Terror of the Sontarans (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Terror of the Sontarans (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by John Dorney and Dan Starkey

Directed by Ken Bentley

  Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Daniel O'Meara (Ketch), Jon Edgley Bond (Anvil Jackson/Technician Gyte), Andree Bernard (Tethneka/Carter/Thing #1 and #2), Dan Starkey (Field-Major Kayste/Skegg/Stodd), John Banks (Adjutant Commander Klath/Stettimer), John Dorney (Glarr).

Big Finish Productions – Released September 2015

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Having recently enjoyed the reunion of the Seventh Doctor and Mel in the most recently released trilogy of stories which concluded with last month’s Maker of Demons, now seems an apt time to review this concluding story to last year’s trilogy of adventures set during season 24 which also featured Sylvester McCoy andBonnie Langford, both clearly enjoying being reunited for the first time in a number of years.

Rather intriguingly, Big Finish regular John Dorney has teamed up with actor Dan Starkey, who is best known for portraying the new series iteration of the Sontarans, to produce this rather curious tale about the nature of fear. Big Finish are to be applauded for giving Starkey the chance to write for the Sontarans and he and several of the other cast members certainly seem to enjoy bringing them to life but the overall story itself is perhaps not the most original that this reviewer has ever heard.

The story itself finds the Doctor and Mel arrive at seemingly abandoned mining station on a planet with an inhospitable atmosphere. So far so traditional sci-fi. In due course they find a rather motley group of survivors – Ketch and Jackson are the sort of double-act that initially may remind listeners of typically roguish space farers of the classic series. They are both well portrayed by Daniel O’Meara and Jon Edgley Bond respectively. Anvil Jackson in particular is larger than life character who provides most of the comic relief but proves to have a key role in later proceedings. They are joined in their captivity by the quasi-religious Tethneka (one of several roles played by Andree Bernard).

It transpires that the three surviving crew members have been the subject of experiments by the Sontarans, who have also been attacked by an unknown force and unusually have reported being afraid. Of course, some more Sontarans, angry at the disgrace of such a report being made soon arrive and seek to get to the bottom of events.

The Doctor and Mel spend a large amount of the story separated which gives Mel the chance to learn more about the crew whilst the Doctor seeks to get the heart of what has really caused the terror of the Sontarans. The story’s conclusion is reasonably enjoyable if not hugely surprising.

Overall, this is not the most memorable of entries in the Big Finish main range but it is still a solidly plotted enjoyable story with a good cast of characters. 

 

TerroroftheSontarans is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk






Illegal Alien (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 19 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Illegal Alien (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Mike Tucker + Robert Perry
Read By: Sophie Aldred
Voices Of The Cybermen: Nicholas Briggs


Publisher: BBC Audio
Released: 28th July 2016

Duration: 543 Minutes 

American private detective Cody McBride witnesses the arrival of the sphere, and is certain it opened, allowing some alien being to depart its confines. But the British military will only credit McBride's account of events as a German weapon, that has 'accidently failed' to work. It is November 1940 and Britain is enduring the Blitz, with the Second World War dominating human affairs. As the Luftwaffe wreak devastation on London, other dangers are not far away. A brutal murderer, branded as 'The Limehouse Lurker', is at large around the streets of the capital that have sustained attack. And a mysterious silver sphere has fallen from the sky. Its contents could bring massive change to the fortunes of the two sides in the War.

However, soon he encounters two bizarrely dressed people that call themselves 'the Doctor' and 'Ace', and they very much give credit to his account. And many more odd events are about to happen now McBride is involved with people who can seemingly navigate the fourth dimension of space and time...

 

Once again, as with other books featuring earlier Doctors, BBC Audio has released another such title to bring to full life a story that was popular enough with fans and general readers to merit a re-release in recent times.  When this story first hit shelves in late 1997, it perhaps came across as rather 'traditional' and 'safe', given how many original novels of the decade aimed to break new ground. But in its defence, it was originally conceived as a properly made TV story featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Of course, the infamous cancellation of the classic series put paid to any realisation of the story onscreen. And if anything the story would have been very ambitious for TV, and here benefits from expansion to a full novel.

The narrative fundamentally is a simple one, but does have a notable number of subplots and allows for certain characters' back stories to be sketched out in detail. For the most part, the listener is left in no doubt over the virtues or vices of the supporting characters.

On one side we have clearly brave and good-intentioned people such as McBride and Chief Inspector Patrick Mullen. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, are a number of deplorable Nazis and/or their conspirators, with notable antagonists being Captain Hartmann, Colonel Schott, and the creepy Mr Wall.

But, then there is one key character that is more shades of grey, and who is a real intellectual match for the Doctor. He almost evokes some sympathy, but his methods are still deplorable, and he clearly leans towards the amoral and indifferent stance, despite all the suffering and devastation going on around him. Despite this story being nigh on 20 years old, I will leave it to the individual listener to go on the path of seeing which character I am describing.

 

Mike Tucker and Robert Perry not only know how to pace their story well, but how to achieve effective inter-relations between the personalities that populate the novel. There is plenty of fine material for either the 'one-to-one' or 'group' dynamic, with it being most effective when featuring the leading lights, that are the Seventh Doctor, and his still very exuberant teenage protégé Ace. The authors are well-versed in the McCoy section of Classic Doctor Who, and there is never a moment when the complex character that is the Seventh Doctor feels any less than authentic. And, in terms of this being not just a dramatic story, but a thriller as well, there is sufficient depiction of war and monstrosity in equal measure.  Cyber body horror is done very well here, and the full lethal potential of the Cybermats is also explored in commendable fashion. Some aspects of Cyber-Lore, that were new to this book at the time, have since gone on to feature in New Who stories such as The Pandorica Opens and Nightmare In Silver.

 

Sophie Aldred is as impressive here as in any audio book or full cast drama I have heard her in previously. In the audio release Dark ConvoyI had a small reservation with her being forced to convey a group of characters that were all male. But with time to use the prose and character development here, she grasps fully the opportunities afforded to her to show her vocal range. And yet again, her own defining voice/performance of Ace works just as well, as when first unveiled in 1987 

The actual vocals for the Cybermen are handled by Nicholas Briggs - who has clearly become the definitive voice of the metal conquerors at this point - and work well, both in tying with modern TV stories, but also a vintage 1960s TV escapade. This bit of continuity work is given just a passing bit of exposure in the wholly satisfying epilogue to the novel.

There are some fine bursts of incidental music, which never linger too long, but do add successfully to the overall impact of this audiobook. They are particularly strong when a chapter ends or one of the four 'episodes' reaches a climax, (with Tucker and Perry being determined to retain the original TV serial structure in this book version). The 'shooting' signature noise designed to evoke the Blitz is quite effective in its unsettling intent, and helps remind listeners this is not just an entertaining work of fiction but something with roots in our own world history and reality.

Ultimately, Illegal Alien is best described as a rattling good yarn. It is worthy of unequivocal recommendation for anyone who feels the Seventh Doctor and Ace TV stories deserved more entries, than what eventually transpired in actuality. 





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.