The Seventh Doctor - The New Adventures Volume 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Seventh Doctor - The New Adventures (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andy Lane, Steve Jordan, Alan Flanagan, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Maratuk), Vikash Bhai (Sydyck), John Heffernan (Honos), Mina Anwar (Forsetti), Janine Duvitski (Alpha Wheeler), Leonie Schliesing (Zsa Zsa Straus), Franchi Webb (Eleanor Blake), Rupert Young (Binkum Fray), Silas Carson (Arbuckle), Sara Powell (Contessa), Olivia Morris (Green), Connor Calland (Blue), Jacob Dudman (Cannon), Melanie Kilburn (Hooley), Rhian Blundell (Isabel), Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Ellie Darvill (Willis). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott Handcock
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

I missed the "Virgin New Adventures" era of Doctor Who.  That strange time when the show was off the air, and the biggest thing keeping the show alive was a series of novels that continued the adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace following the shows cancellation.  Eventually Ace moved on, and he gained new companions, most notably Bernice Summerfield (who continued the book series after Virgin lost the rights to Doctor Who, and was actually used as the test pilot for Big Finish to prove their worth and GAIN the Doctor Who license), but also a couple of future space cops named Roz and Chris.  But while I was too young tto really experience the Virgin line at the time, I've long had an interest in it.  So when Big Finish adapted some books into full cast audio plays a couple of years ago I sampled them. Two of the adaptations starred the afforementioned Chris and Roz...and now Big Finish has launched a new boxset starring the Seventh Doctor with these two characters...but instead of just adapting books, this time they are exploring these characters in brand new original audio plays.

The set begins with The Trial of the Time Machine, Doctor, Roz, and Chris debating law and order...discussing whether certain laws are constants, or whether laws on arious worlds are unjust...but they must face these questions head on when the TARDIS crashes into another Time Ship, and because of it's own sentient nature, is put on Trial for the crime.  I really loved that premise...it isn't any of the occupants of the TARDIS on trial for an odd crime, but the TARDIS itself. I also found it interesting that a time travelling being within the story also has the Doctor question his own relationship with the TARDIS.  Does the ship enjoy their travels together, or has he just enslaved her for his own galavanting across the cosmos. It's really a small moment, but I found this introspective pause from the Doctor to be really well done.

The second episode, Vanguard, involves the TARDIS landing on the Planet Vangard, and find that a war between two factions has lead to the destruction of most of the planet's occupants.  The TARDIS team are all separated, and must do their best to end the War and bring the people together, in order to be reunited themselves...though each faction is looking for escape and hope to use the Doctor and/or the TARDIS for escape.  It's a rather generic plotline for Doctor Who, but it is well exectued and enjoyable enough to listen to. I doubt I will remember much of it a week from now, but I can't say it annoyed or bored me while I listened to it.

The third entry (The Jabari Countdown) fared better, as the TARDIS lands on a ship during World War II full of mathematicians heading towards a remote island on a secret code cracking mission.  But the mathematicians haven't actually been recruited to crack any code related to the war, but have instead been recruited by an alien to find a cure to a math related virus, a virus which makes the infected speak only in numbers. This is at least a unique concept, and the creepy atmosphere and Second World War setting make it an enjoyable listen. 

The set closes out with Dread of Night, which is an "Old Dark House" story with a sick girl, her worried sister, a seemingly overbearing nurse, and some kind of psychic monster.  It is well executed and a good creepy listen...though if I had a complaint this had one of the only instances of awful sound design I can remember in a Big Finish play.  A woman was whispering so quietly, and I could barely hear what she was saying, so I had to really crank the volume...only to suddenly be surprised by a loud "jump scare" moment...thus violently hurting my eardrums in the process.  The jump scare didn't really do it's job. I was slightly alarmed for a moment, but I wasn't scared...I was just irritated that I had to crank it for some seemingly important dialogue only to get punished by this loud moment...and that has never been an issue with Big Finish before. Their sound design is some of the best of any audio plays I have ever heard. No one comes close to them on the regular...but man that moment annoyed me! Otherwise, I thought it was a really good story.

Overall, I'd say this set is quite a good listen.  McCoy's Doctor is always a bit better than I often remember it to be, and his companions in this set are decent, if a bit forgettable.  I think my biggest complaint of the set on the whole is that Chris and Roz lack personality.  I enjoyed them in the earlier plays based on the novels they originally appeared in, but in this set I never truly feel like I got a grasp on just who they are.  They could've been exchanged with any generic companion, and it wouldn't have changed the story one lick.  They aren't awful or annoying or anything...they are just completely bland.  That is a shame.






The Diary of River Song – Series 4Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 29 November 2018 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
The Diary of River Song - Series 4
Written by Emma Reeves, Matt Fitton,
Donald McLeary and John Dorney
Produced by David Richardson
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, 2018
Stars: Alex Kingston, Tom Baker, Fenella Woolgar, Adele Lynch, Josh Bolt, George Asprey, John Asbury,
Tim Bentinck, Nigel Anthony, Nathalie Buscombe

“You’re not Romana!”
“Oh, I am …”
“You’re not! I haven’t even met her yet!”
“You haven’t … What? But how do you know about her then?”
“Because you told me!”
“Me?”
“Yes, you! You’re not Romana. You’re Professor River Song! You’re my wife!”
“I’m …?”
“Hello, sweetie!”

The Fourth Doctor meets River Song

Having pitted River Song (Alex Kingston) in her “standalone” series against the so-called “Rulers of the Universe”, the Speravore hive, and most recently Madame Kovarian and the Furies (not to mention earlier incarnations of her husband), Big Finish has upped the stakes for the maverick archaeologist with a new, seemingly invincible villain.The Discordia are, according to one of their number, an anarchical time travelling race which filled the power vacuum in the aftermath of the Time War. Unlike the Time Lords or even the Daleks, the Discordia have absolutely no regard for the integrity of the space/time continuum, using their temporal powers to conquer their enemies and even absorb their strengths through a “widening of the gene pool”.

This includes taking on forms that exploit the superstitions of the races they subjugate – such as, in the case of humans, the clichéd appearance of the devil, complete with (much to River’s initial amusement) horns, red skin, cloven hooves, forked tails and pitch forks! However, as River discovers, the Discordia “embrace their villainy” with pride and have a tenacious quality which pushes even her to the brink …

The first of the four instalments in this boxset – Time in a Bottle – lays the groundwork for the Discordia quite effectively. River is pitted against an academic rival in Professor Jemima Still (Fenella Woolgar) and accompanies her on an expedition to Lipiria, a world which exists in a timeless vacuum. They are joined on their mission by a giant warrior ant called Gammarae (Adele Lynch) and a cyborg academic called Spod (Josh Bolt). River in turn believes a certain Time Lord may have been caught in this timeless state but as she discovers, appearances can be deceptive …

Woolgar’s Jemima is the perfect foil to Kingston’s River. It is refreshing to see River bested by a peer in archaeology. While River is by far the cockier and more self-assured of the two archaeologists, Jemima is shrewd and calculating beneath all her fussiness, bluster and insecurity.There’s also a sense (as Woolgar perfectly conveys) that Jemima resents River’s academic feats, glamorous demeanour, and constant swagger. What is perhaps less convincing about Jemima is her sudden change of heart and selflessness at the conclusion to the tale; it just doesn’t ring true, given she has partially set up the story’s chain of events in the first place.

The second serial Kings of Infinite Space (a title inspired by a quote in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) is quite literally a “run-around” tale – with River and her newfound companions on the run from the vengeful Melak (George Asprey) – and as a result it’s not necessarily all that effective for it.

Donald McLeary’s script is the weakest entry in this set – it feels like a retread of the 1965 Doctor Who serial The Chase (and indeed that adventure is acknowledged as an inspiration in the CD extras). River and her friends visit a range of strange times and places before there is a showdown in a deserted colony whose robot caretakers have been waiting thousands of years for humans to arrive (shades of the Mechanoids, anyone?).

The episode still has some memorable highlights, though, as Alex Kingston excels herself in dual roles – as River and a River android duplicate (which considers itself a few “percentiles sexier” than the original!). The android proves to be the perfect foil for Melak, and often gets the best dialogue and wisecracks – even better than River herself!

Special mention also goes to performer Ewan Bailey who employs a wide range of voices and accents to portray a string of hapless and villainous characters (his Rattis is simultaneously flamboyant and creepy).

The third instalment Whodunnit? also provides plenty of scope for Kingston to test her range. Once more adopting her private detective guise of Melody Malone, River is thrust into a murder mystery scenario reminiscent of the game Clue, in which a group of amateur sleuths and professional detectives are being murdered one by one on an estate. To add to the intrigue, legendary author Franz Kafka (Tim Bentinck) provides counsel for our heroine as she singlehandedly attempts to solve the mystery.

Whodunnit? is naturally a homage to the detective and crime noir genre, with the supporting characters very clearly based on other fictional investigators, eg Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Lord Peter Wimsey, Doctor Who’s own Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint, and even Scooby-Doo! However, it’s also very Kafka-esque in its execution, with many concepts in the tale inspired by Kafka’s great works, including The Metamorphosis, The Trial and The Castle. This peculiar blending of genres and sub-genres would be just plain confusing in less accomplished writing hands than the boxset’s script editor Matt Fitton but makes complete sense once River truly begins to appreciate the gravity of her situation.

The curiously titled Someone I Once Knew closes out the set, with Tom Baker’s Doctor completing River’s tour of all the surviving classic TV series Doctors in what are supposed to be her “solo” adventures. Scribe John Dorney, however, mischievously turns the concept of River meeting her husband’s incarnations in reverse order on its head.

On TV and in some of BF’s audio adventures, River is armed with plenty of future knowledge about the Doctor’s adventures; the further back she ventures down his time stream, the less knowledgeable he is about her. However, in this meeting, it’s the Doctor that is apparently armed with foreknowledge about his wife, particularly of events that she either hasn’t experienced or which lie in her personal future.

Kingston and Baker are a delight to hear on audio and it’s a pairing that probably deserves another team-up in the Big Finish range (albeit in the ongoing Fourth Doctor Adventures, not River’s own series). It’s as much a combination of Dorney’s dialogue as well as the artistes’ performances but there are some wonderful moments of humour between the two, as well as some heartening moments as the Fourth Doctor’s romantic side comes to the fore:

The Doctor: What was that thing you used to disable General Dante’s gun? I don’t approve of guns!
River: It wasn’t a gun – it was my sonic trowel!
The Doctor: A what? A trowel? Why you little Gertrude Jekyll, you, I didn’t notice you doing any gardening!
River: It’s a variation on your screwdriver!
The Doctor: In what way? My screwdriver is just a screwdriver!
River: At the moment it is! Let’s just say you go crazy with the optional upgrades! Look, can we save the marital for later on? I think we need to get away!
The Doctor: You’re probably right! Here we go – on the run, together, almost like old times!
River: Oh, new old times for me!
The Doctor: I’m delighted to be with you. There’s no where I’d rather be. Just the two of us – together as disaster swamps the universe!
River: Flatterer!
The Doctor: Oh, don’t lie! You adore it!

While the general trappings of this final serial are very much rooted in traditional science fiction – with the Doctor and River initially playing a temporal game of “cat and mouse” with the Discordia and the Doctor agitating the token rebels to strike back against their Discordia oppressors (“My dear, I am always with the rebels!”) – it also contains very strong undercurrents of love, loss and regret. These themes are personified in the Discordia’s stagnant Emperor (Nigel Anthony) and the villainous Dante (Nicholas Asbury) who has designs on both the imperial throne and River herself. Given the romantic air of the serial, the conclusion is consequently bittersweet. (Personally, I detest this type of resolution, which is a SF cliché – and tantamount to lazy writing – but given the level of selflessness that underpins it, I’m prepared to let it through to the keeper – and it’s pointless railing against it anyway!)

My major criticism of this set – which has little to do with the largely first-rate storytelling – is the actual voices of the Discordia. Generally, BF’s sound production values are excellent, regardless of the content. However, in a bid to make the Discordia sound powerful or frightening (or both), the chief antagonists’ voices have been so treated electronically that they sound like deep, almost unintelligible David Banks-style Cyberleaders – even though (considering all of the adaptations they will have made to their physiology through their conquest of time) there is no indication that all of the Discordia are cybernetically augmented.

By comparison, the voices of the other aliens that feature throughout the set are untreated. Adele Lynch’s Gammarae and even Fenella Woolgar’s Formidian Queen in Time in a Bottle portray the giant ant-like creatures with largely natural voices – but the two actors give their characters clipped, brisk tones (in manners that are meant to reflect the swift thinking of giant ants). In fact, Woolgar’s performance as the Queen is so different from her major role as Jemima Still that you don’t realise until the end credits that she in fact plays two characters.

Josh Bolt’s Spod has a treated electronic voice but it is also in a subtler vocal range than the Discordia. Some of the minor alien characters encountered in Kings of Infinite Space and Someone I Once Knew also speak in more natural, largely untreated tones than the Discordia. It implies that to make the “big bad” of this set seem so intimidating, the sound designers felt treating the voices would be effective (which hardly works when we meet plenty of dim-witted and obsequious Discordia!). Yet it is clear from my experience of watching and listening to a lot of SF over the years that it’s sometimes better to just let the actors’ natural voices prevail.

I also query why in the overall story arc the keynote villain is chopped and changed at the halfway mark. The Discordia are essentially personified by Sub-Captain Melak and General Dante who are so very similar in persona as to be the same character. Indeed, the enthusiasm of one of the villains for River would be more logical, convincing and interesting if he was the other antagonist (who at least shares a real, not contrived, history with River). But given neither adversary would have coped well with rebuttal, it’s debatable whether the saga would have played out any differently.

Series 4 of The Diary of River Song is an entertaining addition to River’s audio adventures and works all the better for limiting past Doctors’ involvement in the overall narrative (which has not been the case in some of the earlier sets, notably Series 2). We get to see River in charge of her own expedition, racing through time and space with two non-human companions and a vortex manipulator, and besting herself against the wild imagination of Franz Kafka.

Much like Doctor Who more broadly, River’s adventures are certainly not bereft of imagination. However, it would still be interesting to hear more of River’s exploits as an archaeologist (even after four volumes there have only been hints) rather than bogging her down in the continuity of meeting her husband in reverse order and multiple incarnations of the Master/Missy in the forthcoming Series 5 boxset.

 






The DispossessedBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 November 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Dispossessed (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Mark MorrisDirected By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Morgan Watkins (Ruck), Anna Mitcham (Jan), Stirling Gallacher (Isobel), Nick Ellsworth (Arkallax). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Nicholas BriggsScript Editor Guy AdamsExecutive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

‘The Dispossessed’ is the second entry in this year’s Seventh Doctor trilogy (or should that be pentology?). Mark Morris’s tale see’s the Tardis team of the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) trapped in a run-down tower block, with no-way-out. Taking the basic small-setting small-cast mold, The Dispossessed,  utilises the aforementioned interesting setting of a condemned tower block incredibly well and merges this with portals to other worlds, zombies and eccentric characters.

Mark Morris’s script is really the star of the show here and he appears to have really let his imagination go wild. What emerges is a complex mishmash of intriguing ideas, settings and characters. From Arkallax, the villain himself and the setting and the idea of an endless night all providing a haunting atmosphere. Morris also provides McCoy with easily some of the best writing he’s had in a long time. There’s a moment in part two when he’s trying to find out what he can about ‘Ruck’ and the mysterious, darker seventh doctor really comes to the forefront. Where other Doctors would of perhaps been a little more emotional, McCoy’s responses show that he cares but still remind us that he’s an alien. The final sequences of part four, in a bizarre mindscape wherein he confronts the Villain, show McCoy at the height of his powers.

Nick Ellsworth gives a wonderful performance as Arkallax, particularly in the sequences when he’s entertaining Ace and Mel in his flat. Stirling Gallacher is particularly rousing as Isobel, providing a number of laugh out loud moments. An interesting moment occurs when we don’t really know which one to trust and the sequences of them both explaining their backstories are intercut, providing some mystery over who to trust. I have to confess that Morgan Watkin’s character of Ruck and Anna Mitcham’s Jan, left me feeling a little bit cold. This is nothing to do with these two actors wonderful performances, but the characters I couldn’t help but feel were a little cardboard and lacking in any real depth or substance. Mark Morris has tried to tackle some interesting issues and I give him kudos for that, though unfortunately, the slew of interesting ideas within this story means that these deeper themes are a little swamped. The result is Jan and Ruck are not the strongest supporting characters.

The Dispossessed also suffers from re-using a large amount of the soundtrack from the previous months Red Planets. On the surface, this may not seem like a particularly bad idea, though the result is that an incredibly atmospheric and dense script with lots of intriguing imagery, isn’t really given an effective soundtrack to match. Moments that really could have been awe-inspiring are hurt by using themes that don’t really fit.  However then later on, particularly towards the end of part three, there’s an incredibly effective piece used around one of the big reveals that provides an incredibly powerful moment of tension. Not too long after that we revert to stock ques used in Red Planets.

The Dispossessed is a highly enjoyable tale that highlights the greatness of McCoy’s Doctor. It may fall flat on a few points but the real star of the show is McCoy and Morris’s script, which results in easily one of the most entertaining stories from this year's main range.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 6 Sep 2012
Main Range 242 - The Dispossessed (Doctor Who Main Range)



Torchwood One: Machines (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 October 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood One: Machine (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matt Fitton, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tim Foley
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Featuring: Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Jane Asher, Adjoa Andoh, Daniel Anthony, Paterson Joseph, Nicholas Pegg
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 3 hours

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

From 3D printers to 4D cinemas, from smartphones to smart houses, from HDMI to AI, the march of technological progress hastens by the day, presenting us inferior mortal beings with quite the existential dilemma all the while – give it another ten years and the human workforce might just find itself rendered obsolete. Admittedly long-running fans of Doctor Who’s longest-running spin-off, Torchwood, might justifiably expect the eponymous covert agency to remain steadfastly unfazed by such developments; surely after tackling extraterrestrial deities, zealous religious cults with aspirations to intergalactic stardom and even the odd “Cyberwoman” (good times!), humanity’s increasingly intertwined flirtation with artificial ‘life-forms’ would scarcely offer cause for concern?

Well, they’re not entirely wrong – Big Finish’s latest foray into the organization’s past confirms that its London-based branch had no qualms about embracing this new era of mechanical innovation. Yet as just about any Gothic writer from Mary Shelly to Charlie Brooker will attest, that leap of faith can – and indeed does – soon prove deadly if the individuals responsible fail to understand its implications before leaving the ground. Indeed, as evidenced by the two century-spanning gap between Frankenstein’s publication and Black Mirror’s launch, there’s been no shortage of literary or screen contemplations on the man-machine dynamic over the years, so ever since its inception, Torchwood One: Machines faces such a considerable uphill battle to distinguish itself from the pack.

While the Thirteenth Doctor sprints brazenly into the technological future with her Sheffield steel-clad sonic screwdriver in hand, then, let’s see whether Yvonne Hartman and company’s Earth-bound exploits warrant as much global attention as Season Eleven has received to date, or whether this ever-compelling Torchwood saga will soon join cassette players and dial-up internet connections as yet another relic of the past…

“The Law Machines”:

“Yvonne Hartman is dead? But she was required.” “Oh yes, by so many…”

Had you asked Torchwood devotees which classic or modern Who antagonists they’d love to see the agency – in any of its endless guises – battle upon the show’s 2015 revival at Big Finish, chances are that WOTAN wouldn’t have come anywhere near the top of the list compared to Sontarans, the Master or proper Cybermen.  That said, Doctor Who’s HAL-9000 precursor proves an ideal narrative fit for Machines’ first instalment, the formless AI entity’s defeat in 1966’s “The War Machines” leaving its hardware susceptible to Hartman’s goals as she introduces a wave of seemingly hacking-immune robo-cops onto the streets at the Mayor of London’s cost-driven request. How could anything possibly go amiss?

Laden with explosive setpieces across England’s capital and more quips about London life than commuters could imagine (look out for Hartman’s especially seething one-liner on the hindrance that empty Oyster cards pose in a hurry), “Law Machines” barely lets up for a second, introducing new players by the half dozen only to off plenty of them with scarce remorse over the course of its running time. Unfortunately, taking such a whirlwind structural approach does arguably limit scribe Matt Fitton’s capacity for intricate character arcs somewhat; Daniel Anthony’s intriguing tech whiz-turned-WOTAN disciple Julian, for instance, only receives scarce airtime to convey his basic plot purpose, despite the Sarah Jane Adventures star’s admirable efforts to imbue him with simultaneously endearing innocence and underlying sinister malice along the way, while the deliciously corrupt Mayor barely gets time to register either.

What “Law” perhaps lacks in sophisticated characterisation, though, the opener more than compensates for with a sense of scale often absent from the franchise’s TV or audio outings. Whereas we only caught glimpses of how Miracle Day’s titular phenomenon affected the planet Earth at large via brief fictional news footage, Hartman, Ianto Jones and their comrades bear direct witness to WOTAN’s heartless rampage across London, the carnage unleashed by their hubris brought home as the sound design team depict shootouts, resultant demises and other terrors with brutal realism – no wonder Fitton peppers in the aforementioned moments of satirical wit to keep his script from feeling too morose. Nevertheless, his efforts (alongside everyone else working behind-the-scenes) to showcase the franchise’s grimmer tone certainly pay off in full force, hopefully encouraging more writers to follow his lead with mature contributions of their own going forward.

“Blind Summit”:

“Ianto Jones, my name is Yvonne Hartman – and I work for an organisation called Torchwood.”

If there’s one area wherein Big Finish truly excel, it’s filling those niggling continuity gaps which Doctor Who and its various spin-offs never found time to properly address on-screen: just ask the Time War’s participants, the Committee, the Valeyard, Coal Hill Academy’s alumni network or Paul McGann for ample evidence. Sometimes these middle man storylines focus on long-awaited plot threads like those above, other times – as in the case of “Blind Summit” – the writer involved crafts connective tissue that catches us off guard, further enriching underappreciated constructs even when it appeared as if their journey had already played out in its entirety. This time around it’s the turn of Ianto Jones to plummet through the ringer yet again in a tale which (barring one or two modern interludes) occurs long before the days of WOTAN’s resurgence, instead chronicling his first meetings with Yvonne Hartman and the morally overwhelming transformation that these soon triggered.

As if to answer the cries of anyone like yours truly for meatier character drama after “Law Machines”, Gareth David-Lloyd – back on dual writing / performing duties after his stellar debut with The Last Beacon in April – delves deeper than ever before into Ianto’s psyche with a minimalistic yet extremely powerful script, unfolding hitherto unseen layers in the Torchwood Three agent’s past. Remember the strained father-son dynamic teased in Children of Earth? That’s explored in harrowing fashion, along with his consequential yearning for greater professional fulfilment and reckless willingness to thrust himself into unknown territory so as to achieve this goal, all of which the newfound writer handles with the utmost touching sincerity even as the threat of a deadly drug-testing company escalates over the piece’s second half.

Better yet, David-Lloyd’s contributions clearly didn’t diminish in the slightest upon departing his office and entering the recording studio, his sizzling chemistry with Tracy-Ann Oberman proving equally potent whether they’re deciphering each other’s secrets over coffee, on the run from alien onslaughts or coming to terms with the personal demons that will ultimately define their partnership in the years ahead – for better or for worse. We’ll keep our take on Machines spoiler-lite as always to preserve your listening experience, but suffice to say that even the most hardcore Torchwood devotees won’t predict every emotional twist that “Summit” has up its spacious sleeve, not least thanks to David-Lloyd’s stirring performance as a far more vulnerable incarnation of his yet-to-be world-wearied butler. Never mind the 21st century as a whole – when it comes to re-visiting past Ianto-focused stories, “Summit” might well represent the moment where “everything changes” for your perspective.

“9 to 5”:

“See you in the morning!” “Sure, 9am – like clockwork…”

Whilst robotics and pharmaceuticals mark some of the more tangible technical developments for society in recent years, there’s another aspect of mechanical ‘progress’ which has increasingly come to dominate the headlines of late – that of the corporate machine and its oft-exploited human cogs. One only need gaze at recent reports surrounding video gaming behemoth Rockstar North’s supposed enforcement of 100 hour weekly work cycles in order to wonder whether the situation’s getting out of hand in some circles, with the banking / legal sectors particularly notorious in this regard too, hence why the matter’s rife for contemplation in Machines’ aptly-titled final instalment, “9 to 5”.

Returning us to the ‘present day’ (as much as is possible for a miniseries set years before the events of Torchwood Seasons One-Six), Tim Foley’s pertinent denouement depicts Hartman and Jones’ not-so-coincidental run-in with a temp-reliant firm that takes the term “worker drones” to rather horrific new levels. At first glance, those of us who’ve been around the block several times with the sci-fi genre might fret that we’ve seen it all before: secret agents recruit insider employee to unravel a mystery, employee gets in over her head then office-wide chaos ensues. But Niky Wardley’s dramatically charged performance as the manipulated employee in question, Stacey, easily keeps the format fresh enough to avoid fatigue, her relatable curiosity begetting her initial naivety such that we’re just as fascinated as her to discover the truth behind his latest temp employer’s true machinations (in every sense of the word), even in spite of the growing tension surrounding her fate as a result.

That’s not to say “9 to 5” instantly courts consideration for the Big Finish Hall of Fame, however – as well as mostly conforming to the familiar story beats discussed above, Foley (perhaps at the studio’s behest) seems all too keen to tie together Machines’ various disparate plot strands as rapidly as possible come the third act, when in reality we’d have preferred a standalone affair which took its time in bringing events to a conclusion. Luckily the way in which he wraps up proceedings does still successfully deliver an inevitable yet undeniably impactful gut-punch that’s sure to stay with listeners long after the credits, but with Foley set to pen half of the War Master’s third boxset next year as well as further scripts for Torchwood: God Among Us, there’s still plenty of room for this promising writer to develop his skills ever further in the next 12 months.

The Verdict:

As ever, exactly whether Machines lies up your alley will depend on the extent to which you’re intrigued by the notion of exploring non-Cardiff Torchwood branches, particularly given the riskier investment of £20-25 rather than the £8-10 required for standalone monthly releases. Persevere through the mindless – albeit breathless entertaining – action of the London department’s clash with WOTAN, however, and listeners will reach two undoubtedly thought-provoking Gothic thrillers which intelligently investigate humanity’s obsession with technology to both hilarious and moving effect, echoing shows like Black Mirror but with Yvonne’s self-assured complacency adding a snarky, bitter-tongued edge in trademark Torchwood style. Sure, this latest boxset probably won’t garner awards come year’s end as this reviewer hopes Aliens Among Us Part 3 or Believe will, yet not every release needs to; with such remarkable consistency throughout the range’s 2018 output, what matters most is that there’s never been a better time for newcomers to hop aboard the show’s bandwagon.

Next Time on Torchwood – In the absence of any further news on her prequel outings’ longevity, Yvonne ‘returns’ via her Pete’s World counterpart this month for God Among Us Part 1, wherein she’ll need to promptly dust herself down after almost being crushed in Season Five if Torchwood Three is to stand any chance of overcoming the titular immortal being presently besieging Cardiff. Look out for our verdict on Part 1 in the coming days, as well as our ongoing coverage of Torchwood in all of its forms as the monthly range returns (alongside Parts 2-3 and presumably other boxsets) next Spring…






The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released October 2018
 

Running Time: 5 hours

The Eighth Doctor is a box set machine these days.  Pretty much has been since his Fourth Series of "Eighth Doctor Adventures" ended it's run in 2011. Since then he has had four box sets under the Dark Eyes moniker, another four titled Doom Coalition, and more recently began a new line taking place nearer the end of his lifetime simply titled The Time War.  While Big Finish is producing The Time War, They are also continuing the story of The Eighth Doctor along with his friends Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair (his companions throughout Doom Coalition) with Ravenous.  This is the second box of that series, so unlike The Time War which is jumping closer to the time of the Eighth Doctor's regeneration as seen in Night of the Doctor, this one essentially carries on his adventures that really began back in 2007.

Ravenous 2 begins with Escape from Kaldor which has the Doctor return to Liv's homeworld, where they end up again battling killer robots and reunite Liv with her estranged sister.  It's a decent enough episode, plants some seeds of things to come, but I won't claim it was the best opener to a set. It felt like the family ties to Liv weren't perfectly conceived.  The episode also lacked a certain energy it needed to kick this new set off.

Luckily, things kick into a more interesting gear with the second story, Better Watch Out.  This story is more Christmas themed, and since the episode that follows continues that storyline...it made me wonder why they released Ravenous 2 in October, instead of waiting until December. At any rate, the story involves the Central European Christmas monster, the Krampus, who is essentially the anti-Santa Claus who steals the bad children away.  Krampus has had a bit of a pop culture jolt in recent years, with a pretty entertaining Christmas themed horror movie in 2015 (simply titled Krampus) as well as a slew of direct-to-video schlock in the last 5 or so years.  So Big Finish feels, in some ways, a bit late to the party.  Though their entry into the party is actually pretty darn good.

The Doctor takes Liv and Helen to Salzburg for their annual Krampusnacht event, but unfortunately, the bit of holiday fun falls apart when Krampus becomes real and begins to take all of the bad people in town.  This particular adventure spreads across two episodes in the set, concluding in Fairytale of Salzburg. That episode sees Krampus fought off by the ingenuity of the Doctor's companions and his historical opposite.  It's a good epic tale, and in some ways, I wish the entire set had been based around this one story.  Expand it in some places, end in Salzburg, then set up for the next boxset.  Then you'd have a pretty fun four hour Christmas adventure. 

Instead, the set comes to it's conclusion with Seizure, which brings the Eleven back into the fold.  The Eleven sends the Doctor a distress call, and the Doctor decides to answer the call, knowing that with the Eleven it could very well be a trap.  The Doctor lands inside the Eleven's TARDIS, but it is a labyrinth that begins to separate the Doctor and his friends...and a frightening beast is aboard.  The beast is the titular Ravenous, first mentioned in the first box set, and making it's first actual appearance here. It's a monster that feeds on life energy, constantly hungry for more...with it's favorite meal being Time Lords.  I think it is a cool monster, and this first glimpse is promising...though part of me wonders how much depth a monster like this can have, especially if it is to be the main antagonist of this particular series of boxsets going forward.  

All in all, this is a pretty good boxset.  While the first story didn't really grab me, the rest of the set is a lot of fun. While I enjoyed the eerie closing episode that marked the first appearance of the Ravenous, I still kind of think the whole set would've worked better if it had focused more on the whole Krampus story.  I think there was more to explore in those episodes, they had a lot packed into them, and the opening episode being dull, and the final episode felt like it belongs to a bigger story yet to come...I might've just enjoyed a Krampus set.  Still...McGann always delivers as the Doctor, and any set starring him is worth a listen.

 

 

 

 






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.09 - A Small Semblance Of HomeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Small Semblance Of Home (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Paul Phipps; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

"Time is relative - the day is wherever we land - and if we are onboard the TARDIS - there are no days!"
 
It’s become his obsession. Through the hottest of deserts and the coldest of snows, the TARDIS crew have searched for the one remaining piece of the Doctor’s most important experiment. But now Barbara’s exhausted. Why hasn’t the Doctor learned his lesson? What’s so important that his scientific curiosity outweighs the safety of the crew once again? And will his latest arrogant trespass be the last he ever makes?
 
Paul Phipps brings us the latest Short Trips entry, which is a leisurely character piece, with Barbara Wright front and centre. We join the original TARDIS team quite early in their adventures. Barbara is starting to miss the normality of home. There is nothing in the TARDIS to indicate what time of day it is, or even what day of the week. The Doctor's new experiment is becoming something of an obsession to hi. He is looking for a plant, and seemingly finds it when him and Ian are captured by a local tribe on an alien planet. 
 
Carole Ann Ford narrates the story with passion, characterising the different characters very well. It actually made me feel rather sentimental for hearing more from this era of the Doctor Who, and with that sentimentality, rather sad also. Carole Ann Ford is seventy-eight years old now (something that I would never guess from her voice, which obviously sounds different from when she was on the show, but still quite youthful). These readings and dramatisations need to be cherished as only a handful of the original actors are still working.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is about the simple comforts of home, and is a rather enjoyable little piece of story telling that would have fitted perfectly in the very first series of Doctor Who.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is available here.