The Tenth Doctor ChroniclesBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Tenth Doctor Chronicles (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matthew J Elliot, James Goss, Helen Goldwyn, Guy Adams
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Jacob Dudman, Jacqueline King, Michelle Ryan, Jon CulshawArinzé Kene
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running time - 4 hours

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

A decade on from his third televised season of interplanetary, inter-temporal and inter-dimensional exploits, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor continues to enjoy one hell of an afterlife between his Titan Comics adventures alongside Gabby and Cindy as well as his mandatory Big Finish tenure. While the latter studio hasn't managed to book Tennant in for another appearance in his role since last year's The Tenth Doctor Adventures Series 2, his iconic wise-cracking incarnation lives on in aural form this month thanks to a familiar voice to Doctor Who fans the universe over - one Jacob Dudman.

Just as Nicholas Briggs bore the mighty responsibility of paying homage to Christopher Eccleston in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, so too is Dudman faced with the unenviable task not only of following in Tennant's footsteps here, but additionally narrating a quartet of hour-long storylines with the help of only a single guest star in each instance. But, as anyone who's remotely aware of this remarkably accomplished voice artist's work mimicking the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors will attest, the task couldn't find itself placed in more capable hands; Dudman positively exudes Tennant's instantaneous, infectious charisma, boundless energy and sizzlingly rapid repartee with just about any human, alien or Cyberman whom he encountered between 2005-2010. Indeed, anyone new to the man's work could easily mistake him for the genuine article, barring those oh-so-fleeting moments when his voice hits a slightly higher pitch than that of his inspiration.

What of the four episodes themselves, though? The play's the thing, after all, so let's dive straight into The Tenth Doctor Chronicles and discover whether Big Finish's latest foray into the voyages of perhaps the TARDIS' most beloved modern captain warrants a victorious "allons-y" cheer, or whether it's best left to the clutches to the Abzorbaloff...

"The Taste of Death":

"Not only is MXQ1 one of the most luxurious alien-made environments, it also houses - wait for it - the best restaurant in the galaxy. There was you saying I never take you anywhere posh..."

If only the latest series of Eighth Doctor Adventures hadn't stolen this epithet already, then 'Ravenous' could've served as an ideal alternative title for Helen Goldwyn's rambunctiously entertaining opener. "The Taste of Death" more than suffices in the meantime, though, the story in question following the Doctor and Rose as their respite on the intergalactic resort of MXQ1 gets swiftly interrupted by a sinister cullianry scheme to overfeed its - hilariously willing - guests for nefarious purposes. It's essentially a frothy blend of "School Reunion" - an inspiration which Goldwyn thankfully sees fit to reference directly at one point rather than courting repetition - with an early Ninth Doctor two-parter, the title of which just might become apparent if you gaze at the boxset's cover art above.

That's right: the Slitheen, everyone's favourite - or least favourite, depending where your "Aliens in London / World War Three" stance lies - gaseous monstrosities, are back for their first proper dust-off with the Tenth Doctor after only garnering the briefest of cameos at the last moment in "The End of Time". At first re-introducing one of Russell T Davies' more divisive contributions to Doctor Who's Hall of Foes might justifiably sound like a recipe for disaster, but the script's rollercoaster pace barely affords them any time to let out so much as a gurgle from their sizable stomachs, let alone any of the full-blown gusts of bodily wind for which they attracted such notoriety on both Who and its CBBC spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. That approach allows the mystery of MXQ1 patrons disappearing by the dozen to take centre-stage - probably a wise move on Goldwyn's part in hindsight, even if our familiarity with the aforementioned Raxacoricofallapatorian family's illicit commercial dealings at this point means that most listeners will ascertain the truth of the matter long before our heroes crack the case.

Joining Dudman for the sumptuous ride - and making his Big Finish debut in the process - is Arinzé Kene, the role of inquisitive chef Orentino affording him no shortage of opportunities to showcase his performing talents as he joins the TARDIS crew in discovering what's become of his abruptly absent brother since the hotel's enigmatic owners recruited him onto their dining team. Holding your own opposite someone with Dudman's seemingly effortless abilitiies, not to mention in an episode as packed with extraterrestrial sci-fi technobable as this one, takes some doing, so it's to Kene's full credit that he pulls off the job with flying colours. He not only endows Oriento with the personal angst that you'd expect amidst a family crisis, but also striking a refreshing note of levity, such as when regailing the Doctor with darkly comedic stories of how rapidly mealtimes at the MXQ1 buffet transform from all-you-can-eat experiences into explosive free-for-alls thanks to their dangerously addictive offerings.

"Backtrack":

"What is that? Sort of a TARDIS car alarm?"
"Bit like that, yeah, only a billion times worse."

Whether knowingly or otherwise, violent vacations of this ilk form something of a connective narrative strand across the latest Chronicles collection, with the Doctor's next such jaunt coming unexpectedly as he and Martha find the Time Vortex in disarray, largely thanks to a pesky era-hopping tour guide transporting holiday-makers to their chosen historical destinations via some decidedly tempermental temporal technology. If that seems somewhat akin to the Earth-bound scenes in "Voyage of the Damned" as loose premises go, then rest assured that scribe Matthew J Elliot avoids any risks of retreading well-worn ground here, instead almost gifting the Tenth Doctor with his first 'pure' historical outing.

Admittedly "Backtrack" does distance itself from the likes of "An Unearthly Child" or "The Romans" by including a minor sci-fi threat and of course the "Time Meddler"-esque inciting incident which kicks off its action, but much of the entertainment - and indeed dramatic - value here comes from the crews of the TARDIS and its malfunctioning counterpart The Outcome interacting with the time zones that they visit, not least as the stakes are raised monumentally by a last-minute detour to one of the most horrific events in recent human history. This reviewer will steer clear of spoilers for now, but suffice to say that whereas TV Who only tends to dip its feet in atrocities such as Pompeii or the First World War without fully exploring the devastating pain suffered by their victims, Elliot goes one step further come Act 3, raising the harrowing possibility of the Time Lord and his unrequited courter's respective existences reaching their premature denouements in a provocative way that's sure to unsettle even the most apathetic of listeners.

Better yet, portraying the foolhardy entrepeneur responsible for tearing holes in the Web of Time is none other than Jon Culshaw, the Dead Ringers impressionist perhaps best known for his uncanny renditions of both the Third and Fourth Doctors. Fans of Dudman's work will no doubt recall Culshaw's appearance in the former's "The Day of the Doctor" tribute sketch "The Great Curator" last year; clearly the past 12 months have done little to distill their exuberant chemistry either, since Culshaw's unapologetically self-righteous Nathan Hobb's verbal sparring matches with Dudman's soon-to-be self-proclaimed Time Lord Victorious make for the highlights of the hour by far, constantly ensuring that we're never certain as to where their conflicting efforts to preserve or exploit the past, present and future will leave anyone in the vicinity - or indeed the final state of the universe full stop.

"Wild Pastures":

"I'm just offering my sensible opinion; I'm used to having that ignored. You should meet my daughter, Donna - she's never listened to me and look how she turned out!"

Most fans would probably assume that Goldwyn's ambition to resurrect the Slitheen while retaining her credibility as a Big Finish veteran would represent the biggest challenge for anyone involved with Chronicles, yet that's far from the case; enter James Goss, taking time out from his doubtless intense stewardship of the studio's Torchwood range to attempt the Herculean feat of giving Jacqueline King's Sylvia Noble an entire hour in the spotlight. It's probably safe to say that few fans would've begged Russell T. Davies or his Season Four peers to centre their next Doctor-lite story around a comic relief character such as Sylvia, especially given the rich esteem in which her father Wilf was instaneously held by fans in comparison. By now, though, it's a truth similarly universally acknowledged that Big Finish can utilise just about any divisive player from the show's past to their advantage - after all, who else could've transformed the Kandyman into the stuff of genuine nightmares earlier this month?

Judging by her revelatory interview with Goss and producer Scott Handcock shortly after the credits roll here, King harbours little doubt as to her character's Marmite personality, so it speaks volumes for her talents that she's able to carry much of proceedings. "Wild Pastures" centres on the Doctor's investigation into a seemingly innocuous care homes where residents aren't going quite so gentle into that good night, leading him to sign Sylvia up for a room while he chases answers behind the scenes. With the Doctor consequently sidelined for much of the hour, Sylvia wastes no time in living up her newfound domestic bliss, gossiping to no end with staff and residents alike while eventually taking on a surprisingly pivotal role in deciphering the secret at the titular rest home's heart. It's hardly difficult to imagine King lapping her character's constantly argumentative dialogue and razor-sharp cynical wit up as she initially read Goss' script, at least based on how much she embraces transporting Sylvia through such delightfully absurd events as these, and indeed that same zestful enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on this reviewer in spite of his qualms when hitting Play on this instalment.

"Pastures" does, however, raise the question of whether each instalment in this boxset fully warranted between 50-60 minutes of airtime. Naturally the Chronicles range aims to ape the Ninth-Eleventh Doctors' 45-minute on-screen escapades, but after Eddie Robson's inspired The Thick of It pastiche Time in Office showcased the benefits of the anthology format for Doctor Who's future flirtations with the sitcom genre, the slow-burn nature of this instalment's first half as Sylvia mainly gets to grip with life in care suggests Goss might've been better served without having to match his peers' word counts. Perhaps it's worth Big Finish dabbling further with lighter fare along these lines in their Short Trips range; indeed, their upcoming Jackie Tyler-centred Trips outings could serve as the perfect testing ground on this front come their eventual TBA release dates.

"Last Chance":

"It was an ending."

Au contraire, Lady Christina - for you it's just the beginning. As well as wrapping up The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, Guy Adams' quasi-season finale simultaneously acts as a backdoor pilot of sorts for Big Finish's upcoming spin-off saga focused on the feisty jewel thief first glimpsed in "Planet of the Dead", reuniting her with the Tenth Doctor for one final mission before her solo adventures kick off this September. Once again, few would envy Adams' efforts to resurrect the one-off companion from arguably Tennant's most maligned 2008-2010 Special and prove the need for her own dedicated series to boot, but if you're still under the delusion that such fears would daunt any of the studio's writing team in the slightest, then you've not been reading this review anywhere near closely enough. Quite to the contrary, Adams knows all too well how to wrap up an audio boxset of this ilk in style, as demonstrated by his incredible "The Heavenly Paradigm" in The War Master: Only the Good just four months ago, and he remains totally true to Christina's line of work with an action-packed hour that tests her Mission Impossible-style criminal skillset of cliff-scaling, vent-crawling and treasure-stealing to the nth degree across hostile environments galore.

Indeed, Adams zips us from African deserts to snow-swept mountains to alien spaceships with the speed of a rampaging rhino, his whirlwind script gleefully taking advantage of the TARDIS' rich potential as a boundless sci-fi plot device capable of transporting its occupants - and viewers / listeners - anywhere in time and space, all without any of the budgetary constraints imposed on his televised counterparts. One could easily imagine TV Who spending one or more full episodes in any of these fascinating worlds, but the script's reluctance to remain in one place for any longer than the plot - an unashamedly family-friendly caper which would go down a riot on long car journeys - dictates actually works in its favour, perfectly embodying the Tenth Doctor's desire to flee his impending demise by any route available to him and at the same time providing us with promising insight into the wild variety that Christina's solo jaunts across the globe will offer us later in the year.

That would all mean little if Michelle Ryan didn't enough enthusiasm back to her role in order to inspire confidence in what's next for Lady de Souza, of course. Even the most vocal "Planet of the Dead" detractors will struggle to find much to complain about in that area, though - in fact, Ryan and Dudman make for arguably an even better pairing than Culshaw's return did in "Backtrack", recapturing much of the refreshing tension that sprang from the Doctor and Christina heralding from such different professions back in 2009, not to mention the oft-cynical latter's bemused wonder at her unlikely companion's ability to hope against all the odds. Credit also must go to Dudman in particular for narrating Christina's internal thought process with such nuance, his voice at times delicately betraying an increasing vulnerability to her musings on how the Doctor's rejection influenced her post-"Planet" worldview, before reverting back to her amazement at the Time Lords antics, then ultimately demonstrating powerfully her fear at the uncertain prospect of her old friend's ambiguous fate.

The Verdict:

Whereas some of Big Finish's boxsets veer dramatically in quality from instalment to instalment, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles without question stands as one of their most consistently engrossing multi-part productions to date. Any fan of Tennant's tenure on Doctor Who who's keen to sink their teeth into the Tenth Doctor's audio adventures can't therefore go wrong with this collection, its incredibly faithful lead performance - and accomplished narration - from Dudman, consistently passionate supporting turns from his co-stars and eclectic array of storylines combining to provide four hours packed with the same thrills, emotional beats and well-timed comedy for which this era of the show is still held in such reverence today. Oh, and the best part? If you ultimately "don't want to go" come the closing credits, then you've only got to wait seven months until another Chronicles boxset arrives this November. Next up: geronimo...





Ghost Walk (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ghost Walk (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Fenella Woolgar (Leanne), Sacha Dhawan (Matthew), Stephen Greif (Sabaoth), Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Stubbs), Philip Childs (Giles), John Banks (Louie), Rebecca Tromans (Nancy). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Guy Adams
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

This is an interesting new Fifth Doctor audio from Big Finish, which bounces around time and features a ghostly entity as the main antagonist.  The story is fun to piece together, as you have to wait for certain pieces before the whole picture becomes clear, but it is fairly satisfying when it all comes together in the end.  

The Doctor, along with Nyssa, Tegan and Adric land in some catacombs, but there they discover there is an entity that feeds off of their energy, and there is no real escape from the tunnels.  So the Doctor attempts to send his companions forward in time, in the hopes that they will remain safe while he concocts a plan to save himself.  While Adric and Nyssa end up in separate eras in which they are faced with the possibility of death...Tegan tries to stay behind with the Doctor. We end up following four stories in four different eras.  

So you've got the Doctor and Tegan trying to figure out a plan to defeat the entity in the catacombs, Nyssa having to prove she is not a witch to some villagers, Adric facing a hanging for stealing some bread, and in a more modern era, you have the Guide of a Ghost tour who is hearing a voice in her head...the apparent ghost of the Doctor talking to her.  

For all these different elements and different eras, as well as storylines that leave you hanging for whole episodes before being resolved, you'd think this story could be a lot messier and less entertaining...but it is a really tight script from James Goss, and Barnaby Edwards direction is really great. It has a good spooky atmosphere, good performances from the whole cast (even our main cast actually sounds closer to their 80s voices than they did in their last entry), a really unique story, even the music sounds like the 80s scores...it is just a lot of fun. Definitely recommended.   





Kingdom of Lies (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Kingdom Of Lies (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky

Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Jonathan Firth (Sebastian, Duke of Cardenas), Charlotte Lucas (Duchess Miranda), Harriet Thorpe (Amelia), Tim Bentinck (Lord Crozion), Richenda Carey (Lady Crozion), Piotr Hatherer (Tomek), Patsy Kensit (Mercenary), Harry Smith (Additional Voices). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Guy Adams
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Peter Davison is joined by his original TARDIS team of Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and Matthew Waterhouse in the first of three new stories from Big Finish starring the group.  In this story, the TARDIS lands in a kingdom that is currently embattled with itself, as the Royal Couple have separated and are using the hackneyed sitcom premise of drawing a line between their kingdom to designate all their stuff. If this was a sitcom, the premise would be lame...but as it is Doctor Who and it takes that goofy premise to the extreme, it becomes rather fun, plus it doesn't really focus too hard on that aspect.  

The bulk of the episode is actually more of a comedy of mistaken identities. After landing, Tegan and Adric are soon arrested by the Military of the Duchess, as they have crossed over into her side of the line. Not long after, the same happens to The Doctor and Nyssa, but this time by the Duke. But since the Duke had recently hired an off-worlder to assassinate his estranged wife, he believes the Doctor is the assassin known as "The Scorpion."   So while the Doctor poses as an assassin with Nyssa as his assistant, Adric and Tegan pretend to be a couple that can stop assassins for the Duchess.  Obviously, antics ensue.  

And those antics are fun!  This story is light and has a good comedy pace.  It is also quite fun to hear this Fifth Doctor team again. Admittedly I never found Adric to be much fun during his time on TV, and as such I preferred his eventual replacement of Turlough...but with that said there is something that is a bit fun in hearing this original Fifth Doctor team together again. I've not had a chance to hear some of their earlier Big Finish reunions, but I don't think I would mind picking those up some time.

This story really captures the feel of those early Fifth Doctor stories, with the crwoded TARDIS team bickering and going off on adventures.  The only thing that can keep you from getting completely lost in 1982 is that everyone's voice has audibly aged, particularly Davison and Waterhouse. But who cares, it is a fun little adventure with some good humor and a cast that is clearly having a ball. 





The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 15 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Ian McNeice (Sir Winston Churchill), Laurence Dobiesz (Wilhelm Rozycki), Gyuri Sarossy (Jan Ostowicz), Tracy Wiles (Secretary / Ground Control), Beth Chalmers (The Heliyon), Roger May (Cornelius Morningstar / Verdarn), Judith Roddy (Stralla Cushing), Sarah Lambie (Gorl), Jane Booker (Dron / Yetana), Christopher Ryan (Macy), Nicholas Rowe (The Kandyman), Amerjit Deu (Governor), Charlie Condou (Crabhead / System / Jarl), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Ruzalla), Beth Goddard (Ludina Braskell).  Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Following on from the events of Doom Coalition, the Eighth Doctor and Liv Chenka are attempting to find the trail of their lost friend Helen Sinclair, and they begin a brand new set of adventures to stretch out over four boxsets, this time with the umbrella title Ravenous. It's a pretty exciting new beginning for this Eighth Doctor team, and bodes well for the Eighth Doctor adventures going forward.  

The set begins with Their Finest Hour, which has The Doctor and Liv answer a call from Winston Churchill, who hopes that the Doctor can solve the issue of an invisible ship that is wiping out his Air Force. It's a energetic start to this set, with Paul McGann in his regular fine form as the Eighth Doctor, and Nicola Walker far more settled into the role of Liv. I must admit that while I really enjoyed Doom Coalition, I have never been too excited by Liv as a companion.  She just seemed too low key, but I felt Helen picked up the energy where Liv seemed to drag.  Here, she seems far more comfortable in the role, she just has more energy and her sparring with the Doctor had a good flow to it. At any rate, the opener sets the tone nicely, with World War II and interferring Aliens, a good supporting cast (including Ian McNeice reprising the role of Winston Churchill), and a good mix of action adventure and character moments. 

The second story, titled How to Make a Killing in Time Travel, has the Doctor and Liv again diverted from finding Helen, and this time end up embroiled in a murder mystery and a prototype time machine. This is a pretty fun story, lots of humor and asort of madcap pace. These first two stories seemingly have little to do with the big new arc that will be the backdrop of the coming Eighth Doctor boxsets.  I've been fooled before, they may end up playing a bigger role than I realize...but even if they do not, they were a fun couple of stories that kept me engaged and reaquainted me to the Eighth Doctor and Liv...and they made me appreciate Liv more than I had in the past.  

Helen, along with the Eleven, make their return in World of Damnation. The two apparently crash landed in an asylum, and Helen wreaked some havoc when they arrived, apparently endowed with some powers from the Sonomancer (Listen to Doom Coalition 4).  But now she is just trying to calm the Eleven's psychopathic tendencies, and it is seemingly helping.  Also at the asylum is the Kandyman (making his audio debut), who is distributing sweets to the inmates, which somehow controls their behavior.  By the time The Doctor and Liv arive, the asylum is in chaos, and I rather liked that while the Helen and Eleven storiy is being told simultaneously as the Doctor and Liv arriving, it builds in a way that you only slowly come to relaize that the TARDIS arrival actually takes place some time after the rest of the episode, and that the chaos has been instigated by the Eleven and the Kandyman, who were secetly working together.

Despite having spent so much time searching for her, the Doctor is very suspicious of Helen once they have found her, and he is unsure of her motives throughout most of the finale of the set, Sweet Salvation.  In this episode we discover that hte Kandyman and the Eleven plan to rule over whole worlds by delivering the Kandyman's confections as a mind control device, and it is up to our TARDIS team to halt their plans.  This finale is a great conclusion to the set, as it while the titular Ravenous is only briefly heard and hinted at, I am intrigued about going forward.  

This set is a good start to the new set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor. It definitely helped me warm up to Liv, which is a definite plus, as I really never found her that interesting in previous boxsets. I do find it surprising that they brought the Kandyman back at all, as I don't think he actually worked in his lone TV appearance. But Big Finish manages to make him a more interesting character, with a brand new design on the covers, because I am pretty sure there was some copyright issues with the character design. I should also make special note of Mark Bonnar as the Eleven, who has been incredible in this role since the start of the Doom Coalition sets.

If I have a criticism of this new set, it is that it really cannot stand on it's own. You have to have listened to Doom Coalition to understand major plot points of this set.  Despite carrying on from Dark Eyes, you could have started fresh with Doom Coalition, that is not the case here.  Now, that previous series of boxsets is pretty entertaining, so it is kind of worth it, but those who are not fairly familiar with the ongoing adventures of the Eighth Doctor on Big Finish, you should probably catch up to start this new set of adventures.  Those who are fmailiar?  This seems like a fun new collection to add to a growing list of fun collections for Paul McGann and company.  





Torchwood: The Death of Captain JackBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 April 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Death of Captain Jack (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: David Llewellyn
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring: John BarrowmanJames MarstersEve MylesGareth David-LloydKai OwenTom PriceSamuel BarnettRowena Cooper
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 1 hour

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

After two full seasons of monthly releases set in the lives of Cardiff's least covert secret agents, each entry packed with as much nostalgia as world-building, not to mention a wealth of box-sets taking place in the eponymous organisation's past, present and future, some might reasonably wonder just where Big Finish can take Torchwood next - at least without fulfilling the rule of diminishing returns. To date, we've spent hours in the company of not only every member of the Season One-Two team but also Yvonne Hartman, Suzie Costello, Torchwood America's Charlie's Angels-esque terrific trio, Rhys Williams, Sergeant Andy Davidson and undercover recruits in World War Two. Who else could the studio possibly hope to focus on, then, sans perhaps the elderly woman bemoaning "bloody Torchwood" in the Season Two premiere, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang"?

The answer, coincidentally enough, lies in that exact same episode, albeit not in the form of Menna Trussler's brilliantly non-plussed Elspeth Morgan, but instead in the form of another oft-forgotten veteran of the show's televised tenure: Captain John Hart. Yes, everyone's other favourite Time Agent has returned for another round on the blood-soaked carousel in The Death of Captain Jack, a disorientating rollercoaster of a season premiere which delivers all of the raunchy setpieces, deliciously macabre humour, Steven Moffat-level time-travel paradoxes and further raunchy setpieces fans could possibly hope for. Every work of fiction has its flaws, of course, and we'll get to Death's blemishes later, but if nothing else, there's never been a Torchwood audio production quite like this one.

To quote Amy Pond, okay kids - this is where it gets complicated. Unlike most of these monthly vignettes, Death's place in its source material's continuity starts out sketchy and doesn't become much clearer the further we move through its running time. Suffice to say that any long-running franchise devotees will have their work cut out trying to ascertain quite when the narrative - or at least its framing device, which essentially serves as the crux of proceedings - occurs in relation to John and Jack's fractured romantic / anarchistic relationship across time and space, since there aren't many direct references to on-screen encounters between the pair such as "Kiss Kiss" or Season Two finale "Exit Wounds". What we do know, however, is that the former unashamed megalomaniac decides to finally bring their competition to best one another to an explosive end, causing a wealth of paradoxes destabilising enough to leave Jack on the brink of a permanent demise and John as the King of England.

If that sounds like a recipe for a glorious hour of unhinged science-fiction hysteria, then take comfort in the knowledge that your ears are working perfectly. If anything, the play's wright David Llewellyn takes those expectations and extrapolates them tenfold, his script gleefully embracing the explosive carnage that its two Time Agent protagonists bring to anyone caught - figuratively or often literally - between them, with the pair's at times lust-driven, at times hopelessly self-destructive relationship an empowering wildcard that keeps the hour refreshingly unpredictable. Whether he's having John compare Torchwood Three to Scooby Doo "without the cartoon dog or the lesbian" or depicting fan favourite characters like Ianto Jones or Rowena Cooper's Queen Victoria in hilariously risque new lights, Llewellyn takes evident delight in the audio range's producer, James Goss, giving him free reign to steer many of the show's core tenets totally off the rails with a chaotic, constantly expectation-subverting romp that can't fail to keep even the most emotionally apathetic listener entertained. Sure, we're left in almost no doubt that the events depicted here can't come to affect future Torchwood storylines, but who cares when the results are such visceral fun to consume through our earlobes?

That wouldn't necessarily have been the case, though, without two such accomplished lead performers at Death's helm. Enter John Barrowman and long overdue returnee James Marsters, both of whom wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to deliver a psychologically warped comedy-drama where the only rule is that there are no rules. In many ways Barrowman's gifted with the chance to play two roles - the good Captain whom we know and love as well as the aged soul who lies before John on seemingly the final day in their centuries-spanning conflict - and, naturally, does a stellar job on both fronts, as intoxicatingly charismatic and complacent ever in the former guise while the most vulnerable and morally crushed that we've seen him since Miracle Day in the latter. As for Mr. Masters, whereas some of Doctor Who and Torchwood's past cast members needed time to adjust to portraying their characters in audio form, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel's Runaways star takes to Big Finish like a devilishly handsome duck to the Time Vortex's waters, his constant barrage of witty retorts, pop culture references, beguiling pick-up lines and pre-murder zingers voiced with the kind of unsettling enthusiasm that only an actor of his calibre can truly muster. Much as Big Finish are rightly striving to entice series regulars like Eve Myles and Burn Gorman to find time amidst their hectic schedules to record further Torchwood plays, this reviewer would suggest that the studio makes Masters another major priority in this regard whenever the right script and the necessary gap in his own calendar arise.

So, with all of these glowing remarks, how could we possibly smell a fault in the framework of this undoubtedly successful new chapter for the only team ready for that key moment when "everything changes"? Well, kindly juxtapose that iconic quote from the show's opening sequence with our comments above and you'll ideally start to notice that despite subverting many of the show's tropes, The Death of Captain Jack does incorporate a heck of a lot of previously explored character dynamics, cameos from familiar faces, What If paradoxes and the like which we've seen done to death - many times over in Jack's eternal case - countless times before on Torchwood and elsewhere in the so-called Whoniverse (though feel free to substitute this term with any other epithets for the wider franchise that you see fit). Indeed, Llewellyn, Goss, and company could easily have gotten away with rebranding this release as Torchwood: Greatest Hits, since rather than taking us into any particularly new territory that no-one could have seen coming, the intention seems to have been to simply spend more time with the admittedly electric Jack-John pairing which only got 2 full episodes in which to shine during 2008's Season Two. That's a noble gesture to fans clamoring for further such antics to be sure but does inevitably result in a storyline which - for all its rib-tickling one-liners - will rarely catch veteran fans off-guard.

That, in turn, plays into the matter of continuity which we discussed briefly earlier when summarizing Death's basic premise. On a superficial level, to call out the script for refusing to explicitly confirm whereabouts in Jack and John's timelines these events take place - a tricky business to discuss fully in this review without spoiling the exact nature of certain happenings we see play out here - may seem a prime example of nitpicking, but given that we last witnessed Masters' character wanting to understand Jack's passionate zest for Earthbound life by exploring the planet himself, having his return to his tricksome ways this time around explained by the outcome of those travels might've afforded an additional layer of depth to his character arc as well as fuel for future storylines at Big Finish. Does John's manipulative, self-serving outlook on life inevitably mean that he'll never remain content with a universe out for anyone's gain but his? Is his psyche comparable to Missy's in "Death in Heaven", whereby the pair both "wanted their friends back" no matter how devastating the circumstances? Factoring questions like these into Death just might have made the key difference between the latest Torchwood range outing coming off as a satisfying or game-changing listen.

Anyway, enough grimacing for the time being - to do so for longer than necessary would be to stray far from the central fact of the matter. Even if The Death of Captain Jack doesn't necessarily start 'Season Three' of Big Finish's monthly Torchwood releases with quite the same intriguing arc threads as The Conspiracy did in 2015 or never-before-seen crossover hijinks between Jack and Queen Victoria (a total newcomer to the show) as The Victorian Age did the following year, its raw appeal as a tour de force in time-bending, romantically charged and at times unexpectedly violent storytelling can't possibly be denied. Anyone who's long craved a reunion between the only two surviving Time Agents depicted in Doctor Who and its spin-offs will almost certainly have a whale of a time with Death between its jet-black comedy, its protagonists' never-ending duel of wits and sexual prowess and its scribe's dedication to uprooting Torchwood tropes by the dozen at every turn with hilarious results. Everything mightn't change here, then, but everything's at least looking up in terms of the studio's ability to keep producing memorable monthly outings for Harkness and company.






Third Doctor Adventures Volume 4Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 27 March 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Third Doctor Adventures - Volume 4
Writer: Guy AdamsMarc Platt
Director: Nicholas Briggs
Featuring: Tim Treloar, Katy Manning, Rufus Hound, Mina Anwar, Joe Sims, Carolyn Pickles, Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 5 hours

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

Before we begin, a quick housekeeping query: is everyone sufficiently bucked up and ready for further old-school 1970s (or 1980s, depending on whom you ask) sci-fi escapades? Wonderful.

Perhaps emboldened by the success of their Dalek revival in Volume 3, Big Finish isn’t skimping in the slightest on classic villains in their newest pair of Adventures for the Third Doctor. In fact, they’ve introduced not one but two returning antagonists into the fray for Volume 4 in the forms of the Meddling Monk and – for the first time ever in a Jon Pertwee-era tale, so better late than never – the Cybermen.

Admittedly this reviewer took umbrage with how intent “The Conquest of Far” seemed with simply reliving Dalek glory days, rather than seeking to develop how we perceive Skaro’s finest in any notable way, last time around. Will Guy Adams and Marc Platt’s next efforts to immortalise the late Pertwee’s beloved Doctor – now revitalised via Tim Treloar’s loving aural homage – fall into the same traps, then, or can their connective thematic tissue surrounding the ever-complexifying concept of human nature elevate proceedings?

“The Rise of the New Humans”:

“Look, Bessie’s a lovely car Doctor, I mean a really lovely car, but have you ever thought about investing in a little roof rather than a flappy tarpaulin to keep you dry?”
“Don’t you listen, old girl – she knows you’re beautiful really!”

Had we ever told diehard fans of all things Doctor Who after watching the divisive “The Woman Who Lived” in 2015 that supporting star Rufus Hound would go on to resurrect a long-overlooked classic antagonist to tremendous acclaim, the best case scenario, most would have justifiably scoffed in our faces. Between his infrequent appearances in the Short Trips and Doom Coalition ranges along with the British comedian’s headline role in Volume 4’s opening tale, however, that’s all changed and the results could hardly feel more satisfying than in the case of “The Rise of the New Humans”.

A whirlwind four-parter that’s by parts thought-provoking, hilarious – as if we’d expect anything less of Hound – and thrilling, “Rise” fits into the mold of the Third Doctor era perfectly, posing a fascinating metaphysical concept as human test subjects find themselves transformed into supernatural beings capable of withstanding nearly any affliction. Naturally, though, Doctor Who wouldn’t be Doctor Who without an audacious experiment gone wrong, and sure enough the side effects – not to mention the technology recklessly co-opted by the Monk to achieve his not-so-altruistic goal – quickly lead listeners and the major players alike to question the limits of science’s oft-perceived god complex.

If this all sounds too grim and sombre an affair to warrant the Monk’s involvement, then rest assured that Hound alleviates any such concerns with unmistakable ease from the outset. It’s thanks to his sinister, almost sickly, charisma and brilliantly earnest haplessness in the face of just about any danger that Adams’ borderline gothic – certainly Frankenstein-esque – script never gets too bogged down in its contemplations on evolution and the increasing risks of intervention in this natural process for financial gain, with the Monk’s attempts to disguise his seemingly benevolent intentions so delightfully inept that the audience should barely mind sitting through the humour-laden first half before discovering his true ambitions.

At the same time, though, Adams thankfully also realises the supreme value and drawing power that Tim Treloar and Katy Manning both hold in the eyes of the Adventures range’s fandom, peppering in a wealth of understated conversations between the pair which perfectly encapsulate their bubbly, at times teacher-student-style dynamic. Whether they’re arguing over Bessie’s temperamentality on a rain-swept road – a subtle homage to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, perhaps? – or the Doctor’s comforting Jo upon her poignant realisation that rumours of us only accessing 10% of our brain power may have been exaggerated, every exchange that the characters share could’ve been ripped straight out of a 1970s serial, with Treloar’s righteously confident and Manning’s sweetly innocent line deliveries both as completely pitch-perfect as ever.

The only noteworthy misstep on the wright in question’s part, then, comes with Part 4. While by no means a deal-breaker, the final installment of “Rise” does succumb to an all-too-familiar virus plaguing myriad audio and TV Who adventures – hightailing it to the finish line and ditching any intriguing ideas laid along the way in the process. One can’t help but notice the superior running time afforded to the boxset’s second story – the individual episodes of which run for around 30-35 minutes each compared to this serial’s 20-25 – and wonder if Adams struggled to give ideas like humans struggling with their deadly mutations full due, hence the final 25 minutes descending into the usual catastrophic monster mash and retconning a hugely tantalising cliffhanger regarding Jo within moments of its occurrence.

Maybe Adams simply needs to keep honing his stabs at the four-part format instead, but it’s food for thought in terms of whether he might better befit a five- or six-episode serial should he contribute another script for the recently-announced Volume 5.

“The Tyrants of Logic”:

“Doctor, what are they?”
“Cybermen!”

Reading the above lines of dialogue alone will, for many fans, surely prove a cathartic experience in and of itself. After all, despite coming into contact with Daleks, Silurians, Sea Devils, Sontarans, Ice Warriors and Autons over the course of his four-year tenure, not to mention the Master on a near-weekly basis, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor never earned himself the chance to battle arguably Doctor Who’s second most iconic monster, joining Paul McGann, John Hurt and Christopher Eccleston’s as the only such incarnations faced with this unspeakable on-screen plight.

But, as Hurt’s War Doctor proclaimed in 2013’s similarly Cyber-lite 50th anniversary special “The Day of the Doctor”, no more. Setting down on an initially near-deserted human colony dubbed Burnt Salt, the now exile-free Time Lord and Jo soon discover that they’re far from alone; quite to the contrary, a nearby saloon houses a wild assortment of rogues and ex-soldiers, all of whom bear a secret inevitably doomed to surface as the Cybermen make their presence on Burnt Salt known with their destructive efforts to secure a vital hidden weapon.

Prior to us proceeding any further, though, a word of warning – with its Cybermats, Cyber Wars fallout and attempted Time Lord-Cyber conversions, Marc Platt’s latest script represents a quintessential story for everyone’s favourite Mondas residents, for better and for worse. Unless this boxset somehow marks your first encounter with Who, many of the twists in “Logic” will likely seem rather familiar; from characters mistakenly willing to sacrifice their humanity to the robotic menaces escaping supposed extinction yet again, from the Doctor needing 10 minutes to alleviate his companion’s dismay at their latest foe’s near-human nature to Part 4’s predictable final duke-out, there’s nothing particularly fresh to speak of in what’s a fairly run-of-the-mill nostalgia tour.

Nothing, that is, save for the continuing thematic strand surrounding what it truly means to call oneself a member of the human race. If “Rise” explores this existential concept through a metaphysical exploration of our species’ DNA being evolved to a supposed higher state, then “Tyrants” – as with many Cyber-tales, although to more emotional effect a la Spare Parts – does so by presenting members of our species on the brink of having every aspect of their personalities stripped away. Can we possibly still define someone as human when they’re clinging to any remains vestiges of their Id / ego / super-ego? Sure, it’s a line of inquiry also recently pursued by TV serials like “Asylum of the Daleks”, but without spoiling too much, Carolyn Pickles achieves wonders as her character Marian Shaeffer’s cold exterior peels back to reveal her heartbreaking motivations in this regard.

Indeed, even if “Logic” doesn’t exactly break a great deal of new ground compared to a recent TV Cyber-outing like “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”, it’s not for want of the central and supporting cast alike doing their utmost – with director Nicholas Briggs’ support and guidance, no doubt – to provide an entertaining 2-hours of pseudo-base-under-siege action. That Treloar and Manning’s insatiably endearing chemistry injects humour and charm at every turn likely goes without saying at this point, but look out too for Briggs’ finest turn yet as the ever-hauntingly impassive invaders standing in Burnt Salt’s doorway as well as a contrastingly vulnerable performance from Deli Segal’s Skippa, another innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of a seemingly unyielding, constantly destructive conflict.

The Verdict:

Above all, this stellar new boxset for Treloar’s Third Doctor marks a vast improvement on Volume 3, offering a far more consistent pair of serials that seldom cease to provide gripping listening no matter your chosen venue of aural consumption. Does “Logic” still follow the roadmap presented by Cyber-tales gone by a little too rigidly at times? Sure, but its stirring explorations of warped human psyches – combined with Adams’ own study in “Rise” of our dangerous strides towards godhood of late – ensure that it’s nonetheless a far superior beast to “Conquest of Far”, particularly with Briggs taking such unnerving pride in chronicling Pertwee / Treloar’s proper first encounter with the Cybermen.

This reviewer has spoken before on the matter of whether Big Finish’s abundant New Series productions – see Tales from New Earth, The Churchill Years Volume 2, Gallifrey: Time War and The Diary of River Song Series 3 in 2018’s opening quarter alone – threaten to overshadow their Classic Series output if they’re not careful. Provided that the studio keeps producing such captivating jaunts into the lives of Doctors past, though, then their listeners, stars, scribes and directors should have nothing to worry about in terms of the job security that Hartnell-McGann’s incarnations will maintain going forward.

And buck down…see you next year for Volume 5 at the same Bessie-time, same Bessie-place!