The Two Doctors (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 9 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Two Doctors (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Robert Holmes
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

I have never been particularly enamored with The Two Doctors. While it was nice to get the relief of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back into the show during a season that was lead by the bickering characterizations of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant (neither of whom I consider to blame for that nonsense), the story itself was still poorly written, somewhat scattershot, and a bit muddled. I can ignore strange contiuity issues for the Second Doctor and Jamie, because the show's contiuity is the biggest mess in all of franchise contiuities...but I just didn't find the story engaging at all.

So we come to Robert Holmes novelization of his episode, now brought to life in audiobook form by the Sixth Doctor himself - Colin Baker. In general, I think this version is better. I attempted to rewatch the TV version, but the tone kind of turned me off.  But the book has better characteriations, more gruesome death scenes for characters, and flows a lot better.  For instance you spend a lot of time with the Second Doctor and Jamie before cutting to the Sixth Doctor and Peri.  In the show, they cut back and forth early on, and it is more muddled and doesn't flow as well. I think one of the weirdest things about it is that it is a multi-Doctor story for no real reason. The book fixes some of those story flow issues. 

That isn't to say that the story is suddenly really interesting, because it is still mediocre. The villain's evil plot is too vague, the Sontarans don't really do much, and the threat to the Doctor seems minimal.  Having the Second Doctor's life in danger might actually be interesting if it seemed as if the Sixth Doctor could be wiped from existance, but they never really go for it. I never feel like the threat is real. 

I think multi-Doctor tales need to be saved up for special occasions. Anniversary's are worth it. Or in the case of Time Crash, as a comedy sketch for charity.  But this episode did it just for fun, and since the story has no real need for Patrick Troughton or the Second Doctor to return, it just seems like a lame reason to bring him back. It diminishes the excitement of having two Doctors together when it isn't for a big occasion and is just in the middle of a season.

As for the audiobook itself, Colin Baker does a great job reading it. That should come as no surprise to anyone that has heard his excellent work for Big Finish. He makes the story seem far more interesting than it actually is, and reads with gusto. It will alwys be a bit of a bummer that this charismatic guy got such a short straw on TV.  Just two seasons worth of pretty horrible stories in an obnoxious costume. When a mediocre story like this is on the better end of his television output, that really is a shame.

I don't think this audiobook is particularly worth it. Baker's narration is top notch, but it is all in service of a lame story. 



Associated Products

DVD - Region 1
Released 8 Mar 2011
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (Story 141)
$24.98
DVD - Region 2
Released 8 Sep 2003
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors [Region 2]
$13.02
Audio
Released 3 Sep 2015
28% off
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors: A 6th Doctor Novelisation



Doctor Who - Short Trips - MEL-EVOLENT (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 6 March 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Mel-evolent (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Simon A Forward
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Bonnie Langford

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released:  February 2018
Running Time: 35 minutes)

 
Mirror, mirror on the wall, something stalks the TARDIS halls…..
 
A glimpsed reflection in a dark and dusty corner leads Mel on a journey Through The Looking Glass.
 
Witchcraft and shadows reign.
 
Mel must face the evil at the heart of it all, while the Doctor battles to save the TARDIS determined to prove it’s not only bigger on the inside but darker. Much darker.
 
As alluded to in  Big Finish's blurb for Mel-evolent (above), this latest Short Trip opens up a fairytale world that borrows a lot from classic literature, but essentially boils down to Mel having to imitate an evil queen who happens to look startlingly like her in order to stop the TARDIS being torn apart by the goblin-like Thrusks.
 
The story does conjure some great visual imagery, especially in the huge theatre hidden away in the TARDIS (the theatre rather handily has a costume department that includes a ready-made evil witch outfit). There is also the return of the Time-Space Visualiser, which was first introduced 1965's The Chase.
 
I new timelord is introduced in this story; Lady Tamara. In quite an interesting twist Lady Tamara has had to enter a constant state of regeneration in order to help her deal with the Thrusk.
 
There are some fun elements in this story, but sadly for me, it didn't all quite gel. I was never a fan of Mel when the character was on television, and this story didn't make me warm to her any further. It was also all a bit predictable and theatrical for my taste.
 
Mel-evolent is written by Simon A Forward and directed by Helen Goldwyn. Narration duties are of course carried out by Bonnie Langford
 

Mel-evolent is available now, from Big Finish.






Bloodtide (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Bloodtide (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: Tuesday 31st July 2001
Running Time: 2 hours
Cover by: Clayton Hickman

Silurian stories can be oddly one note. To an extent, for much of their existence, the Silurians haven’t been so much a monster as a story trope – the same singular story retold in various ways. It’s understandable - Doctor Who and the Silurians is a magnificent piece of work and a highlight of early seventies Doctor Who. And divorced from its central conflict of newly awakened ancient owners of the Earth having to choose between living alongside the upstart humanity or retaking their world by force, the Silurians are arguably just a bunch of standard reptile men with an inexplicable heat ray in their forehead.  But with The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep and The Hungry Earth all ploughing the same vein of inspiration, it’s a mine that risks being played out.  Love it or loathe it, at least Dinosaurs on a Spaceship succeeded in being a completely different type of Silurian story.

The same can’t really be said of Bloodtide. Hitting many of the same standard plot beats in its first half, we meet a newly awoken Silurian colony, a plot to cleanse the Earth of the ‘apes’ infesting its surface, and a power struggle between the group’s more militant and more tolerant factions, you’d be forgiven for thinking you know exactly where it’s going almost from the beginning of the journey.

However, to its credit, it does try hard to distinguish itself and add a new wrinkle to the well-worn formula. Unfortunately, the main way it does this is to transplant some familiar Doctor Who ideas from elsewhere in its canon. I’m not sure the Silurians were ever crying out for their own Davros style figure yet, in the person of Tulok, that’s what we get. Cunning, sly and political, Tulok is less up front than his reptilian predecessors and rather than openly confronting any hint of weakness from his own kind with challenges, he lies and wheedles to push them into conflict. More than that, with shadows of Davros’ conspiracy to destroy the Kaled Dome, Tulok proves himself more than prepared to kill huge numbers of his fellow Silurians in order to ensure his own mad scientist dreams come true.

Another major influence here merged with the Genesis of the Daleks vibe, is classic British SF horror Quatermass and the Pit. For the abomination which Tulok has genetically engineered to the disgust of his peers aren’t Daleks… they’re us. And, moreover, like the Martian altered humans of Kneale’s film his tinkering with ancient human biology has given Tulok a backdoor into the human brain – giving his Silurians third eye a somewhat bizarre new superpower: mind control.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Genesis of the Daleks, Quatermass and the Pit; this is a high-quality crop of ingredients to mix into your creation but the resulting concoction doesn’t really work. Part of this is the way they combine to fight against the script’s other big idea: Charles Darwin. It’s always been one of the tightropes which Doctor Who has had to walk in showing aliens engaging in human history – trying not to take away from either the heights of human accomplishment nor the depths of very human evil by giving either the credit or the blame to outside influences. A young Darwin encountering a Silurian colony beneath the Galapagos was always going to risk portraying him as not developing his Theory of Evolution through hard work and genius but simply reporting on what he’d learned. But Bloodtide ups the ante by having him confronted by evidence that the human race was engineered, not the result of some natural process. It tries to turn this into a benefit by having him declare his faith in evolution and the ascent of man despite the evidence of his own experience – a faith which to an extent allows him to fight off Tulok’s psychic control – but that, with its echoes of Curse of Fenric,  simply positions evolution as a belief in the same category as religion or socialism rather than a simple scientific fact. It all makes for a rather confused way of praising Darwin for his vision.

Ultimately, Bloodtide gathers some high-quality parts from well-renowned suppliers but assembles them in a way that causes them to grind painfully against one another. If nothing else it illustrates just how hard it really is to try and play with the Silurian formula.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 23 Jul 2001
Bloodtide (Doctor Who)



The Apocalypse Element (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Apocalypse Element (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)

Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Cast
Colin Baker
(The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Lalla Ward (Romana); Karen Henson (Monitor Trinkett); James Campbell (Assistant Monitor Ensac); Andrea Newland (Commander Vorna); Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell); Toby Longworth (Monan Host); Michael Wade (The President); Alistair Lock  and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices); Andrew Fettes (Vrint / Captain Raldeth); Neil Corry (Alien Delegate)
Produced by: Justin Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell
Originally Released: August 2000

The Apocalypse Element, made in 2000, makes for remarkable listening eighteen years on. It’s not just that it features the Daleks and the Time Lords at loggerheads, either. After all, Genesis of the Daleks sees the Time Lords attempting to kill the Daleks in the cradle, while Resurrection of the Daleks sees Davros’ children return the favour by attempting to assassinate the High Council. The Seventh Doctor even makes sure to declare he’s acting in his capacity as Lord President before he blows up Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks.  All of these and more haver latterly being subject to attempts to pinpoint them as the start of the Time War.

No, the truly astonishing thing is the way in which it all feels so very like the modern series’ vision of what a Time War is like. The Daleks fit so perfectly with their recent appearances, it’s difficult not to picture their bronze, rivetted travel machines as they carve their way through Gallifrey’s Capitol, exterminating everything in sight. They have a relentless, unstoppability rarely seen on TV in the 20th century but very familiar to viewers in the 21st. A scene where they destroy the lights because, after all, they can see in infrared and their prey can’t could have come straight from Dalek or The Parting of the Ways, five years after this was released.

The counterpoint to this, though, is that the Time Lords are a far cry from the battle hardy cynics whose very name terrifies or enrages those caught up in the War unwillingly, but are much more like their predecessors as seen in the likes of Arc of Infinity – people who talk a good talk about their own power but go hopelessly to pieces when the pressure’s on. In fact, this may be the least flattering depictions of the Time Lords yet as here even their paranoia, distrust and disdain towards the rest of the universe goes to the wall and they actually let the Daleks in by accident, during a hair brained impulse to steal another species’ time machine and see if it’s better than theirs. Though even this depiction winds up feeding into the modern revival of Doctor Who via a conclusion that sees the Time Lords swear to toughen themselves up and prepare for the inevitable rematch.

The Daleks’ over-arching scheme, like all the best Dalek schemes, is utterly bonkers. They’ve found a way to destroy the entire universe (thanks to the ‘Apocalypse Element’ of the title) and are now approaching the problem of weaponizing it from an unusual angle  – finding a way to use this technological terror without wiping out themselves too.Near the end, there's a little "We totally meant to do that!" explanation for why the Daleks would pursue such an obvioyusly flawed plan, but it's about as convincing as a small child expounding on exactly how that crayon got up its nose, and how it was actually all a completely reasonable idea.

It’s possibly this type of melodrama which allows The Apocalypse Element to succeed where many other attempts to create a grim and gritty tale in the style of 1980s Eric Saward stories have failed. It never tips into true nastiness, even in the scenes revealing Romana has been a Dalek slave for twenty years, slowly being worked to death, and doesn’t revel in any kind of nihilism. While it pulls in just enough of the silliness present in all the best Doctor Who as an antidote to masses of death and destruction without letting it collapse into farce.

Now that Big Finish are increasingly playing in the sandpit of TV’s Last Great Time War, with the sadly ended War Doctor range being followed up by ranges featuring the Sir Derek Jacobi's Master, the Eighth Doctor and Romana herself, The Apocalypse Element seems more relevant than ever and a must for those wanting to see where it all began.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 27 Jul 2018
The Apocalypse Element (Dr Who Big Finish)



Static (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Static (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Colin BakerLisa Greenwood
Miranda Raison, David Graham 
Big Finish Productions Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: December 2017
Running Time: 2 Hours

Available on General Release from January 31st 2018

The recent trilogy of adventures for the Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip concludes with this final main range release of 2017. It would be fair to say that Big Finish’s eighteenth full year of monthly Doctor Who releases has continued to provide some strong stories even whilst facing stiff competition from a dearth of other ranges such as the final instalment of the Eighth Doctor’s Doom Coalition saga and the opening boxed set of his adventures during the Time War. Whilst this reviewer’s favourite main range release of the year remains September’s delightful political comedy Time in Office, it would be fair to say that the latest trilogy of Sixth Doctor’s adventures has also been very much a highlight. As a concluding instalment, Static by Big Finish regular Jonathan Morris does not disappoint. This story sets out to try and be one of the scariest Doctor Who plays Big Finish have produced since 2002’s The Chimes of Midnight and whilst this doesn’t quite achieve the same atmosphere of a ghost story for Christmas (and whilst competent and prolific Morris is not Robert Shearman), it’s opening two episodes are an especially unsettling listen.

In addition to the usual enjoyable performances from Colin Baker, Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood, a special mention must go to the main guest contributor for this story, David Graham, who will forever be known as the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds amongst his many other credits. It’s fair to say that a few actors with connections to director Jamie Anderson’s famous father have popped up in recent releases but Graham’s casting as the mysterious Percy Till is sublime and very much adds to the spooky atmosphere. The other cast are also very competent although the dual casting of Scott Chambers isn’t entirely effective as despite an attempt at a regional accent his Sergeant Webster sounds a little too similar to the character of Andy who he plays for most of the first half and as a result does distract the listener a little.

The atmosphere is suitably aided by sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian. Kraemer has also produced a competent music score although there are some deliberately 1980s style moments which whilst giving this story the feeling of its setting within that era of Doctor Who does occasionally lessen the overall atmosphere of genuine jeopardy.

Minor criticisms aside, this story still ends this trilogy and the year on a high note and as the main range enters its nineteenth year of monthly releases it has a lot to live up to. Whilst both Flip and Constance seem keen to return to their respective times and places, they are an enjoyable team and hopefully have some mileage left for further adventures. In the meantime, the start of 2018 sees us return once again to 1982 to join the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric in Kingdom of Lies.





The Middle (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Middle (Credit: Big Finish)

  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: November 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

Having got off to an excellent start with October’s historical adventure The Behemoth, this new trilogy of adventures for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor alongside unlikely but clearly very able companions Mrs Constance Clarke and Flip Jackson (portrayed as ever by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood who are both clearly enjoying their roles) continues with a story slightly more typical for the 1980s era of Doctor Who, The Middle. This adventure is the first full-length play from Chris Chapman, whose credentials include having produced a number of very memorable DVD extra documentaries for BBC Worldwide’s Who releases.

The play opens with a rather chilling teaser scene which gives the initial impression that the Doctor and his companions are about to land in world which euthanizes its older population once they reach the age of 70. However, when in the following scenes we are introduced to the futuristic colony world of Formicia through the eyes and ears of the TARDIS team, the truth of how this society treats both its elder and younger population is even more surprising. It’s not long before the Doctor finds himself on the receiving end of some bad treatment when he’s identified as being much older than he appears and having just celebrated her 35th birthday, Constance is soon separated from Flip and dispatched to work at The Middle, a place of never ending bureaucracy where it seems the middle-aged inhabitants of Formicia must eek out a dull existence whilst they wait for “The End”.

It is here that Constance first encounters the sinister Middleman, the most sinister company man you can imagine and perfectly played by Mark Heap. Meanwhile, Colin Baker is reunited with his former TV co-star from Vengeance on Varos (more recently seen as Clara Oswald’s Gran) Sheila Reid, who is here playing the spirted Janaiya, an elderly inhabitant whose spirit proves that “The End is the Beginning”. They are joined by Wayne Forester (fast becoming a Big Finish regular after his appearance in the previous release amongst others) as Roman.Chloe Rickenbach portrays a younger inhabitant who ends up teaming up with Flip and a finally a nice turn fromHollie Sullivan rounds off another great ensemble.

With excellent music as usual from Jamie Robertson and well-crafted sound design from Joe Meiners, this story gives a convincing future sci-fi setting which contrasts very neatly with the previous adventure. Overall, this is a second strong entry for this latest trilogy and probably one of the best of the monthly releases for 2017. However, this trilogy looks set to go out on a high with the spooky December release Static.