EquilibriumBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 March 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Equilibrium (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley
StarringPeter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and Mark Strickson, with Annette Badland and Nickolas Grace

Picking up where Mistfall left off, Big Finish's new E-Space Trilogy throws the TARDIS crew into a snow globe, as they crash into the icy world of Isenfell - a land of howling storms, black ice, hunters, and snow beasts.

Accepting an invitation of dinner from the imperious Queen Karlina, it soon becomes apparent that all is not well, and Isenfell has a particularly draconian door policy - quite literally one in, one out. Not that this should be too much of a surprise for the Fifth Doctor and friends, invitations to dinner never end particularly well for them, and, as we know, nothing is straightforward in E-Space.

Matt Fitton's script features some fine world-building, and Isenfell is a good combination of quasi-medieval society and Davison-era hard SF. Underneath the fairytale chintz and courtesy of their hosts Karlina (Annette Badland) and Balancer Skarsgard (Nickolas Grace), this world is sick and crumbling - only kept in check by a strict control on the population. Badland and Grace give strong, layered performances, with Badland almost unrecognisable as the former Margaret Slitheen.

As Tegan and Nyssa discover, parents are hiding their young in caves below the surface to avoid the 'balancing'. It gives Nyssa a chance to reflect on how much she misses her own children, in between helping the Doctor unravel Isenfell's mysteries and try and save its people from armageddon. Indeed this is slightly more Nyssa's story than anyone else's.

It's not all bad news though, Turlough gets a bit of female attention for a change, and gets to spend four episodes being scared half to death by the attentions of the barking mad Princess Inger. That said, he doesn't get a lot else to do. The TARDIS crew are split up for much of the story, and Davison and Sarah Sutton get the best scenes together, as Nyssa quietly empathises with the Doctor's desperate struggle to save Isenfell, while everything goes to hell around them. There are no real villains here. Both Karlina and Skarsgard do questionable things, but get their redemption, and Isenfell is saved, but we close as we open - on a cliffhanger, with Tegan in the hold of a mysterious spacecraft, kidnapped for reasons unknown.

Excellently directed by Ken Bentley, with some strong, evocative sound design, Equilibrium is another strong offering from Big Finish. Next stop: The Entropy Plague, and the conclusion of this trilogy. 

 





MistfallBookmark and Share

Saturday, 7 March 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Mistfall (Credit: Big Finish)
Starring Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton,
Mark Strickson, with Jemma Redgrave, Nigel Carrington,
Emily Woodward, Paul Panting, and Matthew Carter

Written By: Andrew Smith, Director:Ken Bentley
Sound Design/Music: Nigel Fairs
Cover Art:Will Brooks

The TARDIS and it's youthful looking inhabitants must cope with a surprise return to E Space, which leads to a dramatic re-acquaintance with the planet Alzarius. Tme has moved on since the events of the original adventure involving the Fourth Doctor, and his devoted team of Romana and K9. They are not alone in touching down on this dangerous planet, as a race of people has come to obtain what they feel is their right, and the well-established Marshmen are also poised to rise once again from their slumber...

 

1980's Full Circle was for myself, and a good number of Tom Baker fans the story where his final season really sparked to life, after two enjoyable but confused efforts. Even to this day many of it's bold ideas and surprise twists impress greatly, and there was a lot of skill behind the camera too, as Peter Grimwade made his directorial debut after being a production assistant on some of the highlights of the 1970s era. It scarcely seems believable that a talented but still inexperienced 17 year old in the form of Andrew Smith was able to outshine many an old hand who had written for the enduring series, but he still firmly acknowledges the help of script-editor Christopher H Bimead.

Some cynics may knock the story regardless for introducing Adric to the Who mythos. In all fairness he never really was utilised as well as even the average companions on the show, with some rather forced shiftiness that was much better done with his eventual successor Turlough. But many mainstream viewers, of whom quite a few were a similar age to the doomed Alzarian, welcomed the rare presence of a male on the Tardis crew. Of course there is always the debate over K9's status given the strong voice acting efforts of John Leeson and David Brierly...

This new story begins with quite a bit of Adric referencing, and certainly Nyssa is quick to spell out the danger of the Marshmen who deprived her dear friend of his one remaining relative. Perhaps though something is missed in deliberately setting this story in the Big Finish timeline where Turlough has come on board, and not having Adric himself forced to re-visit the events that changed his life forever.

Also this is a fundamentally traditional tale - when so many of the best Big Finish productions try to do something a little bit daring. And at times some moments are nothing more than obvious recycling of the source material However the strong backstory and lore created by Andrew Smith does mean that fascinating themes are revisited with new characters, and some moral dilemmas play out with urgency. For those who know Smith's novelisation, there was a lot of thought put into the inter-connected lifeforms on Alzarius and the motivations of character, which did not always survice in the final cut that was demanded by scheduled television such as Doctor Who. This audio drama allows for some of this pruning to be addressed by having new scenarios and types of personality to affect the consequences.The plot is reasonably coherent with some decent obstacles that present themselves as events progress.{C}

Doctor and tenants get the better share... One of those stories where crewe of  4 feels 1 too many at least.The {C}

 

The world created by smith has some real potential, and by having both a clear villain and a shades of grey antagonist in the form of the marsh leader here is some good thematic exploration.For this story to really stand out though, it needed some above average performances from the regulars, or that elusive je ne sais quoi that seems to  make the listener re-examine a person they thought they knew already, in a somewhat different light. Nyssa has been afforded so many 'extra' stories from this busy audio production company, that perhaps even the strongest efforts from Sarah Sutton are blunted, as such an introverted and controlled personality can only be prodded without slipping out of realistic parameters altogether.

In a similar vein, there is no guest star that can be made out as weakening the dramatic effect, but also there isn't a really scene stealing effort either. Jemma Redgrave is certainly credible as a leader, much as she is in the latest on-screen Doctor Who as Kate Stewart. Nigel Carrington is a serviceable villain, who has some sympathetic motives at the core of his actions. The 1980s Fifth Doctor stories tended to have some very striking guest characters, and/or 'celebrity casting' as was much the preference by producer John Nathan Turner, and this production is arguably a contrast in 'playing it safe'.

The dialogue is functional but never that memorable, quirky or revelatory in terms of a particular character's real motives. "Tell Dexeter.. We've come full circle", "Not an alibi, Deciders!!", and even the Marsh-Child bringing on the Tom Baker embellishment 'How odd, I normally get on terribly well with children; none of these are really rivalled by the spoken material this release contains.

But the time passes smoothly enough, and the cliff-hangers are played out with the required 'hook' fans are entitled to expect. Sound effects are very good, and the music fully captures the spirit of the original sublime accompaniment that Paddy Kingsland produced for 'Full Circle'. The documentary also is quite a good listen with some very nice 'off-the-cuff' remarks that show how much of a bond the regular cast have had over the years (both back when they first worked together, and for this new era of plentiful avenues of original Doctor Who).

I cannot put my hand on heart and say that this is an unmissable product, but it still may be worth several hours of your time if you are the type of aficionado that enjoys a sequel that keeps closely to the spirit of the original.  The final stages do not disappoint in getting the immediate jeopardy wrapped up, and then urging the listener on to the next part of this 'Return to E-Space' trilogy. it could well be a quite bumpy ride in this unknown universe for our four heroes...