The Christmas Invasion (Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 7 June 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
 The Christmas Invasion  (Credit: BBC Audio)
Adapted by Jenny T Colgan
Based on the original script by Russell T Davies
Read by Camille Coduri
Cover by Anthony Dry
Released May 2018

To begin this review at the end, Jenny Colgan’s Afterword sees her describe her love of the classic Target range. She touches on that old chestnut that in her day it was the only way to relive episodes after their broadcast and, besides, all this t’where fields back then lad, but doesn’t dwell. Rather she weaves a picture of a lovely childhood spent lingering at the desk of her local library. Trying to navigate the torture of rules that meant she could only get out four Targets a month. She concludes with the observation that the first Target she’s ever own all to herself will be one she wrote and notes how mad and wonderful that is.

So, it’s in this context that the novelization of The Christmas Invasion brims with affection and nostalgia for childhood days with your hands propping up your chin and you lost yourself in those curious little tales of Doctor Who. It also means that it’s the most traditional and straightforward adaptation. Russell T Davies uses the Target range’s long-standing custom of inventing entirely new subplots out of nothing but those subplots are very uniquely in his style. The Day of the Doctor, meanwhile, is so gloriously playful in its structure only Steven Moffat could have written it.

But Colgan takes the route of expanding on the script but, nearly always, doing so by giving us more insight into the thoughts and feelings of the various characters as they experience events pretty much identical to those seen on TVs on Christmas Day, 2005. Near the start, there’s a whole set of introductions to the Guinevere One team and their daily routine but once we get going there’s not much deviation from the plot. The Doctor piloting the TARDIS back to Earth from the Sycorax ship, rather than the Sycorax teleporting it down, is about as divergent as it gets.

But honest, believable emotion and character are Colgan’s strong suits, as anyone who’s read her non-Doctor Who books can tell you (yes, boys and girls, you can read novels without spaceships in them from time to time; your hair won’t go on fire, I promise). Her choices here bring the story very much into her wheelhouse and she expands skilfully on Davies’ own ability to make believable a character with only fifteen lines of dialogue. The chief beneficiaries of Colgan’s eye are Guinevere One boss Danny Llewellyn and UNIT operative Sally. On screen they get a brief flirtation – him flustered by a woman so beautiful being nice to him, her endeared by his combination of earnestness and humility. On the page, we lean in to the tragic undertones, as each mentally sizes up the other – imminent death focusing their thoughts on possible futures, possible futures they’ll never have the chance to even dip their toe in together.

The audiobook edition is read by the myth and legend that is Jackie Tyler herself. Or rather Camille Coduri, proving herself to be so much more than just Jackie. It’s easy to fall into the trap, when an actor is just so good at portraying one character, to forget that they have a whole acting range to explore. So apologies are due to Coduri in this review for she shifts effortlessly from one character to another throughout. Even her Jackie should be saluted as she recaptures with apparent ease every ounce of energy in her television performance, flicking back forth from that to her narrator’s voice with ease.

But her Rose is also astonishing. Even though Piper and Coduri have similar voices, and played their roles with similar accents, Coduri proves adept at capturing even that subtle difference. In some scenes of the Tyler women bickering back and forth, you could almost believe Piper had popped in for a cheeky cameo.

Her accents for the Welsh characters are almost as impressive. It probably shouldn’t surprise that a couple of years living and working in Cardiff gave our storyteller a good grounding in those Celtic tones, but it’s still striking that there’s nothing broad or comedic about her Llewellyn, but simply an authentic sounding rich tone. And when her Sycorax leader shows up, it almost blows you out of your chair in surprise. It certainly sent this reviewer into a few tracks of distractedly listening while googling who the second performer was. But, nope, 100% Camille Coduri. Treated and artificially deepened though it is, her capturing of the hard biting rage and disdain of the Sycorax is still note perfect and astonishingly good. With other male characters, she plays it safe and, perhaps wisely, simply throws a nod towards their style of speech though it’s still glorious to hear her Doctor and her Jackie’s take on the “I need…” routine.

Sound design wise, there are some clever choices here. Colgan adds the actual TARDIS departure to the ending, and in the audiobook’s take on that coda the full, lengthy version of the dematerialization sound is given a rare outing.  Its fading swoops and burbles and beeps form a subtle soundtrack to Jackie and Mickey’s thoughts on being left behind. Elsewhere, the soundscape wisely keeps out of the listener’s way but adds just enough background to give a nice sense of space and location.

Meanwhile, the handsome cover by Anthony Dry uses the same, striking pointillist style – each dot painstakingly created one at a time in pen and ink -  that’s dominated his Doctor Who work over the past two decades and has made everything from DVD insert booklets to the mural wall of the Doctor Who Experience so striking. It’s a style that, through artists like Ron Turner, Frank Bellamy and Chris Achellios, has long been associated with Doctor Who and makes for a comfortable fit for the next generation of novelizations.

Some may dismiss The Christmas Invasion as the least experimental, and therefore most disposable, of the new range. But that would be a mistake. Because its also the most successful at evoking that undefinable Target feeling. Of sending you back to days on tip-toes, peeping over the librarian’s counter to ask when you’ll next be able to take it out again. Add to that a versatile reader and sympathetic sound design and you’ve a release ready to stand up proud next to any of them in Target’s Golden Age.

 





Doctor Who The Seventh Doctor: Operation Volcano #1Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 June 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney
Seventh Doctor #1 - Cover A (Credit: Titan )Writer: Andrew Cartmel
Artist: Christopher Jones
Published 6 June 2018

Something big is building in Operation Volcano. The entirety of the first issue is setting everything up for what promises to be a massive fallout. Characters from across the globe, as well as time, gather together in the Australian desert to inspect what appears to be a recently uncovered and massive, spaceship. At the same time (while also being several decades in the future) another spaceship appears above Earth, with a familiar character being held inside.

Upon first reading, I was disappointed by how cold the issue left me. I make no apologies for my fondness of the Seventh Doctor’s era, and I couldn’t wait to see what Andrew Cartmel and Ben Aaronovitch would do when budget was no option. There wasn’t much in the way of fun or humor, not many big sci-fi ideas were displayed, and the characters came off a little flat. Had Cartmel botched his return to Who?

After rereading a few scenes and mulling it over, I realized something: We are in Act One of the story. We need to round everyone up, get them talking, introduce any interpersonal conflicts they may have, then hit ‘em with something big at the end that leads into Act Two.

This is in no way an attempt to convince myself I enjoyed the issue. On the contrary, it’s simply a method of understanding what left me so unfulfilled. I thought maybe it was the art. While the landscapes and details are phenomenal, the lifeless expressions on character’s faces is quite unsettling. Eyes seem to be Christopher’s Jones’ only weakness. A forgivable one at that. There is such a breathtaking scope to the comic (only amplified by the color work by Marko Lesco) that one could easily ignore a few odd faces.

The realization that this was only the beginning of the story cinched it for me - the central mystery isn’t compelling. This is Doctor Who, why should I be so interested in the fact that an ancient spaceship was found in Australia? This is Doctor Who, what’s it matter that a guy from the ‘60s shows up in the future not having aged? This is Doctor Who, why should I be surprised that two of the investigators have nefarious intentions? It’s not enough to keep me interested.

That could all change in Act Two. Cartmel could explain why all this matters, why it’s different, why it’s special, and blow my mind. After all, you don’t call a story “Operation Volcano” unless you’re planning a shocking and sudden surprise.

 




Short Trips 8.05 - Trap For Fools - Big FinishBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 June 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Trap For Fools (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins, Script Editor Ian Atkins

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Stephen Fewell, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Mark Strickson (Narrator)

…St. Neot’s Refuge was founded in 3016 for the education of young men to the service of empire and state. In the quiet shade of Diaz’ world, each boy can develop that true sense of self-worth which will enable him to stand up for himself, and for a purpose greater than himself and, in doing so, to be of value to society; to be a man…’ School Prospectus.
 
‘Want to change the future, Turlough? Use a school,’ The Doctor.
 
I loved Davison's era, so I was quite excited to see that this month's Short Trips would be set in his era. The Doctor and Turlough are travelling in a not so crowded TARDIS, so that would set this story in quite a precise point in the fifth Doctor's timeline. Well, exactly between the televised stories of Resurrection of the Daleks and Planet of Fire to be precise.
 
The story opens with Turlough at school, but not at Brendon Public School, this time Turlough is at St Neot's Refuge, an off world public school. The Doctor is posing as a groundsman,. the TARDIS his hut. Turlough at first thinks that this is the Doctor's idea of some sick punishment, but it soon becomes evident that other, more sinister powers are at work.
 
Mark Strickson's narration is top notch. Not only does he slip back into the quite surly Turlough with ease, but his take on the fifth Doctor is nearly perfect. 
 
The Short Trips stories are nearly always ‘Doctor lite', which sometimes can be a bit of a disappointment. This is not in the case of Trap For Fools. Yes, the Doctor is flitting about in the background, keeping the schools cricket pitch in check, but this really is Turlough's story.
 
The monster in this is a fantastic creation. Writer Stephen Fewell (a Big Finish regular cast member) has outdone himself with the Entitlement. A race that just take what they want. And here the stakes are high. Not only are they slowly taking over the faculty, but they have also claimed the TARDIS. The climax to this story is a fantastic set piece, and very rewarding to listen to.
 
Trap For Fools is a very strong entry into the Short Trips range. I'll be eagerly looking out for more from Stephen Fewell.
 
A Trap For Fools is available from Big Finish here.




Jago & Litefoot Forever (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 2 June 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Jago & Litefoot Forever (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: May 2018
Running Time: 3 hours

 

Big Finish's surprisingly long-running series Jago & Litefoot comes to an end, following the death of one of the leads Trevor Baxter, and the finale is quite heartwarming and rewarding for longtime fans. Newcomers won't be totally lost and can find some fun in this, but as a finale, it is most certainly geared towards longtime listeners.  

Henry Gordon Jago's good friend George Litefoot is missing, and it is up to Jago to find his lost friend, all while battling his own memory loss.  It is a story that celebrates the duo, and all of their friends both regulars of the show and recurring characters. Christopher Benjamin anchors the story with a fantastic performance, and his co-star Trevor Baxter is able to appear via archival recordings. 

In many ways, the story not only serves as an end to the series, but it is clearly built as a tribute to Baxter, who unfortunately passed before they could record together again. It is an excellent finale, saying goodbye to the likable pair and their friends in a lovely tale that is both fun and poignant and ends their Victorian Adventures on a high note. 

Also included in this set is The Jago and Litefoot Revival, which is a "Short Trips" story performed by Benjamin and Baxter, and tells of an adventure the pair had with two separate Doctors, the Tenth and Eleventh.  This is a fun lark as well, if for no reason other than to get a bit more of Baxter in the role before his passing.  

This series brought two actors who hadn't seen each other since they walked off that set of The Talons of Weng-Chiang in 1977, and brought them back together...and fans of their adventures will no doubt enjoy their final adventure together.   A great way to say goodbye to Baxter and the whole series. Fans of Jago & Litefoot rejoice, Jago & Litefoot Forever is a great farewell.



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Jago & Litefoot Forever