The Science of Doctor WhoBookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 November 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

The Science of Doctor Who
Presented by Professor Brian Cox
Broadcast: BBC2, 14th November 2013
If The Day of the Doctor is a vast, intergalactic exploration of Doctor Who’s fictitious mythology, steeped in pseudo-fantastical grandeur as it depicts a wealth of extraterrestrial planets beyond our own, then BBC Two’s celebratory lecture programme The Science of Doctor Who is a more grounded, logical take on that same mythology. Presented by Brian Cox, it delves into those age-old, fascinating concepts of time travel and other-worldly creatures, Cox’s perspective on the reality of such matters proving nothing short of captivating overall.

Something which will no doubt come as a pleasant shock to viewers is the inherent accessibility of this one-off instalment of scientific analysis from Cox. The English physicist’s powerful respect for the show which the programme celebrates is clear from the outset, with references to the Eye of Harmony and foes such as the Daleks thrown in for good measure throughout. At the same time, however, fans should be cautious with their expectations, for the Whoniverse can often feel like a tangential strand in the course of the lecture. There’s the sense that Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary has simply offered Cox the chance to take up a long desired opportunity to exhibit his passionate views on the realms of science-fiction, for better or for worse.

This isn’t to say that Science doesn’t come recommended as a compelling step further towards the big day, only a conceptual health warning that the show itself isn’t the key focus here. What Cox does have to say on the TARDIS’ capability of time travel and its implications is nevertheless thoroughly engaging, his manner of expression of the layered mechanisms which we perceive as operating in what we call ‘time’ neither alienating for newcomers to the field nor condescending for viewers who bring a degree of prior knowledge into the lecture. Walking such a delicate line between accessibility and depth of content can’t have been a simple prospect for the lecturer, yet on a surface level at least, he appears to pull off this particular feat with ease.

In spite of the programme’s focus often lying beyond the confines of Doctor Who’s ongoing narrative, a few delectable moments of direct correlation with the travels of the Doctor do feature along the way. Matt Smith reprises his role as the character’s eleventh incarnation in a series of brief sequences aboard the TARDIS with Cox, one example of which can already be glimpsed in the BBC’s trailer for the lecture. As ever, Smith gives a bombastic performance, energetic and refusing to stand still for the most part. Although in the show’s latter fictitious segue-way scenes, his portrayal becomes that much more subtle and emotionally intricate, his final message resonating beautifully with Cox’s closing words on the potential impact he hopes his lecture may have on the younger members of his audience.

Another satisfying deviation from the norm comes with Cox’s calling upon a variety of colleagues and thespians from his audience to partake in revelatory experiments. Charles Dance is a particularly memorable contributor, his likening of a test involving chemical spray and Bunsen burners not to his school days but to “psychedelic rock concerts” a brilliant, oh-so-characteristic highlight from the Game of Thrones star. Isolated moments such as these encapsulate the understated British charm that pervades the show’s fifty-year history, an admirable achievement in itself for a singular lecture which lasts barely an hour and as such only has so much time for its helm to bring across his central ideas.

But if there’s one element which Doctor Who has never ceased to manipulate to its advantage, it’s that which lies at the heart of the show- time. Similarly, Cox uses the brevity of his lecture’s allotted running time to great effect, the points he presents never outstaying their welcome or becoming so convoluted as to prove detrimental to the programme’s structure. Matt’s various cameos in proceedings are welcome and satisfying to be sure, yet of greater merit is the fact that this one-off instalment would not suffer in the slightest were its fictitious sequences absent.

The Science of Doctor Who may not deal with the Doctor’s mythology as regularly as fans might have expected from a programme in the BBC’s 50th Anniversary celebratory roster, but it remains an engaging watch throughout. With any luck, as Cox suggests, perhaps this single, isolated lecture will one day inspire a boy or a girl to search for the answers to time’s mysteries when they reach adulthood. In doing so, they could very well change our perspective on our world and the wider universe, just as an aspiring science-fiction drama once did on a cold Winter’s night in 1963.

The Light at the End (Australian Review)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 14 November 2013 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

The Light at The End
Produced by Big Finish
Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: November 2013
“But you’re not the Doctor!”
“Oh but I am – the definite article you might say!”
Charlie Pollard meets the Fourth Doctor, The Light at the End

With The Day of the Doctor almost upon us, fans’ expectations as Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary draws closer is reaching pressure cooker proportions. Fans are fickle beasts most of the time but there is little doubt that on 23 November, the 50th anniversary will be all about the new TV serial. They will all but forget the other Doctor Who spin-offs honouring the parent series’ milestone – the audios, books, comics and short stories will all pale by comparison.

It is for this reason that Big Finish undoubtedly chose to launch its own tribute to the 50th anniversary – The Light at the End – a month early so that the story could have some oxygen, free of the very celebrations of which it is a part. However, when you consider all the publicity about this release, it has from the outset been deliberately low key. That is probably the right approach, especially for someone like me (who despite writing this review) is a little fatigued by yet another multi-Doctor reunion.

I have to admit that I was never going to reserve for The Light at the End the kind of baited breath that I have for The Day of the Doctor. There are numerous reasons for this. The first, of course, is that Light was always going to be a fairly predictable multi-Doctor reunion. Yes, it marks the first time Tom Baker has actively shared the limelight with the other Doctors (I don’t count Dimensions in Time! No one damn should!) so perhaps that is extra cause for celebration. However, that small landmark aside, Doctor Who spin-off fiction over the last 30 years has literally done multi-Doctor team-ups to death – and mostly not very well (there is a good reason why the TV series only does them sparingly). Occasionally, there are standout efforts (such as the Missing Adventure Cold Fusion, Big Finish’s own Project: Lazarus or IDW’s The Forgotten) but the majority of these stories have been average at best (Big Finish’s Sirens of Time and The Four Doctors) or atrocious at worst (Uncle Terrance’s The Eight Doctors). It definitely takes something – and often someone - special to do a multi-Doctor story that is clever and innovative.

The Light at the End at least gets a pass mark but is average all the same. Nicholas Briggs delivers an adventure that will never be hailed in the annals of Doctor Who as a classic – or even as a classic of the Big Finish audio range. It is a relatively simplistic story at its heart and it never really tries to be daring or ambitious, whether with its premise or its characters – which is perhaps its saving grace. Although the story throws the Doctor’s first eight incarnations and numerous companions together, Nick Briggs does not allow it to get too bogged down in the series’ continuity. Instead he focuses on a fast-paced, workmanlike tale that resists being a Five Doctors-style extravaganza.

Aided willingly by a new race of arms dealers called the Vess and inadvertently by a bunch of rogue and incompetent Time Lord agents, an earlier version of the Master (brilliantly portrayed as ever by Geoffrey Beevers) finally obtains the means to wreak his ultimate revenge on the Doctor. No dark Doctors, no Time Wars, no Dalek and Time Lord armies to be seen here! The Light at the End is an almost simple, plain (dare I say dull?) and traditional Doctor Who adventure.

There isn’t really a lot of intrigue in this story. The exception comes at the half-way mark of the narrative when we encounter poor Bob Dovie. His story is chilling – the atmosphere in his home as the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa investigate his plight is sinister and frightening and you cannot help but sympathise for an ordinary man whose world has been shattered by the impromptu, random appearance of a police telephone box (in a manner similar to the Eleventh Doctor’s arrival in Amy Pond’s garden in The Eleventh Hour). Despite what the back cover blurb of the CD sleeve may say, the story is not solely about Dovie (although it could have been a so much more interesting, disturbing and darker tale if it had been).

Where Briggs succeeds is in his characterisation and plotting. He manages to spread the action around the different Doctors and companions relatively well – this would be no easy task yet the changes to the listening experience are almost seamless and flow smoothly. One moment you’re listening to the Eighth and Fourth Doctors striving to stop the TARDIS from self-destructing, the next you’re listening to the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa investigating the source of the mysterious anomaly that has brought the Doctors together. The Seventh Doctor and Ace are then escaping from intelligent mud (yes, you read that correctly!) and the Sixth Doctor and Peri are back in the TARDIS averting near disaster. There is no doubt all the to-ing and fro-ing is dependent on a deep knowledge and understanding of the conventions of the TV series and of the audios. A casual listener – or at least someone only familiar with the modern series of Doctor Who – would be utterly flummoxed trying to follow what is happening.

All of the major players in this story acquit themselves well – Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (the “incumbent” Doctor in this tale, as it begins and ends with him and companion Charley Pollard). Tom Baker’s Doctor is surprisingly muted, especially considering the commanding presence he had at his peak. Perhaps this is down to Tom’s age but his Doctor seems a lot mellower than he was during his era and even in his recent Big Finish adventures. He also doesn’t take charge of the other Doctors (as one might expect) – it is actually Colin Baker’s Doctor that unravels the mystery and marshals the other Doctors in the climactic stages of the story (which pleases this Sixth Doctor fan immensely). From the exchanges in dialogue between the two, McGann clearly enjoys the pairing with Tom. Indeed, he revealed at an Australian convention earlier this year that he found working with Tom fascinating - showing that even a veteran like McGann can learn a new trick or two from Tom’s wily old dog.

There are some memorable exchanges between the different Doctors which show a different side of our favourite Time Lord’s vanity. For example, the Fourth Doctor has a predictably aghast reaction to the Sixth Doctor’s wardrobe:

Fourth: Do I really end up with such a terrible sense of fashion?
Eighth: Says the man in the impractical scarf! It’s all a question of taste, I suppose.
Fourth: I suppose that would explain your Wild Bill Hickok costume!
Eighth (As if he’s only just considered his attire!): Hmmm ... Most people think it’s something to do with Byron!

Obviously all of this is written with lots of subtle in-jokes and asides to the fans. The Fourth Doctor’s claim to be “the definite article” not only repeats a remark he made to Harry Sullivan in his debut story Robot but recalls the similarly emphatic declaration by Richard Hurndall’s First Doctor in The Five Doctors that he is “the original you might say!” Even the Sixth Doctor’s compliment of his immediate successor as a “charming fellow” is a knowing wink for long time listeners of the Big Finish audios – it shows how much the Big Finish version of Colin Baker’s Doctor has matured from the aggressive TV persona which looked down his nose at his second incarnation in The Two Doctors.

The first three Doctors cameo in a manner that is eerily reminiscent of The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors (sadly, it seems the real life universe abhors too many Doctors in anniversary stories!). It is heavily implied that they are also working behind the scenes to assist the later Doctors, although their participation in the tale is conveniently stifled by temporal interference. William Russell, Frazer Hines and Tim Treloar provide sound caricatures of the Time Lord’s first three incarnations (they’re not really accurate recreations). It’s a pity Briggs could not have given them more to do in the narrative but I suspect with so many Doctors and companions, this would have been stretching a relatively one-dimensional story far too thin.

As it stands, this tale predictably renders the Doctors’ various companions redundant. Louise Jameson and Sophie Aldred as Leela and Ace respectively get the best treatment in the story – most likely because of their more dynamic and action-driven characters – and their meetings with the other Doctors are memorable (Ace in particular makes a great foil for the Sixth Doctor!). Nicola Bryant (Peri), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) and India Fisher (Charley) all make the most of their limited roles but otherwise would not have been missed.

My greatest disappointment with this audio is the climax. I’m reluctant to talk too much about it as I will give away a major spoiler but it employs a deus ex machina that I personally loathe and which I consider a cheat, a cop-out and downright lazy – especially from an experienced writer like Nicholas Briggs. Nevertheless, the epilogue with the hapless Bob Dovie provides some light relief and some reassurance to a disappointed listener.

The Light at the End is inevitably a sentimental, entertaining romp from Big Finish that was always intended to celebrate Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary. It doesn’t really offer anything groundbreaking to the Doctor Who mythos (not in the way I expect The Day of the Doctor will) nor even to Big Finish’s own corner of the Whoniverse. But then again it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not either. What you hear is pretty much what you get! If you’re a keen follower of the classic series and enjoy hearing the Doctor’s different incarnations butt heads, then you’ll be pleased. But if you want something with more gravitas for the anniversary, then you’re better off waiting for The Day of the Doctor.

Destiny of the Doctor: The Time MachineBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

The Time Machine
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: November 2013
"Oh, I’m much more than one man. I’m an eleven-man team, Doctors United!"

To paraphrase David Tennant’s incarnation of the Doctor, doesn’t that just sum a potent series up? You get through all of the presents, and at the bottom of the pile, there’s a Satsuma. In the case of Destiny of the Doctor, the aforementioned spherical orange fruit mentioned in The Christmas Invasion symbolises a decent yet ultimately underwhelming conclusion to a franchise of audio adventures which could have resulted in so much more with the correct denouement. There’ve been weaker instalments than The Time Machine, but boy, have there been stronger chapters in the saga by a considerable distance.

This isn’t a release that’s for want of an accomplished narrator, however. Quite why Jenna Coleman’s on-screen companion Clara hasn’t been included in proceedings this time around is beyond this reviewer, for the standalone assistant Amy Watson comes off as little more than a stand-in here. If anything, Watson seems to have been named as such primarily on the basis of the literary implications of her surname, which naturally serves as the source for more than one gag based around the Great Detective himself. All the same, Coleman’s dictation is constantly engaging and efficiently brings across the rapid, blockbuster-esque pace of the narrative, even in spite of its negating to include the Impossible Girl at the Doctor’s side for the ride.

Joining the piece’s leading lady are Nicholas Briggs and Michael Cochrane, the former portraying the drama’s antagonists, the Creevix, and the latter taking on the role of Doctor Chivers. It took some time for this reviewer to discern to which alien race from the revived series of Who Briggs’ Creevix bore an uncanny resemblance, but in the end, The Power of Three’s Shakri commander appears to have had a significant influence. This familiar vocal adaptation certainly doesn’t work in the piece’s favour in terms of innovation, and that Cochrane’s performance echoes past whimsical professors aplenty isn’t beneficial in the long run either. Perhaps the series’ producers had scarce choice for vocal contributors to this final instalment- either way; it’s a crying tragedy that their selections pale so immensely in comparison to their predecessors on the run.

As the Destiny run has developed over the course of 2013, it became evermore apparent that its resolution of the ongoing arc of the Eleventh Doctor’s visits to his past selves would be paramount to the series’ success in hindsight. The approach which writer Matt Fitton takes in creating both a standalone narrative and a satisfying conclusion for long-term fans is admirable; although overall the resolution in question feels rather rushed and haphazard. Partly, that’s due to the threat of the tale hardly being dangerous enough to warrant such a dangerous timeline-crossing excursion for the incumbent incarnation. Moreso, though, this plot arc connection is only re-established in the drama’s closing moments and is dealt with just as swiftly as the Eleventh’s cameos came and went in previous chapters.

In the scheme of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary, it’s fair to argue that a great degree of threat is required so as to have a grand celebratory impact on the viewer, or in this case the listener. The Day of the Doctor has an evil, apparently lost incarnation of everyone’s favourite Time Lord and The Light at the End resumes the seemingly undying threat of the Master, yet The Time Machine’s antagonist is neither iconic nor particularly original. The Five Doctors’ Borusa may not have gone down in the history books, but at least that anniversary special had enough in the way of returning companions and foes to compensate. Devoid of classic adversaries or allies beyond a few references and throwbacks, this is a member of the 50th ensemble which is remarkably hollow when judged alongside its ambitious cohorts. AudioGo’s Destiny range hasn’t lacked ambition in the past, so this sudden subversion of followers’ expectations is a bitter shock, an inadvertent betrayal of our hopes for what could have been a truly noteworthy outing.

This is a disheartening end, then, to a range of audio dramas which showed so much promise throughout its run. Though there were most certainly sore notes, Vengeance of the Stones and Enemy Aliens among them, Destiny of the Doctor has had its fair share of highlights, Babblesphere and Death’s Deal the most noteworthy by far. The Time Machine lies somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and while as a finale it’s a worthy listen for series veterans, as a standalone instalment of Doctor Who it stumbles and veers close to falling flat on its face. Coleman’s narration is superb, yet her supporting stars are steeped in the framework of what’s come before when it comes to their character performances, and Matt Fitton’s script struggles under the weight of the series’ convoluted plot arcs.

Big Finish and AudioGo’s first major collaboration has been something of a mixed bag, but for those fans still craving further 50th Anniversary homages and stories, the overall experience of hearing Destiny of the Doctor in full is accomplished enough to warrant an investment. Hunters of Earth kicks proceedings off with a bang, and the momentum of the overarching storyline rarely lapses from that point onwards. Each narrator does a fine job of representing their respective era of Doctor Who, as do each of the eleven intricate scripts. Just be warned, though, that its finale is undoubtedly the Satsuma of the pile.

An Adventure in Space and Time at the BFIBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 - Reviewed by Paul Hayes
There are many things in life, in art and in drama that can provoke emotion. It’s probably safe to say that a car’s tax disc is not usually one of them.

However, I feel almost certain that I can guarantee no Doctor Who fan of long-standing will be able to avoid at least a little twitch, a certain emotional pang in the opening moments of An Adventure in Space and Time at the date on a disc which comes into shot, and what it signifies. It’s a brief moment, one among many that will mean nothing to the general audience, but adds an extra layer for anybody who has a familiarity with the show we all hold so dear.

I am a grown man, not often given to tears, but I must confess that sitting in the back row at the BFI yesterday evening, just that brief shot made me well up a little. It’s probably no surprise, therefore – as pathetic as it sounds, and I do realise how odd it must seem to some – that I found myself crying real tears come the end. I was taken aback myself. I’d been looking forward to this drama a great deal, and for a long time. But perhaps foolishly, I hadn’t expected to find it as affecting as I did.

I have been utterly fascinated by the creation of Doctor Who, and the many and varied interlinked stories behind it, almost ever since I can remember. Part of the appeal of the fiction of the series when I was a very small child was always how much of a mystery it was, how there was so much mythology and so much backstory that I could only ever seem to have tantalising little glimpses of from BBC repeats or the occasional video borrowed or purchased.

But gradually, the real-life history began to interest me too. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it was – perhaps when I was seven years old and BBC Two showed an edit of the pilot recording as part of The Lime Grove Story. Perhaps when my parents bought me Doctor Who – The Sixties for Christmas at the age of nine, the year of the programme’s thirtieth anniversary – a frightening 20 years ago now!

I read that book again and again, despite having at the time seen hardly any of the episodes the making of which it chronicled. But I think the book that really made me realise what a great narrative there is to the creation of Doctor Who back in 1963 was The Handbook: The First Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker. I bought a copy in 1997, and was riveted by the “Production Diary” section, which tells the story of how Doctor Who came to be created using the memos, letters, format documents and various other pieces of paper preserved in the BBC Written Archives Centre at Caversham.

There’s something captivating about the story for so many reasons. A big part of it is because we now know what the legend was that they were about to launch. Partly also it’s because of the huge challenges the first production team faced, and how so many times it seemed as if the series wouldn’t even make it to the screen, or past its first few episodes. It’s also to do with the varied personalities involved, changing times at the BBC as it moved into the sixties and the drama department changed and evolved… And also, no doubt, a nostalgic interest in the way television was made long ago, if you can be nostalgic for a time long before you were even born!

I knew that it was a great story, and one you could tell as a drama, and of course I was very far from being the first to have that idea. Back in the thirtieth anniversary year, 1993, Kevin Davies (who was in the audience for this screening) had come up with a notion called The Legend Begins, which would have mixed interviews with those responsible for Doctor Who’s creation with a dramatised strand, showing how it all happened with actors in the roles of those well-known names.

This project never came to pass, and Davies eventually made Thirty Years in the TARDIS for BBC One instead, as a (relatively!) straightforward documentary. But with the fortieth anniversary coming up in 2003, Mark Gatiss had a similar idea – to tell the story of the beginnings of Doctor Who as a drama. It never got anywhere, and I remember reading Gatiss’s Doctor Who Magazine feature interview that year, where he spoke about the idea, and I felt sad that it hadn’t come to pass.

Possibly inspired by reading that, I even had a go at writing the story myself, as a novel called 1963. It was rejected by various agents and publishers (probably for the best!), but I was thrilled in 2012 when it was announced that the story was at last to be told in fictionalised form. The BBC had commissioned Gatiss to dust off his old idea for the fiftieth anniversary, and An Adventure in Space and Time was born.

I eagerly, perhaps even obsessively, hoovered up every detail of the production as and when they became available, pored over every on-set photo and read and re-read every interview. It’s long been one the highlights of the anniversary season that I have been looking forward to the most, so I was deliriously happy when I got the chance to attend the premiere screening at the British Film Institute in London, as a reviewer for this website.

After all that waiting, all of that build-up, and having a reasonably good grounding in the real history behind it all… how does An Adventure measure up?

It’s a hop-skip-and-jump through the early history of Doctor Who, but of course it had to be, and I went in knowing that full-well. Those endless reams of documentation and memos of which I spoke are endlessly fascinating to people like me, and perhaps you, and I’m sure to Gatiss as well, but would make for pretty interminable viewing for the average viewer to which BBC Two really have to be reaching out.

Nobody wants to see 90 minutes of people reading detailed BBC documentation to one another. Nonetheless, I was pleased to see that we do get flashes of dialogue between characters that some will recognise from some of those memos that were flying about during the creation of the show – I was particularly pleased that Donald Wilson’s (sadly absent here as a character) note to the editor of the Radio Times about the show being a “knock-out” survives in a line given to Verity Lambert, for example.

Wilson is not the only character to be absent, and like fans perhaps mourning the absence of classic series Doctors from the forthcoming Day of the Doctor, many of us will have favourites who we feel were perhaps worthy of greater recognition, or who have been overlooked. Gatiss himself, in the panel session which followed the screening, mourned the absence of David Whitaker, as he had also done in other interviews prior to the screening.

But part of the problem of the story of the birth of Doctor Who is that it involves so many people, and has so many great stories and sub-plots within it. You could have a whole drama about the work of the Radiophonic Workshop, or about the roles of Raymond Cusick and Terry Nation in creating the Daleks.

What we have here is a condensed, simplified version of Doctor Who’s beginnings painted in broad strokes, with the order of events streamlined and in some cases moved around a little. In fact, there’s even an argument for saying that this isn’t about the creation of Doctor Who at all – it already exists within the first few minutes of the drama, and most of what follows is about the process of actually getting the idea made.

In a lot of the promotion and build-up to An Adventure in Space and Time, it has been promoted as the story of four extraordinary people and how they combined to create a television legend – Sydney Newman, Lambert, Waris Hussein and William Hartnell. I would suggest that this is not quite the case. Newman’s role is really a supporting one, and while there is some focus early in the piece on the relationship between Lambert and Hussein, really it’s Hartnell’s piece, and David Bradley delivers a suitably towering performance in the part. All of the cast are good, but he is especially so, utterly convincing both as the Doctor and, as we now have a little more insight into from the Points West interview, as Hartnell outside of the role. Indeed, a line from that interview even makes it into his dialogue early on, which I thought was a nice touch.

But it’s a piece full of nice touches, none more so than at the end. Before the screening started, we were kindly and rightly asked by the BFI’s Television Programmer Marcus Prince not to share any spoiler details of the drama, and I do not intend to do so here. Indeed, I really, truly hope you don’t see any details about the ending before you see the programme, and are able to come to it fresh – you’ll find it so much more rewarding if you do. I shall simply say that it did not end in the way I had expected, and the way in which it did finish hit me so hard that the tears did indeed begin to flow.

It’s ridiculous. Ludicrous. It’s just a children’s programme that we all enjoy watching. But it was a perfect moment, one that thoroughly deserves to go unspoiled.

I suspect many of the rest of the audience shared my appreciation for it, given the reaction as the end credits rolled. This is the fourth of these 50th anniversary screenings at the BFI which I have attended, but it was the first at which there was a standing ovation as the programme finished.

During the panel, both Bradley and director Terry McDonough said how flattered and moved they had been by the reaction, and McDonough told the audience he’d never been at a screening before where he felt those watching were so engaged with what they were viewing. McDonough deserves praise for his work here, in return – there is a particularly impressive sequence set on the 22nd of November, where what you think you’re watching turns out to be something quite different. You get the feeling from one or two comments that were made during the discussion following the screening that they would have liked to have had a bigger budget, but no lack of effort was visible on screen. Gatiss described one moment he would have liked to have included, during which he mentioned that the final episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan was missing “at the moment,” which prompted laughter from an audience clearly well-versed in the constant merry-go-round of missing episode speculation and rumour!

The panel itself was also a joy, conducted by journalist, broadcaster and well-known Doctor Who fan Matthew Sweet. Joining Bradley and McDonough were Gatiss himself, Sacha Dhawan (who played Waris Hussein) and William Hartnell’s granddaughter, Jessica Carney. Carney had needed to leave the auditorium for a short while after the drama had finished in order to compose herself, which isn’t surprising. If it made some of us feel emotional, how must it feel for her, who had such a close and personal connection to what we being shown? She even appears in the drama as a character herself, which must have been a slightly bizarre experience.

It’s clear that Gatiss wanted this to be a love letter to Doctor Who and a tribute to all of those who were involved in its creation, whether they made it onto the screen or not. It’s not a documentary representation of what happened in 1963, it was clearly never meant to be. It’s a celebration, and in that respect it hits and mark spot-on. And if it inspires a new generation to become fascinated by the history of the show, to learn to explore the real story of what happened, then so much the better.
Compiled by:
Paul Hayes

1963: The Space Race (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 8 November 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

1963: The Space Race
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Jonathan Morris
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Released: October 2013
“So this is all just a big publicity stunt for the benefit of mankind?”

After an underwhelming debut last month, the 1963 range continues in the midst of Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary celebrations with its second instalment, The Space Race. Colin Baker’s incarnation takes centre stage this time around, accompanied by his ever-faithful sidekick Peri Brown. Unless there are intricate story arc elements hidden beneath, it appears that the three chapters of this trilogy will be standalone in nature, with its penultimate outing based around the titular international unspoken competition to reach the Moon first in the 1960s.

To writer Jonathan Morris’ immense credit, from the outset this month’s adventure aspires to greater accomplishments than Fanfare for the Common Men did in October. While there are echoes of Doctor Who episodes old and new throughout, The Moonbase and Cold War among them, simultaneously there’s a refreshing sense of narrative innovation as the Doctor and Peri find themselves embroiled in an extraterrestrial conspiracy which could transform the human race. It’s tragic, then, that Morris’ storyline descends into borderline farcical territory in its second half once the tale’s primary antagonist is revealed, all but ruining any dramatic tension evoked by the powerful opening two episodes.

As ever, The Space Race’s central and supporting cast are its primary redeeming assets. Baker’s portrayal is consistently impressive and more well-rounded than the depiction of his incarnation was in its televised form. Nicola Bryant equally gets a deservedly extensive length of time to flex her vocal muscles alongside her regular co-star and the piece’s supporting members. Of the aforementioned ensemble, Karen Henson is the release’s standout highlight as the enigmatic Larinsa Petrov, bettering the performances of her co-stars in adding new layers of emotive depth to a character who could easily have descended into a representational stereotype in the hands of another actress.

Where this particular instalment thankfully doesn’t get bogged down is in its balancing of homages to the past and bold modern storytelling. Fanfare was an all too disappointing reminder of the dangers of overdependence on nostalgia, so if nothing else this reviewer was reassured to see that Morris doesn’t allow his references to the events of 1963 to overshadow the integrity of his core narrative. If The Assassination Games can retain this established balance as it wraps up the 1963 saga, focusing on the homeland political affairs of the 60s through the eyes of the Seventh Doctor, then perhaps all has not been for nought in Big Finish’s celebratory venture.

All the same, it seems nothing less than a crying shame to be terming this project as such after all of its initial promise. Neither Fanfare of the Common Men nor The Space Race have come anywhere close to matching their studio’s best efforts of 2013, and although the latter does admittedly come nearer to attaining the standard fans should expect of 50th Anniversary tie-ins, it’s still a way off from the highs of Starlight Robbery and The Light at the End. Fans of Colin Baker’s Doctor who have thought his incarnation to be underserved in his televised stories will no doubt be thrilled to witness the sixth Time Lord at his best here, but those thrills will soon subside when The Space Race’s promising narrative loses its dramatic impact at its halfway point. I’ve seen a substantial number of colleagues ask where the best entry point into Big Finish’s Doctor Who universe is- while the answer to that question is difficult to clearly define, I can say without reservations that there are far superior places to head first than the 1963 trilogy on the basis of its mediocre second release.

Adventures With The Wife In SpaceBookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 November 2013 - Reviewed by Emma Foster
Robert Holmes: His Life in Words
Adventures With The Wife In Space
Written by Neil Perryman
Released by Faber and Faber, November 2013

In 2011 Neil Perryman set himself a colossal task - one which many a Doctor Who fan has tried and failed (usually by the time The Sensorites comes up) - the challenge to watch every episode of the classic series in order (including the recons of the missing episodes). He decided to blog about his experiences and, just to add another layer of difficulty, he also decided to do it alongside his wife, Sue - who was not such a fan of the show!

Adventures with the Wife in Space - Living with Doctor Who is not just a paper copy of the blog, however, which is what I thought I would be reading when I picked up this tome. Instead, Perryman had decided to take a more personal angle, framed through playground games, parental break-ups and wince-inducing rugby injuries, and sharing his love with his significant other. All of this will resonate strongly with the mostly male, 40-somethings out there, desperately trying to balance a love which until recently was regarded as deeply uncool with an unimpressed life partner. In fact, it so strongly resembled the life story of my own husband - right down the diversion from fandom to dally with the temptress that is the ZX Spectrum - that I wondered aloud several times if he was in fact Neil Perryman in disguise! The book then moves on to discuss the blog itself, with lots of interesting bonus graphs for the stat-nerds amongst us breaking down Sue’s scores, plus there is a bonus epilogue where Neil and Sue have a chat about The Name Of The Doctor.

The issue for me, however - for someone who was mostly interested in the story behind the blog itself rather than the life story of one Mr. Neil Perryman - is the fan memoir is a subject that has been well documented, with Nick Griffiths writing 2008’s "Dalek I Loved You" and Toby Hadoke's "Moths Ate My Doctor Scarf" stage play being two very high profile examples. It's fully two thirds of the way through the book before you get to the stuff about the blog itself. While it's nice to know about Perryman's "secret origins" if you will it's just not so unusual or compelling as to necessitate devoting a majority of the book to it.

It's where the book touches on Neil and Sue’s relationship this this volume really succeeds. My husband and I are both Doctor Who fans (him, a life long fan, me since 1994 thanks to UK Gold repeats) we met when I joined his local fan group, our first date was at a Doctor Who location, we walked down the aisle to music from the show. Needless to say Doctor Who is a big part of our lives so the notion of rewatching the whole series with him isn't an odd one. However I'm not sure what I'd do if, for example, my hubby suddenly rediscovered his love for bus spotting and decided to write a blog where he takes me to look at buses! At the beginning of the book Perryman writes "I love my wife, I love Doctor Who. I believe my wife loves me. My wife does not love Doctor Who. I think I can make her change her mind about the latter without upsetting the delicate balance of the former. But do I have the right?" Looking back on the blog in the company of the book it seems his decision was more than vindicated. One of the the most interesting things to note for me is that Sue seems to found that her appreciation of post 2005 Doctor Who (which she seemed to like quite a lot independently of  her duties for the blog) has only increased. Contrast with Neil's constant griping in the epilogue! If I had to guess who of the couple got the most from this marathon, I'd say Sue is the clear winner. I also found anecdotes such as the time Sue managed to upset John Levene in a botched attempt to get him to do some audio for a podcast unbelievably funny - this is what I'm coming to this book for.

Overall, if you're a fan of the blog and want to know all the behind the scenes nitty-gritty this book is a must have, however if you're a newcomer to The Wife in Space then I'd recommend checking out the blog first before diving into this book.