The Eleventh Doctor Year 2 #8 - DowntimeBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 August 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

DOCTOR WHO: ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.8 (Credit: Titan)
Writer - Si Spurrier,   Artist - Warren Pleece
(Assists: Adriano Vicente, Wellington Dias + Raphael Lobosco)
Colorist - Arianna Florean + Nicola Righi With Azzurra Florean

*(Abslom Daak created by Steve Moore + 
Steve Dillon, 
Aappearing courtesy of Panini Comics, 
with thanks to Doctor Who Magazine)

Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Assistant Editors - Jessica Burton + Gabriela Houston

Main cover - Todd Nauck + Hi- Fi

Senior Editor - Andrew James, Designer - Rob Farmer

A cantina bar bustling with life, but also dodgy dealings that result in strife. A 'neutral' zone reminiscent of one of scum and villainy in a universe, far, far, away. After leaving behind the notorious prison planet Shada, and by quite ingenious means at that, the intrepid heroes who are hoping to achieve a just result for their leader - the Doctor - have managed to land somewhere somewhat less intense in terms of immediate danger.

 

Daak manages to have an audience with an old acquaintance, and soon he is embroiled in a mental to-and-fro battle, rather than the casual chit chat that first seemed on the cards. Surprisingly the Dalek killer of yester-centuries proves as adept at a battle of wits as he does with chainsaw, sidearm and fists. But, ultimately of more concern is the Doctor losing his rein on his more conventionally heroic TARDIS crew. Alice and the Squire both fervently disagree with the cold-hearted ends-justify-the-means rationale their normally laudable friend seems to be adopting. Could this be one step too far in making a motley crew cease to cling to one another?

 

After a succession of fast pasted action and intense exposition this story functions as a one part stopover. Thus sufficient time is given to the various principles to reflect on how they are coping, both emotionally and physically, with the various galactic time-bending hi-jinks thrown into their way. Rob Williams is not in the drivers seat for writing duties this issue (nor indeed for Issue 9 either from the looks of the preview pages).  Instead we have Si Spurrier returning, who has left his own distinctive mark on the Year 2 arc. Spurrier perhaps is more at home with the melodramatic and purely interpersonal aspects than the sweeping epic and darker satire of Williams. It is a big and dramatic leap in style, given just how serious the preceding two issues were in essence. It is also comparable to the 'mid-way switch' in art that Issue 7 offered to readers. This individual story has quite a bit less to make it essential to understanding the overall arc, and by the same token can be enjoyed by casual or one-off readers as most of it stands well enough on its own.

 

In terms of the big draw for many general Doctor Who fans, who may not even like the Eleventh Doctor as much as they do other versions, there is some good material again for the fascinating 'non-chronological' Professor River Song. River is clearly at a stage where she is not all sweetness and light. Whilst not as off the rails as in Let's Kill Hitler, she is far from either the cuddly aunty or the reverent daughter figure (that the Ponds had to become used to). But then the Doctor is no angel here either and seems to have almost used revelation of his complicity in mass death to suddenly relax his moral code. He ends up blatantly abandoning a companion near the end of this instalment, and simply because that person can fight well enough to dig herself out of most forms of danger. Whilst he left people like Sarah behind in times past, it was only out of protectiveness.

 

But of course the wider scope of this all allows for suspense, and also keeps us guessing if one or more of what seemed reliable allies may suddenly have cause to betray the Doctor, when such a thought seemed barely credible.

 

EXTRAS:

Again, the bonus humour strip is seemingly stripped away for a hiatus. An alternate photo-style cover from Will Brooks is featured in full page glory, as is a second alternate art cover from the main art team.

 

 





Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 12 August 2016 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories (Credit: Big Finish / Anthony Lamb)
Written By: Mark Ravenhill, Una McCormack, LM Myles, Nev Fountain
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Jemma Churchill (Safira Valtris/Dr Maria Backhouse), Andy Secombe (Laris/Akros/Policeman), Allison McKenzie (Tondra/Dr Joan Dalton), Janet Henfrey (Dr Petherbridge), Jessica Knappett (Dr Ruth Horwitz), Paul Panting (Maylon/Geoff/Llangragen), Anjella Mackintosh (Standing/Olivia), Phil Mulryne (Trobe/Warma), Johnny Gibbon (Michael), Toby Fountain (Young Trobe)
Producer: David Richardson
Script Editor: Alan Barnes
Executive Producrs: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released by Big Finish Productions - July 2014

Similar to the studio’s recent Companion Chronicles compilations, Big Finish’s Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories compiles together four bite-sized audio dramas, the narratives of which are united by a single thematic strand but otherwise serve as standalone affairs. Yet whereas June’s The Second Doctor Volume One box-set explored the ongoing personal journey of Jamie McCrimmon from aggressive Highlander to a seasoned, educated time traveller over the course of his tenure aboard the TARDIS, this Sixth Doctor-centric anthology takes a far more abstract approach, examining in detail the concept of perception from, quite aptly, a range of perspectives over the course of its two-hour running time.

As ever, rather than simply offering a sweeping, potentially misrepresentative verdict on the overall compilation from the outset, this reviewer shall examine each of the four contributory instalments making up Breaking Bubbles on a case-by-case basis before delivering a few broader thoughts on whether the box-set warrants a purchase at the piece’s conclusion. Read on, then, to discover whether a collection bold enough to base its title on one of the most popular TV shows in recent memory – though without stealing its inspired drug-addled premise or constructs, unfortunately – manages to reach the same colossal highs or falls woefully short of its loose namesake…

“Breaking Bubbles”:

This first instalment’s action commences in an extraterrestrial botanical garden, only for LM Myles to gradually reveal that this rural environment forms but a single section of a prison ship carrying deadly, sentient cargo. Soon enough, the Doctor and Peri find themselves separated as they wrestle with whether the criminal status of Safira Valtris, a former emperor whose deposition from the throne prompted her to lead an illegal coup against her cousin, instantly labels her as foe rather than friend. This, along with the myriad holograms Ms. Valtris deploys to fool the Doctor long enough to halt his progress, in turn kicks the aforementioned uniting theme of perception into gear, albeit with enough subtlety that listeners won’t feel as if they’re being rammed over the head with regular references to the subject matter along the way.

In terms of the performances bolstering this particular outing, Jemma Churchill brilliantly conveys the moral ambiguity of Valtris’ personality, transitioning between her longing for freedom and her willingness to turn violent if necessary effortlessly as and when the script dictates, while Andy Secombe and Allison McKenzie do a perfectly fine job of presenting their police officers as characters whose control of the situation flies out of the window within moments of the narrative starting up, even if their dialogue doesn’t exactly offer them the world to work with aside from one sequence bringing McKenzie’s vengeful Tondra face to face with her prisoner. As for our leading man and lady, although Colin Baker’s Doctor doesn’t serve much of a significant narrative purpose in this instance beyond searching for the now-captive Peri within the ship’s deceptive corridors, Nicola Bryant resultantly gets plenty of time to shine, depicting her oft-dismissed companion as one who’s completely capable of holding her own in the absence of her Time Lord ally, subtly manipulating Valtris so as to ensure both her own survival as well as that of the ship’s other inhabitants.

“Breaking Bubbles” won’t set the world alight and certainly didn’t earn itself many awards for Best Audio Drama back in 2014, but as a morally complex vignette intended to get proceedings underway in psychologically intriguing fashion, as well as a showcase of the enduring performing talents of Bryant along with her memorable one-off co-stars, it’s as fine a storyline as almost any produced by Big Finish to date.

“Of Chaos Time The”:

No, this reviewer hasn’t lost his ability to structure his sentences correctly; in fact, the bizarre syntax of this second instalment’s title factors directly into the piece’s utterly surreal narrative. Right from the off, it’s impossible not to recognise shades of Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow and the sequence involving the Eleventh Doctor regressing through his personal timeline in The Big Bang, as the Sixth Doctor navigates his warped chronology, jumping between his efforts to prevent a potentially catastrophic explosion and his investigation with Peri into an alien hospital for wounded victims of war, all taking place as part of an irksome time loop. One could argue we’ve seen this style of narrative structure before, yet given that he manages to throw Baker’s incarnation into an all manner of stake-laden situations during his efforts to set time back on course, writer Mark Ravenhill certainly can’t be accused of a lack of creative innovation in this instance.

What’s more, whilst too rarely are Baker’s immense talents as an audio performer given due praise, they can’t possibly be overlooked here, since the recent I’m a Celebrity contestant’s latest turn as his Doctor all but holds the tale together, ensuring listeners have a logical through-line to enable their comprehension of the wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey events occurring. Just as importantly, though, he displays a level of sympathy towards innocent bystanders that his incarnation only infrequently exhibited on-screen during his 1980s tenure aboard the TARDIS, all but guaranteeing – with the help of Ravenhill’s engaging dialogue, of course – that even those sceptics who couldn’t get on with Peter Davison’s successor and Sylvester McCoy’s predecessor during his televised days will have a riot of a time here regardless.

Anyone looking for a work of science-fiction which realigns their entire perspective on the genre had best look elsewhere, yet anyone who’s often been unsure why the Sixth Doctor’s Big Finish storylines are held in such high esteem compared to their televised counterparts could do far worse than to start with this accomplished sophomore outing.

“An Eye For Murder”:

Based in a women’s college enduring the early days of the Second World War, “An Eye for Murder” tasks the Doctor and Peri with investigating the unexplained deaths of several scientists after a case of mistaken identity leads the principal to confuse Nicola Bryant’s character with a famous contemporary novelist, Miss Sarah Perry, and in doing so hilariously assume the Doctor to be her typewriting, ideally silent companion as opposed to the flamboyant, argumentative charmer fans came to know and – for the most part – adore during his original 1984-1986 tenure at the TARDIS’ helm. This time around, the thematic strand of perception manifests itself via a device capable of rendering objects nigh on invisible, although to reveal much more would be to delve firmly into spoiler territory.

With all of that being said, despite drafting a compelling first half laden with intrigue and poignancy as the war’s commencement in Britain is announced over the radio airwaves, Una McCormack unfortunately botches her standalone plot’s denouement, doing away with much of the impressive subtlety of the opening 15 minutes by introducing an all-manner of clunky sci-fi jargon later on as well as attempting to add substantial stakes to what was otherwise a captivating work of personal drama. Whereas the anthology’s other three stories could easily have formed captivating one-hour spanning audio releases in their own right, that “Eye” wraps itself up in the space of 30 minutes seems like an overwhelmingly merciful move in comparison, which is a crying shame to say the least.

True to form, though, Jemma Churchill shines once again in breathing more life into her character than the flawed script allows, endowing Dr Maria Backhouse with the necessary authority to lead St Ursula’s College through the dark times of this global conflict, with Allison McKenzie, Janet Henfrey and Jessica Knappett providing ample support as doctors Dalton, Petherbridge and Horwitz respectively despite their comparatively minimal airtime. Neither Baker nor Bryant quite receives the same level of accomplished material as what they’re offered elsewhere in the set, but in fairness, their wholly competent turns are – combined with the stellar other performances – more than enough to keep the listening experience feeling relatively immersive, even in spite of the structural flaws at this disappointing third chapter’s very core.

“The Curious Incident of the Doctor in the Night-Time”:

As if it wasn’t already audacious enough to play on the success of Breaking Bad in selecting their latest anthology’s name, Big Finish go one step further here, allowing Nev Fountain to take direct titular inspiration from Mark Haddon’s beloved young adult novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for his contribution. In fact, Fountain evidently has a substantial degree of admiration for Haddon’s work, at least judging by his simultaneous decision to base his narrative around a similarly innocent and inquisitive autistic protagonist whose quest to solve the mystery surrounding his father’s supposed demise – not to mention the appearance of a never-before-seen garden gnome on his family’s front lawn – forms the bulk of proceedings rather than serving as a mere sub-plot to the TARDIS crew’s latest escapades.

Had a complacent thespian taking on this potentially controversial leading role, then “Curious Incident” could easily have come off as downright disrespectful towards members of the real-world autistic community; thank goodness for Johnny Gibbon, then, who offers up by far Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories’ finest performance, perfectly channelling all of the endearing innocence, misunderstood intelligence and emotional fragility that are often associated with the psychological condition with award-worthy accuracy. Working in tandem with Fountain’s layered dialogue – as well as sparring against Baker’s Doctor like there’s no tomorrow – Gibbon goes so far as to offer a profound insight into the mental intricacies of living with autism, yet without ever daring to oversimplify the ramifications such a lifestyle can have for both the individual in question as well as for their loved ones.

Indeed, Fountain isn’t afraid to touch on a wealth of delicate issues such as grief, the feasibility of the conceptual afterlife and human perception of the psychological unknown as his superbly scripted narrative progresses. It’s tough not to resultantly wonder whether “Curious Incident” might have been better suited by a long-form format along the lines of a standard Big Finish title’s one-hour running time or even as a novel akin to Mark Haddon’s equally impactful tome, as opposed to the short story we receive here, yet any work of fiction that leaves the audience gagging for more should equally be applauded more than anything else.

The Verdict:

Despite hitting a snag with its ill-structured penultimate instalment, Breaking Bubbles and Other Stories provides two hours of sure-fire entertainment which are bound to satisfy both long-term Sixth Doctor devotees as well as those who want to warm to Baker’s divisive incarnation all these years later. “Curious Incident” ranks without question as the anthology’s finest hour, but it’s testament to both the writing talents of Myles and Ravenhill as well as the stellar turns offered by Baker, Bryant and their wealth of accomplished supporting players that “Breaking Bubbles” and “Of Chaos Time The” alike still impress in almost equal measure, thereby making the collection as a whole more than worth just about any Doctor Who enthusiast’s hard-earned time and cash.






Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment (audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Doctor Who and The Sontaran Experiment (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Ian Marter
Read by Jon Culshaw
Released by BBC Audio on 7 July 2016
First published by W.H. Allen & Co. Ltd in 1978
Running time: 3 hours approx.

The Sontaran Experiment was the first two-part story to be novelized. Ian Marter’s text provided a model for others to follow, selectively expanding scenes or reimagining situations and sections of the plot in such a way that the book didn’t seem to have stretched its source material too thin in order to fill the 128 page count standard for Target in 1978. Not all his examples were followed by others, but Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment remains one of the most readable Target books. It’s now one of the most listenable too.

The success of Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment as an audiobook owes much, of course, to its reader. Jon Culshaw is a versatile and sensitive performer and shows his familiarity with the television source material. His Styr (as Marter renames Styre, slightly Germanically) has a lot of Kevin Lindsay’s bored colonial officer about it, but with an added note of cruelty to the hoarse voice in keeping with Marter’s reinterpretation of the character. The Galsec crew members turn up with South African accents present and correct, all distinctive and all from Culshaw. Sarah Jane Smith is Culshaw talking slightly more lightly and gently, and Harry Sullivan not too different from Culshaw’s narrator’s voice, respecting the relationship between the authorial voice and Harry’s viewpoint in Marter’s first two novelizations.

A good number of listeners will be curious to know how far Jon Culshaw’s fourth Doctor reflects his Tom Baker impersonation from Dead Ringers. Culshaw’s Doctor is realized more sensitively and subtly here than it was in his comedy persona, though there are still more than flashes of it every time Culshaw has to talk in pseudoscientific jargon or reminisce about constellations visited. He enjoys the dialogue which Marter adds, creating a fourth Doctor a little closer to the Tom Baker whom Ian Marter knew, crossing over fiction and reality. The Doctor’s rugby ball metaphor might have appeared on television, but certainly not his carrying around a flask of Glenlivet. We are assured, though not in precisely these words, that Styr would not have survived a night in the Colony Room with Tom and his Soho friends.

One of the great strengths of Ian Marter’s writing, at least where his first two books were concerned, was that he took the sets and locations of the television stories and created something extraordinary from them while keeping faith with his source. The Dartmoor locations of The Sontaran Experiment on television become the foundation for a gnarled postapocalyptic landscape, full of monstrous ochre reeds and brittle, black ferns atop deep ravines and cavernous labyrinths. As mentioned above Styr is developed into a dedicated sadist by Marter, who writes of how Styr enjoys putting his subjects – particularly Sarah Jane Smith – through tortures far more horrible than anything realized on television. In contrast he Styre written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin is someone who can easily be read, in the words of one of my favourite reviews, as ‘a harassed Biology student trying to complete his practical on time.’ Marter’s Styr, though, is a complex creation, a cyborg entity whose flesh is likened to plastic, seaweed, rubber and steel wool, and viewed by different characters in different ways. To Sarah, he’s a noxious reptile and a bloated, snorting pig; to Harry he’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the Golem of Jewish folklore, as if spontaneously generated from the devastated Earth, though Culshaw’s short vowels will make listeners think of Tolkien’s Gollum.

There’s a lot to intrigue in the writing, particularly the hallucinating Harry’s successive threatening visions of Sarah. Perhaps Marter viewed Harry as jealous of Sarah’s relationship with the Doctor, depicted as intense and trusting with Harry too often a third wheel. However, one of the more spectacular expansions is Harry’s exploration of the Sontaran ship, a more complex vessel in the book than suggested on television, which not only allows Harry to be heroic but is read with a careful urgency by Culshaw.

Simon Power’s sound design is appropriate throughout, especially in the torture scenes which are given suitably visceral cues. At about 180 minutes this audiobook isn’t too long and writer and reader are good companions for a few hours. It’s a small but determined sidestep into a reimagined fourth Doctor era, of interest to old and new audiences and an early indication of the elasticity of Doctor Who.

 





Classic Doctors New Monsters: Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 9 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Classic Doctors New Monsters (Volume 1) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, James Goss, Andrew Smith
Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy,
Paul McGann

Released by Big Finish July 2016, order from Amazon UK

This reviewer confesses to have been pleasantly surprised as to how well the four stories in the box set all work to complement each other and the respective Doctors they feature. When this set was first announced there was a certain amount of scepticism about whether some of the visual gimmicks of the post 2005 creations would translate well to audio. Also, as the behind-the-scenes disc indicates there are only a finite number of “new” monsters which can be included without breaking continuity, as indicated by the presence in the fourth story of the Sontarans which do not seem much different to how they have already appeared in previous Big Finish outings and by the revelation that next year’s volume 2 will only be featuring three “new” monsters across four plays.

This collection gets off to a strong start with 14772’s Fallen Angels which uses the Weeping Angels ability to send their victims back through time to excellent effect as the Fifth Doctor encounters a twenty first century married couple who have fallen foul of an angel in the crypt of a church in Rome and ended up in the fifteenth century where they soon encounter Matthew Kelly’s wonderfully temperamental Michelangelo. Newlyweds Joel and Gabby are well played by Sacha Dhawan and Diane Morgan (unfortunately this reviewer found the latter’s presence reminded him of annoying alter-ego Philomena Cunk) and are clearly intended to remind listeners of Rory and Amy and there are some clear parallels to The Angels Take Manhattan. Overall, the story is very much an homage to Blink and the silent presence of the angels is well-realised through clever use of music and sound-design. None of these stories attempts to offer a genesis account for any of the monsters featured and this is very much to their benefit especially here where the Fifth Doctor is shown very much in parallel to the similarly youthful Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, a role which Peter Davison responds particularly well to.

Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is equally well suited to the second story of this set, particularly in the scenes with a courtroom setting. Simon Barnard and Paul MorrisJudoon in Chains is a clever tale which owes a debt to a number of well-known sources such as The Elephant Man and Pygmalion with one of the proto-companions even being called Eliza. Nicholas Briggs shows that the Judoon are capable of being much more than just space rhinos with a funny voice and the central character of Captain Kybo being a wonderfully nuanced performance. There is also a scene-stealing performance to enjoy from another Big Finish regular Nicholas Pegg as the wonderfully arch Meretricious Gedge.

The inclusion of one-off monsters the Sycorax for the third story of this set was initially suprising but James GossHarvest of the Sycorax proves that they have plenty of mileage left. Sylvester McCoy is reunited with former Red Kang Nisha Nayar who gives a great performance as Zanzibar, another great one-off in a collection full of similarly strong characters. There is also great support the rest of the cast, with particular mentions due to Giles Watling as the Sycorax Chief and Jonathan Firth as Cadwallader. This script has a great fast pace which definitely feels as if it could sit comfortably in a post-2005 series.

The set concludes in style with Andrew Smith’s The Sontaran Ordeal, which sits very much at the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life with the Time War beginning to make its presence felt. This is a solid final story which teams up Paul McGann with Josette Simon as Sarana Teel, an unlikely companion who just wants to bring peace to her planet. Her horror as she realises that the impact of the Time War means that there can never be lasting peace is wonderfully portrayed and her final confrontation with the Doctor gives a clear nod towards the inevitable events of The Night of the Doctor. Christopher Ryan and Dan Starkey also give excellent performances as variations on their new series Sontarans. Above all, this final story provides a hint of exciting things to come in next year’s much anticipated prequel to Big Finish’s War Doctor series, The Eighth Doctor: The Time War.

Overall, this is a set of four very different but equally enjoyable stories with too many highlights to mention individually. Based on the form of this collection and most of Big Finish’s other new series titles, the second volume also promises to be something special.

 





The Fourth Doctor: The Pursuit Of History (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 6 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Pursuit Of History (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), John Leeson (K9),  David Warner (Cuthbert), Toby Hadoke (Mr Dorrick), David Troughton (Mr Edge), John Dorney(David Goddard/Oceanic Airforce Commander), Lisa Bowerman (Conglom-Net Computer/Oceanic Airforce Pilot) Jez Fielder (Neville Sanders/Drudger/Ecidien Cerebus Bird/Albert Chatterton/Salonu Prime), Jane Slavin (The Laan/Salonu). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released by Big Finish July 2016 - purchase via Amazon UK

 


 

Big Finish's seventh part of the Fourth Doctor's fith series (thats a lot of 'ths'!) opens in 1859 with a steam engine about to be robbed by a character called Cuthbert, and his band of men. In the far future, a space platform is reeling from the escape of a creature called the Laan, which has been powering the platform. Meanwhile, on the TARDIS, Romana and K9 are going on a bird hunt. The idea of Romana and K9 in the bowls of the TARDIS on an 'avian hunt' is a beautiful one, and where they find it might surprise you. The avian was mentioned in the last episode, and I'm nsure will be a plot point that will be picked up again in the future. Back in the console room the Doctor detects something approaching in the vortex. It is the escaped Laan, which appears inside the TARDIS and takes Romana. It is, of course down to the Doctor and K9 to rescue her, and also to find out exactly what Cuthbert is up to.

I must confess that The Pursuit of History left me, at times a little confused. Cuthbert (played by the fantastic David Warner) has appeared in a number of previous stories in Big Finish's Doctor Who universe. Me being a fairly new convert found myself a tad lost. Cuthbert is essentially an intergalactic, time jumping dubiously moraled businessman. The head of The Conglomorate. Not knowing the history, or of his previous relationship with the Doctor was initially a disadvantage for me, but after a quick look at The TARDIS Datacore, and I was up to speed not only with Cuthbert, but also his villinous assistant Mr Dorrick (played with relish by Toby Hadoke - who'd have thought that Hadoke could play scheming so very deliciously?), and the Laan.

There are many fantstic moments - trust Big Finish to successfully overcome K9's mobility issues by giving the Doctor an earpiece with which to communicate with his robotic dog. Why hasn't this been done before? Plus it's hilarious when Cuthbert's communication device picks up their conversation. Oh - and the Doctor calling the TARDIS 'Old girl' put a smile on this fan boy's face.There is also the Cerebus bird name dropping the Brigidier, and Romana's new friend (voiced by John Leeson)on the space platform, who put me in mind me of a subservient Sully from Monster's Inc.There is also a vist to the year 182059, with an out of control TARDIS causing some concern to the Australian authorities of that time. My word, a TARDIS does make a rather loud bang when it crash lands!

The only real downside of the story is that the Doctor and Romana are seperated very early, and don't get back into each other's company for the duration of the story, this left me feeling a tad robbed, as I love the chemistry between the two characters. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward have done so very well at rekindling their on screen relationship for audio, it seems like too much of a waste to not have them together for the majority of this episodes run time.

There is though a lot of peril. The TARDIS is REALLY put through the mill, and there is a great set up for part two that not only leaves Romana in a very tricky situation, and the Doctor about to put the TARDIS through another quantum gateway that will surely destroy the old girl, but also reveals who the real villain of the piece is. It is something that has been hinted at for the run of this series of stories, and finally pays off. The visual images that you get when listening to this audio are absolutely stunning, if this were televised, it would have cost a bomb. Nicolas Briggs has pulled off a marvel - I can't wait for part two.





Torchwood: Made You Look (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 August 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood: Made You Look (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Guy Adams
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Cast: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Matthew Gravelle (Darkness), Marilyn Le Conte (Mrs Rhodes),
Ross Ford (James)
Produced By: James Goss
Script Edited By: Steve Tribe

Released By Big Finish Productions – August 2016

Back on October 22nd, 2006, when Torchwood made its momentous televised debut via BBC Two’s airwaves, the show carried one hell of a tagline: “the twenty-first century is when everything changes”; indeed, some members of the fan-base would undoubtedly argue that “everything changed” for them on that precise date with the series’ arrival. For a second, though, it seemed as if February 13th, 2016 would prove just as pivotal a moment, if not infinitely more-so, as Eve Myles posted the following words on Twitter not long after recording her second Torchwood audio, MoreThanThis, for Big Finish:

“Thank you. Massive goodbye GC.”

Considering that the studio’s official licensed continuation of the ever-acclaimed Doctor Who spin-off programme had barely gotten underway, having produced just five one-hour dramas as of this February and with plenty of time still to go until its ownership of the licence terminated in 2025, the revelation that easily one of the show’s most dedicated stalwarts, the woman responsible for bringing the immortal Gwen Cooper to life on screen, seemingly wouldn’t be returning for more recordings predictably sent shockwaves through the fan-base at the time.

Thankfully everything didn’t change in this instance, since the cunning minds at Big Finish evidently convinced Ms. Myles to rethink her future with the range, prompting her to sign on for not only this month’s Season Two finale, Made You Look, but additionally a fully-fledged ensemble box-set, Torchwood: Outbreak, due to unite her with John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd for a pre-Children of Earth mission this November. Unfortunately, however, the former of these two new entries doesn’t exactly justify her decision to reprise the role for more outings, instead offering up a predictable one-off horror storyline which suffers from an overwhelming lack of both compelling secondary performances and, worse still, any real sense of the fear factor writer Guy Adams clearly wanted to evoke.

In fairness, the first few minutes of this flawed standalone chapter do a fine job of convincing regular listeners that all’s well here, with Adams crafting an atmospheric, horror-esque opening as Gwen arrives at the near-deserted seaside town of Talmouth to investigate the mass disappearances of its residents, only to find herself subsequently stalked by a seemingly omnipresent extra-terrestrial creature which can turn our most basic sense of sight against her, slaying her where she stands if she takes but three looks at its visage. It’s a quintessential Torchwood premise to be sure, one which wouldn’t have felt at all out of place had it formed the set-up for an episode of the original TV show either on BBC One or BBC Two.

Yet had Made You Look been transmitted on the small screen, its critics would almost certainly have called it out for coming up severely lacking from a structural perspective, with the whole narrative simply centring on Gwen’s encounters with town’s two survivors and above all the so-called ‘Darkness’ tracking her every step. In theory, there would be nothing wrong with such a basic approach if Adams made this race for Gwen’s life a thrilling, oft-terrifying rollercoaster ride packed with cinematic chills to send shivers up the spine, but herein lies the real problem, since barring a somewhat Hitchcockian seagull attack and one or two haunting hallucinatory sequences, virtually none of the chase set-pieces contained within the hour manage to ramp up the fear factor in the slightest, instead deploying clichéd tropes of the genre such as ghostly mists, mysteriously re-animated fairground rides and the like as if we’ve never seen them before on screen or heard them re-enacted in audio form. If anything, rather than having trouble getting to sleep after hearing the final track, listeners will be in danger of dropping off before the third act even kicks off as a result of the astounding lack of narrative innovation here, with the only truly effective moment coming in the form of a pleasingly ambiguous epilogue that for once leaves our heroine’s fate– and that of the oft-forgotten Committee, absence for the third time running here – wholly up in the air.

This almost complete absence of the injection of any real tension on Adams’ part isn’t helped at all by the similarly lacklustre performances given this time around by Myles’ esteemed co-stars. Ross Ford charms somewhat as the paranoid but innocently endearing homeless youngster James, yet not so much that he can make anywhere near a noteworthy impact in his minimal airtime, while Marilyn Le Conte renders her blind hotel manager Mrs Rhodes as every bit as comedic and quirky as the script aims for her to be, only to fail to tug at the heartstrings in her fleeting moments of peril and thus limit our sympathy towards her character. Most notable of all, though, is Matthew Gravelle’s brave but ultimately flat turn as the Darkness – the Broadchurch thespian attempts to channel the understated, sinister malice of recent TV villains like Toby Jones’ Dream Lord in Amy’s Choice or Lars Mikkelsen’s Charles Augustus Mangnussen in Sherlock Season Three, yet ends up robbing the piece’s antagonist of any genuine sense of threat in the process. Whilst there’s certainly something to be said for trying to avoid a farcical, pantomime-style turn as Gwen’s latest foil - especially when the manner in which the Darkness approaches pursuing its prey feeds into a topical message on Adams’ part regarding how the world’s bullies manipulate their victims despite having no real power of their own - given how wanting Made You Look’s supposedly unsettling narrative is for fully-fledged scares, that Gravelle opts to restrain himself in terms of showcasing the potentially terrifying extents of the sinister omnipresence of his character’s voice across Talmouth represents a sizable missed opportunity more than anything else.

As with virtually all of Big Finish’s output, however, Made You Look isn’t completely devoid of genuine merits by any means. Fans of Eve Myles who cried out in sorrow at her aforementioned short-lived departure from the range can at least use her third solo Torchwood audio as evidence of the actress’ talents – not least as she outclasses everyone else in the play by reprising the character’s confident swagger, effortless leadership capabilities and underlying personal vulnerability within moments of her first appearance – and anyone with an ear for accomplished sound design or any devotees of the overall horror genre should well appreciate Scott Handcock’s effective use of seaside sound effects like fairground melodies and arcade game blips to enable the audience to better visualise Adams’ – admittedly uninspired – setting for themselves.

There’s no denying that the range’s lead performances and technical elements have remained top notch throughout its first two runs, in fact, but twelve releases in, there’s no denying how much of a shame it is to see certain members of the revived Torchwood franchise’s writing team struggling to produce narratives which are anywhere near as philosophically rich, atmospheric or generally engaging as the likes of TheConspiracy, UncannyValley, Zone10 or particularly last month’s phenomenal Jack-Ianto team-up Broken. That those four tales were such instant, undisputable hits with fans that put their protagonists to such great use does Made You Look no favours whatsoever, since rather than following suit, Adams has simply endowed Myles and company with a generically clichéd, philosophically shallow and completely arc-light script that, like February’s More Than This before it, rounds off a season’s worth of fine drama in disappointingly low-key fashion. Season Two’s much-anticipated denouement could otherwise have been the moment that everything changed for the range, with Eve Myles’ return representing a triumphant statement of the franchise’s longevity, yet in reality, Outbreak and the show’s well-earned – albeit still to be announced – third season of Big Finish audios will have to aim far higher in order to guarantee that the brand keeps thriving rather than putting the studio’s acquisition of the show’s licence at risk.