Maker of Demons (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Maker Of Demons (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matthew J Elliott

Directed by Ken Bentley


Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Andrew Hall (Alonso/Gonzalo), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Miranda), Rachel Atkins (Juno), Ewan Goddard (Talpa), Aaron Neil (Stephano/Klossi/Trink/Setebos)


Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016

 

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”

The Tempest Act IV Scene I, William Shakespeare

 

This is a rather curious story which opens with the conclusion of a story set during the Doctor and Mel’s pre-Dragonfire adventures as they are thanked for brokering peace between the crew of the Duke of Milan and the inhabitants of the planet Prosper known as the Mogera. Fast forward a hundred years and the Doctor, Ace and Mel arrive to find something has gone badly wrong on Prosper which is still very much at the centre of a conflict of between the ‘Milanese’, descendants of the original Duke of Milan crew and the Mogera, the supposedly peace-loving inhabitants. The Doctor is horrified to discover that the conflict is a direct result of his own earlier interference and that he is the eponymous Maker of Demons.

Only a singularly unobservant individual would fail to notice that this story draws a large amount of reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, particularly with liberal use of character names such as Alonso and Miranda and even numerous quotes and paraphrases. This reviewer’s favourite coming towards the conclusion of the play when the Doctor advises the villain of the piece “your revels now are ended.” Writer Matthew J Elliott doesn’t get huge points for originality but spotting these references added to this reviewer’s enjoyment. One minus point near the beginning of the play came with a distinctly overwritten gag about Frank Sinatra. It seems rather brave of both the writer and Big Finish to include an interview in the extras in which Elliott admits that the story underwent a fairly drastic rewrite. However, the finished product proves to be a worthwhile listen albeit one not exactly packed with surprises.

The reunited dream team of Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Bonnie Langford prove once more that they have great potential for further development. It is perhaps slightly unfortunate that Ace is on her own for a large section of this story even though it does provide her with some enjoyable scenes with Talpa, who rather like Caliban in The Tempest, is a beast with an occasional intelligent side, well portrayed by Ewan Goddard. Being on her own with the Doctor also provides Mel with an opportunity to show off her companion credentials however hopefully future adventures will have Ace and Mel working together.

 

The concluding act of this reunion trilogy is not quite the stuff that dreams are made of but nonetheless it is an enjoyable adventure. With no details yet announced regarding next year’s audio adventures for the Seventh Doctor we can only hope that these will see the continuing adventures of Ace and Mel and follow up on the loose ends from ALifeofCrime. In the meantime, next month sees the welcome return of the Fifth Doctor and Turlough in the now traditional annual anthology release TheMemoryBank.





NightshadeBookmark and Share

Sunday, 4 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Nightshade (Credit: Big Finish / Lee Binding)

 Written By: Mark Gatiss,

Adapted By: Kyle C Szikora,

Directed By: Scott Handcock

 

CAST: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), 
John Castle (Edmund Trevithick), 
Samuel Barnett (Robin), Katherine Jakeways (Jill), 
Edward Harrison (Dr Hawthorne), 
Jonny Magnanti (Lawrence), Tom Price (Sgt Barclay)
and Carole Ann Ford (Susan)

Sound Design: Iain Meadow

Music: Blair Mowat

Cover Art: Lee Binding

Released: April 2016

BIG FINISH PRODUCTIONS

The Doctor and Ace arrive in Crook Marsham, in northern England, in the mid 20th Century. In normal circumstances they would be getting a feel for what trouble is in wait, and how to counter it. But the objective for the diminutive man, who has lived many lives and saved countless more, is to abdicate from the role of Time's Champion. His energetic and sometimes volatile female assistant cannot believe how withdrawn he has suddenly becomes, and how he desires to simply travel and be an observer. But he seems adamant, and his TARDIS seems to have purposely found the ideal place for relaxation: a 'sleepy' English village.

Yet business unusual typically rears its head. People are rendered powerless, as their most intense and personal memories are overriding all of their senses. And then bodies start to be deposited, left in a truly gruesome state of decay, and attracting swarms of insects.

Amidst this wave of nostalgia and death, is the real life appearance of creatures from the 'Professor Nightshade' show. Edmund Trevithick who played the title role is suddenly having to do more than relive his past acting duties through interviews. He must actually show true fortitude, and true heroics. His fellow villagers need help, and the two odd strangers calling themselves 'Doctor' and 'Ace' would seem to hold the answers to the multitude of questions.

*

As with Shakedown, reviewed on this site a few months back, the source material was an original novel featuring the Seventh Doctor, and published by Virgin during the 1990s. This particular audio release is a full cast dramatisation, and follows in the footsteps of other adaptations such as Love and War, and Damaged Goods. Those two novels, along with Nightshade, were written by men who would later have a major say in the direction of the 21st century brand of TV Doctor Who. 

Given the original book being of quite significant length, and having a number of deft subplots, what transpires here is a distinct pruning. This does work, though, in giving the two hour drama some urgency. Mark Gatiss provided a fundamentally straightforward core story, which made it accessible to virtually any given reader, and which was made memorable through strong characterisation and atmospheric suspense. Boiling down the original material to an entity that is more condensed is to admired, especially given the limited track record (in terms of official commercially released books/radio) by Kyle C Szikora.

 

Nightshade succeeds also in making the most of this particular incarnation of the main hero. The Seventh Doctor, as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy, is notable for his self-awareness and his depressive bouts of melancholy, as well as the other extremes of excitability, contempt and fury. The peaks and troughs, in terms of how different supporting characters fare in this story, match up well with our main protagonist's weary and deeply informed responses to the various events.

It is also laudable that this play does such a fine job of having a central romance, when much of the core elements of the production are pure 'Hammer Horror'. Ace is still very much the teenager full of powerful emotions that she has yet to fully harness, and she must try and make a choice over who to commit to when things hopefully are resolved - a fellow human being, or her alien confidante. In having such a down-to-earth and normal love interest for her in Robin (unlike, for example, Mike Smith or Captain Sorin) there is an added dimension of intrigue and engagement with the fates of the main players.

Also notable, is the effort to try and be realistic and show that those threatened by the Sentience are by no means purest of heart and soul. Dr Hawthorne in particular shows little regard for those that are below him in the career ladder, and has a rather bitter air of entitlement. But thanks to his engagement with the Doctor and Trevithick, there is something to be salvaged. Consequently, the overall impact of the play's events are that much more real and engaging, and not simply escapism. Additionally, later on in proceedings, the Doctor feels for the insect-like Sentience in a way, respecting its right to survive, but still knows he carries a responsibility to the rest of universe too.

 

A merely good adventure is usually made strong or outstanding by having a satisfying climax. In this adaptation, I am happy to say that the dénouement has plenty of time to play itself out. It is also given some real clout by having a nicely judged cameo with Susan, the Doctor's beloved grand-daughter, and how his anxiety over deciding to leave her on Earth still resonates six regenerations down the line.

With vibrant music, authentic sound effects, and a decisive director who knows how to harness his small but capable cast, Nightshade is a nice little treat from the spring of 2016. It shows the Sophie Aldred/ McCoy chemistry of yesteryear is every bit as strong and relevant as ever. In short: one to savour more than just once or twice for any fan of the Doctor Who universe.

 






Short Trips: Series 6 #1-3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen

Gardens of the Dead (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Gardens of the Dead
Written by Jenny T Colgan, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Mark Strickson
Released January 2016

 

Seeing Jenny T Colgan’s name on a by-line associated with a Doctor Who story usually indicates that the listener is in for a treat and GardensoftheDead is certainly no exception to this rule. The story is told entirely from the point of view of Turlough as so it is doubly a treat that Mark Strickson is on hand to narrate it. He gives some spot on impersonations of the other characters especially Tegan and the Doctor and it really feels as if it Turlough telling the story from the way Colgan has captured his personality. Another nice touch is that the story is set shortly after Turlough’s arrival in Mawdryn Undead and so he is still under the influence of the Black Guardian and we get to enjoy Strickson impersonating the late Valentine Dyall. The story centres on Turlough building a relationship with and eventually coming to the rescue of Nyssa who finds herself falling foul of a sinister influence in the eponymous gardens. However, the conclusion of the story then disappoints as it references Nyssa’s departure in the television story Terminus a short time later but doesn’t make any reference to the various audio adventures set post-Enlightenment which Turlough would go on to share with Nyssa. Despite losing points for overlooking a significant development of the Big Finish continuity universe, this remains an extremely well-written story and is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

Prime Winner (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Prime Winner
Written by Nigel Fairs, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Nicola Bryant
Released February 2016

 

This slightly odd story from the usually excellent Nigel Fairs is something of a curate’s egg. It finds the Doctor and Peri arriving on a space cruiser with an on-board casino where one of the players seems to having an extremely lucky day. The more curious aspect is that the gambler at the centre of the story apparently bears a strong resemblance to Peri’s step-father Howard. It is perhaps because this story seems to feature the more fractious season 22 relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri that this reviewer found the story didn’t gel as well as it might have although the relationship does show a hint of softening towards the end of the story. Also, there are a lot of continuity heavy references as a result of the appearance of ‘Howard’ including mentions of the Master and Kamelion as well as Necros mourning colours. This 42-minute story seems to become a little confused around the midway point when it takes on a rather repetitive Groundhog Day aspect but eventually reaches a satisfactory conclusion. The only disappointment is the slightly dismissive explanation for the central character’s resemblance to Howard, which ultimately serves to set up a final continuity punchline which unfortunately feels rather forced. Nicola Bryant gives a good reading and it will hopefully get to read some stronger stories in future.

Washington Burns (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Washington Burns
Written by Julian Richards, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Sophie Aldred
Released March 2016

This enjoyable short story from Julian Richards opens in July 1814 when the city of Washington was under siege from the British with the rather shocking revelation that Ace has just accidentally shot and killed a horse. It then becomes apparent that we are starting the story in the middle as the action moves back several weeks from Ace’s point of view to Washington in the 22nd century where she and the Doctor are on the trail of a mind parasite known as Cerebra which spreads through transmission of the written word. This is not an entirely novel concept and will call long time Big Finish listeners to mind of the Word Lord but still the threat is well realised within the confines of a single person narrative. There is an initial confrontation between the Doctor and Ace and the parasite’s commanding host body before it manages to escape into a time corridor. The action then moves forward, or rather back, to Ace’s present where it becomes apparent that the Doctor has cleverly infiltrated the British army to ensure that any books in which Cerebra might be hiding are destroyed. The story reaches a sinister conclusion with the suggestion that the parasite may yet have survived but there is at very least a strong suggestion that there is a bootstrap paradox which will result in Cerebra’s presence in the Washington of the future. Overall, aside from the slight misfire of the opening scene, this is one of the strongest and at only just over 30 minutes in more compact stories of the range and all the better for not outstaying its welcome. Definitely a worthwhile listen.





Fiesta of the Damned (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 25 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Fiesta Of The Damned

Written by Guy Adams
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Enzo Squillino Jnr (Juan Romero), Christopher Hatherall (George Newman), Owen Aaronovitch (Antonio Ferrando/Control Unit),
Tom Alexander (Luis/Phillipe)

Big Finish Productions
Released August 2016 (order from Amazon UK)

Picking up from Mel having rejoined the TARDIS crew in last month’s caper ALifeofCrime, the Doctor promises his companions “a taste of the real Spain.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much more real than 1938 when the Spanish Civil War was nearing its conclusion. The moral of the story is that history is real and being a part of it often hurts.

This rather neat play features a small cast but evokes the dark atmosphere of the impending victory for Fascist rule in Spain which would endure for nearly forty years after the time of this story. The opening scene featuring an attack on a group of Republican freedom fighters is one of more vividly realistic scenes you are ever likely to hear in a Big Finish audio drama, although perhaps not quite on a par with March’s ThePeterlooMassacre. This is not, however a purely historical tale, although the attempted alien conquest could be seen as symbolising the rise of fascism.

At the heart of this story however are the character interactions as there is some more great scenes between newly reunited companions Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred, particularly as Mel continues to realise that Ace has grown up a lot since her days of chucking nitro nine around. Both characters also interact well with the other characters in particular Ace’s relationship with English journalist George Newman, whose occasional chauvinism is nicely underplayed by Christopher Hatherall, and Mel’s relationship with Republican Juan Romero, a very sympathetic portrayal from Enzo Squillino Jr, which really forms the spine of the play.

Overall, this is a story about Mel being reminded of the cost of seeing history first hand and getting involved in real situations. It is to be hoped that next month’s offering, Maker of Demons, won’t see a parting of the ways for this newly reformed TARDIS trio as just like last month, this play has shown that there a lot of untapped potential here for future adventures.





Classic Doctors New Monsters: Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 9 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Classic Doctors New Monsters (Volume 1) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, James Goss, Andrew Smith
Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy,
Paul McGann

Released by Big Finish July 2016, order from Amazon UK

This reviewer confesses to have been pleasantly surprised as to how well the four stories in the box set all work to complement each other and the respective Doctors they feature. When this set was first announced there was a certain amount of scepticism about whether some of the visual gimmicks of the post 2005 creations would translate well to audio. Also, as the behind-the-scenes disc indicates there are only a finite number of “new” monsters which can be included without breaking continuity, as indicated by the presence in the fourth story of the Sontarans which do not seem much different to how they have already appeared in previous Big Finish outings and by the revelation that next year’s volume 2 will only be featuring three “new” monsters across four plays.

This collection gets off to a strong start with 14772’s Fallen Angels which uses the Weeping Angels ability to send their victims back through time to excellent effect as the Fifth Doctor encounters a twenty first century married couple who have fallen foul of an angel in the crypt of a church in Rome and ended up in the fifteenth century where they soon encounter Matthew Kelly’s wonderfully temperamental Michelangelo. Newlyweds Joel and Gabby are well played by Sacha Dhawan and Diane Morgan (unfortunately this reviewer found the latter’s presence reminded him of annoying alter-ego Philomena Cunk) and are clearly intended to remind listeners of Rory and Amy and there are some clear parallels to The Angels Take Manhattan. Overall, the story is very much an homage to Blink and the silent presence of the angels is well-realised through clever use of music and sound-design. None of these stories attempts to offer a genesis account for any of the monsters featured and this is very much to their benefit especially here where the Fifth Doctor is shown very much in parallel to the similarly youthful Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, a role which Peter Davison responds particularly well to.

Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is equally well suited to the second story of this set, particularly in the scenes with a courtroom setting. Simon Barnard and Paul MorrisJudoon in Chains is a clever tale which owes a debt to a number of well-known sources such as The Elephant Man and Pygmalion with one of the proto-companions even being called Eliza. Nicholas Briggs shows that the Judoon are capable of being much more than just space rhinos with a funny voice and the central character of Captain Kybo being a wonderfully nuanced performance. There is also a scene-stealing performance to enjoy from another Big Finish regular Nicholas Pegg as the wonderfully arch Meretricious Gedge.

The inclusion of one-off monsters the Sycorax for the third story of this set was initially suprising but James GossHarvest of the Sycorax proves that they have plenty of mileage left. Sylvester McCoy is reunited with former Red Kang Nisha Nayar who gives a great performance as Zanzibar, another great one-off in a collection full of similarly strong characters. There is also great support the rest of the cast, with particular mentions due to Giles Watling as the Sycorax Chief and Jonathan Firth as Cadwallader. This script has a great fast pace which definitely feels as if it could sit comfortably in a post-2005 series.

The set concludes in style with Andrew Smith’s The Sontaran Ordeal, which sits very much at the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life with the Time War beginning to make its presence felt. This is a solid final story which teams up Paul McGann with Josette Simon as Sarana Teel, an unlikely companion who just wants to bring peace to her planet. Her horror as she realises that the impact of the Time War means that there can never be lasting peace is wonderfully portrayed and her final confrontation with the Doctor gives a clear nod towards the inevitable events of The Night of the Doctor. Christopher Ryan and Dan Starkey also give excellent performances as variations on their new series Sontarans. Above all, this final story provides a hint of exciting things to come in next year’s much anticipated prequel to Big Finish’s War Doctor series, The Eighth Doctor: The Time War.

Overall, this is a set of four very different but equally enjoyable stories with too many highlights to mention individually. Based on the form of this collection and most of Big Finish’s other new series titles, the second volume also promises to be something special.

 





A Life of Crime (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 15 July 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
A Life of Crime (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Ginny Holder (Gloria/Secretary), Des McAleer (Lefty Lonnigan), Stephen Hagan (Nathan Later), Harry Myers (Atomon/Sperovore Banker/Steward), John Banks (Mayor/Sperovore Auditor/Sperovore Financer)

 Released by Big Finish July 2016 - buy on Amazon UK

The first in the latest trilogy of adventures seeks to answer the question of what happened to Melanie Bush after the Doctor left her on Iceworld with the nefarious criminal Sabalom Glitz or “bilgebag” as Ace still prefers to call him.

Despite not appearing in person, Glitz casts a long shadow over this story having apparently run out on Mel leaving her to pay off his debts to the intergalactic criminal underworld. Whilst for the Doctor and Ace, the events of Dragonfire were years ago, it’s apparently been a much shorter span of time for the girl from Pease Pottage since her “days like crazy paving” came to an end and Bonnie Langford inhabits the role as if she is returning after a short span of time rather than the best part of three decades.

For those of us now used to seeing her as the maternal Carmel Kazemi in EastEnders, it’s a joy that she is able to recreate her younger persona so effortlessly. It is also a joy to hear her reunited with both Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, even though their performances seem more in keeping with season 24 than their later stories. Despite the fact that this story is presumably meant to be set at an indeterminate time after the Doctor and Ace’s audio adventures with Hex and Hector, Ace seems to have regained her somewhat more youthful persona and spends the whole story affectionately calling Mel by her old nickname “Donut”, possibly more often than she ever used it on screen.

Dragonfire is not the only television story referenced by ALifeofCrime which also manages to incorporate references to Time and the Rani and Hell Bent (clearly a favourite at Big Finish Towers) amongst others. Also referenced are the popular television series Hustle and the Sperovores are creatures straight from the pages of Lovecraft.

Aside from the three leads who will remain reunited for the next two Big Finish main range outings at least, the other highlight of this play is Ginny Holder as the enigmatic Gloria who appears to have unfinished business at the end of the story and so will likely return before long.

Overall, whilst very much of a lighter tone to the last month’s pseudo-epic TheTwoMasters, this is an enjoyable tale with Mel once again proving that as a character she still has a lot of potential to be explored. Those who look back with nostalgic fondness towards season 24 despite its faults will find this a rewarding listen.