Missy - Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Missy (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Roy Gill, John Dorney, Nev Fountain, Jonathan Morris

Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Michelle Gomez (Missy), Rufus Hound (The Monk), Oliver Clement (Oliver Davis), Bonnie Kingston (Lucy Davis), Simon Slater (Montague Davis / Moses Walker / Coachman), Dan Starkey (Mr Cosmo / Park Keeper / Old Man / Sphinx), Beth Chalmers (Djinn / Housemaid), Maggie Service (Catherine Parr), Leighton Pugh (Sir Foxcroft / Gramoryan 1 / Priest), Graham Seed (Gramoryan 2 / Taverner / Squire), Kenneth Jay (Dick Zodiac), Guy Paul (Joe Lynwood), Ryan Forde Iosco (The Actor Playing Joe Lynwood), Daniel Goode (Mark / Roy), Rachel Verkuil (Frankie / The Actress Playing Missy), Abbie Andrews (Aleyna), John Scougall (Cort / Guards), Lucy Goldie (Sath / Mother), Jason Nwoga (Doctor Goodnight), Jamie Laird (Mr Bryce / Father). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

Confession: I am not a fan of Missy.  It's nothing against Michelle Gomez...she played the role with enthusiasm.  I just didn't like the way she was written. She was more Anthony Ainley camp than the darker side of the character I prefer.  John Simm could play the Master as goofy and over the top but look at any scene that was just between him and Tennant.  Suddenly he strips away most of the antics and becomes a very sinister guy.  I never felt Gomez was given that chance.  She was always a campy character making snide remarks and ever so witty. I know a ton of people loves that, but I tire of it.  She always felt one note to me. So a whole boxset of Missy seems overwhelming to me, do I really want to spend four hours with this character?

Maybe they can change my mind on the character, maybe they can showcase another side of her.  Hell, they did a tremendous job with the War Master, somehow making stories that can revolve around the Master but not turning him into some anti-hero...he is still clearly an evil guy.  Could they strike a balance with Missy as well? Apparently, they cannot. The character is just as one-note as she had always been.  Always ready with a quip and a silly voice, always having more delight in the idea of being sinister than actually being sinister. I found myself increasingly irritated with the stories in this set, and the character left me colder than ever.  I said I wasn't a fan, but I didn't hate her. This set made me kind of hate her.

The opening story has her posing as a Victorian Governess.  I didn't really buy the premise, and I found the two kids she was taking care of to be boring and poorly acted.  Usually, Big Finish has good performances from all involved, people who really get the Audio format.  I don't know what was with these two, but I found them frustrating, and the goofy heists they are doing with Missy also left me cold. The music kept telling me I should be having fun. I was not having fun.

But maybe it was a fluke, there are three more stories, they can't all be bad.  The second story involved the spin-off media go-to Time Lord, the Meddling Monk.  A character with no real character that can be moulded into anything you need him to be for a story.  This time he is a bumbling idiot, posing as Henry VIII, marrying the wrong women hoping the Time Lords will rescue him?  But also Missy is here to steal a part from his TARDIS. And they nearly get married and they nearly get killed...and it was so campy I lost interest halfway through.  It is never good when I'm alone in my car and begin to yell "Get on with it!" at some point during the listen.

So we come to the third story, which is sort of a parody of America's Most Wanted, or shows like it, but gets more complex than that.  To be honest I didn't really click with it.  I think it had an interesting premise but even though I just listened to it I've already forgotten why everyone thought they were in a TV show. The episode is essentially a murder mystery, with the murderer turning out to be the Master's old TARDIS attempting to find a more sane pilot than the Master, the results often ending in accidental deaths. 

The set closes out with what is, luckily, the best story of the set.  Missy is an evil overlord using slave labour to mine for something mysterious.  It turns out that the caves they are mining in is some kind of giant creature, and the slaves are all clones.  I liked the Missy was just a clear villain in the story, though the bits with Missy also being the leader of the rebellion with a comedy accent left me cold.  They just did the comedy accent in the previous story, so I don't know if they ever intended me to believe that it wasn't Missy the whole time or not, but it was painfully obvious, and didn't really have any meaning, as the whole rebellion plot is just Missy having some fun and killing time until she finds what she is after.

Ultimately, what she was after was "The Master TARDIS," some advanced TARDIS that can control other TARDISes.  This is the clear set up for some future story, either for the next volume of Missy, or maybe some run-in with the Doctor in another boxset.  The Master TARDIS thing isn't even brought up until the closing moments, so the weight of the development is minimal.  They should have made this object a clear goal from the beginning of the set, so the success of her evil plans could have more of an impact. 

If it hasn't been clear, this set did not thrill me. Obviously, I started from a place where I'm not a huge fan of the character to begin with.  And without having Capaldi to spar with, I think Missy is an even emptier character than she was on TV.  It's all goofy voices and quips and there is rarely a moment where I take her seriously as a genuine threat. Big Finish has only amplified the things I found so uninteresting about the character.  Give me another War Master, at least those are filled with the Master being a genuinely evil jerk.






UNIT: Revisitations (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 4 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
UNIT: Revisitations (Credit: Big Finish)
 
Director: Ken Bentley
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: November 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

The latest UNIT box set takes the idea of our heroes having to face some threats from the past. Following on from 'Encounters' this is more of a set of standalone stories, with one two parter, as oppose to the more traditional 'long story' format. 

Hosts of the Wirrn

Sam Chapman’s Wirrn two-parter opens the latest series of UNIT, telling the story of a mysterious egg left behind as a ‘present’ by the Master…you can see where this is going. The resulting two-parter is a tale of epic proportions that should probably of been placed at the ending of this set, rather than the start. As it is, it feels a little odd as a season opener and isn’t wholly successful. One of the first problems is that ‘Hosts of the Wirrn’ spends far too much time introducing a new character, Shana, played by Vineeta Rishi.  Rishi gives a stellar performance and I found her genuinely likeable. Unfortunately, Shana appears only in this story and so it seems a bit of a waste of time. I can understand if she returns later on in another series, but again- an odd way to open the set. The Wirrn themselves, whilst being given some new tricks, sadly have some of their fear factor removed in the process- becoming a little more comical and being given a few jokes to sprout. It perhaps can’t be chalked up as a negative, but it just seems like a slightly odd choice and as such, I felt the Wirrn came across more as a generic alien force rather than a returning foe from the Whoniverse. Perhaps not an overly bad story, but one which didn’t jell with this listener and certainly would have been better placed as a season closer.

Breach of Trust

The second story in this series also happens to be the best. In fact, not only this but it’s also perhaps one of the finest stories to have emerged from the UNIT series thus far. Taking place all in one night, the story concerns a mysterious alien vessel arriving on earth and it’s even more mysterious occupants seeking asylum. David K. Barnes concocts an incredibly powerful story, involving as the title suggests- trust. The story also asks some difficult questions about morality and the nature of UNIT’s role in the world. Kate is placed forefront here and it gives Jemma Redgrave to explore some new and interesting aspects to her character, the result is one of her finest performances to date. ‘Breach of Trust’ may not be the easiest story to listen too and is genuinely emotional at points, but it is one hell of a listen.

Open the Box

The season finale features some more returning faces, namely Captain Ching Lee (Pik-Sem Lin) and the Keller Machine from the ‘Mind of Evil’. Now I have to confess but I was more than a little bemused when it was announced that Ching-Lee would be one of the returning foes in this series of UNIT. It’s not that Pik-Sem Lin presents us with a bad character or anything of the sort, (far from it as this story proves!) but Ching-Lee seemed always to be a 'bit' character, indeed she disappears halfway through ‘Mind’. However, I should know better than to doubt the skills of Roy Gill and he gives the character a truly wonderful return. Indeed the entire tale, whilst not quite reaching the emotional heights of the previous adventure, is a wonderful little story and a testament to the entire UNIT team.

Definitely a set of two halves, this latest UNIT series still manages to tell some great stories even if it gets off to something of a weak start. I look forward to seeing where the team goes next and look forward to a few more one-off adventures, as well as the larger epic story based sets.

 






Devil in the Mist (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 1 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Devil In The Mist (Credit: Big Finish)
T

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: January 2019

Running Time: 2 hours

Devil in the Mist is the opening story for the main range this year and the fifth Doctors trilogy, or should that be Kamelion’s trilogy. Yes, after many years Big Finish has taken the bold step of filling in one of the largest gaps in Doctor Who continuity, namely where the hell was Kamelion during his time on the Tardis? Of course, we all know that Kamelion spent most of his time in a cupboard due to the issues with the cumbersome prop, a problem that audio can very easily solve. Simply bringing Kamelion back however would perhaps be too simple and Devil in the Mist utilises the brief bit of information we have concerning his character (obtained from the Kings Demons and Planet of Fire) and creates a wonderfully rich story that exploits these aspects and explores several new ones.

Cavan Scott’s story follows the Tardis team as they land on a prison ship- with just one prisoner. Nustanu (Simon Slater) last warlord of the Zamglitti, is able to transform himself into mist and is currently the prisoner of Hippo like Orma (Anjella Mackintosh) and Rako (John Voce). He isn’t kept a prisoner for long though, as the ship soon makes a crash landing and our heroes soon find themselves fighting for survival on a savage planet…

The premise of Scott’s story seems, on the surface, relatively simple but as it progresses it rewards the listener with a number of genuinely startling revelations and some of the best character work from a Fifth Doctor story in recent years. Each and every character is given something interesting to work with, either calling up something from their past or putting them in a new and compromising position. This makes the threat seem very real and resulted in an incredibly tense survival story. Scott’s genius fully reveals itself however when several unforeseen and surprising twists are made that explore further aspects of our main characters and cause the listener to reflect on, with fresh eyes, on the previous episodes.

The cast all respond to this rich material admirably. Stepping into the Robots metallic shoes is Jon Culshaw whose already proved himself able to mimic a number of Doctor Who characters and does an excellent job capturing the enigmatic android's voice. It would be incredibly easy to make Kamleion something of a flat and dull character but Culshaw manages to make him wholly sympathetic whilst still leaving him (as is appropriate) not wholly trustworthy. The regular Tardis team are all excellent as usual, with Davison, in particular, getting some real moments to shine. Mackintosh and Voce as the two Hippo-like warriors concerned me at the start as I thought they would fall victim to the comic-alien supporting characters that the main range seems so fond of recently, but honestly leave me rather cold. Scott’s writing, however, makes sure that they remain fully formed throughout and never become simple comic characters. He utilises the differences between their culture and ours to further expand both and although we may not agree with the decisions they make, we always understand why they make them.

The savage planet is brought to startling life by the wonderful sound design of Andy Hardwick, who must have had immense fun creating the various sounds of the creatures on the planet. His score is also incredibly rich and wonderful, some listeners who prefer more ‘era-appropriate’ music may not like the violins and rich layered pieces he provides, but honestly, to me it worked far better than any synth-based score would have.

Devil in the Mist sets a high standard for the rest of this year's main range, not to mention the other two stories within the Kamelion trilogy. A triumph.






The Hunting Ground (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Hunting Ground (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

The second release of December was The Hunting Ground and was easily my most anticipated of the two. Whilst I love McCoy, five releases is a lot for anyone and I’d enjoyed the previous sixth Doctor stories with Iron Bright, in particular, being a standout of last years main range. Not only that but we were constantly being reminded that this would be a riff on ‘Scandi-Noir’, utilising many of its tropes and merging them with a Doctor Who story. This seemed like it would be interesting after all scandi-noir are notoriously dark and usually it’s the darker main range adventures that get my attention. Unfortunately though, The Hunting Ground, whilst a noble attempt to try and do something a bit different, ultimately falls flat.

Landing in Iceland, the Doctor (Colin Baker) meets with Inspector Ysra (Amy Beth Hayes) who is currently investigating a rather unusual murder. As the two work together, they discover alien hunters and a slew of devilish twists and turns. Unfortunately, the Doctors part in the investigating is somewhat minimal. Sent off onto another planet around the halfway mark, the Doctor becomes involved in a The Most Dangerous Game (1932) type scenario whilst Ysra is left to uncover most of the plot. Now I’m not an obsesser who believes the Doctor should always be the one to uncover the grand plan, far from it! No, my problem with this part of the plot is that- well there isn’t one. The Doctors section involves a lot of getting captured/getting away. Certainly, information is weeded out, but the time it takes to get there involves a lot of running around and not a whole lot of threat.

Which brings me rather neatly to the next of The Hunting Grounds problems. The story is incredibly flippant. Towards the end, a number of moral issues are raised, primarily the question of loyalty. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to take any of this seriously in a tale that features an incredible amount of absurdist comedy, including a talking Printer which becomes somewhat important later on. Most likely this is a matter of personal taste and I’m being incredibly unfair to author AK Benedict who has an incredible voice and a wonderful talent for dialogue. However, I can’t help but confess that The Hunting Ground left me feeling more than a little cold, partially due to the inconsistency of its town.

However, AK Benedict really has made quite a coup in the creation of Inspector Ysra who Amy Beth Hayes brings to life so exquisitely. Along with Brunel in the aforementioned Iron Bright, she’s one of the best standalone companions of the year and one who I hope won’t be ‘one-off’ for much longer. Colin Baker, despite not being given much to do, is wonderful as ever. I felt like he was given the short straw this year, not that his stories haven’t been some of the best of the entire year but his ‘trilogy’ was loose and undefined and some episodes Hour of the Cybermen for example, didn’t really give him much to do. However, he seems to have taken it all in his stride and certainly when given the chance to shine he’s grabbed the bull by the horns and delivered some truly wonderful moments. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings us for ‘Old Sixie’.

I feel that in some way, I may have been too harsh on The Hunting Ground. It is a fun adventure and certainly has some intriguing twists and turns. Unfortunately, the tonal shifts I mentioned earlier proved to be just a little too much for me. However, with Shadow Planet AK Benedict proved herself to have an incredible talent for Doctor Who and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 8 Nov 2018
Main Range #246 (Doctor Who Main Range)




Muse of Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

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

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

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

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

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

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

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






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

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

Written By: Andy Frankham-Allen

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Louise Jameson (Narrator)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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