Project: Twilight (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Project: Twilight (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: August 2001
Running Time: 2 hours

There was a point in the early 2000s when the shadowy group known as the Forge were emerging as Big Finish’s big, original, villain. It’s a concept that will be fundamentally familiar to viewers of Doctor Who after its return to television – a sort of dark version of UNIT; utterly ruthless in its methods and devoted not to defending the human race against alien threats, but to exploiting such technologies to empower the British Empire.

But it’s the contrast to Torchwood that stands out when listening to these now. While Torchwood One gave us the natural businesslike extension of the concept of an organization for which busting interdimensional threats and exploring crashed spaceships were literally just another day at the office, and Torchwood Three gave us the sighing, grumbling, sloppiness of a team largely seeing it as ‘just a job,’ the Forge is full of howling fanatics and True Believers. Their main ‘hunter’ Nimrod is so given to pretentious monologuing about the nature of Absolute Power and Destiny that he’s frequently just short of ‘catharsis of spurious morality’ territory. He desperately needs the Doctor to puncture his pomposity with a bit of silly banter.

That doesn’t happen in Project: Twilight, however, which sits squarely in the uber dark and gritty corner of 80s Who and has zero tolerance for any whimsy or even wit. From the moment the Sixth Doctor finds the gruesomely disembowelled corpses of cats and dogs in an alley, the tone is pretty much set for the rest of the story.

Attempting to say something new about vampires, and explore moral relativity, Project: Twilight doesn’t really succeed in either regard. The coven of vampires lead by Reggie and Amelia are just so thoroughly and totally unpleasant – doubling as both creatures of the night and mob bosses – that their attempts to present themselves as victims of circumstance doesn’t really convince. Yes, the Forge may have infected them against their will, but their behaviour since is much more Near Dark than Interview with a Vampire (let alone the glittery remorse of Twilight). The Doctor’s agreeing to help with their experiments to reverse their condition is a little hard to accept, even as he tuts and sighs at their brutal methods. Even odder is quite how long it takes him to cop on that he’s working with vampires even after a couple of episodes working  on the genetic code and blood (never mind people trying to kill them with crossbow bolts through the heart, trouble crossing running water and the rest). Weirder still, Evelyn asks him to check his white, male Gallifyrean privilege and confront his racism against vampires when… y’know...  they kill and eat people. ‘You only dislike them because they kill and eat people’ is a deeply troubling high horse to choose to mount.

And that’s before the not so shocking twist Amelia isn’t interested in a cure for anything but their weaknesses so that she can breed a new race of super-vampires with which to conquer and enslave the human race.

Only Cassie, the single mother newly employed at Reggie’s casino the Dusk, comes across sympathetically. And by the final scenes of Nimrod promising the Doctor a future rematch, it sounds like not just a threat to the Time Lord, but to the viewer as well.Across all their ranges, there must now be the best part of five hundred Big Finish audios so they can’t all be brilliant. But that also just underlines that there’s no need for newer listeners dipping into the Big Finish back catalogue to listen to this.

 



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Released 30 Aug 2001
Doctor Who: Project Twilight



Torchwood: Believe (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 8 May 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood; Believe (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Guy Adams
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring:John Barrowman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Eve Myles, Naoko Mori, Burn Gorman, Arthur Darvill
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 3 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

"We're responsible for everything we do, Val. Every book you've written for money that tells people what to think, every DVD you've produced for money that tells people what to change about their lives. Every speech, every assembly, every word - you don't get to do that and shrug away the responsibility."

Upon learning of Big Finish’s successful acquisition of the Torchwood licence back in 2015, fans the world over – this reviewer included – immediately began drafting their personal wish-lists for the franchise’s impending audio continuation. What happened next after Miracle Day? Could Owen and / or Tosh return to the fold despite their demises in 2008’s “Exit Wounds”? Was it time to learn the fabled secrets of Torchwood Two? And no, seriously, when were we moving on from Miracle Day so as to get that failed US soft reboot’s sour taste out of our palettes?

Perhaps the most pressing point on the agenda, however, was just how swiftly the studio could reunite Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper, Ianto Jones, Toshiko Sato and Owen Harper for any lost missions beyond those we witnessed on-screen in Seasons One and Two. Well, we’ve waited three years – the Owen-less 10th anniversary celebration The Torchwood Archive notwithstanding – to discover the answer, but it comes in the form of perhaps the range’s most satisfying boxset to date, Torchwood: Believe.

Isolating his latest scripts from both the sinister activities of the Committee in Big Finish’s monthly releases and Cardiff’s present apocalyptic state in Aliens Among Us proves a genuine masterstroke on Guy Adams’ part. Rather than forcing newcomers enticed by the return of all five Torchwood Three members to hit pause and purchase past releases in order to decipher what’s occurring here, the regular range contributor delivers a totally standalone affair, albeit one which still packs no shortage of emotional punches thanks to further exploring many thematic and character strands first established in the original show.

Part of what makes this approach so successful from the outset is how comfortably familiar Believe’s opening moments will seem to those fans who’ve followed the show in all its forms since Day One (episodic pun fully intended). At first, we’re presented with a run-of-the-mill debrief led by Owen into the ongoing exploits of the Church of the Outsiders, a seemingly innocuous religious cult whose efforts to hasten humanity’s ascent to meet – and interbreeding with – alien species include stealing classified UNIT data, dabbling in illegal cyber augmentation as well as setting up their own TV channel, community centres and full-fledged indoctrinatory academy.

It’s a quintessential sequence that feels ripped straight out of the TV show, with each cast member helping to remind us of the lead ensemble’s witty rapport: Owen (Gorman) righteously assured of his every move’s necessity, Toshiko (Mori)’s reserved tendency to serve as the voice of reason, Ianto (David-Lloyd)’s still-growing confidence within the team dynamic, Gwen (Myles)’s often gung-ho attitude tempered by the personal grounding that she brings to the agency and Jack (Barrowman) as enigmatic as he is charismatic. So far so Torchwood, then? Clearly, we’re in for three hours’ worth of Avengers: Infinity War-style crossover banter, right?

Not exactly. As Adams and producer James Goss accurately highlighted in the midst of Believe’s pre-release marketing campaign, the show – in its on-screen incarnation – would often split up the team to achieve different goals within the context of the wider mission, thereby allowing time to explore how each character’s individual passions and flaws affected their outlook on increasingly hostile situations. Indeed, the same rings true here as Ianto pairs himself with one of the Church’s devoted disciples to further investigate their goals, Tosh pursues the sect’s resident accountant Frank Layton (brought to life with self-titled and loathsomely complacent aplomb by ex-Doctor Who companion Arthur Darvill) and Gwen meets Church leader Val’s introverted daughter Andromeda, all while Owen oversees operations from the Hub and Jack heads off to pastures unknown.

Yet to simply describe Believe as but a scattershot collection of plot threads which eventually converge would severely undermine the scale of Adams’ achievement, not least in challenging each member of the team with dilemmas the likes of which they’ve arguably never faced before. The Church’s interstellar ambitions resonate in extremely different ways for each of our protagonists, with Jack for instance earnestly admitting his yearning to travel the stars as he once did with the Doctor, Ianto – as with The Last Beacon in April – once again forced to consider whether his ties with Torchwood Three threaten to rob him of any soul, hope or life meaning, and most notably the show’s beloved unrequited romance between Owen and Tosh taking the most disturbing detour imaginable.

For make no mistake, the scribe who showed us Suzie’s darkest inhibitions in Moving Target and took Gwen on a high-octane car chase with her local counsellor in More Than This has no qualms about taking further bold risks this time around either. Much as Gorman and Mori looked overjoyed to reunite their wayward almost-lovers when posting about their recording experiences on Twitter, the pair – both as actors and characters – are put through the dramatic ringer and then some here, Tosh’s efforts to extract any key intel possible from Layton about his supposedly selfless church-turned-charity soon developing into Children of Earth-level territory which could uproot her budding romantic tension with Mr. Harper forever. Think of a fall from grace on the scale of a Greek tragedy and you'll only just scratch the surface what's in store, as one of the pair colossally oversteps their reach to devastating effect.

Thank goodness, then, that both stars knock the ball out of the metaphorical park with captivating, psychologically intricate and often downright heartbreaking performances. We’ll avoid spoilers here for the sake of preserving your listening experience, save for that the Tosh-Layton storyline builds to an extremely unsettling crescendo, to a place where this reviewer isn’t entirely sure even the TV show would’ve dared to tread on BBC One / Two / Three. Heck, Big Finish themselves rarely tend to stray into territory as macabre as this, barring some of their early Doctor Who Main Release excursions like Colditz or the Doctor Who: Unbound range, but when the results are so painstakingly powerful and haunting as this, one almost wishes that they’d take the leap of faith more often.

Such narrative ambition on Adams’ part doesn’t end there – it pervades Believe on a conceptual level as well. Ever since juggling verbose duck companions with religious satire in The Holy Terror, Big Finish have shown their complete willingness to interrogate faith, its cathartic and chaos-inducing consequences for its followers / opponents, as well as whether anyone has the right to brazenly dispel theistic beliefs. Believe takes this contemplation to another level altogether, as Jack’s met with the profound existential dilemma of knowing that the Church’s desire to have humanity mingle with aliens will eventually come to pass, while Owen considers whether he’s fuelling the mission out of mere ego or indignation at religious groups’ naivety surrounding the afterlife, and Ianto undergoes an epiphany surrounding that aforementioned intervention by Torchwood into the beliefs of others without any consideration for the victims left behind come the mission’s denouement. Rhian Blundell's superb work as Ianto's endearingly sincere and passionate guide Erin helps immeasurably in the latter regard, with her and David-Lloyd's characters striking up a quaint college romance of sorts that won't fail to take even the biggest Jones-Harkness shippers off guard.

Two questions might justifiably have occurred to readers of this review by now: why didn’t Torchwood Season Two’s final episodes make mention of these character moments if they’re so pivotal, and where does the inevitable alien antagonist factor into processes? Let’s tackle those in linear order – unlike Believe’s refreshingly non-linear structure, with Episode 1 in particular zipping cleverly between Owen’s initial debrief and each teammate’s consequent mission. Considering that Adams’ exemplary three-part tale situates itself explicitly between the events of “A Day in the Death” and “Fragments”, that it’s so intent on progressing arguably unresolved threads from the show such as the extents of Tosh’s loyalty, Ianto’s increasingly challenged worldview and Jack’s tendency to withhold the truth even from his comrades might stretch the credibility of its status as a ‘canonical’ in-between-quel for some.

Nevertheless, just as some of Big Finish’s finest Who productions took slight liberties with continuity in the name of ambitious storytelling, so too does Believe admirably follow that route so as to truly test our perceptions of these evolving characters in fascinating, often remarkably unsettling ways. That also brings us onto its aforementioned extraterrestrial presence – again, staying clear of spoilers, Torchwood’s finest hours frequently arose from dealing with the worst of humanity rather than alien foes, which affords Adams the creative licence here to pit the team against fallible but equally rational members of their species whose sympathetic motivations only further the personal stakes for both factions.

So in spite of bringing together the Famous Five as well as temporarily restoring classic elements from the show such as the fully-operational Hub and – of course – the SUV, Torchwood: Believe fast cements itself as anything but your average all-guns-blazing detective drama. There’s no denying that its audacious character arcs, unspeakably heartrending performances from Gorman and Mori, and realistic shades of moral greyness will result in a challenging listening experience for long-term fans, but those elements also set the boxset apart as an awards-worthy tour de force in truly provocative science-fiction. Between the masterful Beacon and the game-changing Believe, 2018 could be the year where everything changes for Big Finish’s Torchwood range; if that’s the case, then one thing’s for sure – Guy Adams and his entire lead cast are ready.



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Released 30 Jun 2018
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Torchwood: Believe



Free Comic Book Day 2018 - Doctor Who Special (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 5 May 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Free Comic Book Day 2018 (Credit: Titan)
Writers: Nick Abadzis, John Freeman, George Mann and Jody Houser
Artists: Giorgia Sposito, Arianna Florean, Christopher Jones, Mariano Laclustra and Rachael Stott
Colorists: Marco Lesko and Carlos Cabrera
Publisher: Titan Comics

FC, 30pp, $0.00
On sale: May 5, 2018

With Titan Comics' regular Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor strips each having reached the natural conclusions of their Year Three runs, and their recently-announced The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor mini-series still two months away from its launch, now seems as opportune a time as any for the publisher to take stock and prepare its readers for the adventures ahead. Enter their contribution to this year's Free Comic Book Day line-up, a 25-page one-off Special containing four bite-sized primers for the future of their regular Doctor Who strips, the Road saga and the Seventh Doctor's Titan debut alike.

There's every chance, of course, that the aforementioned annual event - held at comic-book retailers the world over to promote the industry and its physical purveyors - will be over by the time that you're reading this review, yet that doesn't mean you won't find some stores such as Forbidden Planet still housing the odd copy of this much-anticipated strip here and there. Should Titan's most dedicated followers and / or newcomers to the worlds of Who comics make the trip, however, or are they best off waiting for the Doctor's printed exploits to kick off again this Summer and beyond? Let's find out...

"Catch a Falling Star":

For any readers like this reviewer who've yet to finish reading the latest string of Titan storylines based in the David Tennant era, Special's opening tale might well prove rather disorientating at first, though that's rather the point; seemingly deceased companion Gabby Gonzalez seems just as perplexed as she's flung through outer space after the Year Three finale presumably detached her from the TARDIS with considerable force. How better to spend the time, then, than by taking a metaphorical trip down memory line, simultaneously bringing newcomers up to speed on her recent voyages across the Time Vortex?

From Sontarans to Sutekh in his reincarnated form, from Cybermen to Gabby's best friend Cindy Wu stepping aboard the Doctor's iconic Type 40 capsule, it's been one heck of an eventful ride for the despondent waitress-turned-pro artist over the last 36 months. True to form, Giorgia Sposito and Arianna Florean's dazzlingly whimsical artwork splendidly reminds us - alongside the awe-inspired sense of wonder and fantasy coming via the dialogue which writer Nick Abadzis affords Gabby - of the eclectic and unashamedly outrageous tone which made this particular TARDIS team's travels such an instant hit with fans of Titan's licensed Who output.

Naturally, though, few could blame Ms. Gonzalez for questioning her life decisions given her present near-fatal predicament, so that Abadzis briefly explores her justifiable doubts as well comes as a welcome surprise, in many ways enabling us to draw parallels between the character and past companions such as Martha Jones for whom the Doctor's entrance signalled virtually the destruction of their personal lives and family ties. Who wouldn't reconsider the same dilemma as that which was posed to Donna in "Turn Left", namely whether life would've turned out better had their path never crossed with "the man who keeps running, never looking back because he dare not out of shame"? As such, it would seem that Gabby needs affirmation that her story doesn't end on such a somber note, and while we'll refrain from revealing her just how "Catch a Falling Star" concludes, we can say that she might just get her wish and transform the Doctor's future in the process...

“The Armageddon Gambit”:

The best way to summarize the second narrative barrage in Special’s artillery is as an audition piece for Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch’s impending Seventh Doctor mini-series, “Operation Volcano”. Unlike that five-part saga, John Freeman takes on writing duties for “The Armageddon Gambit”, but if his remarkably authentic rendition of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred’s wit-laden, mentor-student-esque banter from their 1980s run as the Doctor and Ace serves as any indication of what to expect from “Volcano” upon its launch next month, then experiencing each issue over the coming weeks should seem remarkably akin to watching a McCoy serial on TV / home video / streaming platforms for the first time.

While Freeman’s relatively standalone narrative – which sees the ever-courageous time travellers chirpily interrupt a band of galactic tyrants standing on the brink of galactic conquest, having bested the Draconians, Chimerions and Voord alike – probably won’t win this year’s Pulitzer Prize for literary ingenuity, his script does at least enable the mini-series’ artistic / colour tag team of Christopher Jones and Marco Lesko to amply strut their stuff. Their bold style, in marked contrast to Sposito and Florean’s tonally befitting impressionistic imagery, does a splendid job of bringing the tale’s characters to vivid life, with Lesko’s choice to embroid the chief Kla-shi-kel clansman with striking golden armour for example visibly setting him apart in military stature and greed-driven ambitions. Look out in particular for their pitch-perfect depiction of the Doctor and Ace’s grand entrance, an instantly iconic raison d'etre for “Armageddon” which easily stands among Titan’s most memorable panels to date.

“Midnight Feast”:

Whereas Abadzis and Freeman both had their fair share of legwork in terms of painting a roadmap for the future flights of the Seventh and one other Doctor here, one can almost hear George Mann’s relief at finding no such pressure exerted upon his Eleventh Doctor contribution by Titan’s head honchos. “Midnight Feast” makes no apologies for its lighthearted tone or completely standalone storyline, then, with Mann instead affirming to newcomers his ability to capture Matt Smith’s zany eccentricity and energetic zest for life, all while re-introducing his ex-librarian companion Alice Obiefune along the way. Yet it’s fair to say that Alice rather laments her inclusion here, finding her travelling companion ransacking the TARDIS kitchen for edible delights before he zips off to the nearest alien restaurant to find alternative inspiration.

Laying many criticisms at the feet of a self-proclaimed “culinary adventure” such as “Feast” would seem rather harsh, especially with Mariano Laclaustra’s diverse menagerie of stunningly-rendered alien patrons calling to mind Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina in its aesthetic inventiveness. The only warning that we’d give, however, is that those unfamiliar with Alice won’t find the same level of introductory exposition here as that which Gabby provided regarding her past in “Falling Star”, largely since the latter’s existential plight gave Abadzis the ideal plot device to justify such nostalgic reminiscing. Since Alice only features for but a few panels here, this reviewer would instead advise anyone wanting to catch up on her entry into the Doctor’s life – between Amy and Rory’s turbulent honeymoon and reunion for the Time Lord’s death in “The Impossible Astronaut” – to check out the first volume of Year One, After Life, ahead of Year Four’s presumed launch later this year.

"And Introducing..."

What of Doctor Who’s fast-approaching return to BBC One with a new face, though? Does Jodie Whittaker’s absence from Special’s multi-Doctor front cover mean that we shouldn’t expect to see her incarnation feature in Titan’s licensed roster for the time being? Not at all – browse past the insightful Reader’s Guide at the end of the strip, which details the various regular strips, crossovers and classic Doctor mini-series currently available, and you’ll find three panels featuring a strange new world, strange new fauna and feathered onlookers, a strange new TARDIS and its strange new occupant embarking on her first ‘canon’ journey, her face brimming with visible passion and already infectious joy at discovering the unknown.

Much as every fan relishes jumping to far-fetched conclusions from even Who’s most basic marketing materials, the rousing thrill that comes with turning the page and witnessing the Thirteenth Doctor in action for the first time can’t possibly be denied. That her increasingly coveted costume and intriguing extraterrestrial surroundings are drawn in such a majestic light by Rachael Stott, the upcoming Thirteenth Doctor regular strip’s resident artist, just goes to show that she’s fully aware of the significance of this watershed moment for the show. The same can be said of Jody Houser’s daringly dialogue-devoid script, aping Whittaker’s reveal video last year in building its structure entirely around the new incarnation’s gravitas-laden arrival.

A tremendous end, then, to a tremendous Free Comic Book Day special, one which accomplishes the remarkable joint feats of setting past Doctors on unexpected new trajectories for the coming months and making the Thirteenth’s debut – both on-screen and the printed page – that much more of an exciting proposition.

Be sure to follow our reviews of Titan’s The Thirteenth Doctor series as it kicks off in tandem with Season Eleven this Autumn…





Jago & Litefoot & Strax (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 May 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
 Jago & Litefoot & Strax (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: November 2015
Running Time: 2 hours
 

It is kind of amazing what Big Finish can do. They can somehow base a series around two characters that appeared in one story in 1977, make it a success, and then for a bit of a fun event, have them crossover with a recurring character from the new series. And it can still be fairly accessible for newcomers.  These adventures don't really require a ton of backstory for you to find them enjoyable.

I am aware of Jago & Litefoot from their lone appearance in the 70s, and while I've not really had too much chance to dive into their Big Finish run, I have enjoyed nearly all of their appearances in regular Doctor Who adventures. This adventure, in which they team up with New Series recurring Sontaran Strax.  It's a smart use the newly acquired Big Finish license, which gives them use of New Series characters.  Why not take your classic series spin-off featuring a couple of guys solving paranormal and alien mysteries in Late Victorian England, and team them up with at least one member of the New series team that does the same? 

In this Two-Part story, titled "The Haunting," Strax ends up assisting Jago & Litefoot on a supposedly haunted house mystery...though the entire time he thinks they are just Vastra and Jenny undercover. Strax is dumb. Which is fun!  The entire two-part mystery is good fun.  Jago & Litefoot have a good rapport, and Strax is usually a pretty funny comic relief to the Paternoster Gang, so the story has a good comedy line-up. Oddly, that comedy team is investigating murders in a haunted house.  That is the fun of it. 

I rather enjoyed this story.  It is light, funny, with just enough drama mixed in to balance it all out. As someone who was only mildly familiar with the Jago & Litefoot series before I began this, I can say it is definitely accessible to newcomers, and if anything it just makes you want to listen to more from this series. 



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Released 30 Nov 2015
19% off
Jago & Litefoot & Strax 1 - The Haunting