The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master: The Rage of the Time Lords (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Tim Foley & David Llewellyn

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Mina Anwar, Taj Atwal, Paul Clayton, Lu Corfield, Su Douglas, Ryan Forde Iosco, Youssef Kerkour, James MacCallum, Shvorne Marks, Ricky Nixon, Katherine Pearce, Laura Riseborough, Anjela Lauren Smith, Liz Sutherland-Lim, Dominic Thorburn

Released by Big Finish - July 2019



As much as I have enjoyed Big Finish's exploration of the Time War the last few years, I don't think any series they have running explores this corner of the Doctor who universe better than The War Master. While the Gallifrey series has taken to exploring the political consequences on the Time Lord's homeworld in an interesting way, it is still exploring the earliest days of the conflict and is all about the political strife that comes with it. The War Doctor and Eighth Doctor series did/do a  good job of exploring the Time War and it's effects on the universe, but the Doctor as the lead character does limit how far they can take the concept.  Even the War Doctor has to be inherently good, otherwise the audience may turn on him.  They could only take the character too dark.  But that isn't the case with the War Master, you can take him as dark and deep as you want, as as such, you can really explore the cruelest aspects of the Time War.  

Throughout Rage of the Time Lords, the Master is collecting unique individuals for nefarious reasons (what else), and this plot begins with The Survivor.  He has infiltrated a small rural British town during World War II, posing as a Minister and has taken a particular liking to a young girl named Alice.  He tricks her into causing some trouble, culminating in her hurting another girl, and then he exploits this to turn the entire town against her, and then takes her away.

In The Coney Island Chameleon the Master chases down an Italian Strongman and a girl who can change her skin to match her surroundings (even taking on the properties of brick walls and velvet curtains), seemingly after the young girl and her powers.  Here the Master doesn't make any attempt to play a good guy, and is more of a sinister figure from the outset. First offering to buy the girl, then chasing them down until he gets what he wants.  

From there we travel off of Earth, to a facility where the Master has been keeping all of his specimens. We find that he is working on creating some kind of weapon from all these beings he has collected and caged.  The Master is searching for the very thing that will complete his project, the titular Missing Link, and finally he arrives:  The Doctor.  Obviously a big draw for this set is that we get to hear Derek Jacobi's Master face off with Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.  And it's worth it.  The moment McGann shows up I perked right up....and I'd been loving the set up this point.  

The big finale for the set comes in Darkness and Light, and sees the Doctor forced to help the Master as his creation, The Rage, breaks loose in the facility.  It's a great ending to the set, fun to hear Jacobi and McGann spar...and the conclusion for the Doctor is painful and sad...but totally works. 

The set is excellent. Not a bad story in the bunch.  The build-up to the Mastyer's plan, the introduction of the Doctor in the back half, the reveal of the Master's scheme: it is all perfectly executed.  And the fact that the Master is a villain means that Big Finish can truly explore the most sinister aspects of the Time War.  Highly recommended. 

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #9 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 15 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #9 (Credit: Titan)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini & Viviana Spinelli

30 Pages

Published by Titan Comics June 2019

In Issue #9 of the Thirteenth Doctor we begin a brand new adventure.  We start off at an alien parade, but as you'd expect the Doctor is soon arrested for supposedly stealing some sacred jewel. The Doctor obviously didn't do it, but some woman with Two Hearts and dark curly hair did...and the Doctor can only assume the worse: Missy.  Soon she and the gang escape their jailer, and head off to solve the mystery and hopefully stop Missy from whatever evil plan she may have.  

But things aren't that simple, as the gang trace her signal and find it isn't Missy at all...but is, in fact, the Cosair! I guess this is sort of a spoiler, but really it is more of a twist for hardcore fans, and most will have to stop and wonder "who?" For those who don't recall every detail of the show's history, the Cosair has never been seen, and was really only mentioned once before on screen (in The Doctor's Wife) as having been a Time Lord friend of the Doctor's.  The Cosair was described as having changed genders a few times, and here we find her as a female.  

Obviously this is just the start to a new story, and the idea of getting to meet the Cosair is intriguing.  We will see if the story has any meat on it once it gets going. 

The Paternoster Gang - Heritage 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Paternoster Gang  (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Jonathan Morris, Roy Gill, Paul Morris
Director: Ken Bentley
Featuring: Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, Dan Starkey

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released June 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

The Paternoster Gang was originally introduced midway through the Sixth Series of Doctor Who's revival, with Madame Vastra and her assistant/wife Jenny being recruited to help the Doctor at Demon's Run, along with a Sontaran nurse named Strax who owed the Doctor a debt.  They then returned midway through the Seventh Series, where a few prequels set up that the duo became a trio when they brought Strax back with them, to act as their butler and in their investigations.  They made a few appearances during the rest of Series Seven, and also played a role in the Twelfth Doctor's debut story.  They were fairly popular with fans, and calls for a spin-off where not unheard at the time.  But showrunner Steven Moffat had enough on his plate with both Who and Sherlock, and his busy schedule meant spin-offs weren't really in the cards.  I also suspect that a period show that would require detailed sets and two of the leads to be in heavy prosthetic make-up was never really going to get the green-light when it mostly appealed to a niche fanbase.

But that is what Big Finish exists for!  They excel at giving every side character a spin-off of their own on audio.  They've certainly doubled down on that in recent years, particularly with the license for the new series opening up new avenues for them to explore.  Sure getting Eccleston, Smith and Capaldi is difficult, and even the game Tennant is so busy he can't really record as any sets as older Doctors...but if you can't get the new Doctors, why not give all of their friends a show! So we have River Song, Jenny, Missy, the War Master, Captain Jack, Lady Christina, Rose, UNIT, even Winston Churchill and new series of Torchwood and Class.  Now the Paternoster Gang gets in on the action, and their adventures are fairly fun. 

I was a little unsure how well they would fair as their own series if I am honest.  I remember when I first saw Deep Breath, that as much as I loved Strax, I was beginning to tire of the shtick of Vastra and Jenny.  They didn't really seem like a believable relationship to me.  So I went into this set a little unsure if the team could maintain my interest for a whole set.  Luckily the cast is quite likable in this.  Whether they are fighting early Electric Cars that turn into robots to wreak havoc on Victorian London, facing off with a Bizarro version of themselves (and zombies), or chasing down ghosts in Greenwich...they are a fun team to adventure with.  And this set is worth a listen. 

The Clockwise War (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Clockwise War  (Credit: Panini)
Written By: Scott Gray, Tim Quinn, Paul Cornell, Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross, John Ridgeway, Charlie Adlard, Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon
Paperback: 156 Pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s.  This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics.  While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book.  I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.  

Having finally read “The Clockwise War” story…I can only express how much I wish it had been included with the rest of the stories in The Phantom Piper.  Part of what I really love about the Panini Graphic Novels is that they always seem to collect together stories that make sense. The best example is the Eighth Doctor’s run.  The first volume featured his debut up to the climax with the Threshold, his second volume featured a running storyline that saw the return of the Master and a major battle between the two Time Lords in the finale…his third began with the debut of the strip in colour and lasted right up until the exit of longtime companion Izzy, and the fourth featured the final set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor.  But since the Eleventh Doctor, the sets don’t always make as much sense. Sometimes storylines have been split up between two volumes…and it is clunkier.  I would love to sit down with a volume of comics that begin with Bill debuting, and then right up until this finale…because it is truly great.  And so much of the storyline of “The Clockwise War” hinges on the running stories that began in the previous volume’s opening story “The Soul Garden” and continued right up to the cliffhanging ending of “The Phantom Piper.”  This story is the climax to a whole year’s worth of stories…and it wasn’t included in the same book.  It seems like it is all coming down to release schedules. Why make a proper “graphic novel” when you’ve got schedules to keep.  I’d much rather have waited for this whole volume to get released properly, then split them up. A graphic novel is meant to tell a whole story…these collections don’t always feel like that is the goal anymore. Which is a bit of a shame. They still do a great job putting these books out there, they are high quality in terms of their production value…it is just a shame that the story element isn’t being as properly looked after as it should be.  Part of what I loved about “Doorway to Hell” is it collected together the full storyline of the Doctor’s life trapped in 70s Earth in one volume.  It’d have been nice if the Bill/Dreamscape storyline could’ve got the same lovely treatment. 
Now....with that all out of the way, I really loved the main story in this volume. We see the grand return of Eighth Doctor comics companion Fey Truscott-Sade, who is actually the main antagonist of the piece, and it is a big thrill ride that sees the exit of the Twelfth Doctor.  Despite my complaints about the split of volumes, the story itself is fantastic.  I loved the glimpse into a really bad day in the Time War, and seeing what turned Fey to the dark side…and it is in many ways the Doctor’s hubris that screwed her up. The story ties up all the storylines that have lingered throughout the run since Bill debuted on the strip, and it does it in a big exciting fashion.  As a story, it is highly recommended!
From there, the volume beefs up its page count with some older strips, some back-up stories that focused on the Cybermen, and others that never actually landed on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, but were actually strips that were initially published in “Doctor Who Yearbooks” from the mid-90s.  This was during the Wilderness Years, a time when the show was off the air but somehow extended media thrived, including the continued publishing of a monthly magazine and even some annuals. The comics included from this era came from Yearbooks published in 1994, 1995, and 1996.  These stories feature the First, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, as well as a brief cameo of the Seventh.  The Yearbook strips aren't as deep or extensive as the DWM strips, as they are all just one part shorts, as opposed to serializing for several months on the pages of the magazine.  It is nice to have them reprinted and remastered, but they aren't the best comic adventures for the Doctor and co.  
“The Cybermen” was actually a series of short one page strips that appeared as a back-up comic in Doctor Who Magazine, and were written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon, and was meant to evoke the 60s Dalek strips that appeared in TV Century 21. Unlike the forgettable Yearbook strips, these are actually pretty cool. Each story lasted about 5 or so pages, and the entire run is collected here. 
On the whole, it is hard to not recommend this volume.  Obviously, the decision to hold back the Twelfth Doctor's final story is more about marketing than anything.  It is easier to sell a book with a more current Doctor on the cover, than various old Doctors with no cohesive theme.  That said the Cybermen stories are neat, and it is nice that Panini, however they do it, is still remastering and collecting together all of these old comics into nice shiny volumes. The efforts of preservation should be applauded. With Ground Zero on the way, it would seem that the DWM era back catalogue will be wrapping up, and one can only hope that Panini continues their collections by going back and collecting together the pre-DWM strips from TV Comic, TV Century 21, and Countdown/TV Action. Perhaps rights issues could prevent that, but as they have reprinted some of those comics in the past, I have to believe they are considering it. 

Torchwood - Sync (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 June 2019 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Sync (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Lisa McMullin
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Indira Varma (Susie Costello), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Raj Ghatak (Pilot)

Released by Big Finish Productions - May 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“I’m the thrilling demonstration of what happens when you don’t exercise your democratic right!”

How could Margaret Blaine’s return to the worlds of Doctor Who for the first time since 2005 possibly go wrong with a line of dialogue as perfect as that? The Slitheen-turned-politician-turned-Cardiff mayor’s timely demise in “Boom Town” would’ve ruled out the re-introduction of Annette Badland’s delightfully sadistic character in any other narrative continuity, but the timeline-hopping nature of Big Finish’s Torchwood range enables the Who spin-off to continually visit just about any moment in either show’s shared history. Enter Sync, yet another indisputable hit for both franchises which brings together two unashamedly self-obsessed renegades for a fatal road trip quite unlike any other cultural production – to quite simply hilarious effect.

Lisa McMullin (now penning her fourth script after contributions to Gallifrey: Time War 2, The Eighth of March and UNIT Incursions) delivers a relatively straightforward sales pitch this time around compared to many overstuffed audio dramas: take Mayor Blaine, thrust her into the trajectory of a pre-death Susie Costello covertly hunting alien technology, strap a time-bomb to their wrists and watch the gleeful havoc ensue. Indeed, her Big Finish peers should absolutely take heed of her success in implementing such a concise precis, since doing so keeps Sync astutely focused on its central characters and in particular the development of their ruthless psyches. So often we’re prone to write off corrupted antiheroes like Margaret or Susie as doomed loose cannons whose one-dimensional worldviews seal their undoing, yet McMullin digs far deeper into her unlikely protagonists than their TV outings ever managed, deconstructing their joint familial isolation and how these formative personal experiences inevitably influenced their animosity (to say the least) towards wider society in later life.

Admittedly, the risk that always comes with team-up scripts of this accomplished ilk is the two like-minded lead stars feeling indistinguishably of a piece with their respective portrayals, yet that’s scarcely true in Sync’s case. Fresh off her audio appearances in Moving Target and The Torchwood Archive, Indira Varma tangibly channels a resigned bitterness at her Torchwood Three teammates’ timeline-preserving MO, such that you buy Susie's overall disillusionment with humanity, whereas Badland’s carefully-seeded moments of vulnerability deepen her portrayal as they did in “Boom Town”, suggesting her malicious gusto to be more of a necessary front than anything else. It’s saying something when a pair of constructs who made such a compelling impression on-screen – in no small part thanks to Russell T. Davies’ character-driven approach to storytelling for Who and Torchwood alike – can continue to reveal unexpected facets in subsequent off-screen storylines, so credit where credit’s due to the playwright and thespians alike on that front.

At the same time, however, this morally complex instalment deftly balances its psych-studies with plenty of the fatalities, frivolities and, naturally, farts which Susie and Margaret collectively leave in their wake – much to the audible entertainment of Badland and Varma (not to mention the sound team emulating those gaseous exchanges!). Hearing the pair relentlessly squabble over hailing taxis, local politics, the debatable allure of Cardiff’s skyline by night and countless other trivial matters works wonders, keeping their high-stakes race against time grounded and ensuring that Sync never gets too bogged down with emphasising the mortal peril that awaits the pair and the city alike should they fail. Indeed, that Big Finish opted to – whether due to time constraints or creative decisions – exclude Badland from their Slitheen-featuring outing in their The Tenth Doctor Chronicles boxset last year seems a surprising oversight with the hindsight of her splendid work alongside Varma here, to the extent that they’d be fools to repeat the mistake going forward if they can still find ways to integrate the late Mayor into Who storylines.

Perhaps it’s telling of Sync’s myriad scripting and performance strengths, then, that a recurring gripe with these recent Torchwood / Doctor Who returning villain crossovers almost falls entirely under the radar despite its residual presence. For all of McMullin’s truly impressive efforts to keep her first Main Range contribution moving at a feral Slitheen’s pace, only taking detours for the occasional bout of well-timed comic relief and mostly integrating character development seamlessly along the way, there remains the pervasive sense that Raj Ghatak’s succinctly-named Pilot was a structural afterthought. While the weighting of supporting players clearly forms a core part of any playwright’s thought-process, when the play in question places said Pilot fairly centre-stage late on, you can’t help wishing that it’d dedicate more time to portraying them as anything other than a hapless victim in events beyond their control, or at least making a meaningful thematic point if that was the intention of said depiction.

But given the aforementioned minimal prominence which that quibble had in our mind come the end credits (especially compared to last month’s hurriedly-concluded The Green Life), the odds of it affecting your listening experience seem borderline astronomical. Chances are that you’ll instead leave Sync having cackled heartily throughout at its dizzying array of razor-sharp one-liners, having formed a remarkably fresh outlook on its two far-from-B-list rogues and, most importantly, having barely noticed 60 minutes passing all the while. If Lisa McMullin wasn’t already on your writers-to-watch list after her potent Gallifrey offering earlier this year, then trust us – simply give her superb Torchwood debut a go and you’ll join us in counting down the days until her sophomore storyline follows suit.

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – From the moment that David Attenborough discovered plastic debris littering the ocean floor, the clock immediately started clicking on whether Big Finish or Chris Chibnall would snag the rights to base an Auton storyline around this all-too-disturbing subject matter. Well, evidently the former party won out in the bidding war, leaving Rhys Williams with the rather undesirable task of battling the Nestene Consciousness’ countless duplicates on the high seas – sans his wife or any Torchwood colleagues at that. See you back here for our verdict on the next Main Range instalment Sargasso – as well as the sure-to-be apocalyptically eventful God Among Us 3 – in the weeks ahead…

Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #8 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #8 (Credit: Titan)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

30 Pages

Published by Titan Comics 22nd May 2019 

The latest arc involving alien flesh eaters and a mysterious podcast gets wrapped up in the latest issue of the The Thirteenth Doctor. It wraps the story up in a nice quiet bow.  For a story that was about trekking through various time periods to solve a mystery, it ends in a surprisingly simple way.  The reveal of who is behind the podcast seems pretty obvious, but it doesn't really play it as some extra big threat.  

Overall I would say this story was decent and could be a good read, but it also feels like they just tired of the plot, and wrapped it up quickly to move on.  I'm not sure there was a better way to end the story, but I can't help but feel like the initial reveal that something bigger and more mysterious was going on than a simple threat of alien flesh eaters feels dry and forgettable in the way the story concludes.  

Once again the art has been great, the characters are all there in the writing, but the plot just doesn't seem like it truly came together for Jody Houser this time.  There were solid premises but no real meat to it.  I mean it ended and I had no feelings about it whatsoever. I wouldn't even call it a unsatisfying conclusion, just a totally forgettable one.  

Luckily, a new issue will come and with it a brand new story.  Hopefully the next one will reignite the flame.