Lady Christina: Series One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 5 September 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Lady Christina (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Helen Goldwyn
 

Big Finish

First Released: August 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

I've always been indifferent about the character of Lady Christina De Souza, the one-off guest star from Planet of the Dead (the 2009 Easter Special) starring David Tennant.  I was never fond of that story, which to me always came off as a run of the mill average episode being touted as a big special in a year with a lot less Who.  I am often more forgiving of average Who stories when they are in the middle of a full year...but if you only get a few in a year, they all have to up their game.  The character of Lady Christina was definitely tied to this.  Michelle Ryan is charming, but the character always felt like someone overwritten to be the coolest person in town. Flawless and fun and witty and can do all sorts of cool things.  She is the thief with a heart of gold...but it always felt very forced. I failed to connect with the character.  But that didn't matter in the long run. It was just one episode.

But with Big Finish no having the rights to almost all things New Series, every one off character and their mother can get their own series! So Lady Christina gets her very on Audio Spin-off series.  It isn't a bad series, in fact, it has plenty of moments of fun, but it didn't really move the needle on this character for me.  The character only got one shot on TV, so if you are going to build a series around her, you need to flesh out her character.  Beyond the all too fleeting moments with her father in one episode, this set definitely failed to do that. 

So she ends up being written as a bargain bin version of River Song, a sassy witty adventurer with a bad girl side. That's the biggest flaw for me.  I didn't hear anything in this character that didn't end up sounding like it could've been just as well coming from River. The difference being River had a ton of on screen adventures that fleshed out her character, and the boxsets I've so far heard from her also added onto her character.  This is just some light adventures featuring a character that lacks much depth.  Again, Michelle Ryan is charming and she is playing the part with some gusto...but the lack of any real character development hurts this set immensely for me. 

The opening story is actually fun and showed promise.  It weaved a fun tale of adventure, robbery, and a hint of alien tech, and made me think that maybe this series could work, despite my utter indifference to the lead character.  A bit of light Doctor Who alien stuff mixed in with some crimes?  Sure!  But then the second story felt like it was a riff on the plot of Partners in Crime...right down to the involvement of Sylvia Noble (which ends up being a practically random guest star).  Other than the involvement of Christina's father, which is too underwritten, the story left me somewhat cold.  I would've enjoyed it as a Tenth Doctor tale, but I was feeling that this series had the potential to do something new...a thief as the lead.  It should be a show about a thief stealing alien artifacts...and that should be the focus of the stories!

Though the third episode returns to that premise, I have to say it was sadly a bit of a mess. There were good ideas floating around, but it was too unfocused. The finale of the set also felt unfocused, though not nearly as muddled as the third episode.  The set just limps to a conclusion, and it didn't leave me frothing at the mouth for more adventures with Lady Christina.

Ultimately, the set didn't grab me. It is mostly serviceable light fun, but nothing I will remember a week from now.  I went into this with a total neutral feelings on the character and the whole idea of her getting her own series.  Sadly, the set has me walking away feeling exactly the same.  I am no offended by it's existence, now do I care if it continues or dies right here.  There were nuggets of fun, and certainly, some will find it a good time. Give me River Song any day. 






Red Planets (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 30 August 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Red Planets (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

Released August 2018
 

Running Time: 2 hours

Now let’s make something clear first. I love spy stories. Le Carre, Fleming, Deighton; all three are in my favourite authors and the cold war period of espionage certainly seems like an excellent setting for a Doctor Who story. The first story in this years, Seventh Doctor Trilogy (though in matter of fact the first of a pentalogy), Red Planets continues the pairing of the Doctor, Mel and Ace. Taking it’s ques from Cold War spy thrillers in the vein of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Quiller Memorandum, Red Planets is an evocative, thrill a minute story that packs its punches but keeps its secrets close to its chest until its final moments.  Written by Una McCormack, this is an impressive high concept tale that weaves intriguing espionage, with time-bending mishaps-even if the impressive ideas aren’t always given enough room to breathe.

The story opens with the Doctor and Mel in a strange parallel future, in the socialist republic of Mokoshia and Ace in Berlin in 1961. Already even here there are a few problems as why the three are split into two groups is never adequately explained. At first, I thought that it could perhaps be another example of one of the more manipulative and darker Seventh Doctor’s masterplans, though this turns out not to be the case. The only other possibility is that it’s a hangover from a previous adventure, that’s all well and good if so but giving us a little bit more info would have been appreciated. In fact, even the story doesn’t seem to know, with at points it feeling that Ace’s presence in 1961 one is intentional and at others, it’s explicitly stated that it is not. Anyway, whilst the Doctor and Mel become embroiled in the politics of the shady new republic, Ace befriends a British spy. Up in space, the first mission to Mars is about to get a nasty surprise…

If that sounds like there’s a lot going on you’d be damn right. Unfortunately, this means that some of the ideas whilst ingenuous, need just a little bit more room to breathe. The revelation of what is up on Mars in particular. This idea is one of Una’s most captivating but unfortunately, it’s reduced to an exposition-heavy explanation by the Doctor in a story that has one too many of them. The result was I often found myself having to pause and skip back a little just to make sure I was taking everything in.

However, in terms of atmosphere and thrills, the story succeeds massively. The paranoia of a lot of the aforementioned Spy fiction is captured beautifully and Mokoshia really does feel like a threatening place, reminiscent of many of our darker Socialist dictatorships. The fact that the individual who will eventually cause all of this never makes an appearance is also a wonderful decision. This is a story about consequences and the characters who have to suffer because of his actions, not about him.

Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred are all wonderful as usual. Sophie Aldred in particular always works incredibly well alone and the character of Ace works wonderfully well in the world of 1960’s Berlin. Bonnie Langford gets some great moments taking further swipes at the Doctors character and in particular his moral stance on the rewriting of history- no matter how many individuals from the parallel world will be lost. Likewise, Sylvester gives his own in these scenes, giving a sense of a Doctor who is tired of trying to explain, knowing she’ll never understand. The supporting cast are all great, though admittedly I didn’t feel like they were really given much to play with, the emphasis being more on the ideas than supporting characters.

Red Planets is a great Doctor Who story with some great ideas. To really of been a classic it needed perhaps one more rewrite just to sort the pacing out. However, the result is none the less entertaining and comes recommended.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Sep 2018
Main Range #241 Red Planets (Doctor Who Main Range)



Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.08 - Flight Into Hull!Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 August 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Flight Into Hull! (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins, Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Joseph Lidster, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler)

"Oh great, TWO Jackie Tylers....isn't that just wizard!"

 

Jackie Tyler's lost a close friend, and this new Doctor is only a half-hearted replacement for him.

But as she tries to put the events of Big Ben behind her and take a well-earned break, others have spotted an opportunity. A well-intentioned, far-reaching plan is underway. But Jackie Tyler isn't the woman she was...

 

So - first The Siege of Big Ban, and now Flight into Hull! Big Finish are positively spoiling us with tales of the meta-crisis Doctor and Jackie Tyler. 

 

After the events in Big Ben, and in an effort to have Jackie and the Doctor get on more, Pete and Rose arrange a private zeppelin flight for the pair, to the 'famous' spa city of Hull, to see it's great glass pyramid, and sparkling blue waters  (obviously this parallel world has some very big differences to ours!).

 

However things don't go as planned (do they ever?), thanks to a new Jackie Tyler, crashing into this dimension, and our party. The difference in this new Jackie though is that she is sharp, intelligent, cunning...and desperate to save her own children from her dying world, which is suffering from severe global cooling.

 

As with The Siege of Big Ben, Joseph Lidster delivers a smart and very witty, story for the Short Trips range. This is a perfect ship in a bottle story, which at first is quite light hearted and breezy, but quickly takes quite a dark turn, not only through the desperation of this new, second Jackie, but also exploring this Doctor's humanity, and the realisation that if he dies - he won't regenerate.

 

Camille Coduri again excels at not just our Jackie, but this new Jackie as well, and obviously has fun playing the new characterisation of what must be by now a very familiar role.

 

Flight Into Hull! is a truly great follow up to The Siege of Big Ben, and left me wanting to hear more stories from this parallel Universe. I'm quietly hoping that Big Finish are thinking the same....

 

You can buy Flight Into Hull here.





Torchwood: Deadbeat Escape (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 August 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Deadbeat Escape (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: James Goss
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Murray Melvin, Gareth Pierce, Cara Chase
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 1 hour

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

“What is this place?”
“I would’ve thought that was abundantly clear by now – it’s a trap.”

One of the first unspoken laws that critics learn, while blissfully perched upon their infinitely extravagant ivory towers, is to keep an open mind. No matter whether you’re consuming a miraculously uncovered tome from literary royalty such as Shakespeare or the twentieth instalment in the most monotonous TV show known to man (our thoughts and prayers go out to anyone still recovering from Australia’s traumatic take on K-9), casting past biases and – if possible – contextual controversies to the wind usually offers the best opportunity to consume and evaluate the work in question as objectively as possible. Who knows? The end product could rank among your most hallowed viewing, reading or listening experiences of the year come its final shot, page or track.

It’s with this fundamental professional goal in mind that we’ve got an admission to make; after More Than This, Made You Look and The Dying Room each wrapped up Big Finish’s first three monthly Torchwood runs with predictable thrillers, devoid of their predecessors’ thematic weight or profound character development, we couldn’t help but worry that this year’s mini-season would follow suit with its final chapter. But if Goodbye Piccadilly defied this reviewer’s expectations in July with a thoroughly entertaining hour for our most maligned protagonist paring, then the frankly magnificent Deadbeat Escape blows them out of the water – we’ve no reason to ever doubt productions in the range again after this unforgettable denouement.

Think Torchwood meets Psycho and you’ll only scratch the surface of the glory that awaits. Delivering a devilishly chilling chamber piece brimming with gothic suspense and disturbing sci-fi conceits, James Goss reintroduces one of the original TV show’s finest antagonists, Bilis Manger, as our Norman Bates, his concealed intentions every inch as terrifying to unravel, his self-centred but far from self-deifying worldview just as thought-provoking and his history no less deliciously open to interpretation than in “Captain Jack Harkness” or “End of Days”. As with Marion Crane and her post-mortem entourage, the further that the Traveller Halt’s latest misfortunate occupant, Hywel Roberts, delves into the hotel’s temporal mysteries, the greater our understanding of its enigmatic new manager – and the oncoming emotional turmoil that awaits Hywel – deepens with tragic gravity. Few scribes could truly claim to match the careful precision with which Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece gradually stokes our curiosity while still leaving us dreading the consequences, yet Goss’ perfectly-paced script undoubtedly manages this structural flourish with spectacular aplomb.

And yet where lesser writers might’ve been content with prioritising these archetypal horror  elements of intrigue, morally indecipherable foils and deadly foreshadowing above all else, it’s the unashamedly equal weighting afforded to Bilis and Hywel’s intertwined journeys that truly separates Goss from the pack. Naturally any innocent bystanders unlucky enough to find themselves in the former’s deceptively kindly crosshairs mark themselves out as lambs to the slaughter, but there’s so much more to Mr. Roberts than that – his effortlessly moving familial plight regularly thrusts the narrative into unexpected but no less riveting territory, with Bilis’ subtle interrogations and infrequent appearances by a haunting third player bringing his raw insecurities to the fore in heartrending fashion. It’s not often that one-off newcomers to the Torchwood franchise simply beg further appearances down the line, but just as The Dollhouse’s electrifying Los Angeles agents and Bilis himself were crying out for reprisals from the moment of their conception, so too would this reviewer leap at the chance to discover Hywel’s next steps – however inevitably morbid – beyond Escape’s end credits.

Of course, as much as it’s hugely welcome to see all of these constituent components ensuring that Escape bests previous Torchwood audio finales, not every trend needed bucking; regular readers of our range reviews will hopefully recall our continual praise for virtually every voice actor tasked with leading the plays, an enduring tradition which Murray Melvin and Gareth Pierce uphold via their superb two-hand act. In rendering Hywel’s escalating paranoia so hauntingly, yet still finding time to layer in emotional subtleties during his tender exchanges with Bilis’ other victim, Pierce offers up the perfect audition tape for the future Big Finish roles which he’s surely guaranteed to acquire going forward. Indeed, given that Melvin apparently departed his recording booth bellowing “revenge, revenge, I shall have my revenge!” and given how his gleefully malicious portrayal as Bilis takes on new dramatic layers as the pair’s tempestuous dynamic evolves, Big Finish could do far worse than to re-unite their talents at the earliest convenient opportunity.

Scratch that last sentence, actually – Big Finish could do far worse than to re-unite the talents of everyone involved with Deadbeat Escape at the earliest possible opportunity, convenient or otherwise. Such are the play’s myriad strengths that we could easily dedicate just as many words to the matter as you’d find contained in its script, but whether you’re examining broader elements such as Goss’ stunningly-structured storyline and the Peabody-worthy two-hander powering proceedings, or (still vital) minutiae like the sound design’s unsettling manipulation of background ambience to induce near-constant tension, even the most sceptical listeners would be hard pressed to come away with any points of contention. Our advice? Dive in with an open mind, then allow Bilis to expand your mind to the vast possibilities of time travel with no ill intent whatsoever – why, he wouldn’t even hurt a fly…

Next Time on Torchwood – Chances are that our paths will cross with Bilis again before too long, particularly given the apocalyptic note on which Aliens Among Us concluded earlier this year and the impending arrival of God Among Us from this October onwards. Whatever happens, though, we know for certain that Torchwood’s monthly adventures will resume in March 2019 for twelve months on end – join us then for prison escapes with Owen, domestic drama with Jack and Ianto, underground excursions with Cardiff celebs and plenty more of the globe-trotting hysteria that we’ve come to expect from the century where everything changes!






Torchwood: Instant Karma (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 12 August 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Instant Karma (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: James Goss, David Llewellyn, Jonathan Morris
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Featuring: Naoko Mori, Jonny Dixon, Sara McGaughey, Duncan Wiseby, Ross Ford

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

“That feeling…it felt amazing.”
“I know.”
“We could do anything, couldn’t we?”

It was only a matter of time. Between its mother show’s satirical coverage of the subject in “The Return of Doctor Mysterio” and the franchise’s recent deconstructions of classic sci-fi tropes such as artificial intelligence (Cascade), cult conspiracies (Believe), and nihilistic escape rooms (Aliens Among Us Part 3), Torchwood always seemed inextricably bound towards tackling society’s rabid superhero mania. Case in point: avert your eyes from the screen of whichever digital platform you’re consuming this review via right now and look up into the sky. See that mythical figure descending from the heavens, like the Greek god Icarus with his majestic wings of old? That’s not a bird, nor a plane, nor even the Man of Steel himself – introducing Instant Karma.

Rest assured that the following verdict won’t comprise simply of genre puns, though – partly because iconic adages like “with great power comes great responsibility” sound rather dated in the age of social media influencers / trolls / politicians, but moreso because this reviewer would sooner renege his profession than get on the wrong side of Karma’s three-strong writing team. If Family Guy’s Peter Griffin took to Quahog 5 News’ TV airwaves to “grind his gears”, then Torchwood range regulars David Llewellyn, James Goss and Jonathan Morris evidently selected audio drama as the ideal medium to do so; from pesky stragglers holding up the queues for ATM machines to ignorant railway passengers incapable of wearing headphones, from far-right politicians to Cardiff-based secret agents sticking their noses where they oughtn’t be, the axes are well and truly out in a vengeful hour of unrelenting bestial fury…

Just kidding! But odds are that we’ve all bemoaned at least one of the bugbears mentioned in the previous paragraph, thereby confirming how brilliantly the three wrights channel commonplace social tensions into a painfully believable tale of tragic hubris. The aforementioned persistent agent, Toshiko Sato, has her hands full as ever, with our scribes throwing nuanced moral dilemmas aplenty in her direction as she investigates the emergence of a seemingly superhuman community group capable of murdering their irksome victims with but a single malicious thought. Might we justify such grievous violence if directed at the ‘right’ target? Is it always fair to blame up-and-coming ‘vigilantes’ for the unforeseen consequences of their actions? In a world where those influencers mentioned earlier often come to the fore with but a single viral tweet or video, only to find their every word scrutinised for its potential to shape followers’ actions / ideals, originally far-fetched dilemmas such as these are fast gaining pertinence, making the script’s refusal to commit to one moral standpoint as the more righteous stance all the more powerful in hindsight.

Serving full justice to weighty debates such as these takes more than politically charged dialogue and the odd explosive set-piece, of course; you’ll also need accomplished performers with the emotional range to keep a straight face given the tale’s disbelief-testing premise, yet simultaneously to avoid sinking listeners into despair when critiquing our childhood cravings for supernatural abilities. It’s for this reason that the decision to centre Karma around three core stars rather than an overstuffed ensemble works to such compelling effect – naturally Naoko Mori resurrects Toshiko’s personal vulnerability, intellectual sense of humour and oft-overlooked bravery with the ease of flicking a light-switch, but don’t underestimate Jonny Dixon or Sara McGaughey either. Both shine with remarkable intensity given their newfound introduction into the Torchwood universe, Dixon’s initially collected take on soldier-turned-bus driver Simon belying a deeply unsettling egotism underneath and McCaughey’s seemingly blindly faithful lover Janet fast revealing herself as no less psychologically complex – nor formidable – as events take a turn for the worst.

Perhaps it’s telling, then, that this reviewer’s only reservation towards the finished product concerns the sense of unfinished business lingering for these richly-detailed characters as the credits roll all too abruptly. Every great storyteller knows the value of leaving their audience wanting more, but past instalments in Big Finish’s monthly Torchwood range left us practically on the edge of our seats, desperate to know what became of Jack’s investigation into the Committee after The Conspiracy and Uncanny Valley, who the time travelling conspirators engineering events in Visiting Hours were or – as discussed last month – the true intentions of Norton Folgate, only for subsequent instalments to pick up with the same protagonists and yet virtually no sign of those previous plot threads. While this could suggest a bigger game-plan at work, what with one-off releases such as The Torchwood Archive and Outbreak admittedly furthering some of those minor story arcs, some might equally interpret it as Big Finish wanting to avoid those picking up a random Jack or Owen release in the monthly range finding themselves lost amidst ongoing story arcs, in which case return trips to Karma might induce a frustrating sense of longing for the closure which never came.

But that’s a question for another day – no doubt our understanding of Torchwood’s evolving narrative continuity under Big Finish will continue to grow as a second season of post-Miracle Day antics launches this autumn and the monthly range kicks into top gear with a full year’s worth of standalone missions starting next March. Regardless, Instant Karma confirms without any hesitation that now’s the perfect time for the studio to up their game with further monthly outings, delivering both exhilarating action for superhero aficionados and arguably the perfect therapy session for anyone in serious need of venting their stress mid-commute. Just be sure to remind Goss, Llewellyn and Morris that we told you as much, alright? The New Gods only know what’ll happen if we incur their wrath.

Next Time on Torchwood – Never mind superheroes, though; to paraphrase one Jim Moriarty, every comic-book needs a good old-fashioned villain. Trouble is that those ne’er do wells reckless enough to stand in the Torchwood team’s way rarely live to tell the tale, with one notable exception – Bilis Manger. If only we could ascertain the whereabouts of Abbadon’s kindly yet secretly bloodthirsty benefactor, then perhaps, just perhaps, this fourth season of monthly releases could finally buck the trend of past runs ending on devastatingly underwhelming notes. No luck? Oh well – we’d best retreat to the Travellers’ Halt for the night in that case. Rumour has it that the buffet’s to die for…





The Second Doctor Volume 2Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 August 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Second Doctor Volume 02 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Julian Richards, Rob Nisbet, John Pritchard, Tony Jones
Directors: Helen Goldwyn, Lisa Bowerman
Featuring: Anneke Wills, Elliot Chapman, Frazer Hines, Daphne Ashbrook, Louise Jameson

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

What with Big Finish’s ever-accelerating expansion into new realms of the Doctor Who universe, from boxsets chronicling the exploits of underserved New Series allies to their ambitious work reviving axed spin-offs like Torchwood, it’s often all too easy to forget that the studio’s roots lie in offering classic incarnations of the titular Time Lord a bold new lease of life. How better to remind us of this noble goal, then, than by transporting us back to the 1960s with the latest Companion Chronicles boxset, showcasing Patrick Troughton’s tenure at the helm of the TARDIS in all its monochromatic, bowtie-donning and frequently base-sieging splendour?

Whereas those content to explore Troughton’s televised adventures alone can only – barring telesnaps or the painfully gradual drip-feed of animated reconstructions from BBC Studios – experience but a minute fraction of those serials in their entirety at present, our lives are different to anyone else’s: we’ve got The Second Doctor Volume 2. So without further ado, let’s dive straight into this nostalgia-laced new collection and discover whether there’s life in a bygone era yet or whether, much like the ancient Cyber Tombs of Mondas, some artefacts are better left buried…

“The Curate’s Egg”:

“I’ve walked on the moon. I’ve faced down the Confederates of Brilpoor. But there is nothing, nothing in the universe as exhilarating as riding a dinosaur!”

Had soon-to-be showrunner Chris Chibnall’s 2012 Eleventh Doctor odyssey “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” aired in the Troughton era rather than the dying days of Matt Smith’s, then Julian Richards’ charming opening salvo offers perhaps the perfect approximation of how the story might’ve played out under such circumstances. Dropping the newly-regenerated Doctor, Ben and Polly within spitting distance of a castle populated by cybernetic dinosaurs, “Curate’s Egg” throws caution to the wind, embracing Doctor Who’s frequent flirtations with the fantasy genre through elements as unashamedly ridiculous as mind-swapping gizmos, talking T-Rexes as well as arguably the best canine-themed visual gag of the year so far.

Will it all seem too far-fetched for some listeners? Quite possibly, although Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman – working on double duties here, albeit with Ben only featuring in proceedings for 10-15 minutes at most – do a fine job of keeping events grounded with their heartfelt exchanges as Polly and underappreciated scientist Andrew Clarkson respectively, their joint irritation at society’s efforts to side-line them at every turn adding a welcome emotional core amidst all the prehistoric hi-jinks. Indeed, so brimming is “Egg” with potent concepts – not least the Doctor’s underlying efforts to regain his companions’ trust in the wake of his recent “renewal” – that this reviewer couldn’t help but wish at times that Richards had explored some of them in greater detail over the course of his jam-packed hour, for instance by saving one or two ideas for future scripts instead. Food for thought next time around, perhaps.

“Dumb Waiter”:

“Die, false Doctor!”

Anyone well-versed in the increasingly popular art of the meme will doubtless recall one such trending gag which did the rounds on social media in April, come the release of Marvel Studios’ long-awaited cinematic superhero epic Avengers: Infinity War:

Marvel: “Infinity War is the most ambitious crossover in history.”

Me: “[Insert award-worthy viral response here.]”

Apologies if the experience of reading the last 55 words felt akin to learning a foreign language for the first time, but put simply, Infinity War might’ve just met its match in the eyes of Doctor Who fans worldwide with Volume 2’s sophomore instalment. Just as we’ve seen multiple Doctors cross paths in anniversary specials from “The Three Doctors” to Big Finish’s own The Light at the End in 2013, so too does the audio behemoth’s wide-ranging Who license allow them to bring together companions from differing eras of the show at times, and in this case it’s the turn of James McCrimmon to shine alongside one Leela of the Sevateem. In other words: cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

Thankfully – not that this should come as any surprise given the levels of acclaim which both stars continue to court with their audio portrayals – neither Frazer Hines nor Louise Jameson disappoint, their hallowed characters’ clash of primal wits so ferociously unpredictable and regularly hilarious that you’ll soon wonder how it’s taken so damn long for this heavenly pairing to occur. That’s for the best too, since the core plot of “Waiter” leaves something to be desired in comparison, its rapid barrage of reality-warping setpieces and convoluted technobabble rendering the TARDIS team’s trip to a deeply sinister garden party even more overwhelming for the audience than it is for the Doctor as his present and future collide before his eyes. Scribe Rob Nisbet has his character drama down to a tee, then, but he’ll still need to work on balancing this with comprehensible plotting in order to craft the next Big Finish masterpiece.

“The Iron Maiden”:

“I suppose that time makes legends of us all…”

It’s worth noting from the outset that Volume 2’s penultimate chapter, John Pritchard’s “The Iron Maiden”, houses all the components of a great Doctor Who serial – intriguing temporal anachronisms by the dozen, an extremely sympathetic central supporting character with whose mind these anomalies predictably play havoc and quite possibly the finest companion of the Troughton years, Wendy Padbury’s Zoe Heriot, taking the initiative as our de facto protagonist this time around. Upon sitting through the credits one hour later, then, imagine this listener’s disbelief at only being left with the following inescapable question: just what went wrong here?

Despite her touching struggle to endure the seemingly endless conflicts of 14th century France, all while realizing that the worst is yet to come thanks to the suspect arrival of First World War technology on the scene, Jo Woodcock’s fascinating prophet-of-sorts Marie is criminally underserved here, lacking much to do beyond trigger the plot with her mysterious visions and prompt Zoe’s occasional epiphanies as she gets to the bottom of the situation. Throw in the disappointing absence of any real suspense – in spite of the deadly weaponry in our heroes’ vicinity – as well as what should’ve been a hugely poignant denouement falling surprisingly flat due to our minimal emotional investment in the ensemble, and “Maiden” unfortunately ranks as the boxset’s weakest link by some distance.

“The Tactics of Defeat”:

“We’re on the clock, Zoe.”

Volume 2, in stark contrast to prior Companion Chronicles collections, opts out of binding its four serials with any ongoing plot threads or recurring thematic beats, such that “Tactics of Defeat” isn’t nearly as burdened with tying up loose ends as The First Doctor Volume 2’s “The Plague of Dreams”, wherein Guy Adams faced the intimidating task of endowing the First Doctor with a more fitting send-off than his abrupt departure in “The Tenth Planet”. If the benefits of this procedural structural approach weren’t already obvious to Big Finish upon commissioning the set, then they’re downright unmissable here, with Tony Jones’ refreshingly understated quasi-season finale proving all the more satisfying as a result.

Not dissimilar to “Curate’s Egg”, “Tactics” pairs Zoe with her supposed Foe from the Future – better known to us as UNIT captain Ruth Matheson. Why the change of moral allegiances on Ruth’s part? Is everything as it seems? Both fair questions, but you won’t find us spoiling the answers here; much of the piece’s appeal lies in the constant twists and turns which Ruth’s mission to recover plague-emitting extra-terrestrial technology from a decaying temple take, not least Zoe’s supposed oncoming demise at the vicious hands of unknown assailants. The latter plot element might appear unthinkable given our foreknowledge of events to come in “The War Games”, yet we’re also well aware by now that “time can be re-written”, and indeed future Doctor Who scribes should keep in mind Pritchard’s tense work here as a prime example of how to put gripping new spins on the well-worn paradox-driven story format.

Come for Daphne Ashbrook’s still-endearing work as the constantly resourceful, inspiringly courageous Ruth; stay for one of the more innovative scripts that we’ve seen enter classic Who’s audio pantheon for quite some time.

The Verdict:

How much you’ll get out of Volume 2 depends largely on what you expect from Big Finish’s Second Doctor productions – if you’re looking for authentic reprisals of the Troughton era’s unashamedly outrageous jaunts into fantasy territory or surreal mind-trips into worlds hell bent on distorting their visitors’ perceptions, then the fifth Companion Chronicles boxset since the range ceased its monthly output will fall right up your alley. If, however, you’re hoping to see the scribes involved push narrative / creative boundaries given their lack of 1960s budgetary limitations, then barring the basic set-up of “Curate’s” and the brilliant “Tactics” in its entirety, the end product mightn’t offer quite as much bang for your buck.

But while we can’t afford the collection with quite the same glowing recommendation as its Chronicles predecessors, rest assured that there’s still plenty of entertainment in store for any Second Doctor fans craving further sustenance after last year’s "The Power of the Daleks" animated rejuvenation. And who knows – if Matt Smith consulted Troughton’s work in “The Tomb of the Cybermen” as part of the inspiration for his portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor, perhaps future stars lucky enough to portray the Time Lord’s allies might follow suit by picking up Volume 2, thereby starting the cycle of legacy anew…