Gallifrey: Time War (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






Bloodtide (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Bloodtide (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: Tuesday 31st July 2001
Running Time: 2 hours
Cover by: Clayton Hickman

Silurian stories can be oddly one note. To an extent, for much of their existence, the Silurians haven’t been so much a monster as a story trope – the same singular story retold in various ways. It’s understandable - Doctor Who and the Silurians is a magnificent piece of work and a highlight of early seventies Doctor Who. And divorced from its central conflict of newly awakened ancient owners of the Earth having to choose between living alongside the upstart humanity or retaking their world by force, the Silurians are arguably just a bunch of standard reptile men with an inexplicable heat ray in their forehead.  But with The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep and The Hungry Earth all ploughing the same vein of inspiration, it’s a mine that risks being played out.  Love it or loathe it, at least Dinosaurs on a Spaceship succeeded in being a completely different type of Silurian story.

The same can’t really be said of Bloodtide. Hitting many of the same standard plot beats in its first half, we meet a newly awoken Silurian colony, a plot to cleanse the Earth of the ‘apes’ infesting its surface, and a power struggle between the group’s more militant and more tolerant factions, you’d be forgiven for thinking you know exactly where it’s going almost from the beginning of the journey.

However, to its credit, it does try hard to distinguish itself and add a new wrinkle to the well-worn formula. Unfortunately, the main way it does this is to transplant some familiar Doctor Who ideas from elsewhere in its canon. I’m not sure the Silurians were ever crying out for their own Davros style figure yet, in the person of Tulok, that’s what we get. Cunning, sly and political, Tulok is less up front than his reptilian predecessors and rather than openly confronting any hint of weakness from his own kind with challenges, he lies and wheedles to push them into conflict. More than that, with shadows of Davros’ conspiracy to destroy the Kaled Dome, Tulok proves himself more than prepared to kill huge numbers of his fellow Silurians in order to ensure his own mad scientist dreams come true.

Another major influence here merged with the Genesis of the Daleks vibe, is classic British SF horror Quatermass and the Pit. For the abomination which Tulok has genetically engineered to the disgust of his peers aren’t Daleks… they’re us. And, moreover, like the Martian altered humans of Kneale’s film his tinkering with ancient human biology has given Tulok a backdoor into the human brain – giving his Silurians third eye a somewhat bizarre new superpower: mind control.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Genesis of the Daleks, Quatermass and the Pit; this is a high-quality crop of ingredients to mix into your creation but the resulting concoction doesn’t really work. Part of this is the way they combine to fight against the script’s other big idea: Charles Darwin. It’s always been one of the tightropes which Doctor Who has had to walk in showing aliens engaging in human history – trying not to take away from either the heights of human accomplishment nor the depths of very human evil by giving either the credit or the blame to outside influences. A young Darwin encountering a Silurian colony beneath the Galapagos was always going to risk portraying him as not developing his Theory of Evolution through hard work and genius but simply reporting on what he’d learned. But Bloodtide ups the ante by having him confronted by evidence that the human race was engineered, not the result of some natural process. It tries to turn this into a benefit by having him declare his faith in evolution and the ascent of man despite the evidence of his own experience – a faith which to an extent allows him to fight off Tulok’s psychic control – but that, with its echoes of Curse of Fenric,  simply positions evolution as a belief in the same category as religion or socialism rather than a simple scientific fact. It all makes for a rather confused way of praising Darwin for his vision.

Ultimately, Bloodtide gathers some high-quality parts from well-renowned suppliers but assembles them in a way that causes them to grind painfully against one another. If nothing else it illustrates just how hard it really is to try and play with the Silurian formula.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 23 Jul 2001
Bloodtide (Doctor Who)



The Churchill Years - Volume Two (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 February 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Churchill Years - Volume 2 (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Ian McNeice (Winston Churchill), Neve McIntosh (Madame Vastra), Iain Batchelor(Young Winston), Melody Grove (Carmen / Housekeeper), Owen Aaronovitch (Luis Ortega), Leighton Pugh (Reggie / Jorge / Clerk), Gyuri Sarossy (Lt Fleming), Bethan Walker (Bragnar), James Joyce (Connolly), Ken Bradshaw (Colonel Fischer), Emily Woodward (Louisa), Hywel Morgan (Von Moltke), Roberta Taylor (Maid), Mark Elstob (John Logie Baird / Kaiser Wilhem III), Nicholas Asbury (Visguard / Captain Morgan / Special Branch Officer), Alisdair Simpson (Sidney Wheeler / Field Marshal Brooke), Susan Tracy (Diane Wheeler / Miss Cunningham), Simon Chandler (Corporal Arthur Dimes). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson, Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Directed By: Ken Bentley

 

Buy The Churchill Years - Volume Two from Amazon now

Young Winston by Paul Morris
London, 1899. After spending time in warzones abroad, Winston Churchill considers a Parliamentary career. But a memento from his visit to Cuba, four years earlier, returns to haunt him. Across the city, the Great Detective has a mysterious caller, all the way from Havana. As ruthless mercenaries wield alien powers, young Winston and Madame Vastra learn they have a mutual friend - an eccentric young man, sporting a bowtie…
We join Winston at the tender age of 21, in Cuba where he has his first brush with death. The main drive of the story centres around a seemingly innocuous cigar cutter , that has a pearl embedded in the handle. It was passed to Churchill during his visit to Cuba – but as the story unfolds, it seems that a lot of rather dodgy characters are looking to get their hands on the cigar cutter. Madam Vastra gets caught up in the proceedings (there is a wonderful nod to those other famous London sleuths of the era, Sherlock Holmes and Jago and Litefoot), and before we know it the eleventh Doctor is also onboard, both on a mission to save our future Prime Minister.
This story has  three narrators – Old Winston (Ian McNeice), Young Winston (Iain Batchelor) and Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh). I believe that it is because of this, that the story comes across as nicely dynamic. Iain Batchelor compliments Ian McNeice’s older Churchill perfectly, and Neve McIntosh confidently takes over the story telling from Vastra and the Doctor’s point of view.
Young Winston is a very enjoyable romp that is both fast paced and very lively. Although there is plenty of gravity to proceedings, there is also a fair amount of humour (the idea of young Churchill clumsily flirting is quite an amusing one). All of the cast are brilliant, enough so to make me wonder if Big Finish might be planning a Young Winston series for some point in the future. Although, from the closing moments of this story, I’d say that a Big Finish Vastra/ Paternoster spin off is an absolute dead cert.
 
Human Conflict by Iain McLaughlin
1941. The Prime Minister has much on his mind as London reels from the Blitz. When a daring mission to discover Nazi secrets bears unexpected results, Churchill heads north to retrieve technology that could win the war. But an old ally is set against his intent. Weary from his own people’s conflict, the Doctor knows that some weapons should never enter the field of human conflict.
Upon discovering that the German’s are on the brink of developing a weapon that can make a mountain disappear, our Prime Minister despatches a team of specialists to Denmark to investigate. There they discover an unassuming woman who might be a lot more than she seems. As the story unfolds an alien arms deal is uncovered, who is keen to escalate the war into something far more deadly. All the while, Winston has to put up with a disapproving ninth Doctor, who of course, seems to know exactly whats going on.
Human Conflict is a great morality tale that explains that sometimes just because we can do something – it doesn’t mean that we should. The cast are all great, with a special mention to Bethan Walker, who plays the arms dealer who has absolutely no morals. My only gripes regarding this story are Ian McNeice's take on the ninth Doctor, his northern accent isn’t quite right. Also that i found the appearance of the Doctor quite frustrating as he rather annoyingly kept flitting in and out of proceedings.
 
I Was Churchill's Double by Alan Barnes
Alexandra Palace, 1942. Strange television signals show a paranoid Churchill urging on the resistance in German-occupied Britain. A man in a battered leather jacket makes a guest appearance. The broadcasts come from another world, one where the country is now part of the Kaiser’s Empire. Of course, the Doctor is involved, and while Churchill claims to understand the notion of ‘alternative histories’, he never expected to be part of one.
So, Winston Churchill gets to grips with other dimensions….of which he does a very good job. Suddenly zapped into another dimension by an alien mirror he finds himself in the company of the ninth Doctor and Louisa (played by Emily Woodward). In this new world the Germans won the Great War, Winston, the Doctor and Louise are fugitives, trying to avoid the might of the Kaiser’s Empire, whilst trying to get to the TARDIS.
I was Churchill's Double has some lovely nods to the history of Doctor Who in this story. The use of ‘howl-around’ as a hypnotic tool is a great one. Roberta Tovey (Susan from the Dr Who films of the 1960s) playing the sinister maid is another. The story is in some ways quite reminiscent of The Idiot’s Lantern, especially as at one point  we find the villain of the piece staring out of a television, also that a large portion of the action takes place in Alexandri Palace. There is also the mention of the Time War. 
The story though is a bit of a mess, and the characterisation of the ninth Doctor is, at times too…..slapstick. It’s all still enjoyable, although it could just have done with being just a bit tidier.
 
Churchill Victorious by Robert Khan & Tom Salinsky
VE Day, 1945. The war is over. The PM has seen the crowds and made his speech. Now he wishes to soak up the atmosphere, moving incognito among his fellow countrymen. But an alien interloper lurks in a backstreet tavern, and ‘William Churchyard’ must lead a few plucky Londoners into one more fight. The Doctor is in trouble, and at the time of his greatest victory, Churchill also faces his greatest danger...
Winston Churchill is going incognito. On V.E. Day. In central London. His idea of a disguise being a dodgy hat and a ropey fake moustache. Of course it will work! The war is over and finding himself at a loose end, Winston becomes determined to investigate some strange power cuts that are blighting the capital. Passing a police box (Could it be? No…..), he meets some locals, and together they stumble upon an intergalactic bounty hunter, who is holding someone prisoner in a very high tech cage – I wonder who that prisoner could be?
The very image of Churchill trying to pass himself off as a member of the public is a fantastic idea, and of course it is something that he fails at miserably. Which makes Churchill Victorious a perfectly fantastic romp to close this box set, and is easily the most enjoyable story of this quartet. Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have great fun with pushing the boundaries of the main character. Giving a knowing wink to the audience when it is discovered that he knows a little more about all things alien than he probably should. The banter between Churchill and Visguard (the bounty hunter, here voiced with megalomaniacal skills by Nicholas Asbury)is fantastically written and played. The guest Doctor here is the tenth, and thankfully both the writers and McNiece capture his essence perfectly.
 
Having really enjoyed Volume One of the Churchill Years, I was concerned that this new set wouldn't quite come up to scratch - but fear not, they are every bit as enjoyable and expands the character of Winston Churchill even further.




Torchwood: Aliens Among Us - Part 3Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Part 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Tim Foley, Joseph Lidster, Helen Goldwyn, James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Samantha Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt. Andy Davidson), Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ramon Tikaram (Colin Colchester-Price), Terrence Hardiman (Escape), Sanee Raval (Xander), Kezrena James (Serena), Laura Dalgleish (Newsreader), Kerry Joy Stewart (Waitress), Garnon Davies (Rory), Joseph Tweedale (Assassin), Richard Elfyn (Inspector Bernstein), Aly Cruickshank (God Botherer), Marilyn Le Conte (Sue), Rick Yale (Darren), Luke Williams (Hywel), Charlotte O’Leary (News Reporter).

Released By Big Finish Productions - February 2018​
Order from Amazon UK

If there’s one crime of which reviewers can’t possibly accuse Big Finish’s first full season of Torchwood missions, it’s conforming to fans’ expectations.

Few would’ve blamed the studio for playing their cards safe with Aliens Among Us, particularly considering how straying from the beaten track to Stateside waters terminated the mature Doctor Who spin-off’s televised tenure. Yet rather than erasing Miracle Day from canon and resurrecting past teammates like Ianto and Toshiko for the sake of restoring the show’s original status quo, producer James Goss and his intrepid team of scribes have boldly committed to a new team, an embattled new incarnation of Cardiff ruled by alien mobsters and numerous emotionally devastating twists with series-altering ramifications.

What’s more, with Part 3 – comprising the final four instalments of Season Five – Goss and company don’t so much rein in their lofty ambitions as raise the benchmark ever further, delivering a truly memorable quartet of similarly pivotal adventures which, short of any major retcons next time around, promise to redefine Torchwood Three’s future for the better. The team’s eternal leader Captain Jack Harkness opened every episode of the show’s first few TV runs with the assertion that “the 21st century is where everything changes” and, judging by the events of this captivating boxset, perhaps he was referring to February 2018…

“Poker Face”:

Prepare for a disorientating dive into the deep end of recent Torchwood mythology with this fast-paced mid-season premiere as the Red Skies plot arc developed over the course of Season Five comes to a head. With the terrorist group seemingly plotting a number of violent attacks across the city so as to rid Cardiff of its extraterrestrial immigrants, it’s up to Jack, Gwen, Orr and Mr. Colchester to fend off these plots or at least minimize their blast radius before it’s too late. The only problem? They’re a team divided thanks to Jack’s recent sinister activities, not to mention the return of one Yvonne Hartman in the Hub’s vaults.

Indeed, that reports of Ms. Hartman’s demise in“Doomsday” were seemingly exaggerated comes as a welcome surprise by the end of “Poker Face”, since MVP Tracy-Ann Oberman’s presence injects the episode with as much grim humour and ruthless energy as it does unpredictability surrounding the nature of Yvonne’s survival. Better yet, whereas Torchwood often left its titular organisation’s long-running history shrouded in ambiguity on-screen, Oberman and John Barrowman’s electrifying rapport as their righteous commanders-in-chief vie for supremacy also allows for new insight into their shared history and the secret agency’s various teams interacted prior to the Battle of Canary Wharf.

It’s testament to playwright Tim Foley’s focused script that its headline act doesn’t overshadow the fascinating internal conflicts rife amongst the team in the wake of Part 2’s “The Empty Hand” either; quite to the contrary, just as much of its running time is dedicated to exploring whether the ends justify the means when it comes to Jack’s alignment with Red Skies to save Cardiff. Can the team possibly move forward knowing that its leader would willingly fuel hate crime and risk thousands of lives to best Ro-Jedda’s Sorvix hordes? As with much of Part 3 and of Aliens Among Us as a whole, the answer may shock listeners just as it did this reviewer, not least given its profound implications for what comes next.  

“Tagged”:

A real Orr de force, this one – pun fully intended. Clearly Goss well understands the need for series plot arcs to take a backseat, since here he tasks Joseph Lidster with tackling an issue largely separated from Ro-Jedda’s mayoral scheming but no less potent as a source of narrative inspiration: social media. Predictably letting Orr loose online to solve the mystery of fate-bearing cards spreading across the city isn’t the wisest of ideas but doing so affords Samantha Béart the rare opportunity to showcase her actorial mettle as the character is tested to her limits by the raw vitriol, prejudice and hatred that she must channel to discover why otherwise innocuous civilians are taking lives without almost any remorse.

As always, that’s not the only problem facing Torchwood Three in this instance – still reeling from the – spoilerific but suffice to say monumental – cliffhanger left by “Poker Face”, they’re dealing with a volatile new status quo which again forces each team member to consider the lengths to which they’re willing to go to keep Cardiff from tearing itself apart. Such quandaries only work in Paul Clayton’s favour as Colchester, whose increasingly close friendship with Orr makes the experience of watching her endure immense psychological pain to crack the case that much more harrowing – and thus dramatically satisfying – as a result.

Great performances usually necessitate a great script to provide worthy dialogue, though. Let’s give credit where credit’s due to Lidster, then, without whom “Tagged” might lack the emotional poignancy found in Serena’s topical plight as a sexually abused police officer, or the cathartic moments of levity granted by Gwen and Sergeant Andy Davidson’s bemusement at events on the streets, or the harrowing final scene which casts one of Torchwood’s most loyal stalwarts in a chillingly unsettling light. From his TV contribution to the franchise with 2008’s “A Day in the Death” to today, Torchwood remains safe whenever it lies in Lidster’s capable hands.  

“Escape Room”:

Yet what of Helen Goldwyn, whose only contribution to the range until now has been a cameo in last year’s throwback boxset Torchwood One: Before the Fall? Like Lidster, Goldwyn aims to explore another renowned facet of modern-day society, specifically the puzzle-based communal pastime which gives “Escape Room” its name. The difference here lies in said setting’s acting as a metaphorical springboard for this relative newcomer to examine the states of the Cooper and Colchester-Price families, with both relationships coming under greater strain as Alexandria Riley's Ng strives to keep her possession of Gwen’s body a closely-guarded secret.

This approach in turn once again allows Clayton, Riley, Kai Owen and Ramon Tikaram as Colin Colchester-Price to take advantage of their increased airtime and remind fans why the series remains at its best when challenging and evolving its relationships rather than always pitting characters against Earth-threatening challenges. Over the course of the hour each player of this explosive game-turned-death trap must test their loyalties against their desire for self-preservation, with no-one’s fate guaranteed and Goldwyn’s intelligent integration of red herrings here and there ensuring the lister remains either at the edge of their seat or fascinated to discover how the true last-minute twists will affect future episodes.

Perhaps the only noteworthy shortcoming which this reviewer could detect in “Escape Room” connects more-so to its context within the grander scheme of Aliens Among Us than its compelling semi-standalone tale. Steering clear of spoiler territory, the knowledge of Ng’s true identity as well as the overall Sorvix / Red Skies arc taking priority in Season Five’s final outing mean that a couple of seemingly irreversible watershed moments aren’t explored in as substantial depth going forward as one might hope, serving as devices to push said arcs towards their climax more than anything else. While that seems something of a missed opportunity, though, as a standalone piece Goldwyn’s Torchwood debut provides an utterly gripping hour of tension and emotionally wrought drama which no fan will soon forget.

“Herald of the Dawn”:

Among the most heinous clichés in the marketing book is proclaiming that a TV drama’s protagonists will “never be the same again” once the credits have rolled on its latest season finale. Too often we’re promised as much only to discover that the supposedly groundbreaking changes instigated by that show’s writing team are nothing of the sort or will inevitably be retconned come the next season premiere, for fear of the brand losing followers by axing key characters, leaving plot threads hanging or delivering near-impossible cliffhangers to resolve.

That’s not remotely the case with “Herald of the Dawn”, however. As well as reintroducing Jonny Green’s increasingly besieged ex-journalist Tyler Steele and Jack – who’s absent for much of this boxset with good reason – into the fray, James Goss’ magnificent season capper places myriad other responsibilities on its plate, from resolving Ng’s arc to revealing the rationale behind Bilis Manger’s mysterious Part 2 appearance to confirming that Ro-Jedda and her Sorvix clan aren’t going anywhere either. If manipulating so many pivotal chess pieces at once seemed an impossible task, then Goss makes the endeavour look enviably simple, both providing satisfying closure on many fronts and revealing that other elements are but the tip of the iceberg in a far more audacious multi-season game-plan.

Yes, you read that last sentence correctly – as if there were ever any doubt, Goss and director Scott Handcock confirm their intentions for more regular Torchwood chapters beyond Aliens Among Us in the accompanying behind-the-scenes tracks, although to think otherwise would’ve been ridiculous after the infuriatingly tantalising note on which “Herald” concludes. It’s not often that this reviewer finds himself completely breathless at the end of a Big Finish production, but I’ll gladly confess to yelling in exasperation at the top of my voice in a crowded Tottenham Court Road tube station as the series’ iconic theme tune kicked in to signal Season Five’s end credits. How we’ll endure such an unbearable wait between now and Season Six given the colossal cliffhanger left here – and a particularly poignant coda by Russell T. Davies leaving a Torchwood icon’s future uncertain – is beyond yours truly.

That’s a sure-fire sign of a tremendously successful season finale, though, and a wholehearted reaffirmation of Torchwood’s undoubtedly prosperous future at Big Finish. Between the studio’s half-year runs of monthly adventures situated in Torchwood Three’s past (our reviews of which will resume in March with The Death of Captain Jack), their delightful Torchwood One boxsets with Oberman at their firm helm and April’s long-awaited team-up boxset Torchwood Believe set to reunite the show’s original cast, this once-tarnished brand couldn’t lie in safer hands today, hence why this reviewer can’t wait to see what Goss and company have next up their sleeves.





The Diary of River Song - Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Diary of River Song: Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nev Fountain, Jacqueline Rayner, John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Ian Conningham (Kevin / Rindle), Julia Hills (Sharon / Rindle), David Seddon (Mr Quisling / Tarn 2), Leighton Pugh (Lake 2 / Dave / Tarn), Sophia Carr-Gomm (Lily), Joanna Horton (Brooke), Issy Van Randwyck (Giulia), Rosanna Miles (Antoinette / Maid / Constanze), Teddy Kempner (Viktor / Mozart / Stefan / Apothecary), Jonathan Coote (Maitre D' / Chef / Assassin), Nina Toussaint-White (Brooke 2), Francesca Zoutewelle (H-One / H-Two / Mission Captain), Pippa Bennett-Warner (O / The Deterrent). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson
Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

When Big Finish began their River Song series, I was initially quite excited. I had really warmed to the character, and so the idea of her living on for further adventures on audio, at a company that consistently releases entertaining stuff, thrilled me, to say the least.  But the first boxset actually left me quite indifferent to the idea of even listening to more. It wasn't bad, and it had Paul McGann in it...but it felt like it was missing something. In preparation for this review, I decided to give the second boxset a whirl, just in case it had some lingering plot thread I might need to fully understand this newest set...and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first set.  Maybe it was better plotting, a more engaging story, or if it was just the timey wimey Doctor crossings featuring both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the tales...but whatever it was I felt was missing from that first set, seemed rectified by Series 2.

Some SPOILERS may be ahead, as it would be somewhat impossible to talk about certain episodes without discussing plot revelations in earlier episodes.  Reader Beware!

So we come to this third box set of River Song adventures, and from the word go it is quite exciting.  The opening story, The Lady of the Lake is slightly intertwined with the Eleventh Doctor story A Good Man Goes To War, which was the episode that finally revealed just who River was. We find out here that River wasn't the only thing Madame Kovarian experimented on at Demon's Run, they also took River's DNA and created seven other Time Lord hybrid babies...basically River's own brothers and sisters...and she has to stop one of them that has gone a bit mad due to the mysteries of his regenerative nature.  It's an exciting opener, with lots of wonderful bits, character moments, and a tremendous pace.

The second story has the River playing companion to the Fifth Doctor, along with a previously unknown companion known as Brooke. They land in Vienna in the 18th Century and end up on the trail of murders and mystery...as things so often tend to go when you travel anywhere or anywhen with the Doctor.  It is basically a solid Fifth Doctor story, from the point of view of River Song.  The big reveal of this episode is that Brooke is not who she says she is when in the end she attempts to kill the Doctor. using the same means as the murders of the episode. River is able to save the Doctor, the question remains what to do with Brooke, and just who is she?. 

It is quite clear that the River Song series is taking it’s time travel shenanigans and story structures from the Eleventh Doctor era, and that is probably most evident in the third story in the set, My Dinner With Andrew which plays with time travel and hopping around more than most. it is a quite entertaining, though just like the Eleventh Doctor era it moves fast and sometimes needs a bit of relistening in order to get the full picture of what is going on. I rather liked this one, but I did find a few things hard to keep track of...such as which River is which, but ultimately it is a fun story with good performances from Kingston, Davison, and co. The story also brings back Madame Kovarian, and reveals that Brooke is, in fact, another DNA clone of River hoping to succeed in killing the Doctor...which she does, only his Fifth Incarnation.

The final episode of the set reveals that there are several other clones of River still alive, with Brooke being the favorite. Kovorian's plan seemingly succeeded, but killing the Doctor so early in his time stream has catastrophic results for her.  She begins to see ghosts and then becomes the target of a new radical faction that wants to destroy her, for just as her plan to kill the Doctor was meant to stop him from destroying the Universe, her killing of him ends up doing just that, so now she is seen as the cause of the Universe ending.  The episode is really, at its heart though, about River and her sisters.  Brooke has a taste for killing now, even killing one of her own sisters, and the sisters are all completely warped by Kovarian, can River somehow get them to come around against Kovarian and maybe undo the killing of the Doctor and thus save the universe? 

SPOILERS...the Doctor lives.  This should be surprising to no one that they haven't killed the Doctor off in his Fifth incarnation, the means about how he is saved is where the story is interesting though, and that I will not spoil.  This is a good box set, with a story and structure that heavily ties into the Eleventh Doctor's era of stories, any fan that enjoyed the time hopping and intricate plotting (and even major plot elements) that shaped that era of the series will probably find something to enjoy in this set. 






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 January 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), 
John Leeson (K9), Martha Cope (Commander Lind),
Oliver Dimsdale (Rebben Tace), Toby Hadoke (V26),
John Dorney (Brin / SV9 / V12 / Gary), Cathy Tyson (Jennifer), Damian Lynch (Colin Marshall), Julian Wadham (Dr Holman), Dan Starkey (Linus Strang), Josette Simon (Taraneh),
Sarah Lark (Jacinta), Alex Wyndham (Raph),
Robert Duncan (Krayl / Sternwood / Eldren),
Andy Secombe (Cloten / Shift), Justin Avoth (Cain).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs

 

Available February 2018 via Amazon UK

The Sons Of Kaldor by Andrew Smith

 

"Please do not throw feet at me..."

That line is unfortunately……..not in this audio - but wouldn't it have been fun if it were?

Not that theThe Sons of Kaldor isn’t fun - in it, we find the Doctor and Leela are on a seemingly deserted craft, where, while having a quiet snoop around they discover a humanoid female and an angry looking creature, both in some sort medically induced suspended animation. As they journey deeper into the ship they meet some very familiar robotic faces in the form of the Voc robots from the planet Kaldor (previously seen in, of course, The Robots of Death). Concerned that there are no humans on the ship to lead a mission, the Doctor convinces the robots to revive the female, who is the ship's commander. Once revived she reveals that the ship and it's crew are in the middle of a vicious civil war, and that they are spying on the Sons of Kaldor, who are a group of alien mercenaries, looking to instigate a regime change on their home planet. However, things might not quite be when they seem...

The Sons of Kaldor is a great story for the fourth Doctor and Leela, and a perfect way to start this new volume of tales. It's great to hear the pair react to a for that is to both of them (are the robots REALLY a foe? Discuss). The sound design of this story is magnificent, especially in the way that the technology being used on the craft here, emulates that used on the Sandminer, from the classic television series perfectly. It really helps you to believe that you are in the same universe. This, along with the calm and friendly tones of the Vocs and Super Vocs, gives the story a very nostalgic feel.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are excellent, once again recreating their characters as if they had never stepped away. I'm loving Baker in these stories, he seems to be getting better and better.

The supporting cast are also great - Martha Cope (the controller in Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways) as the human commander of the ship is a strong but sympathetic character, especially when she realises the situation that she has been thrown into, Oliver Dimsdale is an old school, suitably smug villain. The writer of the last two parts of this volume, John Dorney provides most of the other voices, including SV9 and V12 - we also get the wonderful Toby Hadoke as V26. 

The Sons Of Kaldor is a perfect two part opener to this new volume of fourth Doctor adventures, and provides some great questions about the humanity and possibility of sentient robot life.

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment is in itself, quite an experiment for this format, as it almost immediately turns everything that we are used to, upside-down.

The Doctor and Leela are attacked on an alien world, Leela is knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, finds herself in a completely different time and place. She is at the Crowmarsh Institute, in London, 1978. To her surprise, she is Doctor Leela Marshall, someone who isis struggling to separate realty from fantasy. In Crowmarsh the Doctor that she is used to is a work colleague, Doctor Stewart, and  she is married, with children. But Leela can feel  that this place is wrong. The question is, can the Doctor break through from the reality that she is used to and help her?

There are so many great things to say about The Crowmarsh Experiment. Louise Jameson really does carry the story, and it is a wonderful opportunity for her usual  supporting role to come a lot more to the fore. Never quite believing that Crowmarsh is a real place,  her nod’s, and knowing winks to Doctor Stewart (of course played by Tom Baker) are great fun. The Doctor as we know him doesn’t really feature until quite a way into the story. In fact if this were a modern day tale, it could almost be described as a ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. The threat here is palpable, and the Doctor’s (our Doctor’s) final solution is deliciously fiendish.

David Llewelyn’s writing is compulsive, and sometimes claustrophobic stuff. The supporting cast, which includes Cathy Tyson, Damian Lynch, Julian Wadham, and Strax himself, Dan Starkey are all excellent.

I think that no matter how much of a nostalgia-fest The Sons of Kaldor is (and believe me, I LOVE a nostalgia-fest!), The Crowmarsh Experiment is the best of this trio of stories, with a lot of that due to it’s originality and ability to bend the narrative of Who into something quite different.

 

The Mind Runners & The Demon Rises by John Dorney

 

Mind Running is a technique through which one can enter the minds of total strangers, just to see and feel what they saw and felt. The Mind Runners, however are being wiped out, dying in an onslaught of suicides. No one on the planet Chaldra knows why.

Something quite horrific is happening, and it’s up to the Doctor and Leela to find out what.

Both of these stories final stories on this volume have a real feel of classic Who. We find the Doctor and Leela separated on an alien planet. K9 is front and centre, and there is a puzzling mystery to solve. Everything is here, but rather surprisingly my interest just wasn’t quite held as well as it had been with the previous two stories.

For me, I really think the strange, almost electronic treatment to the sound of the alien's voices didn’t help. I also found the stories villain Mr Shift to be very over the top, in a bad, TheHorns of Nimon kind of way (his maniacal cackle closes the episode - I promise, you will cringe).

Don’t get me wrong - there are great bits. The macabre rocket, and a planet-wide, man-eating city does conjure up some quite horrifying imagery, these ideas, along with the way that the afore mentioned Mr Shift despatches his victims are quite inventive. However, I couldn’t help thinking that some of the elements of this story just weren’t quite gelling as well as they should have, and I really couldn’t put my finger on what and why.

These final stories, when compared to the others in this volume, do have quite a large cast, with Josette Simon, Sarah Lark, Alex Wyndham, Robert Duncan, Justin Avoth and Andy Secombe as Mr Shift all doing a great job.

My feeling is that if The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises were released as one stand alone story - then I probably would have appreciated them more. Whereas here, on a volume where the first two stories are so exceptionally strong, these slightly weaker stories get somewhat lost.

 

The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7, Volume 1 is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.