The Wreck of the World (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Wreck Of The World (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Timothy X Atack
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Cast
Wendy Padbury (Zoe Heriot/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Judith Roddy (Commander Lorne), Adam Newington (Twenty), Don McCorkindale (Porthintus), Richenda Carey (Professor Blavatsky).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Originally Released December 2017

The Wreck of the World is a rare case of a Doctor Who episode title both poetic and literal. "The World" is the name of a long lost colony ship, a huge vessel sent out from a dying Earth like a message in a bottle. But its wreck has now been found, it’s crumbling metal bones creaking and shifting in protest as human feet step upon it for the first time in thousands of years. And naturally, one of the first things encountered by the expedition blunt and pragmatic Commander Lorne leads to the World is a funny little crumpled man, a Scotsman and a petite genius in a silvery catsuit.

The mutual suspicions that are the bread and butter of many Part Ones are present and correct here, but done with unusual charm. In particular, the expedition’s resident muscle, Porthintus, is a fun mish-mash of a Kroton, a Klingon, and the archetypical dictionary-swallowing NCO. The double act that emerges between him and Jamie lends an extra spark to the two groups teaming up, as they alternate between trying to beat the hell out of each other (Porthintus doing a little less ‘trying’ and a little more ‘beating’) and a jovial bond between soldiers. In parallel, Zoe teams up with her own opposite number, Twenty, though this is a bit less successful as it hinges on them both being ‘processed’ humans with artificially expanded intelligences and limited emotional range – something perhaps briefly mentioned about Zoe on TV but is depicted here into as essential an element of her character as being Vulcan is to Star Trek’s Spock.

Needless to say, there’s more to worry about than whether Lorne and company are pirates or genuine in their desire to rescue the artefacts of thousands of years of ancient Earth, from ancient Babylonian stones to early 20th century steam trains, and bring them to museums. Soon enough there’s an army of zombies to contend with, as the mysteriously undead occupants of the long broken down cryogenic chambers emerge by the hundred and swarm to overcome our heroes. A keen sense of menace and claustrophobia hangs over the whole story, and scenes of Porthintus, Jamie and Zoe making desperate scrambles through pipes while the former colonists close in, or of games of hide and seek (or hunt the needle) among the shadows and relics of the museum decks evoke the likes of Aliens and Pandorum.

Although, like other Early Adventures, we get narration it’s probably the least unintrusive yet, simply fading into the background for the most part. It takes a little while for Wendy Padbury to warm up to sounding like her four decades younger self, but by the second episode it’s hard to notice any difference and if Zoe seems a little sterner and more remote that’s largely down to a script that emphasizes that aspect of her character above all else. Frazer Hines’ hit-and-miss Second Doctor is sadly back to mostly missing the mark, though that’s largely down to a script that maintains such a high pace throughout that his Doctor doesn’t get as much room for the wit or character moments that Hines excels at.  In compensation, it’s a very good story for Jamie, who really shines here, both in the script and in Hines' good humoured performance. Plus, it has a sweet and melancholic maintenance droid that, with shades of D84 in The Robots of Death, will leave you a bit sad when she doesn’t hop aboard the TARDIS at the end.

All in all, The Wreck of the World is a fine, tense, survival thriller which excels in the sense of atmosphere it creates about the dying World. If some of the cast feel like an alternate take on well established characters, exploring roads largely untaken on screen, then it only distracts a little from an exciting entry in the Early Adventures series which matches the basics of the typical Troughton tale with the scares of a more modern horror film.

 





The First Doctor Adventures Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Matt Fitton, Guy Adams
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), James Dreyfus (The Master), Raymond Coulthard (Robac / Servers / Dalmari), Sian Reeves (Tanna), Deli Segal (Reena), Jackson Milner (Patrick), Cory English (Daniel), Carolina Valdes (Rosalita), Ronan Summers (O'Connell), Christopher Naylor (Policeman / Man with Ladder / Gang Member / Henry). Other parts played by members of the cast.

David Bradley won over many a Who fan's heart with his performance as William Hartnell in the 2013 docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time, released as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations.  He may not be the spitting image of Hartnell, or even really sound anything like him...but he managed to capture that spirit and essence of the actor, to the point where you believed he was Hartnell, or even the Doctor.  Bradley got a crack at being the legitimate Doctor this Christmas in Twice Upon a Time, and he has also recorded this box set for Big Finish (the first of at least two Volumes), featuring two stories covering a total of eight episodes. 

This boxset not only brings Bradley back as the Doctor, but also three of his co-stars from the TV movie are reunited to play his original companions.  It's sort of an odd concept when you think about it, they've completely recast the original cast of the show, with people who previously didn't play these roles, but the actors behind those roles.  But yet...this set really works well.  I mentioned in my review of Big Finish's The Morton Legacy, that I personally felt the mixing the audiobook format with the full-cast format didn't really work, and I suggested that while it might not be everyone's favorite idea, recasting with a good soundalike, might be a better option for recreating the feel of tht era. This set does a full recast of everyone, even the actors that are still with us...and the results are actually great. This boxset did a fantastic job of recapturing the tone and feel of that first season of the series. Even down to each episode in both serials in the set having their own individual titles!

The first story in the set is The Destination Wars is great science fiction story featuring a previously unknown early version of the Master.  The Master wasn't originally introduced until the Third Doctor's time on screen, so The First Doctor never face him on screen, yet this story feels like it could've been a 60s tale, and the story is written as if this is the first time the Doctor has met the Master away from Gallifrey, their first run in as hero and enemy, and it sort of sets up the kind of relationship they would have in the 70s and and 80s.  James Dreyfus is also, it should be noted, a pretty fantastic Master.  Very much like a proto-Delgado...just sinister and methodical.  It was made clear in some of the behind the scenes stuff in this set that he has recorded more stories as this incarnation of the Master.  I'd love to hear those!

That story ends with it's final episode leading right into the events of opening episode of the the second story...and this time it is a pure historical story!  Just as the early days of the show almost always would have a sci-fi story followed by a pure historical, and almost always lead directly into each other, this set follows suit.  This second story, The Great White Hurricane, has our heroes get embroiled with gangs and a woman trying to escape her abusive spouse in 1888 New York City, during the Great Blizzard that occured that year.  Much like my view of those early seasons, I personally prefer the sci-fi over the historcial.  But like quite a few historicals, there is some good stuff in here, and a part of me wishes the show could do a pure historical from time to time. 

Bottom line, this set is great for anyone who loved the First Doctor's era. Everything from the kinds of stories, to the more subdued sound effects and slower pace, it just feels like it has been plucked from 1963.  Bradley and co. do a great job, and I particularly liked the addition of James Dreyfus as the Master.  This is top notch stuff, highly recommended!





UNIT: EncountersBookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 December 2017 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
UNIT: Encounters (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Matt Fitton, Roy Gill, Andrew Smith, John DorneyDirected By: Ken BentleyJemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi), Karina Fernandez (Captain Gonsalves/ Phoebe Breckenridge), Lucy Fleming (Alice Donelly), Matthew Cottle (Ben Donelly/ Overseer), David Jonsson (Corporal James Morley), Dan Starkey (Marshal Skar/ Commander Merx/ Sontaran Escapee), James Wilby (Professor John Torrance), Beth Goddard (Christine Colley), Barnaby Edwards (Satellite voice), Jot Davies (Guerilla/ AIDE/ Soldier) and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks). Other parts played by members of the cast. Producer David Richardson. Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney. Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Having four series already under its belt, Big Finish bravely decided to try something a little experimental for the fifth series of UNIT. Whereas previous sets have relied on a single thread and usually a single villain (The Nestines, Tengobushi, Silence and Silurians/Sea Devils respectively) the novel approach was taken here to have each story a separate adventure with a new foe. Of course that’s not strictly true, as there is a loose thread concerning an organisation known as the Auctioneers, though this only really comes to the forefront in the third adventure and even then is never fully explored, leaving the possibility open for a rematch in a later set. Anyway! What makes UNIT Encounters so enjoyable is the experimental nature of it. All the team are present and correct (except of course for Sam Bishop who is off on another Bondian adventure) but the stories they are involved in vary from jungle espionage tales, to ghost stories, to out and out comedies.

Opening the set is Matt Finton’s ‘The Dalek Transaction’, which takes the team to the jungles of central America on an undercover mission to buy a captured Dalek from a group of guerrilla rebels. Action packed and with a breakneck pace, it’s a hell of an opener, highlighting the real genius of what makes the audio UNIT based series work; the ability to fly all over the world and feature humongous set pieces that a BBC budget simply wouldn’t allow. The team are all seen working together in this story, with Ramon Tikaram’s Colonel Shindi given a real chance to shine. However undoubtedly the show is stolen by Guest actress, Karina Fernandez as Captain Gonsalves. Her interactions with Jemma Redgrave are some of the most enjoyable scenes in the entire set as despite being from completely opposite ends of the spectrum, they understand each other as the commanders of their respective troops. Unfortunately the story isn’t a total success and that’s mostly due to it’s titular villain. Single Dalek stories have been somewhat out-played now and although Finton tries to inject a few hints of this Dalek being ‘something more’ it never really goes anywhere and the stories twists and turns never really go anywhere. However if you allow yourself to become lost in the action and character moments, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Invocation is the next story and see’s Kate investigating happening’s at an old house that still appears to be on the UNIT books, despite having no projects there for decades. Meanwhile a mysterious ‘Grey Man’ is sighted across London. Highlighting the tonal shifts that make this set so enjoyable, we go from an action packed opener to a ghost story in the classic vein. Featuring dark secrets from UNITs past and highlighting the darker side of Kates character, I found this to be one of the highlights of the set. Admittidly a lot slower than the other stories, Invocation takes time to explore it’s mystery and towards the end really puts Kate into the centre, stressing her family ties in a far more rewarding way than Moffat’s interpretation allowed for. Perhaps a little derivative at points for some, it was a welcome change of pace for the UNIT franchise.

The Sontaran Project on the other hand I found to be perhaps the weakest of the bunch. Putting the Auctioneer plot front and centre, what results is something of a mess. At the end of the story we still know decidedly little about them, which if they return in a later series I’m all for, keeping them enigmatic and in the background makes them appear a formidable foe. The problem is the story meanders and plods along, torn between a plot concerning experimentation on Sontarans in order to clone private armies (an interesting concept) and revealing a little bit concerning the Auctioneers. Neither of these plots are given particular emphasis and neither feel like there’s any real threat. The Sonatarans turn up, join forces with UNIT, confront a foe we discover more about and the story ends. Dan Starkey is once again given a chance to shine but really that’s the only highlight of what otherwise feels like an attempt to give some connection to the various stories.

However all is redeemed in ‘False Negative’. Far from the explosive finales of previous sets, Encounters ends with an all-out comedy, centring on the hilarity that ensures when Osgood and Josh are flung into a parallel world that may or may not be a version of the one from Inferno. With much made of the fact that the Osgood and Josh of that world are not only unashamedly evil, but also in a highly sexualised relationship, I found myself laughing out loud at several points. False Negative is certainly not going to be to everyone’s taste and I think individuals expecting an Inferno sequel or pastiche will certainly be disappointed but it is immensely fun. John Dorney has written a superb and highly amusing script that gives the cast (particular Ingrid Oliver and James Joyce) a real chance to shine and is another jewel in this sets crown. Choosing to end the set in this way was a brave and bold move and one that has to be respected.

With three highly enjoyable stories and one dud, UNIT Encounters took a lot of chances and for the most part they payed off. Whilst I may not have enjoyed the handling of their story in The Sontaran Project, I was certainly intrigued by the Auctioneers and look forward to any possible rematch between them and UNIT. However the real joys of this set came not from the loose overarching plot but from the experimental nature of the stories. A lot of brave decisions were made with this set and the production team have to be commended for willing to do something different.  





Doctor Who - Short Trips - O TannenbaumBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
O Tannenbaum (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Anthony Keetch, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast Peter Purves (Narrator)

"His old body is wearing a bit thin......It happens to us all."

 

How very apt that Big Finish should give us a festive Short Trips, featuring the first Doctor (the original you might say!) ahead of this  Christmas day television outing?

 

The story opens with the TARDIS materialising into what seems like an idealised Christmas scene. As Steven and the Doctor step out, they see that there's snow all around, along with a forest of pine trees and, just off in the distance, a cosy looking cottage. However (as always) everything s not quite as it seems, because in the  cottage the pair find a young girl, Greta, and her Grandfather, Herman, cowering from an unlikely alien threat outside.

 

The story is a joy to listen to, and this is a lot down to Peter Purves narration, which starts off warm and gentle, but slowly leaves the listener feeling somewhat claustrophobic and quite tense. His impersonation of the first Doctor is almost perfect. Between Antony Keetch's writing talent, and Purves vocal skills we find ourselves suddenly in the company of William Hartnell, which is a lovely Christmas present in itself.

 

O Tannenbaum is essentially a tightly written, base under siege story, with a taste of first contact thrown in for good measure. What is a nice surprise though, is, as was the original intention of Doctor Who, the story also manages to sneak in some historical facts for the listeners to ponder over.

 

The words O Tannenbaum, of course is German for O Christmas Tree, and this short story will ensure that you keep you keep that real tree you have in the living room well watered and alive for as long as possible - otherwise, you never know it's loved ones might just come looking for it - and you!

 

As Steven Taylor / Peter Purves rounds off this story with a cheeky  "A very merry Christmas to all of you at home." you will walk away from this festive little treat with a lovely, warm feeling.

 

Merry Christmas!





The War Master: Only the Good (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 22 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs, Janine H Jones, James Goss, Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi (The Master), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Jacqueline King (Nius), Deirdre Mullins (Osen), Mark Elstob (Glortz), Rachel Atkins (Major Desra), Hannah Barker (Phila), Jonny Green (Cole Jarnish), Jacob Dudman (Arcking 12 Computer), Emily Barber (Elidh), Robert Daws (Anvar), Nerys Hughes (Mrs Wilson), Jonathan Bailey (Marigold Lane Computer)

Released December 14, 2017

Derek Jacobi only made one appearance as the Master on television (ignoring his earlier non-canonical appearance as a Robot Master in the Scream of the Shalka cartoon), and for the most part, is true persona was hidden away. We really only got a brief glimpse of Jacobi as the actual Master, but it sure was a memorable 5 minutes!  So memorable that I still remember that moment when I first saw him declare himself the Master vividly, a whole decade on.  And while I loved Simm's fresh modern interpretation that followed, it was hard not to wish for just a bit more from Jacobi as the mad Time Lord. And hey...that is just where Big Finish is meant to come in. They don't disappoint.  I will warn, I don't delve to deep into anything, but there may be some SPOILERS ahead. Reader beware!

The set opens with Beneath the Viscoid, with the Master being hidden away from the Last Great Time War in a capsule under the viscous water of an ocean world. The Daleks are pursuing the Master and his TARDIS, but his TARDIS is leaking temporal energy. The Master poses as The Doctor, using the Doctor's reputation to gain the confidence of the team that finds him, but can he play both the humans and the Daleks for fools and find a new escape from the War?  Right off the bat Jacobi is excellent, though honestly who would doubt an actor of his calibre delievering anything less. You get the impression that he wanted to take a bigger bite out of the role than he was allowed time for in Utopia.

The second story in this collection, The Good Master, has the Master settled into the role of a medical doctor on a planet that is somehow protected from the effects of the Time War. He is posing in this do-gooder role for the exactly the reason you'd expect from him...to somehow control whatever power is keeping this one planet safe, the consequences of tampering with that be damned. Jacobi is again excellent, showcasing his range within this role, often playing his Master as a kinder gentlemen, before relishing in the moments where he goes full-on evil. 

The Sky Man is the third entry on the boxset, and it may very well be the best episode of the whole venture, which is somewhat odd considering that the Master's part is f not very promnient. But it is what the Master is up to behind the scenes that makes this such a great Master story. Taking Cole Jarnish, a young man from the previous story, along with him, the Master allows him the choice to save a single world that will soon be lost in the Time War.  They land on a quaint planet of farmers, all of whom stopped using technology fearing it would bring about their end (as they can see stars going out in the sky). Cole wants to save these people.  He goes abut fixing up worn out techology around the place, and falling in love with a girl.  But when everyone begins to get sick from some kind of fallout from the War...Cole attempts to save them all, including the woman he loves, by encasing them in Suits of Armour. He essentially makes a kind of Cybermen-type race by mistake. And he regrets his decision immediately.  

The events of The Sky Man lead directly into the final story The Heavenly Paradigm. The Master has a scheme to end the war, using a major Time Lord weapon which has been hidden away on Earth, in hopes that the Daleks will not find it.  The device will essentially take away all choice in the universe, making sure that only the right choices would be made by every individual.  Take the concept of Turn Left, which saw Donna seeing what her life had been if one day she turned right instead of left.  The choice she made had major repurcussions, she had to turn right for certain events to unfold...and this story bacisally has a device that says "let's make sure everyone Turns Left."  That is the kind of high concept weirdness I want in Doctor Who, particualy in the Time War storyline.  tTo power the machine, the Master needs a battery, and the only battery that will do is a paradox, say someone who was never meant to live and then went onto to save another race that was never meant to live and accidentally created monsters. Of course, The Master's latest scheme to use the Time War to his advantage and find a way to rule the Universe doesn't really pan out, and it leads him to hide away as Yana as we saw in Utopia

One of the things that I've rather enjoyed about Big Finish digging into the Time War, is that the story ideas can go in weird directions, play with Time, and have this weird ethereal element to it. They aren't just having battle scenes between Daleks and Tiem Lords, but they are telling stories that show what happens on the outskirts of this war, and the weirder effects of Time changing around characters and messing up the universe. The War Master: Only the Good is an excellent set of stories.  Jacobi is fantastic in the role, and it is lovely to hear him get a real full performance in the role. The stories in the set are fantastic, and for anyone who always wanted a little bit more of Jacobi in the role, here is your chance! This particular boxset can't be recommended enough.  






Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 18 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Credit: Big Finish)

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Read By: Duncan Wisbey
)Originally Released: September 2017

 

An unapologetically slight tale, The Switching jettisons having much of a plot at all in favour of some fun character moments grounded in the UNIT family dynamic.

Though the blurb makes a half hearted attempt to play coy, and the script takes its time to say it out loud, it’s pretty clear from the off that we’re getting a classic Freaky Friday scenario with a Time Lord twist. In a way, it’s such a perfect idea it’s almost a surprise we never saw a version from Letts and Dicks on screen though I’m not sure Jon Pertwee’s pride could have taken playing across from another actor doing their best impression of him. As it is, we get Duncan Wisbey doing a remarkable job of capturing the Third Doctor’s sibilance and that slightly ragged edge to his voice. Except this isn’t the Third Doctor, of course, but the Master.

Surprisingly charming and pragmatic as he makes a nuisance of himself at UNIT HQ, it’s a reminder that, back in the day, the Master didn’t tend to kill unless it actually advanced his agenda. Instead, quickly discovering that the Doctor’s TARDIS is in parts all over the place and not fit for making an escape from Earth in, he restricts himself to having a bit of fun at his best frenemy’s expense.If there’s a flaw, it’s the Master’s surprise that the Doctor is clearly so habitually rude and disrespectful to his UNIT colleagues (everyone reacts with slight suspicion as to why ‘the Doctor’ is being so nice and pleasant to them). It feels like the Master should know the Third Doctor better than that. All the supporting characters are perfectly drawn, however, with Jo in particular note perfect.

Essentially a throwaway novelty, it’s nicely wry humour and talented and flexible reader this is well worth the handful of coins and half hour of your time it will cost you.