBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

The Time Machine
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: November 2013
"Oh, I’m much more than one man. I’m an eleven-man team, Doctors United!"

To paraphrase David Tennant’s incarnation of the Doctor, doesn’t that just sum a potent series up? You get through all of the presents, and at the bottom of the pile, there’s a Satsuma. In the case of Destiny of the Doctor, the aforementioned spherical orange fruit mentioned in The Christmas Invasion symbolises a decent yet ultimately underwhelming conclusion to a franchise of audio adventures which could have resulted in so much more with the correct denouement. There’ve been weaker instalments than The Time Machine, but boy, have there been stronger chapters in the saga by a considerable distance.

This isn’t a release that’s for want of an accomplished narrator, however. Quite why Jenna Coleman’s on-screen companion Clara hasn’t been included in proceedings this time around is beyond this reviewer, for the standalone assistant Amy Watson comes off as little more than a stand-in here. If anything, Watson seems to have been named as such primarily on the basis of the literary implications of her surname, which naturally serves as the source for more than one gag based around the Great Detective himself. All the same, Coleman’s dictation is constantly engaging and efficiently brings across the rapid, blockbuster-esque pace of the narrative, even in spite of its negating to include the Impossible Girl at the Doctor’s side for the ride.

Joining the piece’s leading lady are Nicholas Briggs and Michael Cochrane, the former portraying the drama’s antagonists, the Creevix, and the latter taking on the role of Doctor Chivers. It took some time for this reviewer to discern to which alien race from the revived series of Who Briggs’ Creevix bore an uncanny resemblance, but in the end, The Power of Three’s Shakri commander appears to have had a significant influence. This familiar vocal adaptation certainly doesn’t work in the piece’s favour in terms of innovation, and that Cochrane’s performance echoes past whimsical professors aplenty isn’t beneficial in the long run either. Perhaps the series’ producers had scarce choice for vocal contributors to this final instalment- either way; it’s a crying tragedy that their selections pale so immensely in comparison to their predecessors on the run.

As the Destiny run has developed over the course of 2013, it became evermore apparent that its resolution of the ongoing arc of the Eleventh Doctor’s visits to his past selves would be paramount to the series’ success in hindsight. The approach which writer Matt Fitton takes in creating both a standalone narrative and a satisfying conclusion for long-term fans is admirable; although overall the resolution in question feels rather rushed and haphazard. Partly, that’s due to the threat of the tale hardly being dangerous enough to warrant such a dangerous timeline-crossing excursion for the incumbent incarnation. Moreso, though, this plot arc connection is only re-established in the drama’s closing moments and is dealt with just as swiftly as the Eleventh’s cameos came and went in previous chapters.

In the scheme of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, it’s fair to argue that a great degree of threat is required so as to have a grand celebratory impact on the viewer, or in this case the listener. The Day of the Doctor has an evil, apparently lost incarnation of everyone’s favourite Time Lord and The Light at the End resumes the seemingly undying threat of the Master, yet The Time Machine’s antagonist is neither iconic nor particularly original. The Five Doctors’ Borusa may not have gone down in the history books, but at least that anniversary special had enough in the way of returning companions and foes to compensate. Devoid of classic adversaries or allies beyond a few references and throwbacks, this is a member of the 50th ensemble which is remarkably hollow when judged alongside its ambitious cohorts. AudioGo’s Destiny range hasn’t lacked ambition in the past, so this sudden subversion of followers’ expectations is a bitter shock, an inadvertent betrayal of our hopes for what could have been a truly noteworthy outing.

This is a disheartening end, then, to a range of audio dramas which showed so much promise throughout its run. Though there were most certainly sore notes, Vengeance of the Stones and Enemy Aliens among them, Destiny of the Doctor has had its fair share of highlights, Babblesphere and Death’s Deal the most noteworthy by far. The Time Machine lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and while as a finale it’s a worthy listen for series veterans, as a standalone instalment of Doctor Who it stumbles and veers close to falling flat on its face. Coleman’s narration is superb, yet her supporting stars are steeped in the framework of what’s come before when it comes to their character performances, and Matt Fitton’s script struggles under the weight of the series’ convoluted plot arcs.

Big Finish and AudioGo’s first major collaboration has been something of a mixed bag, but for those fans still craving further 50th Anniversary homages and stories, the overall experience of hearing Destiny of the Doctor in full is accomplished enough to warrant an investment. Hunters of Earth kicks proceedings off with a bang, and the momentum of the overarching storyline rarely lapses from that point onwards. Each narrator does a fine job of representing their respective era of Doctor Who, as do each of the eleven intricate scripts. Just be warned, though, that its finale is undoubtedly the Satsuma of the pile.




Destiny of the Doctor: Death's DealBookmark and Share

Friday, 25 October 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Destiny of the Doctor: Death's Deal
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Darren Jones
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: October 2013
“I never doubted you. I knew you best of all, and you are so good with dangerous. After me, you’re the greatest!”

It’s only natural, as this momentous 50th Anniversary year races towards its triumphant climax, that fans’ hopes for the remaining releases destined to act as a spearhead for Doctor Who’s celebrations would be high, to say the least. Death’s Deal matches and surpasses these initial expectations with ease, its focus on one of the show’s most popular lead stars just one of several key assets which elevate it beyond many of the other entries in the Destiny of the Doctor range so far. The celebratory year in question may be nearing its end, but judging by this penultimate instalment, there’s plenty of life left in AudioGo’s Who offerings yet.

Most of all, it’s the return of Catherine Tate as both the piece’s narrator and the voice of the feisty and defiant Donna Noble that does this particular era of the programme proud. Tate accurately captures the voices of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, corrupt pirates, thrill-seeking tourists and plenty more visitors to the danger-laden planet of Death’s Deal, each construct possessing distinct qualities to separate from their cohorts thanks to her admirable vocal flexibility at the helm of proceedings. F. Scott Fitzgerald once described his Gatsby protagonist Nick Carraway as finding himself “simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible varieties of life”, and in this regard Tate (inadvertently) capably echoes the sense of enchantment or repulsion that a listener can simultaneously exhibit if a drama’s characters are presented so effectively as they are here.

Joining this month’s lead vocalist is Duncan Wisbey, taking on the roles of both the elusive Krux and the conflicted professor Erskine, the latter of whom may have further implications down the line if the Eleventh Doctor’s obligatory message to his predecessor is anything to go by. It’s a shame to admit that Wisbey’s contribution fails to attain the same level of dramatic prowess as that which Tate provides, perhaps due to the dialogue that writer Darren Jones affords his characters coming up short in comparison to that which he affords the likes of the Doctor and Donna. Whereas past secondary contributors to the range such as John Schwab, Evie Dawnay and Tam Williams have excelled with the content they’ve been offered by the various writers on hand, Wisbey’s dialogue often comes off as scarcely more than an after-thought, the necessity of a second cast member likely more of an irritating constraint than anything else for Jones in the course of drafting.

John Ainsworth’s direction, on the other hand, is nothing if not accomplished in every sense of the word. There’s a tangible sense of visual presence to the piece in spite of the nature of its medium, with the atmospheric soundtrack backing Tate’s narration offering up a sensory depiction of the drama’s setting in a more inspired manner than any of the previous Destiny releases. Not since Babblesphere in April has there been an instalment within this range which has exhibited quite so much assured confidence in its approach, be it thanks to its scribe, its central orator or its director, and with the ever-present knowledge of Who’s impending anniversary looming large on this particular release, to see it succeed with such unrestrained vigour is an enriching event for fans such at myself at this stage.

Matt Smith’s incarnation of the Doctor naturally gets his chance to place a mission before his tenth persona, albeit with his speech once again expressed through Tate rather than Smith himself. While the implementation of the current version of the Time Lord into the narrative doesn’t jar with its tone, in contrast to his appearances in Vengeance of the Stones, Smoke and Mirrors and Enemy Aliens, with only one episode remaining in the series, the lack of a greater development in the overall Destiny story arc is concerning. More than ever before, it seems that The Time Machine must resolve plot threads aplenty, while writer Matt Fitton simultaneously attempts to provide a standalone storyline for newcomers. Greater feats than this required balance have been achieved before in the show’s history, meaning that it’s not inconceivable that Fitton will succeed, yet there’s certainly an almighty challenge awaiting him next month thanks to the absence of any major narrative arc progression beforehand.

For now, though, there’s little need to focus too prominently on what Death’s Deal doesn’t offer its listeners in a wider context. In isolation, this is an exemplary addition to the Destiny range, Tate’s narration and Ainsworth’s direction both fine examples of what the most talented contributors to these releases have to offer. If this instalment and last month’s Night of the Whisper can be considered as setting a precedent for what’s to come from the studio in the remainder of 2013 and beyond, then the essential role which AudioGo can still play in expanding the Doctor Who universe has become crystal clear. There would be no greater injustice at this stage than for the studio to collapse under financial pressures. For in AudioGo’s survival could very well lie the show’s future. With their survival, the programme’s immortality can be assured, regardless of on-screen hiatuses or temporary cancellations, thanks to high-calibre releases such as these forever demonstrating the diverse range of layered adventures on which writers and actors can still take the world’s favourite Time Lord fifty years on.

The song of Destiny may be nearing its conclusion, but the story of the Doctor should never end…




Summer Falls (CD)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Summer Falls
Produced by AudioGo
Written by Amelia Pond (James Goss)
Read by Clare Corbett
Released: August 2013
“What chapter are you on?”
“Ten.”
“Eleven’s the best. You’ll cry your eyes out!”

Clara Oswald and Artie Maitland, Doctor Who – The Bells of Saint John

Summer Falls is an oddity in Doctor Who’s expansive array of spin-off fiction – and not just because it is presented as an “in universe” book purportedly written by Amelia Williams in the 1950s (aka Amy Pond after her heartbreaking departure from the TARDIS). It is peculiar largely because while you would expect the story to be heavily influenced by Amy’s travels and adventures, it barely feels and reads like Doctor Who at all and is disappointingly small-scale in its breadth of imagination. And if this story is supposedly the same one that is referenced in the Doctor Who episode The Bells of Saint John, then I find it hard to believe it could ever have left an indelible mark on the lives of either Clara or the Maitland children!

The story by true author James Goss is homage to the works of Enid Blyton and CS Lewis, two legendary children’s authors who no doubt had some influence on his desire to write. The first half of the story is reminiscent of Blyton’s children’s mysteries such as The Famous Five, particularly as it focuses on a set of bored children in a country fishing village at the end of the school holidays. The second half very strongly evokes Lewis with its winter wonderland setting, vengeful spirits and talking animals – or more to the point, a talking grey cat. Even the wise and eccentric curator Barnabas channels Professor Digory Kirke in The Chronicles of Narnia as much as the Eleventh Doctor.

Goss handles this children’s tale faithfully but with little ambition or inventiveness. It would be interesting to invite a 10-year old or an adolescent to listen to this story to sum up their thoughts of it as a work in its own right (and not just as a very indirect Doctor Who tie-in) but to my mind Goss, at the bare minimum, recaptures many of the narrative devices that have made Lewis’ and Blyton’s works so enchanting to generations of readers. What he doesn’t do is perhaps drive home more of the actual Doctor Who connection for the fans – and let’s face it, who else is going to buy this release apart from Doctor Who fans?

Sure, there are some superficial similarities between the characters. The enigmatic curator is clearly based on the Doctor (albeit a much diluted, two-dimensional impersonation of the Time Lord’s eleventh incarnation!). The story’s juvenile heroine Kate Webster is modelled on young Amelia Pond herself. You could even put a case that Armand Dass could pass for a young Rory Williams. Perhaps young Kate’s mother, who is constantly having “naps” as an excuse to get out of real work, is loosely based on Amy’s aunt who was her only family after her parents were erased from the web of time. However, it is there that the similarities between the characters end. The story as a whole bears little resemblance to any of Amy and Rory’s adventures and experiences in the TV series. There are certainly no “Easter eggs” in this story that would appeal to the hard core Doctor Who fan, eg no allusions to Weeping Angels, Daleks or Silents. It really is just a generic, two-dimensional and run of the mill 1950s-style children’s fantasy adventure.

The audio reading of Summer Falls by Clare Corbett, however, does make the listening experience more enjoyable. I am not overly familiar with Ms Corbett’s CV (apart from a couple of readings of other Doctor Who and other AudioGO releases) but her narration is engaging and just the timbre of her voice is well suited to particularly the younger characters in Kate, Armand and Milo. She effortlessly changes the pitch of her voice between characters, from adults to children to the fantasy characters (her impression of the grey cat is my favourite!) – and vice versa. It really is as much a performance as a straight reading and Corbett acquits herself well.

But no matter how good a performer the narrator is, that will never disguise the intrinsic inadequacies of a story. As an “in universe” experiment, Summer Falls fails to appease the very audience it is directed at – Doctor Who fans who may have hoped to glean some insight into Amy Pond’s legacy. What they get is a fairly lame children’s story that is unlikely to be read by kids, unless of course they are themselves avid Doctor Who fans. (And again, as this audio book is being marketed under the Doctor Who logo, I cannot see it appealing to listeners who are not Doctor Who fans.) However, if you have young children of your own, Corbett’s entertaining rendition of the narrative may be enough to keep them entertained, if not exactly enthralled.

Which again begs the question: Why do Clara and Artie enjoy Summer Falls so much? Did it really enchant entire generations of children in the Whoniverse? And did Amy Pond really become the equal of Enid Blyton? Clearly, our real world version of Summer Falls is sadly not the same as the Whoniverse equivalent!