UNIT - Silenced (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 12 December 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
UNIT: Silenced (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Matt Fitton, John Dorney
 
Directed By: Ken Bentley
 
Cast: Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Petronella Osgood), Warren Brown (Lieutenant Sam Bishop), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi), Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee), Joanna Wake (Miss Faversham), Nicholas Day (Kenneth LeBlanc/Heston), Tom Alexander (Cecil/Derek), Aaron Neil (Homeless Man/News Reporter/David), Nimmy March (Baroness Vance/Telokni), John Banks (Mission Control/Captain/Soldier) and Nicholas Briggs as The Silence. 

 
Big Finish Productions - Released November 2016

When it was first announced that this third boxed set of UNIT – The New Series would feature the return of the Silence or rather the creatures known as Silents prior to the revelation of their original purpose in The Time of the Doctor, this reviewer had a few qualms about how the continuity would fit in with what we’ve already seen of them on television. However, as with the previous boxed-sets, it is worth remembering that these adventures are set prior to most of the new UNIT team’s televised adventures as Big Finish’s current license does not extend beyond the end of the Eleventh Doctor’s final television outing (notwithstanding an occasional cheeky reference to later adventures by River Song but that’s no concern of this series, at least for now). With no Doctor on the scene, this series of adventures focuses on a surviving remnant of the Silent creatures who are in hiding following the subliminal message given to kill them on site during the 1969 moon landing, referring back to their television debut in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon.

Writing and script editing duties have been shared between regular Big Finish scribes John Dorney and Matt Fitton giving the overarching storyline a cohesive feeling even though the events portrayed take place over an extended period of time with the potential for other adventures to take place at the same time. The opening instalment, House of Silents, sees the welcome return of Ramon Tikaram as Colonel Shindi following his recuperation after the events of last year’s UNIT – Extinction.

Shindi has been assigned a surveillance mission on a large house owned by wealthy blind recluse Miss Faversham (not the first time Big Finish have used a character inspired by the abandoned bride of Dickens’ Great Expectations). The concept of the Silents allying with someone who cannot see them and is thus immune from their usual memory loss is cleverly realised.  Joanna Wake gives a very believable performance as the well-meaning philanthropist with a touching humour in one of the climactic scenes of the episode when she is interviewed byIngrid Oliver’s Osgood. The Silence themselves are for the first time voiced by Nicholas Briggs, who contrary to popular misapprehension, has never given voice to their televised incarnation but nonetheless manages a perfect vocal recreation.

The second and third episodes, which take place a few weeks after the first episode and then some months later, are almost a mini arc in their own right as they depict the seemingly irresistible rise to power of the Silents’ other new ally, Kenneth Le Blanc, who is unmistakeably a cipher for a certain right wing minority party leader of recent times. Although it is supremely ironic that this story should have come to be released so soon after the shockwaves are still being felt from real life events which would have been completely unforeseen when this was being written last year. Nicholas Day gives a charismatic and yet at the same time carefully guarded performance as Le Blanc, and it is somewhat of a shame that the climax of his story has been so dramatically eclipsed by real life events and tempting to wonder if the Silence were influencing more than one recent election.

The final episode moves events on again, with the UNIT team struggling to keep hold of their fading memories of the Silence, who in a final throw of the dice seek to use a space station to set humanity at war with another alien race. The highlight of the finale is getting to hear Osgood setting foot on a space station for the first time in the able company of Warren Brown’s immensely likeable Lieutenant Sam Bishop.

Overall, this is another strong collection of episodes with the concept of the Silence used to chilling effect throughout but also allowing for some great comedy mileage when certain characters continually lose their memory as soon as they look away. The regular cast is now starting to feel even more established than its TV counterpart. As ever, Jemma Redgrave leads from the front as the redoubtable Kate Stewart and this reviewer is very much looking forward to her next audio adventures which will see her reunited with several of the Brigadier’s former comrades and sometime enemies for UNIT – Assembled.

 

 

UNIT - Silenced is available now from Big Finish and is on general release from January 31st 2017.






The Third Doctor - #1 - The Heralds Of Destruction Part One (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 2 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Third Doctor #1 (Credit: Titan)

Writer - Paul Cornell
Artist - Christopher Jones
Colorist - Hi-Fi

Letters  - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

(Alastair Lethbidge Stewart - Created by Mervyn Haisman
+ Henry Lincoln, appearing courtesy of Candy Jar Books)

Senior Editor - Andrew James
Assistant Editors - Jessica Burton + Amoona Saohin
Senior Designer - Andrew Leung

Published September 14th 2016, TITAN COMICS

Newly released from the exile imposed by his own people - the Time Lords - the brilliant scientist Doctor John Smith is once again needed in order to help his friend Lethbridge Stewart and UNIT. A relentless, self-repairing metal menace has come to make life difficult for the natives of planet Earth, and that may be not be the only threat of consequence before too long.

 

Having had success with other Doctors from time past in the Eighth Doctor miniseries and, more recently, Fourth Doctor miniseries, Titan now unleashes another title. And how welcome that it features the undeniably charismatic Third Doctor, performed onscreen with such conviction by the late Jon Pertwee.

Paul Cornell knows exactly how to mix in the familiar elements which fans have come to know and love, but also add a sprinkling of his own creative skill to make something memorable and engaging. There is one returning foe, several returning secondary UNIT characters - Corporal Bell and Sergeant Osgood - and a key returning character who makes a sizeable impact in the customary end-of-issue cliffhanger.

The decision to set these new stories after The Three Doctors is a sound one, and potentially allows for Jo and the Doctor to go on travels across cosmos and time zones without yet another formulaic 'mission for the Time Lords' justification. It also allows for a properly fleshed out and well-knit 'UNIT family' - i.e. the Doctor and Jo, as well as the Brigadier, Captain Yates, and Sergeant Benton.

The art, from Christopher Jones, is a truly impressive selling point for this maiden issue, and earned the praise of Pertwee Era script-editor Terrance Dicks: "A handsomely-drawn epic". Key to having this miniseries work is a proper rendering of the Third Doctor, and this is certainly the case as we witness the 'James Bond/ Gentleman's Club' variant of our favourite Time Lord, as he goes about his heady business. Although the heavily stylised use of lines can be noticeable in the odd panel, the overall effect is compelling. Further, the use of palette, by the ever-reliable Hi-Fi, evokes with authentic impact the very first period of Doctor Who's history to feature full colour visuals.

 

The story undoubtedly will read well to old and new fans alike, with just the right balance of continuity and innovation. However, a certain clutch of early 1970s stories perhaps should be seen first, by those Who aficionados, who have tried little or none of the Classic era of the show. Not only will it add to the strengths of this particular adventure concocted in 2016, but it will be a reminder that the show was always able to deliver great acting and show initiative in trying markedly new things, both for science fiction and for TV in general.

Working splendidly both as set-up, and a showcase of incident and drama, also, this is a flying start to another promising new title from Titan.

 

EXTRAS :

* 'Behind the Scenes' Pencils and Inks are on display for one of the comic's most interesting panels, with the Doctor standing atop his car, Bessie.

* Three medium and full page-sized alternate covers feature, as well as two variant covers by Boo Cook and Andy Walker respectively.





The Shadow In The Glass (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 July 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Shadow in the Glass (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Stephen Cole + Justin Richards
Read By: India Fisher

(Original Novel published in 2001, and Republished in 2015)

Approximate Length: 9 Hours


RELEASED: MARCH 2016 - BBC DIGITAL AUDIO

In the dying days of the Second World War, a UFO crash-lands in Turelhampton; a village in the English county of Dorset. The Royal Air Force has dealt with a possible threat at such a fraught time with seemingly no fuss. But then the village itself is soon evacuated.

Fast forward to the year 2001, and Turelhampton is still under the control of military troops. A sinister mystery is being shrouded from wider society. However a determined TV documentary crew are able to break through and record images of a malevolent ceremony, that crosses into the paranormal. And three-dimensional danger soon reaches the rather headstrong media professionals. Nearby in picturesque Cornwall, journalist Claire Aldwych is determined to uncover just what is going on after witnessing images of the bizarre and disturbing ceremony.

Meanwhile the Doctor, currently without his usual female companion - or 'penguin' Frobisher that can resemble anything and anyone - is drawn to the odd chain of mysterious events. But a beacon of reassuring familiarity resurfaces in the shape of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Alistair is now rather wizened and past his prime days of blood and thunder, but still more than able to match the verbal wits of his many-lived friend and associate.

And their partnership must work at its best in the face of a grave test. The infamous Führer of the Third Reich is set to rise again; threatening the interests of all peace loving and decent natives of the blue-green planet that the Doctor cares so much for...

**

Shadow is a very enjoyable yarn, and combines a touch of 'old-school' Who with some of the more intense interpersonal drama from the Virgin and BBC book lines. These often experimental tomes paved the way for the more all-round drama of the modern TV show. At times things could easily verge into parody. I do find the end game with more than the one Adolf Hitler thrown into the fray threatens to unravel the core of the storyline. Yet it all manages to work as a whole.

I am a little unsure also if the villains behind the scenes, who are 'imp like' beings, could not have been executed rather better. They function well enough in that they enable the human villains to go about their dastardly schemes. But the best Doctor Who makes use of its monsters in a memorable fashion. These foes are simply fair-to-middling. The titular glass/medium concept is elaborated on very well, however, and ties in some clever minor character stories fluidly. The book is justifiably much longer than the novelisations that TV Doctor Who in written form, and similarly the length of this audio release is never a stumbling block.

Music is used sparingly but effectively, and helps punctuate the mood, as the story keeps moving along to one heart-racing moment of shock and awe, then to another of rather more introspective respite. India Fisher is a respected and well-loved contributor to the Doctor Who audio universe, which has helped the franchise endure. She does remarkably well with the inimitable portrayals of the Sixth Doctor and Brigadier that we have come to know and love so much. Sixie's bluster and buoyancy was a great counterpoint to the very dark Third and 'Fourth' Reich material in the original text by Cole and Richards. Our sole audio performer grasps the need to delicately balance both humour and 'world in peril' high-stakes thriller.

There is a lot of exposition and scene-setting prose for Fisher to convey to the listener, and convey it she does with aplomb. The plot is relatively straightforward, even with all the time travelling and subplots that feature, but in the hands of a less capable narrator there could be room for the audience to be disengaged.

**

This story could have easily worked, were it made originally as an audio drama spin off by Big Finish with Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney. The enjoyable The Spectre of Lanyon Moor proved the chemistry between the two was up there with all the other leading men of the classic era. Today all of us miss the wonderful Courtney, but he left a terrific legacy as an actor and a person. Today still, his alter-ego soldier commands our attention and emotional investment.

One can quite easily listen to this set of eight CDs over a week or two, interspersing with the best TV material of the Sixth Doctor and the UNIT era to build up the visual cues needed. In any case, the prose, atmosphere and pacing all work well, and this story stands tall on its own.

There are plenty of nods to past UNIT characters, and to the family-like nature of the military organisation when it featured in the main show on a regular basis. My favourite returning solider is Tom Osgood. Though rather bumbling - at least in comparison to the eccentric genius protagonist - he is still determined and technically proficient. Some additional UNIT and military personal of course are added by the authors into proceedings, and are given suitable character development and back-story.

There is also a portion of the story that features the legendary real-life wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who has featured repeatedly in the Moffat era, and also now in ongoing Big Finish audios. What little this redoubtable politician and leader does here works well, but he is still more of a plot device than a proper supporting player. There is no actual meeting of Churchill, with either Hitler or his 'double', which perhaps is a missed opportunity.

There are a number of characters that have their own agenda and are neither wholly altruistic or malicious. This helps remind us that very few who fought in the War - win or lose - were completely without qualities at either end of the spectrum. Ultimately the biggest success of this book/audio is that it provokes some sober reflection on the defence of freedom and equality for all, in the face of cruel and distorted ideologies. And a good ending is always key for a satisfying adventure. Shadow closes in bittersweet fashion, but avoids this vibe from being telegraphed or coming off as just another twist. The finale instead arises organically out of the key themes.

Combining real life history, additional material for the 'short-lived' Sixth Doctor, and revisits to past friends from UNIT, this story has a bit of something for everyone. It never quite hits the heights of the very best of the original novels that feature in Doctor Who's extended universe, but is still a confident form of entertainment.





UNIT: Shutdown (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 July 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
UNIT: Shutdown (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Warren Brown (Sam Bishop), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Alice Krige (Felicity Lyme), Asif Khan (Jay Roy) Tyrone Huggins (Dr Kenton Eastwood), Nigel Carrington (Sir Peter Latcham), Beth Chalmers (Anna/Radio Announcer/Quizmaster), Harry Ditson (General Grant Avary), Dan Li (Dokan/Alien Leader), Akira Koieyama (Chiso/Tengobushi Assassins), Stephen Billington (Commander Bergam), Jot Davies (Sebastien/Major Disanto)

Big Finish Productions – Released June 2016

This is the second boxset of adventures featuring the new generation of UNIT headed up by Jemma Redgrave as Kate Stewart and Ingrid Oliver as her scientist sidekick Osgood. As with the first box set, this story is set at an indeterminate time at some point before Osgood was killed in the TV series as all the signs point to the audio incarnation being the human version of the character who first appeared in The Day of the Doctor. One thing that can said with certainty is that this set follows on from Big Finish’s first foray into the New Series, UNIT – Extinction, and sees the return of new team members Warren Brown as international troubleshooter Sam Bishop and James Joyce as Captain Josh Carter. Josh in particular is an extremely likeable character whose continuing character arc proves central to this box set (although anyone who hasn’t heard Extinction may find themselves at a slight loss to understand his apparent super-strength whose origin is only fleetingly alluded to). As much as Joyce is at risk of becoming another member of the rep company of overused Big Finish actors, this reviewer is a self-confessed member of the club that would wish to see Captain Carter remain a regular feature of this ongoing spin-off series given Big Finish’s tendency to kill off some of their best loved original characters.

It would be remiss of this reviewer not to acknowledge the action-packed opening and closing themes composed by Howard Carter which are probably one of the most successful for any of Big Finish’s many Doctor Who spin-offs and will hopefully remain in place for all future UNIT series (as opposed to the frequently altered theme variations of the Bernice Summerfield range over the years).

The four-part story itself was written is another excellent collaboration between Matt Fitton who penned the opening and closing instalments and Andrew Smith who penned the middle two episodes. For this reviewer the highlight was probably the third episode, The Battle of the Tower in which Smith made great efficacy of the regular Tower of London setting for UNIT’s base of operations. By a quirk of fate, an exciting scene which saw a pursuit into Tower Hill underground station unfolded whilst this reviewer was actually travelling on the district line to that very station. This story manages to take a different path to the more traditional UNIT vs alien conquest of the planet story which was told in Extinction and not fall in the trap of allowing the series to get stuck in a repeated formula as is wont to happen with some Big Finish box sets (Survivors please take note). The conspiracy-thriller opening chapter introduces the story’s human antagonist Felicity Lyme, a ruthless businesswoman portrayed by former Borg Queen Alice Krige. The gradual realisation that Lyme was not in league with aliens and instead acting to secure her own business interests was a very pleasing development. In terms of the story’s alien characters, the ninja style warriors known as Tengobushi and their Comishi masters are generally well realised if a little uncomfortably close to human Samurai, especially when their leaders speak with Oriental accents which might be perceived as a racial stereotype. The Behind-the-scenes discs suggests that the inspiration was linked to the idea that ancient culture such as that of Japan could potentially have alien origins but these wasn’t drawn out especially clearly in the play itself. However, this is possibly nit-picking at what is otherwise another very fine box set and overall the decision to not include any recurring aliens from the television series has paid off and allowed more space for the development of both Kate’s and Osgood’s characters and their new team. It’s only a shame that a couple of the more promising characters in the story didn’t survive until the end but UNIT has always had a high mortality rate so perhaps unsurprising. In any case this reviewer will be looking forward to the team’s next outing this November, in  which they will encounter the Silence.





UNIT - ExtinctionBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 10 May 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
UNIT: Extinction (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Osgood), Warren Brown (Lieutenant Sam Bishop), Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Steve John Shepherd (Simon Devlin), Karina Fernandez (Jenna Gold), Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee), Derek Carlyle (Tim Stevens) and Nicholas Briggs (The Nestene Consciousness).
Other parts played by the cast.

Producer David RichardsonScript Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

UNIT Extinction, is a four part story from Big Finish which takes the characters of Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgrave) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver), the key players in the modern on-screen UNIT, and effectively gives them their own spin-off, as well as introducing some interesting new characters along the way.

 

Episode 1 - Vanguard.

The first episode opens at a great pace while establishing old and new characters on a mission to get a crashed reptilian alien back into space. As the episode progresses, it is clear that there is a bigger threat to Earth. Hundreds of spheres are detected on a collision course with the Earth. A shady business man is launching a 3D printer that uses a new type of liquid plastic....and there are are some scary looking mannequins lurking in the shadows.

 

Episode 2 - Earthfall.

The spheres start to land, and the Unit team quickly identify them as Nestine in origin. There is a frantic race against time to get to a sphere in Bangkok, and an opportunity for one of the team to go undercover.

 

Episode 3 - Bridgehead.

A pattern is discovered as to how the spheres are landing, and Kate is held captive. Meanwhile, all across the world, every 3D printer starts to print shop window dummies that lurch suddenly into life.

 

Episode 4 - Armageddon.

With the Auton invasion in full force, UNIT has to retreat, leaving Osgood at the Black Archive in the Tower Of London. Why are humans being herded into population centres, and what is the Nestine Consciousness's plan? 

 

I have tried to keep my review as spoiler free as possible. UNIT Extinction is such a great listen, and really romps along, I didn't want to spoil it for anyone. The opening of Episode 1 is pretty frantic, and is a good indicator as to what to expect. The action is well handled, and the story has a true international and epic feel to it, with characters nipping off to all corners of the globe. Each episode builds towards a cliffhanger, meaning there is a real feel of classic Who about it.

At UNIT, Kate Stewart and Ingrid Oliver are joined by a truly stellar cast, including Warren Brown (Luther, Good Cop), as Lieutenant Sam Bishop, a heroic field operator. Ramon Tikaram (Happy Valley, Casualty) as Colonel Shindi, a soldier who remembers serving under Kate's Father, and James Joyce (The Musketeers, Downton Abbey) as Captain Josh Carter, an over confident new recruit. Joyce's Carter gets most of the best lines, especially whilst flirting outrageously with Oliver's Osgood, who as I am mentioning her, comes out head and shoulders above everyone else. Oliver's performance is perfect, and will endear Osgood to you all the more.

Other cast members are Steve John Shepherd (Eastenders) as the Howard Hughes like business man Simon Devlin, Karina Fernandez (Pride) as the Devlin's sinister security chief Jenna Gold, Tracey Wiles (Bronson) as the over inquisitive reporter Jacqui McGee and Big Finish stalwart Derek Carlyle as Tim Stevens. Oh - an there is of course a certain Nicholas Briggs as the voice of the Nestine Consciousness. This story is produced by David Richardson, directed by Ken Bently, and is written by Andrew Smith and Matt Fitton.

The script is crackling with action and humour, and there are a lot of nods to Who both old and new. The classic, buzzing Auton sound effect is married up with the twisting plastic squeak from the modern era. Devlin's cry of "Destroy. Total destruction." is also another classic nod. However, the best line has to be from the Nestine Consciousness snarling/ gurgling the words "Plasticise the Stewart Woman". 

The story itself is genius. Self replicating 3D printers, liquid plastic, Autons - what is not to like? This truly is an up to date Auton story that could have been written for television.

My only couple of gripes on these episodes would be that there are a few to many Daddy references (yes we know that Kate has a very famous Father - but we really don't need reminding every ten minutes). Also, as much as I am a fan of the character of Kate Stewart, I have never really enjoyed Redgrave's delivery. It always seems so one tone, and that is reenforced here.

So with a great new theme tune, some interesting extras, a thrilling plot and great performances and direction, modern day UNIT arrives on Big Finish with a bang. I'm sure that there will be many more to come.