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.






The Behemoth (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Behemoth (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: October 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

The Behemoth picks up from the end of December 2016’s Quicksilver which saw Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and still relatively new companion Mrs Constance Clarke team up with his former companion Mrs Flip Ramon (née Jackson). This chalk and cheese pairing, one from Wartime Bletchley Park and the other from near Present-day East London, are ably portrayed by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood. Despite the obvious generational differences, they have quickly established an enjoyable relationship which is already likely to rival the popularity of other companion pairings of the main range as well as the Eighth Doctor’s current companion duo, Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair.

And so, the first of this new trilogy of adventures finds the three TARDIS travellers arrive in Bath in the year 1756. This is a great example of something of a rarity, a purely historical adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker revels in the Georgian setting, even down to being at one point mistaken for a major historical celebrity. However, while most of the characters in this story are fictional there is a genuine historical figure to be found in the shape of Captain Van Der Meer (ably portrayed by Giles New) and his mysterious companion Lady Clara (no, no that Clara!) who is revealed to be (and genuinely was in actual history) a rhinocerous.

Beyond the initial layer of fun to be had with the story’s setting, there is a beautifully layered story of the dark heart of the early years of British colonialism; the slave trade. The slaves in question are sensitively portrayed by Diveen Henry as Sarah and Ben Arogundade as Gorembe. By contrast, most of the action revolves around the upper-class characters who are well rounded characters especially Georgina Moon as Mrs Middlemint and Glynn Sweet as her brother Sir Geoffrey Balsam. There is also able support from Wayne Forester (recently heard in a more prominent role in Big Finish’s The Spectrum Files) as anti-slavery minister Reverend Philip Naylor and finallyLiam McKenna enjoys a more overtly chauvinistic and villainous turn as the sinister Titus Craven.

Overall, this is a very strong start to this new mini series of adventures.Marc Platt has created an extremely convincing historical setting and once again reminded listeners that visiting one’s own past isn’t always a comfortable experience, particularly when social injustice abounds.

The Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip’s adventures continue with the November release The Middle.

 



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The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)Written by Alan McKenzie, Simon Furman, Jamie Delano, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 186 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD!

The World Shapers sees out the end of the Sixth Doctor's tenure as the star of the strip.  The earliest stories are pretty good, but as the book goes on the strip seems to lose a bit of the focus that made the Doctor Who Magazine version of the strip such a joy from its debut up until this point.  I think it is "Salad Daze" which was the moment I was starting to lose interest in this book.  It is still fairly good up to there, which is about the halfway point...then it slowly devolves into mediocre to downright bad. 

For my money, the worst story in the collection is, unfortunately, the story that ended the Sixth Doctor's entire run in the strip, and the story from which the entire collection takes its name.  "The World Shapers" is exactly the kind of story I get bored by.  Instead of thinking of an interesting story or theme, the entire strip relies on continuity to seem interesting.  It's Jamie! The Voord! Marinus! Cybermen! The Voord are Cybermen? It's mixing together two monsters and claiming them as one, hoping that that twist is enough to hold up the whole story. It doesn't. I know Grant Morrsion went on to great success, but his work here is lame.  

While still a decent read with some great artwork and solid stories, I personally found the second volume of the Sixth Doctor comic strip run to be a bit more of a slog. I don’t really know why, but I think after the great run of stories featured in Voyager, it was hard to keep the momentum going. And the titular “World Shapers” was far too interested in delving into obscure continuities that it ended up souring the book for me. Not a bad collection of stories (for its first half anyhow), but it just can’t hold a candle to the first Sixth Doctor set, or even the Fourth and Fifth Doctor run. 





Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 23 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)
Written by Steve Parkhouse, Alan McKenzie
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

During his tenure, The Sixth Doctor struggled to connect on the television screen. But at the same time he was sort of bombing over the airwaves, on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine he was charming and fun to read. In many ways, he was still that same Doctor that Baker was playing on TV, but more palatable, and the fact that the art is black and white makes the coat easier on the eyes. I would say that for anyone that has ever listened to Baker's lovely Big Finish audios, the Doctor of the Comic Strip was much closer to that interpretation than the brasher TV counterpart.

The introduction of companion Frobisher, the shapeshifter who wishes to be a penguin, may seem like an oddball choice...but in the zany world of comics it just kind of works. The collection opens with his introductory tale, which also sort of wraps up the loose thread from the Fifth Doctor's tenure, by giving a bit of closure to the Dogbolter story.  

The book then goes into the "Voyager" storyline, which I personally find to be one of the finest comic story runs in all of Doctor Who Magazine. It just has beautiful artwork, a weird and ethereal plot, and in many ways surpasses much of what the TV show was doing at the same time. This entire plotline was also colorized and released in the 80s as a graphic novel, also titled Voyager.  The final story in the "Voyager" plot is also the final story by Steve Parkhouse, who had been with the strip since the Fourth Doctor. 

Unlike the 80s graphic novel of the same name, Panini's book continues on with the rest of the stories that came out in 1985, the rest of the book being written by Alan McKenzie. While the Parkhouse half of the book is definitely the stronger half, McKenzie's stories are still pretty solid, and still flowed as a series up through the final story of the book. 

The running storyline in the first half of this collection is great, and even the lesser second half of the book is quite entertaining. With the gorgeous black and white artwork by John Ridgeway and wonderfully weird adventures, it is a highly recommended read for fans who want to see just how good the ongoing Doctor Who strip can be.





The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
Written By: Nicholas Pegg
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg
Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Susan Jameson (Mrs Moynihan), Barnaby Edwards (Philip Ludgate/Scryfan), Toby Longworth (Professor Morgan/Sancreda/UNIT Sentry), James Bolam (Sir Archibald Flint), Helen Goldwyn (Nikki Hunter/Pelagia Stamatis/Corporal Croft), Nicholas Pegg (Captain Ashforde)
Cover by Clayton Hickman
Originally released: June 2000
The early days of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range still vibrate with innovation and excitement even all these years later. Relics from a time before things settled down into a polished, professional operation with a large, regular company of actors to draw from, there’s a powerful sense here of true fanatics who can’t quite believe their luck that they’re getting to play in this universe. Whom are keenly aware that it might not last and so fire off all their best ideas into it. This extends as well to the guest cast, with big names grabbing with both hands what might have been their only chance to be in Doctor Who, when the announcement of its TV revival was still three years away. Where Spectre of Lanyon Moor's contemporary Phantasmagoria boasted Mark Gatiss and David Walliams, here James Bolam (JAMES BOLAM!) adds a touch of real class to proceedings and proves a great foil for Maggie Stables’ Evelyn in a series of verbal sparring matches between her and his Sir Archibald. There may never be any better putdown of a Doctor Who villain in mid monomaniacal monologue about ‘the little people’ and the divine right to rule than “Don’t let’s get above ourselves, old chum; you’re only a baronet you know.”

 

Fantastically conceived by Nicholas Pegg (a man who perhaps doesn’t get his full due credit for all he’s contributed to Doctor Who in various ways down the years) Spectre of Lanyon Moor is, to an extent, a mash up of Terror of the Zygons, The Curse of Fenric and The Daemons. In its Cornish setting, there’s a corner of Britain possessed of a desolate beauty and a wealth of local myths and legend, while an archaeological investigation of an ancient structure, a legendary being of vast supernatural power which turns out to be an alien and a local lord who’s openly friendly but undoubtedly shady add to the sense of a greatest hits collection of, oddly enough, entirely the wrong era for Colin Baker’s Doctor to wander into.But it’s hard to complain about that.

 

Not only because this story is from the days long, long before Big Finish ensnared Tom Baker into its den of fabulous lunches, but because it gives an opportunity for the Sixth Doctor to finally adventure alongside the Brigadier. For the first episode and a half or so I had a rising fear that this was going to be a missed opportunity, with the semi-retired Brigadier simply used to ease the Doctor’s entry into the story and vouch for him with the other characters. Thankfully, as the story proceeds he moves beyond being a moustachioed Psychic Paper and instead this proves to be one of the Brig’s strongest, most heroic personal contributions to the action. In addition, it’s lovely, especially since his death, to hear Nicholas Courtney in such sparkling form. Courtney’s performance, as it often was, is a work of subtle genius – a tightrope rope between projecting unflappable decency that grounds the outrageousness around him and a twinkle in the voice to show he’s in on the joke.

 

UNIT are back too, in a small way, though low level UNIT troops seem as adorably incompetent as ever. With the name and description of a villain possessing a planet destroying device that must be kept apart from the ancient site at all costs distributed, one sentry still just ‘ums’ and ‘aws’ as said villain shows up, describes her disdain for lesser mortals and plans to revenge herself on them all, very slowly takes out her alien technology from her handbag and kills him.

 

The creature at the heart of the mystery is presented as an alien twist on the old idea that faeries are maybe a great deal more malignant than advertised in children’s books. Short but superhumanly strong, and given to cackling madly while messily and noisily tearing people limb from limb despite constant boasting about civilized and advanced his species are, Sancreda is a monster in the true sense. Doctor Who often treats villains and alien species as having a point of view, no matter how destructive their actions – even the first Dalek story circled the issue of whether the Daleks were actually evil or just driven by paranoia and fear of the previously war like Thals. But Sancreda is an out and out gibberingly sadistic maniac, if one driven mad by millennia of imprisonment. This leads to some nastily violent scenes but also helps sell the level of threat involved.It’s also a great showcase for Toby Longworth, who plays both the harsh voiced alien maniac, pompous old duffer Professor Morgan, and the aforementioned UNIT sentry, a fact which astonished me when I saw the cast list after. His ability to make all three totally distinct with such seemingly effortless ease is extraordinary. Elsewhere in the cast future Mrs. Wibbsey Susan Jameson is to be found as housekeeper Mrs. Monyhian, a kind of twised mirror of her later, more famous Doctor Who role.

 

The only possible criticism here is that the story unfolds in rather predictable fashion, with every strand evolving and climaxing pretty much exactly as you’d expect. However, that simply adds to the sense of being enveloped in a lovely, warm blanket of cosy familiarity. And, perhaps as a result of since seeing how the revived series handles such things, it would perhaps have been nice to see Evelyn still in a phase of learning the ropes or TARDIS travel. Instead there’s the sense of a number of adventures having being skipped over, with the unreliability of the TARDIS to get where its supposed to be going already a running joke between the Doctor and Evelyn.

 

As a rare opportunity to hear Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier swing into action once again, and as a fine homage to the Hinchcliffe Era of Doctor Who, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor is a must on any short list of early Big Finish plays for people to explore and discover.



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Released 1 Jun 2000
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Doctor Who)