Shakedown - A 'New Adventures' Story (Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 7 June 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Shakedown (Credit: BBC Audio)
An Audio Reading Of 'The New Doctor Who Adventures' Novel

Written by Terrance Dicks

Read By Dan Starkey

Released By BBC AUDIO: 5th May 2016

The Doctor, alongside his youthful companions Chris Cwej and Roz Forrester, is tracking a Rutan spy which remorselessly continues a destructive rampage at the cost of various innocent lives. The justification? The securing of a decisive advantage for the Rutan race, in their aeons-old war against the squat and belligerent Sontaran clone warrior forces.

The pursuit of this lethal being - that can mimic the appearance of its dead victims in order to confuse any adversaries - leads the Doctor to separate from his friends and find himself on Space Station Alpha. There, the elegantly designed Tiger Moth racing yacht will soon begin its very first journey across the stars. Chris and Roz have their own agenda to pursue within the bustling Megacity, capital of a mining planet, and a hotbed of corruption, criminal activities, and Wolverine ferocities.

In the meantime, the Doctor's third associate in his time and space travels - Bernice Summerfield - is trapped on the library planet Sentarion where religious zealots have promised to slay her, if she leaves the sacred temple.

After both the Rutan spy and a squad of Sontarans face off on Captain Lisa Deranne's Tiger Moth, the chase finally comes to a climax on Sentarion. Can the Doctor's wits and wisdom be enough to save the cosmos from either one of these cruel and destructive species?

 

Shakedown is a curious entity in the Doctor Who universe. Originally it was mainly focused on uniting Doctor Who and Blake's 7 acting alumni, namely Carole Ann Ford, Sophie Aldred and Michael Wisher, as well as Jan Chappell and Brian Croucher. Legal rights at the time meant that only the Sontarans and a Rutan could be brought back from the Doctor Who canon, and the Doctor himself could only be vaguely referenced in dialogue.

Produced as a fast paced straight to video extravaganza, it was directed by the diligent and innovative Kevin Davies, and written by the ever-trustworthy Terrance Dicks. The original VHS video was only on release at specialist shops or on mail order in 1994, before later being reissued with a 'Making Of' documentary, and made available in mainstream shops. There has been no official DVD release yet sadly, and perhaps this may never be the case. Regardless, it is still worth tracking down should one have access to VHS player (that still manages to function!).

The story was considered to be worthy enough for a fuller novelisation/New Adventures combination in late 1995. That book was designed so that the film's events formed the central 'book' of three, and thus both an original prequel and sequel 'book' gave substance to the initial brisk storyline. Dicks returned to carry out the necessary expansions, and thus produced one of the more immediately enjoyable and readable entries in the book line, then-licensed to Virgin.  Whilst the New Adventures could be thrilling reads, they also frequently strayed into territory that was unwelcome to those of the youngest ages, and also could be rather verbose and more 'hard-sci-fi' than most TV stories, To my mind, Doctor Who is meant to be enjoyed by all ages. Whilst these books undeniably helped with the TV show returning in the 'Noughties', they perhaps should be regarded as interesting but optional, in terms of the general 21st Century fan's reading list.

More positively, this story was in a period where the (literary) Sylvester McCoy incarnation of our title hero was blessed with a TARDIS crew that included the lovably unique Bernice Summerfield, and the  duo of Roz and Chris - 30th century specialist police investigators. This clutch of companions was difficult to write badly, and Dicks masterfully adds to their story arcs. He also, in typical fashion, allows first-timers the luxury of being able to know sufficiently detail on who these characters are, where they come from, and what makes them tick.

The plot here is easy to follow, without being simplistic, and manages to get round the issues of the Shakedown film having a fairly conclusive ending. It avoids doing so by mere contrivance, and instead cleverly adds to the mythology of how the Sontarans and Rutans are able to survive, and pursue their agendas, through ingenious and deceitful means. The Seventh Doctor is very well done by Dicks here, and perhaps this should be no surprise given how the prolific script editor and story writer had contributed one of the earliest gems in the book line - 'Timewyrm: Exodus' - set during an alternative timeline where the Nazis won the Second World War.

As for this actual BBC Audio release, which is now just the latest of a rapidly growing collection, I can assure readers that the eight hours running time provides much to enjoy and admire. I was quite delighted to learn that Dan Starkey returns as the main contributor, and he effortlessly makes the most of Terrance Dicks' fluent prose. The narration of the various expository, descriptive and action-oriented prose never falters for a single minute. Starkey continues to excel in showcasing his voice acting range, and provides enough distinct character voices to help make this feel like an audio play, and not just a simple reading.

At 7 CDs this is a considerable investment in listener commitment. Yet, I can assert that 'tempus fugit' really does apply here. The intensity and intrigue of the plot and action dovetails, as chapter follows chapter.

So whether you are somebody old enough for this story to provide nostalgia, or a newcomer keen to know more about the many adventures of the Seventh Doctor outside his limited TV lifespan, this is a fine bit of diversion. 2016 really has begun to heat up, and the long-awaited Class spin off will soon be onscreen, and declaring its own spin-off credentials...





Torchwood: Moving Target (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 7 June 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Moving Target (Credit: Big Finish / Lee Binding)
Written by Guy Adams
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Indira Varma (Suzie Costello), Naomi McDonald (Alex), Nicholas Burns (The Referee)
Released by Big Finish Productions - June 2016

“The twenty-first century is when everything changes…and I should have been ready.”

Well, that’s one way to start a new instalment of Torchwood ten years on from the series’ debut, we suppose.

If nothing else, nine releases into their take on the four season-spanning Doctor Who spin-off show, it’s to the credit of James Goss and the rest of his writing team’s creative vision that they’re still able to offer up neat little surprises such as this on regular occasions, especially given the constraints placed upon them by having to limit the cast of each tale produced so far to but a handful of players at most. Take also the return of Indira Varma to the role of Suzie Costello; like Tracy Ann-Oberman’s feisty Yvonne Hartman before her, Varma’s complacent Torchwood Three agent met her on-screen demise – or rather whose first demise – almost just as speedily as the show’s itself. Yet far from giving Suzie equally minimal attention, the minds of Big Finish have instead opted to structure an entire one-hour drama around her pre-deathly days - this time going by the name MovingTarget - a development which it’s safe to say most fans of the original programme wouldn’t have easily predicted at first.

With that being said, however, much as the prospect of delving deeper into a morally ambiguous secret agent’s psyche than the show ever did in Everything Changes may have sounded like a sure-fire route to success for Big Finish, the piece’s surprises come to a halt almost as soon as the show’s iconic theme tune signals the end of its first track. That the core narrative driving Suzie’s actions forward feels so predictable from the outset doesn’t help its case; Varma’s still reckless, still trigger-happy character finds herself tasked with resolving a situation not unlike that posed in the 2007 Who serial Smith and Jones or 2010’s The Sarah Jane Adventures two-parter The Empty Planet as virtually all of the Earth’s inhabitants are frozen by extra-terrestrials, prompting her to join forces with the only other human being able to move a muscle as a band of other-worldy hunters recruited by the Committee give chase across Cardiff. Given the rather overly familiar nature of the premise as well as the fandom’s complete awareness of Suzie’s dark side, the hope would surely have been that writer Guy Adams could have subverted our perceptions of both the story format and Ms. Costello herself, but barring a rather charming interlude involving a bottle of vodka during the third act, Adams sticks to purely safe territory here, structuring most of the plot around a repetitive, overextended chase sequence before wrapping up in a manner which just about any long-term fan of the show’s televised incarnation will see coming from a mile off.

There are those academics who would argue, of course, that no one work of fiction can ever boast a truly original storyline, with the vast majority of tales conforming to one of seven predefined formats or genres such as the tragedy or the epic, but even so, we’ve already seen this range of audio dramas in particular regularly venture into unexpected territory, what with its dabbling with sexually provocative, existentially challenged androids in January’s UncannyValley as well as Queen Victoria’s final days in TheVictorianAge. The transition back into the more pedestrian, less shocking realms of storytelling here seems that much more jarring, then, as does the equal lack of effort invested in developing Suzie’s partner-in-crime of sorts, Alex, beyond the realms of ordinary expectation: as with the overall narrative, the trajectory of Naomi McDonald’s wayward citizen seems all but certain from the moment her role in the aforementioned hunt becomes explicitly clear, giving the listener a disappointing sense of inevitability in terms of how events play out, especially when compared to the unpredictable nature of recent Torchwood releases like February’s Zone10 or recent Big Finish box-sets such as their War Doctor compilations.

Yet one element which doesn’t betray this fourth outing of Season Two’s quality is the casting: despite the brevity of her on-screen appearances, Varma makes quite the impact as Suzie once more, bringing to the surface shades of sincerity, regret and a genuine hope of redemption that barely had chance to manifest themselves on the small screen. Arguably to a greater extent than was the case with Tom Price’s performance last month, there’s an inherent subtlety about the way in which the actress portrays this evidently morally apathetic, unashamedly selfish yet somehow almost tragic antihero as she attempts to cling to the path of righteousness, only for the more cold-hearted aspects of her personality – aspects which, it’s implied, might even be the result of a troubled upbringing – to re-emerge as the situation facing her and Alex takes a turn for the very worst. Her co-stars McDonald and Nicholas Burns – who plays an irksome android tasked with monitoring the last sentient humans’ progress – don’t suffer in the slightest from not having appeared in the TV series prior to now, though: if anything, they deserve just as much commendation for injecting their constructs with such sympathy-inducing innocence and charming malice respectively, with Alex in particular coming off as a refreshingly emotionally layered mother-to-be thanks in no small part to McDonald’s performance more-so than Adams’ somewhat clichéd characterisation and structuring of her arc. It’s often difficult to fully acknowledge the contribution of director Scott Handcock to the range’s strengths, but suffice to say that he and his players worked in fine unison this time around, producing a set of performances which just about warrant a listen from series devotees.

Beyond that more dedicated section of Torchwood fandom, though, it’s unlikely that Moving Target will come off as a true masterpiece to most casual listeners. Sure, it’s a more compelling listen than last October’s Oberman-starring OneRule, yet that both scripts were penned by Adams and both have ranked as the range’s weakest outings to date on account of their uninspiring chase-driven storylines, shallow characterisation of their supporting constructs and overall lacklustre quality could suggest that Goss and Adams might need to have words regarding how best the latter scribe might go about drafting his next contribution to the range. Neither of his two scripts have resulted in absolute travesties, admittedly, rather a couple of merely passable storylines which would interest rather than captivate most listeners and wherein a great deal of potential felt unfulfilled. That the three-strong cast’s turns here serve to render the tale at hand as an infinitely more engaging fiction than it might have been with a less accomplished ensemble is at least its saving grace, but even so, Adams can’t rely on this to always be the case; indeed, his scripts may well need to ramp up their ambition in order to come anywhere close to matching the range’s best efforts to date. In the meantime, this reviewer will retire to his local pub in the hope of meeting a dashing American and an endearingly shy butler who can work together to lift his spirits – and speaking of which, look who’s just around the corner…






Torchwood: Ghost Mission (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 7 June 2016 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Ghost Mission (Credit: Big Finish / Lee Binding)
Written by James Goss
Directed by Scott Handcock
Starring: Tom Price (Sergeant Andy Davidson), Samuel Barnett (Norton Folgate), David Warner (OAP), Lisa Bowerman (Quite Anxious Shopper), Laura Doddington and Aaron Neil (The Graces)
Released by Big Finish Productions - May 2016

Building momentum over the course of a season’s first half rarely tends to be difficult for skilled writing teams, yet maintaining that momentum poses a far greater challenge.

Take Ghost Mission, the James Goss-penned, Scott Handcock-helmed third instalment of Big Finish’s second series of Torchwood storylines, which undertakes the unenviable mission of not only following up the thrilling capers of TheVictorianAge along with the more nuanced mysteries of Zone10, but equally striving to ensure that Season Two doesn’t lose any of the traction gained so far moving into its latter three instalments. Try as he might, Goss seems to struggle under the weight of the task at hand, presenting more of a filler instalment with only the shallowest of impacts on the run’s wider plot arc that, despite its mildly intriguing premise and competent characterisation, unfortunately doesn’t quite leave as noteworthy an impact as its esteemed forebears.

Before we come onto those contributory elements which hold the piece back from greatness, however, it’s worth noting that there’s plenty here to keep dedicated fans of Torchwood’s most unsung defender of humanity, Tom Price’s ever-lovable Sergeant Andy Davidson, more than content until this month’s fourth chapter – MovingTarget, featuring the return of Indira Varma as the not-so-late Suzie Costello – hits the Big Finish website. For one, Price couldn’t have slipped back into his long-running role with greater ease judging by his hilarious yet sympathetic performance here, easily an aspect of the play which ensures that even when Goss’ script takes a turn for the mundane – more on which later – listeners are all but guaranteed a laugh or two in the meantime, if not a teary eye or two judging by the surprisingly poignant way in which Andy’s latest solo adventure reaches its conclusion.

Don’t take our use of the term “solo” to describe this Cardiff-set excursion as meaning that Andy’s alone in discovering how out-of-the-ordinary chemical slippages connect to the ongoing schemes of the Committee, however: as has been the format of virtually all of the range’s releases so far, Ghost Mission essentially takes the form of a two-hander, with Price’s occasionally bumbling, occasionally authoritative policeman matching wits with Norton Folgate, a ghostly apparition from the 20th Century who’s supposedly come to assess Andy’s viability as a candidate for Gwen Cooper’s newly-resurrected incarnation of Torchwood Three. Samuel Barnett takes on voicing duties here, and a great job he does of it too – not only does he capture the understated charisma which Goss endows the character with perfectly, but he also manages to give the construct enough emotional sincerity to ensure that Andy’s belief in Norton’s convincing account of his connections to the Torchwood organization feels genuine rather than the pair’s partnership seeming like nothing more than a contrived, unrealistic plot device unbefitting of Price’s oft-dubious character.

In a similar vein to past instalments in the series, Price and Barnett are joined fleetingly by a handful of co-stars such as David Warner as a delightfully sinister OAP to whom there may well be more than initially meets the eye, Lisa Bowerman as a Welsh shopper who has the misfortune of coming into contact with one of the previously-mentioned chemical spillages as well as both Laura Doddington and Aaron Neil as the deadly alien Graces whose only real narrative purpose is to serve as a sudden physical obstacle for Andy to overcome as best as he can. This in turn brings us back to this occasionally forgettable third outing’s flaws, however – whereas in April’s Zone 10, both Ella Garland and Geoffrey Breton made sizable impacts during their brief time on air as traumatised astronaut Anna Volokova and an unrelentingly aggressive FSB agent respectively, none of Ghost Mission’s supporting cast members receive any dialogue from Goss that could bring them anywhere close to matching their predecessors, hence why they’re unlikely to be the members of the cast ensemble who leave a tangible impact on the listener’s memory come the credits. Admittedly it’s probably more a case of the inclusion of esteemed thespians like Warner and Bowerman – both of whom shine elsewhere in Big Finish’s catalogue, for example in the Doctor Who Unbound series – raising this reviewer’s expectations of their characters’ presences further than usual, yet even so, that only the two leading players get a true chance to impress here certainly represents a severe missed opportunity on the playwright’s part.

That said, gripes like this one would be far more forgivable if Goss’ central, fairly standalone narrative didn’t leave so much to be desired. It’s fine and dandy for the range’s scribes to divert somewhat from the overarching tale of Torchwood’s centuries-spanning mission to bring down the Committee every now and then, as evidenced by the wholly enjoyableFalltoEarth last October, yet in order for this approach to pay dividends, the procedural plot which said scribe thinks up needs to be just as compelling as its Committee-centred counterparts, if not more-so. Quite to the contrary, though, barring a brilliantly tense exchange between Andy and Warner’s OAP which does lightly tie events back into the Committee’s ever-increasing influence on the lives of Torchwood Three and its allies – even shedding unexpected further light on the events of Zone 10 by revealing how the red key which Tosh was given found its way back through the timelines when Andy first encountered it long after Ms. Sato’s demise – the central plotline feels remarkably pedestrian, rarely developing many themes beyond Andy’s enduring longing to fulfil his own potential or uninspired ‘action’ sequences – such as his attempts to avoid the Graces by hiding in the nearest garbage container – in any great detail, thereby resulting in a rather hollow listening experience that seems all but doomed to be forgotten in a few months’ time judging by the relative dramatic strength of the recently-released trails for both the Season Two finale Made You Look and November’s team-up box-set Outbreak.

Ultimately, then, Ghost Mission can’t quite warrant as wholehearted a recommendation as the opening two instalments of Torchwood’s second series in the hands of Big Finish, owing mainly to the disappointingly unambitious nature of Goss’ latest contribution to the studio’s array of licensed storylines along with the unfulfilled promise of layered performances from studio legends like David Warner and Lisa Bowerman. To its credit, Price and Barnett’s accomplished performances – as well as Goss’ entertaining portrayal of their two constructs – just about serve to keep the play engaging enough to prevent listeners from switching off their CD or MP3 players, but even so, most listeners will all but definitely come away thinking Season Two has lost some of its earlier momentum here rather than maintaining it as hoped; unfortunately, they’re not wrong either.





The King's Demons (audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 June 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The King's Demons (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terence Dudley
Read by Mark Strickson
Duration 5 hours approx.
Released 5th May 2015 (buy from Amazon UK)
 

We’re told that there is a fashion for slow television now, the latest Nordic trend to be picked up by BBC Four. Terence Dudley’s novelization of The King’s Demons is perhaps best appreciated as slow Doctor Who. However, this is no sleigh ride or canal journey. Listening to the audiobook of the story, it feels that every incident is subjected to multiple assessments and every epithet is sent in search of a synonym and in due course an antonym.

Terence Dudley’s practice as a drama series producer was often to emphasise his guest cast at the expense of his regulars. Something similar happens in the book of The King’s Demons where Dudley seems to feel his audience should be more interested in his own creations than they are in the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. This would be less of a problem were Ranulf Fitzwilliam, Geoffrey de Lacey and the rest better-developed, but instead the listener learns little more about their backgrounds than was disclosed on television. One isn’t actually sure whether Dudley likes the Doctor and Tegan all that much. The Doctor is often priggish, smug and prone to supercilious disclosure of information. More uncomfortable is the characterization of Tegan: to be Australian and female is enough. Once Ranulf has decided that she must be a succubus – a demon who seduced men and weakened and killed them through sexual activity – Dudley likes to return to this as often as he can.

The King’s Demons has less plot than it has situation, and Dudley seems more interested in this than in story. Dudley likes to play a little with the vocabulary of material culture – he’s fond of people drinking from stoups, for example – and there is more in the text to correct the idea that Pip and Jane Baker had a monopoly on arcane and archaic wordplay in 1980s Doctor Who. The King’s Demons is painted on a small canvas but at least it has detail. Sadly a lot of that detail undermines its effectiveness. Archaic vocabulary if not used well can make an author seem self-satisfied. As for its sense of political history, Dudley seems to have read a book on King John which sought to revise conventional assumptions about his reputation, but then misunderstood it. In the novelization, Dudley not only repeats his dubious assessment that Magna Carta should be seen not as a baronial victory over the king but as an expression of enlightened royal policy, but then suggests that the charter King John signed in 1215 wasn’t as important as a later revised reissue under his son Henry III anyway. This may have something to it, but it only emphasises the oddness of the Master’s quest to prevent Magna Carta from being signed.

The source novelisation might be problematic, but this production does its best to overcome the material. Mark Strickson is a polished and sensitive narrator and the music cues are used with restraint and to good effect, though this version misses the lute playing and Strickson doesn’t attempt to sing King John’s song. His Tegan makes one wince but this accurately reflects how badly she is served by the book. Strickson does handle the many two-handed scenes of confinement well, especially the interrogation of Turlough by Sir Gilles Estram. The latter is one of the stronger characters in the book, despite his being a performance by another character, the Master. Strickson’s French accent is more thoughtful even if just as theatrical as Anthony Ainley’s was on television. The story, such as it is, is full of outsiders being cast as other people – the TARDIS travellers as demons, the Master as Sir Gilles, Kamelion as King John – but it ends with their Fitzwilliam hosts and the audience wondering what it was all about.

Sadly this is an audio adaptation for completists and the especially curious only. Terence Dudley’s grasp of what made Doctor Who work doesn’t seem to have been strong, and his belief that Tegan was still at this stage seeking to return to ‘London Airport’ (itself an anachronism in the 1980s) speaks of his detachment from the series’ continuing storylines. The effort of BBC Audio in bringing this to release is appreciated, but it’s a good thing that there remain better books than this to adapt in the novelization range.





Short Trips: This Sporting Life (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 June 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
This Sporting Life (Short Trips) (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Una McCormack
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Sound design and music by Steve Foxon
Cover art by Anthony Lamb
Narrated by Peter Purves
Released by Big Finish Productions on 31 May 2016

I’m not really a football person, and until inspired to do some factchecking by ThisSportingLife, Una McCormack’s new Short Trip for Big Finish, I had only the faintest glimmer of a memory that the World Cup had been stolen when on display in London in March 1966. While This Sporting Life has Steven Taylor dismiss football as an ‘idiotic sport for idiotic people’, Una McCormack’s tale displays her awareness of the power of mythology, of memory and of human kindness, and their role in the layering of the human experience.

Mythology is honoured largely in the juxtaposition of several elements from the lore of Doctor Who and from the popular history of England. Steven arrives sceptical about Dodo’s vaunted ‘swinging city’ and he doesn’t find it, appropriately as this story is set before The War Machines and Doctor Who has not yet started to swing. Similarly Peter Purves’s Lancashire accent is audible here in his narration, his Steven and also his Dodo, a reminder that when Jackie Lane was cast someone thought that to be hip and edgy teenagers still had to dance to the Mersey Beat, or if not sound as if they came from within a few miles of Coronation Street. It's early in 1966, and Dodo shows no awareness that the World Cup will be won by England that year, a victory which became part of a bittersweet legend of misplaced national glory indulged in by some over succeeding decades. Within the context of the story London is superficially still a dusty, fusty city which doesn’t yet boast of its cosmopolitanism.

The title is an irrestistible nod towards the film remembered in Doctor Who histories as the one in which Verity Lambert saw William Hartnell and thought that he was a strong candidate for the part of the Doctor. It’s also an oblique reminder of the initial presentation of the Doctor – a nervous refugee, his presence undisclosed to the authorities of his host world, his granddaughter attending a London school under an identity which doesn’t draw attention to her origins. As far as this story is concerned, the theft of the World Cup is to the benefit of some other refugees who are very anxious to reach their goal, and who bear ready comparison with the Doctor as audiences first knew him.

Employing a character and the actor who played him from the Doctor Who of fifty years ago works very well here. Steven was a man of the future, in some eyes awkwardly placed as the identification figure for the audience of 1966. However, our Space Year 2016 feels a more earthbound one than 1960s audiences might have expected, and Steven can represent our distance from the cultural peculiarities of his and our past. We and Steven are visitors to the environment McCormack builds from elements of 1960s popular fiction, the jobsworth policeman, the solitary goldsmith exiled from pre-war Mitteleuropa, the dark and narrow alleyways of run-down warehouses along the Thames. (It’s a mark of McCormack’s skill that this is conjured up with little use of placenames.) The incidental music complements this, a contemporary sound but with echoes of first and fifth Doctor-era scores.

This all helps fuel the engine of this small but powerful story, which concerns universal values of compassion and how they can, if we choose, overcome the cruelty and cowardice which the Doctor has come to abhor. It’s about being curious but learning to ask the right questions and finding the right answers to them, something at the essence of the Doctor and Doctor Who. Unlike some longer Doctor Who stories, it wears the issue of the Doctor’s involvement in historical events lightly, but in a way which doesn’t trouble the Doctor’s ‘Not one line!’ of The Aztecs very much at all. ThisSportingLife is a happy thirty-five minutes of mystery and resolution which nevertheless makes more than a nod towards facing our own present-day terrors.





Aquitaine (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 June 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Aquitaine (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Matthew Cottle (Hargreaves), Harry Myers (Dr Sergei Akunin), Nina Sosanya (Captain Anna Maynard), Gerald Kyd (Lt Maurizio Savinio),
Danusia Samal (Lt Freya Jennings)

Big Finish Productions – Released February 2016
Purchase from Amazon UK

When the title of this release was first announced it might’ve been assumed that this release was referring to the Duchy of Aquitaine once ruled over by Henry II’s famous Queen Eleanor. Alas, the idea of a historical cross-over between Doctor Who and The Lion in Winter will have to wait for another day as the title of this story refers to a space ship called HMS Aquitaine. The story opens with the ship’s artificial intelligence Hargreaves left look after things on his own in a scene which put this reviewer in mind of the Red Dwarf episode ‘Kryten’. Further similarities between the Aquitaine and the small rouge one follow as after responding to Hargreaves’ distress signal the Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan learn that the ship is in the vicinity of a black hole. Any listeners with a smattering of sci-fi knowledge will soon realise that the ‘ghosts’ which start appearing are a result of the black hole causing temporal disturbance which surprisingly seems to take the Doctor a long time to work out. However, the eventual explanation for what is really going on and the gradual re-introduction of the missing crew characters leads to worthwhile developments in the story particularly during the second half of the play.

Of the supporting cast, particular mention must go to Matthew Cottle who is kept extremely busy throughout the play as the voice of the AI which controls the ship and the various service robots. His performance is constantly charming throughout and a joy to listen to. It is also a joy to hear Nina Sosanya as Captain Maynard, a role which seems much more rewarding than her TV appearance as Trish in the 2006 TV episode Fear Her. A final mention should go to Big Finish regular Harry Myers, whose Russian accent renders him almost unrecognisable, giving an enjoyable performance as Dr Akunin.

Even though the plot necessitates that the Doctor become separated from his companions the camaraderie between Peter Davison, Sarah Sutton, and Janet Fielding still shines through as strongly as ever. It is also to recommended that this story is very much a standalone from previous adventures and sits comfortably within the TV canon of season 20. This stands in direct opposition to the previous releases featuring Tegan, Turlough and the older Nyssa which were much more reliant on the continuity of previous releases and as such not as accessible to new listeners.

Overall, this story’s enjoyment is largely to be found in its simplicity as it stands neatly on its own. Whilst not being the most entirely original or memorable play ever to emerge from the Big Finish stables, this is still a worthwhile addition to the audio canon. On this form, it can only be hoped that the trio of the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Tegan will go on to have many more such adventures.