Doctor Who - Shot Trips - All Hands On DeckBookmark and Share

Monday, 20 November 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
All Hands on Deck (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer: Ian Atkins; Script Editor: Ian Atkins
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Eddie Robson; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

All Hands On Deck is the second consecutive release to feature the Eighth Doctor and mention the Time War - what could Big Finish be building up to I wonder? The story also just happens to be my favorite Short Trip to date. It's not often that these stories move me to shed a tear, but this one did.

The story is in parts a sequel to The Dalek Invasion Of Earth where we catch up with Susan in 2213. She lives in an apartment block that is on the site of the old Coal Hill school. Everyone she has ever cared for has gone, most of them had died in the second Dalek invasion.

Susan has quite a quiet life, that is until she is called away to help with a series of planet-threatening emergencies. Firstly there is the Dalek artifact that suddenly comes to life. It oozes a yellow liquid that turns out to be custard. This is followed by the asteroid that seems certain to hit Earth but fades away at the last minute. Then we have the cyborg spiders that suddenly start to terrorise the neighborhood, but turn out to be harmless. Every day there seems to be a new threat. What can possibly be happening? Perhaps the man hiding in her cupboard might be able to explain?

Of course, the man hiding in her cupboard is the eighth Doctor. He is creating events in an effort to try to distract Susan from noticing a message that has been sent via tesseract by the Time Lords. A message requesting that Susan return to Gallifrey as soon as possible, and help fight the Time War. Will the Doctor succeed in talking Susan out of heading home?

The story romps along at a great pace. It seems that Susan hardly has time to draw breath before another Bubble' is sent to her, which whisks her away to help avert a new disaster. The story also has some rather lovely nods, not only is it sweet that Susan now lives in the old Coal Hill School, but it's also rather touching that from her window she can see an oak tree that was planted in memory of Ian and Barbara. The story also finds Susan reminiscing about her time attending Coal Hill School, times when she loved to listen to the Beatles, but always being wary when she talked about them to friends, just in case she mentioned a song that hadn't been released yet.

Carole Ann Ford is a great narrator. She steps back into somewhat world-weary shoes of Susan Campbell (nee Foreman) with ease. Between her telling and Eddie Robson's beautiful story, this tale delivers a massive emotional punch. I really am going to look up Robson's other works as he is a truly skilled author.

All Hands On Deck is an instant classic and the only entry in this series that I have listened to twice. Don't miss out on this one, I promise it could be the best £2.99 you could possibly spend.






The Marian Conspiracy (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 November 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Marian Conspiracy (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)

Written By: Jacqueline RaynerDirected By: Gary Russell

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Sean Jackson (George Crow); Gary Russell (John Wilson); Jez Fielder (William Leaf); Jo Castleton (Lady Sarah); Anah Ruddin (The Queen); Nicholas Pegg (Reverend Thomas); Barnaby Edwards (Francois De Noailles); Alistair Lock (Royal Guard)

Originally Released: March 2000

A recurring issue for brave new explorers launching assaults on the vast continent that is Big Finish’s contribution to Doctor Who is that there’s just so MUCH of it. Certainly, as a relative newcomer to their work, who only started dipping into the ranges in 2013, I’m still balancing more current ranges with sifting through the early golden age of the first 50 releases. So maybe it’s worthwhile to look back at some of those formative stories and see which ones are seeking out, and also to see how almost twenty years of the development of Doctor Who (lest we forget, BACK ON TV) casts them in a different light than back in the day.

The Marian Conspiracy itself is a great jumping on point. More than that, it’s practically a soft reboot of the Sixth Doctor. While the Lost Stories range did wonders in improving his problematic TV persona simply by expressing his arrogant, egotistical, hotheaded tendencies through markedly better writing than back in 1985, here it’s like the entire characterization has been scrapped and Colin Baker’s Doctor rebuilt from scratch. The oft mention “Oul’ Sixey” is born here and, even if this story was lacking, it would be worth checking out as a vital bit of Big Finish history.

As it is, the story is anything but lacking. It’s an all time classic.

A rare “pure" historical, it features no aliens or mad scientists whatsoever, but simply concerns itself with the skulduggery and betrayals of Queen Mary’s court in 16th century England. And while contemporary Big Finish historicals like The Church and the Crown simply used history and its dramatis personae as a backdrop to rollicking adventure, this is more akin to early Hartnells – with an apparent mandate to educate the audience on the basics of the period (with added assassination attempts, naturally). This does raise the same question as most of the latter day revivals of the subgenre – how is that the Doctor seems to know he’s in a pure historical? It never even occurs to the Doctor that aliens could be behind events even though, across the whole of his lives, it should be his default assumption. I mean it’s always aliens in his experience. Except, as here, when it isn’t.

The lack of an outside influence does make the entire thing a paradox, of course. The Doctor’s pulled into events when he detects a history professor from the (very) early 21st century, Dr. Evelyn Smythe, is being erased from history from some anomaly in the 16th. But it turns out that she actually shouldn’t exist in the first place and only comes about because the Doctor incidentally saves her ancestor while trying to find the anomaly that only exists because he creates it by saving the ancestor while… you get the idea. From a modern perspective, it feels like this sort of thing would be made a central feature of the story but here it’s sort of tucked in like a slightly untidy bedsheet, in the hopes that nobody notices.

But that’s a quibble, and one beside the point of the story writer Jacqueline Rayner is telling. As an introduction to new companion Evelyn, it ticks all the boxes such debuts need to have. She’s got an immediately strong sense of whom she is as a character – strong willed, and borderline argumentative, but in the charming way that sees people sigh deeply as they give in to the inevitable and let her have her way; yet also deeply maternal and caring and acutely intelligent and insightful.  She’s quickly established as a woman you want to spend more time with as a listener. It’s all the more remarkable considering she’s so atypical a companion for the Doctor to invite about the TARDIS. A middle aged academic, she’s less about screaming and swooning over the nearest Thal, and more about an excitement to learn more about the world while maintaining a certain minimum standard of comfort. She’s a cocoa swilling, cardigan cocooned, handbag swinging breath of fresh air. And, sure, the Sixth Doctor seems a completely different man before they’re even introduced properly (her chiding of his interruption of her lecture would have seen TV Six stoked into a petulant rage, surely, followed by a prolonged sulk) but it does feel like Evelyn smooths the transition by credibly bringing out the best in him. He quickly seems to see her as an equal in all but her inexperience of the dangers of time travel, and the easy relationship between them is just nicer to see than his habitual bickering with Peri or Mel.

The exploration of Marian England is well sketched too. Having Evelyn blunder into a bar, believing Elizabeth is already on the throne is a very deft way of illustrating the real depth of passion tearing at the country’s fabric at every level of society. The eponymous conspiracy, joining together Protestant insurgents and agents of Catholic Spain in an unlikely alliance to put a more friendly face on the throne, is likewise a clever illustration of the issues involved. The debates between the Doctor and Queen Mary about the rights and wrongs of religious persecution shouldn’t work, as an epic case of telling, not showing, but the performances and script are so strong they absolutely work. It does push the Doctor into a strangely uncharacteristic tolerance of intolerance though. Really, Mary’s strident belief that all Protestants are marked by God Himself for damnation and that burning them alive and torturing them into converting is actually for their own good, isn’t that far from the stuff a Davros or a Cyberleader would come out with. But the Doctor never musters more than a bittersweet disappointment that he can’t reach her.

Of course, it’s not all talking and there’s a good deal of attempted assassination, framing people as deadly assassins, people threatening to blink out of existence as all of space and time warps around them, and the possibility of an ocassional stabbing. It all feels slightly tacked on but never less than fun and it all moves along at high enough a pace that it never outstays its welcome.

The Marian Conspiracy is an apparently effortless mixture of a very old fashioned view of what Doctor Who can, or should, be with a fresh and innovative companion and a complete rebirth for a classic Doctor. Even for those who think they don’t like pure historicals, this is well worth a listen or even, if it’s been a long time since you’ve heard it, a re-listen.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Mar 2000
The Marian Conspiracy (Doctor Who)
$66.03



Time in OfficeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time In Office (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: Saturday 30th September 2017
Running Time: 2 hours
“Time in Office” is a rather fun anthology audio from Big Finish, which explores the idea of how the Doctor would deal with actually having to take on the Presidency of the High Council of Time Lords, of which he was appointed at the end of “The Five Doctors” (before he ran away again).  Each of the four episodes is a separate little story, all taking place during the Fifth Doctor’s reign in office.  Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, and Louise Jameson star, all of whom give a fun performance within.  
 
The Doctor and Tegan are heading back to Frontios to pick up Turlough, when they are taken out of their time stream and returned to Gallifrey, as the Time Lords have decided to force the Doctor to take his place as the President.  As you'd expect, the Doctor is wholly unwilling to accept this position.When he is confronted with the chaos that could ensue due to the mess Borusa left behind, he reluctantly accepts in order to prevent anyone else abusing the powers that Borusa had put in place before his disappearance.  So the Doctor gets inaugurated and must battle his way through a variety of tedious problems and bureaucracy before he can reach Tegan and stop them wiping her memory of him and sending her back to Earth.  The anthology starts off well, with lots of humour and a breezy pace, which is surprising considering how little is actually happening in this opening episode. Eventually, he manages to keep Tegan on Gallifrey by appointing her Ambassador to Earth (which despite not having any formal relationship with Earth, works out much better for the Doctor than accepting Leela's plan of marrying her). The episode’s main focus is just to put the pieces and characters in place for the following tales of the Doctor’s reign as leader of the Time Lords. 
 
The second episode opens up with The Doctor's first real task as President. is to deal with is to clean up a mess he didn't really make.  Two warring factions on a planet both believe themselves to be truly righteous in the eyes of their God, but their God is an alien being that feeds off the worship.  The Doctor and his presidential company travel to speak with the God in a Military TARDIS (or WARDIS) and hope to attempt to clean up this mess...but when the god realizes that Leela and the Doctor killed his Brother years ago, he vows revenge.  So diplomacy isn't an easy sell.  I enjoyed the concept of the second story...godlike beings that feed off worship, the idea of diplomatic relations falling apart because of one of the many adventures the Doctor and Leela taking down a despot backfires on them.  I also liked Tegan's solution to the problem. 
 
The third episode has the Doctor visiting the Academy and dealing with protestors as well as imitators disappointed in his selling out and joining the establishment.  I found this to be the funniest instalment, some great social commentary on the Social Media Protestors that exist today, as well as the fun references and in-jokes provided by the imitator fan of the Doctor.  Davison is in fine form throughout the set but I felt he was particularly on his game here. His presence as the Doctor is always there, but with an air of frustration at his current status.  You get the sense, particularly in this instalment, that his Doctor may seem like he is settling into his role as President, but he’d rather be anywhere else.  
 
The fourth and final story has the Doctor touring the new Capitol building, fully dressed to the nines in his robes and sashes…seemingly fully committed to his role as the President. But a plot to end his reign is afoot…luckily, that seems to be just what the Doctor ordered.  Again, it is a fine addition to the anthology…a set of stories that truly entertain the longtime fans. In general, I loved the tone of the whole set of episodes, it doesn’t take itself or the threats too seriously, and feels small in scale, even the big climax of this episode doesn’t feel too grandiose.  Maybe it’s because I have been listening more and more to the big boxsets with epic storylines, and less and less to the monthly range, but the lighter tone and story felt like a good release after listening to such dark and sweeping stories in the Eighth Doctor’s Doomsday Coalition and the War Doctor boxsets.  As much as I enjoyed those storylines, I think I needed the palette cleanser, and this fun set of short stories did the trick nicely.  Mixing social satire, allegory, sci-fi concepts, and just a good old fashioned Doctor Who fan “what if?” premise…”Time in Office” is a great listen for longtime fans.  





The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of AlzariusBookmark and Share

Monday, 13 November 2017 - Reviewed by Elliot Stewart
The Ingenious Gentleman Adric Of Alzarius (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Julian Richards
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Featuring: Matthew Waterhouse
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Due to released on: Thursday 30th November 2017
Running Time: 35 minutes

When you are a fan of a particular show and it changes, it's difficult to let go of what you loved about what it did and embrace the new. Doctor Who has regularly tested the allegiance of its fanbase from 1966 onwards with the introduction of regeneration for example. It’s not only the lead of the show that changes, the companions on rare occasion stick around, but mostly seem to arrive  only to be off before you could work out how to spell their full name. Adric was a pure example of this, not a popular companion, though his out of placeness, bad clothes, moods and mistakes spoke to my teen self more than someone dressed like my dad playing cricket.

Doctor Who had run for some time with the cliche dynamic of the doctor and one plucky young woman for the longest time. As the first 5th Doctor season arrived this all changed with a fully packed tardis, Adric seemed like a leftover piece of the transition that now no longer worked. I liked Adric’s relationship with 4th Doctor and missed it when suddenly Tegan and Nyssa and a New Doctor changed the feel of the show. The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius picks up on that feeling and gives the listener a chance to relieve that period of the old familiar hero being a subject of a strong nostalgia it overwhelms you to nothing else.

 

Excellently read by Matthew Waterhouse, this short story follows Adric as he finds himself In a different position than usual, instead of playing second fiddle he is now a worthy side kick in fact a squire to the noble Sir Keeyoht of la Koura. Much of this story eludes to Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote and as it revealed later the  infamous ‘chivalrous quests’ in this insistence Is stop an evil man called the Doctor. Also Sir  Keeyoht of la Koura shows a passing resemblance to the 4th Doctor and Adric insecurity of the recent literal change of character of a new friend and mentor seems to be the crux of his new world. The subconscious shaping our Perception is a regular pattern in doctor who from the matrix being a terrifying mental landscape controlled by the master to surreal adventures in The Mind Robber. With a work like this you know what it’s coming, the reveal all is not what it seems because it isn’t. Buffy the Vampire Slayer followed a similar narrative in one episode “Normal Again’. Partly critiquing how fantastical the show had become with Buffy was shown as a patient in a mental ward. This story has a sting In it’s tail as Buffy fights back into the world we know in the series, the final shot is our hero Still in the hospital her doctor claiming ‘ we’ve lost her’. Adric was the lost companion, stuck between two opposing styles of the show and finally let go the following season. This audio story hints that with the 4th Doctor, Adric may have been destined for a stronger role and A better life.

This is a perfect example to having time to examine an unlooked aspect of the series, the Writing style and presentation lifts the concept away from it’s science fiction cliche roots. I am very keen to experience Adric again by the side of might and truth once again, If this was a pilot for The Ingenious Gentleman Adric of Alzarius, hurry up Netflix and commission a series. 






The High Price of Parking (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 November 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The High Price Of Parking (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by John Dorney

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush), Gabrielle Glaister (Cowley), Hywel Morgan (Kempton/ Tribesman), Kate Duchene (Regina/ Seraphim), Leighton Pugh (Fulton), Jack Monaghan 
(Dunne/ Selfdrive), James Joyce (Robowardens)

Big Finish Productions - Released July 2017

Having successfully reintroduced Bonnie Langford’s Mel Bush as a returning character last year alongside the already popular TARDIS team of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, the dynamic trio are all set for the first of a new trilogy of their ongoing adventures.

The High Price of Parking finds the travellers attempt to reach a galactic beauty spot and renowned tourist trap leads them to a nearby planetoid designed as a giant car park and named, appropriately enough, Parking. Here they quickly find themselves caught up in a civil war between the planet’s Wardens and a sect called Free Parkers. Beneath the rather obvious puns is a fairly standard Doctor Who plot with some nice twists and turns which builds to a satisfying conclusion.

As ever there is a competent supporting cast headed up by Gabrielle Glaister, who will be most familiar to television audiences from her role of “Bob”, the only character to have straddled the comedic universes of Blackadder and Upstart Crow. Here she plays the slightly out of her depth head warden Cowley and gets to share some enjoyable scenes with Mel. Bonnie Langford’s computer programmer is at her proactive best for most of this story. Also worthy of mention is Kate Duchene playing two very different roles, the first of these is Regina, tribal leader of the Free Parkers, and the other is super computer Seraphim. The latter role could easily have been very clichéd but the scenes shared with Sylvester McCoy in the play’s climax are very enjoyable with the Seventh Doctor as his “r” rolling best. Additional support comes from Hywel Morgan as the slimy Kempton and Leighton Pugh in several smaller roles including an enjoyable turn as Fulton an overzealous enforcer for Galactic Heritage.

Overall, this is an enjoyable tale which combines some light comedy with clever moments of jeopardy even allowing for the fact that the listener will know that whatever happens the three lead characters won’t come to any harm. The only slight misfire for long-term listeners is that having apparently established Mel’s return as taking place sometime after the departure of Hex, Ace seems to have regressed to a slightly younger version of her character. Unlike some of writer John Dorney’s more memorable offerings of recent years, this isn’t a story to set the world alight with originality but nevertheless is a promising start to this new trilogy of adventures.

 

The High Price of Parking is available now on general release.





Torchwood One: Before the FallBookmark and Share

Thursday, 9 November 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Torchwood One: Before the Fall (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Scott Handcock
Script Editor: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Tracy-Ann ObermanGareth David-Lloyd
Big Finish
First Released: Tuesday 31st January 2017

With every new Big Finish boxset, there’s the same question as to just what format the narrative will take. Some sets tell one complete story across all their discs, others contain an episode series of separate tales, and some lie somewhere in between, with individual episodes but a story arc running through them. Sometimes huge arcs will even stretch over multiple boxsets. But the one thing you can be sure of is that the official description never seems to quite match the reality (I don’t think anyone would say Doom Coalition felt like one sixteen part story, for instance).

Before the Fall tells two parallel tales of Torchwood One’s newest recruit, Rachel Allan (a name quite distracting if you’re in Ireland, where there’s a celebrity chef called Rachel Allen), and queen bee Yvonne Hartman, and the balance between them – one rising as the other falls. But each of the three installments also tells its own story of this new Torchwood team as the arc elements percolate in the background. It creates a great window into an alternative version of Torchwood and a team we’ve never gotten to see on TV. Introduced in Joseph Lidster’s brilliant opener New Girl through the eyes of eponymous recruit Rachel they’re an appropriately motley crew.

Yvonne is of course, front and centre and perfectly captured again by Lidster as in his earlier One Rule as a splendid mix of intelligence, charm, ruthlessness and menace, and vulnerability. Meanwhile, while we were actively given the impression on TV that Ianto was a low-level drone at Canary Wharf, here he’s promoted to being Yvonne’s right-hand man – an improbability that can be excused for the strong role it gives him in the drama. Nicely, though there’s a callback to his later persona when he audibly bristles at being asked to lower himself to fetching coffee by the head of HR. Alongside these returning favourites, we get that gossipy HR expert Pippa, professional heavies Dean and Kieran and scientific advisor Thomas. Thomas is probably the breakout star here. Effectively a cross between the Third Doctor and Gene Hunt from Life on Mars he’s an unreconstructed sweary, politically incorrect Northern curmudgeon with little respect for authority but given a lot of latitude because, frankly, he’s brilliant. There’s a particularly neat bit of homage in his relationship with his new assistant Rachel – when she blunders into his lab, messing things up, he’s only short of calling her a ‘ham-fisted bun vendor’ and she quickly becomes the Jo to his Doctor. Rachel herself cuts such a sweet, insecure figure that one of New Girl’s great achievements is how it manages to completely wrong-foot the listener – lots of references to the speed of promotion at Torchwood being the result of a high mortality rate and to Yvonne’s very final way of dealing with betrayal or incompetence makes it seem we’re getting a swift encapsulation of how Torchwood can eat up and destroy the unwary. But the final sting sends us in a surprising and intriguing new direction instead.

The following two-thirds of the set sees Rachel finding her feet as the improbable new leader of Torchwood One, and establishing the tenor of her reign, while a fugitive Yvonne, wanted for treason and murder, tries to keep one step ahead of her own agents. Through the Ruins sees the latter at her lowest ebb, couch surfing and calling in every favour she can to try and figure out what’s really going on and how she was framed. Meanwhile, on the Torchwood One team-building Away Day exercise, the sunny, cheerful Rachel has everyone messing about building highly unstable alien weapons in what’s clearly a thinly disguised cull of the slow, the dim and the unlucky. Caught between the two is Ianto. Now romantically involved with Rachel (the Jones boy sure can pick them) but secretly helping Yvonne evade capture, he can all too easily believe almost anything of Yvonne and the evidence seems conclusive, yet he can’t shake the sense that she didn’t actually do this particular horrible thing.

By the concluding Uprising, the stakes have been raised and the fightback begun. With a massive alien fleet about to enter Earth’s atmosphere and lay waste to all, the possibilities as to why it’s all happening are kept convincingly multiple choice until late in the day. Is Rachel a traitor in league with the aliens, or is she just incompetent? The ultimate answer to why Rachel has been making the decisions she has turns out to be very Torchwood – simultaneously grand and tragic, yet kind of petty and pathetic and all too human at the same time. If the essence of Torchwood, as a series, is deeply damaged people trying to rise to challenges that they’re not actually quite up to, then Before the Fall is a fine continuation of that tradition. Yvonne’s ultimate turning of the table on her adversary, meanwhile, is also very Torchwood in its way. Cynical and twisted, but nothing so straightforward as revenge.

Of the mirroring plot strands, Yvonne’s escapades are by far the more successful. Three parts Jason Bourne to one part Mean Girl, she crisscrosses London, getting in car chases and gunfights, while pressing her contracts and hunting leads, all while severely irked that thanks to all this she hasn’t had her hair blown out in days. It also underlines that she’s probably the only unambiguously hyper-competent Torchwood agent we’ve ever had. Rachel’s rapid transformation from naïve newbie to chirpy autocrat is a great deal less successful. We’re regularly told the secret of her success is that she’s a “people person,” adept at making everyone feel she’s their best friend and earning their loyalty. Yet with the entire boxset taking place over the course of a single month, it strains belief that she can command such good faith from her team of agents even as her decisions very, very quickly become hugely suspect.

So, Before the Fall, despite the three episodes, is very much a game of two halves. It’s at its strongest during the initial setup and introductions and New Girl, on its own strengths, is one of the finest hours of Torchwood Big Finish have yet produced. But, despite some nice character work and one or two killer twists, the resulting battle for control of Torchwood all too often feels contrived and just a bit silly. The result overall is a boxset that includes some great stuff but, as a whole proves rather average. However, perhaps its legacy will be this fully fleshed out Torchwood One team. They’re an engaging bunch, and practically worth the price of admission all by themselves. Return visits to Canary Wharf to spend more time with them would be extremely welcome.