The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 15 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Ian McNeice (Sir Winston Churchill), Laurence Dobiesz (Wilhelm Rozycki), Gyuri Sarossy (Jan Ostowicz), Tracy Wiles (Secretary / Ground Control), Beth Chalmers (The Heliyon), Roger May (Cornelius Morningstar / Verdarn), Judith Roddy (Stralla Cushing), Sarah Lambie (Gorl), Jane Booker (Dron / Yetana), Christopher Ryan (Macy), Nicholas Rowe (The Kandyman), Amerjit Deu (Governor), Charlie Condou (Crabhead / System / Jarl), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Ruzalla), Beth Goddard (Ludina Braskell).  Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Ken Bentley
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Following on from the events of Doom Coalition, the Eighth Doctor and Liv Chenka are attempting to find the trail of their lost friend Helen Sinclair, and they begin a brand new set of adventures to stretch out over four boxsets, this time with the umbrella title Ravenous. It's a pretty exciting new beginning for this Eighth Doctor team, and bodes well for the Eighth Doctor adventures going forward.  

The set begins with Their Finest Hour, which has The Doctor and Liv answer a call from Winston Churchill, who hopes that the Doctor can solve the issue of an invisible ship that is wiping out his Air Force. It's a energetic start to this set, with Paul McGann in his regular fine form as the Eighth Doctor, and Nicola Walker far more settled into the role of Liv. I must admit that while I really enjoyed Doom Coalition, I have never been too excited by Liv as a companion.  She just seemed too low key, but I felt Helen picked up the energy where Liv seemed to drag.  Here, she seems far more comfortable in the role, she just has more energy and her sparring with the Doctor had a good flow to it. At any rate, the opener sets the tone nicely, with World War II and interferring Aliens, a good supporting cast (including Ian McNeice reprising the role of Winston Churchill), and a good mix of action adventure and character moments. 

The second story, titled How to Make a Killing in Time Travel, has the Doctor and Liv again diverted from finding Helen, and this time end up embroiled in a murder mystery and a prototype time machine. This is a pretty fun story, lots of humor and asort of madcap pace. These first two stories seemingly have little to do with the big new arc that will be the backdrop of the coming Eighth Doctor boxsets.  I've been fooled before, they may end up playing a bigger role than I realize...but even if they do not, they were a fun couple of stories that kept me engaged and reaquainted me to the Eighth Doctor and Liv...and they made me appreciate Liv more than I had in the past.  

Helen, along with the Eleven, make their return in World of Damnation. The two apparently crash landed in an asylum, and Helen wreaked some havoc when they arrived, apparently endowed with some powers from the Sonomancer (Listen to Doom Coalition 4).  But now she is just trying to calm the Eleven's psychopathic tendencies, and it is seemingly helping.  Also at the asylum is the Kandyman (making his audio debut), who is distributing sweets to the inmates, which somehow controls their behavior.  By the time The Doctor and Liv arive, the asylum is in chaos, and I rather liked that while the Helen and Eleven storiy is being told simultaneously as the Doctor and Liv arriving, it builds in a way that you only slowly come to relaize that the TARDIS arrival actually takes place some time after the rest of the episode, and that the chaos has been instigated by the Eleven and the Kandyman, who were secetly working together.

Despite having spent so much time searching for her, the Doctor is very suspicious of Helen once they have found her, and he is unsure of her motives throughout most of the finale of the set, Sweet Salvation.  In this episode we discover that hte Kandyman and the Eleven plan to rule over whole worlds by delivering the Kandyman's confections as a mind control device, and it is up to our TARDIS team to halt their plans.  This finale is a great conclusion to the set, as it while the titular Ravenous is only briefly heard and hinted at, I am intrigued about going forward.  

This set is a good start to the new set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor. It definitely helped me warm up to Liv, which is a definite plus, as I really never found her that interesting in previous boxsets. I do find it surprising that they brought the Kandyman back at all, as I don't think he actually worked in his lone TV appearance. But Big Finish manages to make him a more interesting character, with a brand new design on the covers, because I am pretty sure there was some copyright issues with the character design. I should also make special note of Mark Bonnar as the Eleven, who has been incredible in this role since the start of the Doom Coalition sets.

If I have a criticism of this new set, it is that it really cannot stand on it's own. You have to have listened to Doom Coalition to understand major plot points of this set.  Despite carrying on from Dark Eyes, you could have started fresh with Doom Coalition, that is not the case here.  Now, that previous series of boxsets is pretty entertaining, so it is kind of worth it, but those who are not fairly familiar with the ongoing adventures of the Eighth Doctor on Big Finish, you should probably catch up to start this new set of adventures.  Those who are fmailiar?  This seems like a fun new collection to add to a growing list of fun collections for Paul McGann and company.  





The Curse of Fenric (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 14 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Curse Of Fenric (Credit: BBC Audio)Written by Ian Briggs
Read By Terry Molloy

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

It is quite probable that The Curse of Fenric is my favorite story of the Seventh Doctor. I loved the atmosphere, where it developed the character of Ace, and her relationship to the Doctor and her past, and I loved where it seemed to be pushing the show...even if imminent cancellation shelved those plans.  Maybe that is for the best. The writer of the story, Ian Briggs, wrote his own novelization, and the results are pretty stellar. 

The way Briggs wrote it, it feels like a novel unto itself, it doesn't feel like it was based on a cheap TV show, it feels like an original novel that once got adapted for TV. That is rare in these novelizations.  But Briggs puts in a Prologe and an Epilogue, and instead of the standard Chapters, he breaks the story up into "Chronicles" which are the more straight adaptations of the serial, and "Documents" which give more in-depth background on elements of the story in a unique and creative way. 

It is things like that that up the ante, make this story feel like it is completely fresh, and not just a quick novelization of the story to sell some paperbacks.  Briggs seemed to put in some extra effort on this. I've been enjoying my audibook tour of the old Target books, but this one really jumped out at me.  I understand that apparently Page limits were removed for Briggs, and so maybe he felt the impulse to go wild with it. But there are elements to the story that Briggs expanded upon, and little details that he made clearer, and in general the story just feels thematically stronger. 

Terry Molloy does a good job narrating the story, managing to capture the characters and keep in that ominous atmosphere when needed. All in all...this was a great listen.  Having recently slogged my way through the less enjoyable Two Doctors audiobook, I found this was far more entertaining, and I breezed through it much easier. I think I can give no higher recomendation than, I didn't want to stop listening to it!





The Two Doctors (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 9 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Two Doctors (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Robert Holmes
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

I have never been particularly enamored with The Two Doctors. While it was nice to get the relief of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back into the show during a season that was lead by the bickering characterizations of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant (neither of whom I consider to blame for that nonsense), the story itself was still poorly written, somewhat scattershot, and a bit muddled. I can ignore strange contiuity issues for the Second Doctor and Jamie, because the show's contiuity is the biggest mess in all of franchise contiuities...but I just didn't find the story engaging at all.

So we come to Robert Holmes novelization of his episode, now brought to life in audiobook form by the Sixth Doctor himself - Colin Baker. In general, I think this version is better. I attempted to rewatch the TV version, but the tone kind of turned me off.  But the book has better characteriations, more gruesome death scenes for characters, and flows a lot better.  For instance you spend a lot of time with the Second Doctor and Jamie before cutting to the Sixth Doctor and Peri.  In the show, they cut back and forth early on, and it is more muddled and doesn't flow as well. I think one of the weirdest things about it is that it is a multi-Doctor story for no real reason. The book fixes some of those story flow issues. 

That isn't to say that the story is suddenly really interesting, because it is still mediocre. The villain's evil plot is too vague, the Sontarans don't really do much, and the threat to the Doctor seems minimal.  Having the Second Doctor's life in danger might actually be interesting if it seemed as if the Sixth Doctor could be wiped from existance, but they never really go for it. I never feel like the threat is real. 

I think multi-Doctor tales need to be saved up for special occasions. Anniversary's are worth it. Or in the case of Time Crash, as a comedy sketch for charity.  But this episode did it just for fun, and since the story has no real need for Patrick Troughton or the Second Doctor to return, it just seems like a lame reason to bring him back. It diminishes the excitement of having two Doctors together when it isn't for a big occasion and is just in the middle of a season.

As for the audiobook itself, Colin Baker does a great job reading it. That should come as no surprise to anyone that has heard his excellent work for Big Finish. He makes the story seem far more interesting than it actually is, and reads with gusto. It will alwys be a bit of a bummer that this charismatic guy got such a short straw on TV.  Just two seasons worth of pretty horrible stories in an obnoxious costume. When a mediocre story like this is on the better end of his television output, that really is a shame.

I don't think this audiobook is particularly worth it. Baker's narration is top notch, but it is all in service of a lame story. 



Associated Products

DVD - Region 1
Released 8 Mar 2011
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (Story 141)
DVD - Region 2
Released 8 Sep 2003
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors [Region 2]
$11.20
Audio
Released 3 Sep 2015
27% off
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors: A 6th Doctor Novelisation



Torchwood: The Death of Captain JackBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 April 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Death of Captain Jack (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: David Llewellyn
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring: John BarrowmanJames MarstersEve MylesGareth David-LloydKai OwenTom PriceSamuel BarnettRowena Cooper
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 1 hour

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

After two full seasons of monthly releases set in the lives of Cardiff's least covert secret agents, each entry packed with as much nostalgia as world-building, not to mention a wealth of box-sets taking place in the eponymous organisation's past, present and future, some might reasonably wonder just where Big Finish can take Torchwood next - at least without fulfilling the rule of diminishing returns. To date, we've spent hours in the company of not only every member of the Season One-Two team but also Yvonne Hartman, Suzie Costello, Torchwood America's Charlie's Angels-esque terrific trio, Rhys Williams, Sergeant Andy Davidson and undercover recruits in World War Two. Who else could the studio possibly hope to focus on, then, sans perhaps the elderly woman bemoaning "bloody Torchwood" in the Season Two premiere, "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang"?

The answer, coincidentally enough, lies in that exact same episode, albeit not in the form of Menna Trussler's brilliantly non-plussed Elspeth Morgan, but instead in the form of another oft-forgotten veteran of the show's televised tenure: Captain John Hart. Yes, everyone's other favourite Time Agent has returned for another round on the blood-soaked carousel in The Death of Captain Jack, a disorientating rollercoaster of a season premiere which delivers all of the raunchy setpieces, deliciously macabre humour, Steven Moffat-level time-travel paradoxes and further raunchy setpieces fans could possibly hope for. Every work of fiction has its flaws, of course, and we'll get to Death's blemishes later, but if nothing else, there's never been a Torchwood audio production quite like this one.

To quote Amy Pond, okay kids - this is where it gets complicated. Unlike most of these monthly vignettes, Death's place in its source material's continuity starts out sketchy and doesn't become much clearer the further we move through its running time. Suffice to say that any long-running franchise devotees will have their work cut out trying to ascertain quite when the narrative - or at least its framing device, which essentially serves as the crux of proceedings - occurs in relation to John and Jack's fractured romantic / anarchistic relationship across time and space, since there aren't many direct references to on-screen encounters between the pair such as "Kiss Kiss" or Season Two finale "Exit Wounds". What we do know, however, is that the former unashamed megalomaniac decides to finally bring their competition to best one another to an explosive end, causing a wealth of paradoxes destabilising enough to leave Jack on the brink of a permanent demise and John as the King of England.

If that sounds like a recipe for a glorious hour of unhinged science-fiction hysteria, then take comfort in the knowledge that your ears are working perfectly. If anything, the play's wright David Llewellyn takes those expectations and extrapolates them tenfold, his script gleefully embracing the explosive carnage that its two Time Agent protagonists bring to anyone caught - figuratively or often literally - between them, with the pair's at times lust-driven, at times hopelessly self-destructive relationship an empowering wildcard that keeps the hour refreshingly unpredictable. Whether he's having John compare Torchwood Three to Scooby Doo "without the cartoon dog or the lesbian" or depicting fan favourite characters like Ianto Jones or Rowena Cooper's Queen Victoria in hilariously risque new lights, Llewellyn takes evident delight in the audio range's producer, James Goss, giving him free reign to steer many of the show's core tenets totally off the rails with a chaotic, constantly expectation-subverting romp that can't fail to keep even the most emotionally apathetic listener entertained. Sure, we're left in almost no doubt that the events depicted here can't come to affect future Torchwood storylines, but who cares when the results are such visceral fun to consume through our earlobes?

That wouldn't necessarily have been the case, though, without two such accomplished lead performers at Death's helm. Enter John Barrowman and long overdue returnee James Marsters, both of whom wholeheartedly embrace the opportunity to deliver a psychologically warped comedy-drama where the only rule is that there are no rules. In many ways Barrowman's gifted with the chance to play two roles - the good Captain whom we know and love as well as the aged soul who lies before John on seemingly the final day in their centuries-spanning conflict - and, naturally, does a stellar job on both fronts, as intoxicatingly charismatic and complacent ever in the former guise while the most vulnerable and morally crushed that we've seen him since Miracle Day in the latter. As for Mr. Masters, whereas some of Doctor Who and Torchwood's past cast members needed time to adjust to portraying their characters in audio form, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel's Runaways star takes to Big Finish like a devilishly handsome duck to the Time Vortex's waters, his constant barrage of witty retorts, pop culture references, beguiling pick-up lines and pre-murder zingers voiced with the kind of unsettling enthusiasm that only an actor of his calibre can truly muster. Much as Big Finish are rightly striving to entice series regulars like Eve Myles and Burn Gorman to find time amidst their hectic schedules to record further Torchwood plays, this reviewer would suggest that the studio makes Masters another major priority in this regard whenever the right script and the necessary gap in his own calendar arise.

So, with all of these glowing remarks, how could we possibly smell a fault in the framework of this undoubtedly successful new chapter for the only team ready for that key moment when "everything changes"? Well, kindly juxtapose that iconic quote from the show's opening sequence with our comments above and you'll ideally start to notice that despite subverting many of the show's tropes, The Death of Captain Jack does incorporate a heck of a lot of previously explored character dynamics, cameos from familiar faces, What If paradoxes and the like which we've seen done to death - many times over in Jack's eternal case - countless times before on Torchwood and elsewhere in the so-called Whoniverse (though feel free to substitute this term with any other epithets for the wider franchise that you see fit). Indeed, Llewellyn, Goss, and company could easily have gotten away with rebranding this release as Torchwood: Greatest Hits, since rather than taking us into any particularly new territory that no-one could have seen coming, the intention seems to have been to simply spend more time with the admittedly electric Jack-John pairing which only got 2 full episodes in which to shine during 2008's Season Two. That's a noble gesture to fans clamoring for further such antics to be sure but does inevitably result in a storyline which - for all its rib-tickling one-liners - will rarely catch veteran fans off-guard.

That, in turn, plays into the matter of continuity which we discussed briefly earlier when summarizing Death's basic premise. On a superficial level, to call out the script for refusing to explicitly confirm whereabouts in Jack and John's timelines these events take place - a tricky business to discuss fully in this review without spoiling the exact nature of certain happenings we see play out here - may seem a prime example of nitpicking, but given that we last witnessed Masters' character wanting to understand Jack's passionate zest for Earthbound life by exploring the planet himself, having his return to his tricksome ways this time around explained by the outcome of those travels might've afforded an additional layer of depth to his character arc as well as fuel for future storylines at Big Finish. Does John's manipulative, self-serving outlook on life inevitably mean that he'll never remain content with a universe out for anyone's gain but his? Is his psyche comparable to Missy's in "Death in Heaven", whereby the pair both "wanted their friends back" no matter how devastating the circumstances? Factoring questions like these into Death just might have made the key difference between the latest Torchwood range outing coming off as a satisfying or game-changing listen.

Anyway, enough grimacing for the time being - to do so for longer than necessary would be to stray far from the central fact of the matter. Even if The Death of Captain Jack doesn't necessarily start 'Season Three' of Big Finish's monthly Torchwood releases with quite the same intriguing arc threads as The Conspiracy did in 2015 or never-before-seen crossover hijinks between Jack and Queen Victoria (a total newcomer to the show) as The Victorian Age did the following year, its raw appeal as a tour de force in time-bending, romantically charged and at times unexpectedly violent storytelling can't possibly be denied. Anyone who's long craved a reunion between the only two surviving Time Agents depicted in Doctor Who and its spin-offs will almost certainly have a whale of a time with Death between its jet-black comedy, its protagonists' never-ending duel of wits and sexual prowess and its scribe's dedication to uprooting Torchwood tropes by the dozen at every turn with hilarious results. Everything mightn't change here, then, but everything's at least looking up in terms of the studio's ability to keep producing memorable monthly outings for Harkness and company.






Scream of the Shalka (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scream of the Shalka (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Paul Cornell
Read By David Collings

Released by BBC Worldwide - June 2016
Available from Amazon UK

In the run up to Doctor Who's Fortieth Anniversary in 2003, fans had very little to look forward to.  The show was seemingly dead for good.  The 1996 TV movie had failed to make an impact, so the show was being carried on purely in spin-off material like audios, comics, and books.  But a small team at the BBC website was determined to make something of the fortieth anniversary, and decided to make a fully animated cartoon series.  They had put on some limited animations before, but those were mostly audio stories with still images attached. This time they wanted to make a genuine animated web series, three stories told over 12 episodes.  But that got whittled down, and in the end they produced one story written by Paul Cornell and starring Richard E. Grant as the Ninth Doctor.  Of course that Ninth Doctor's official status was immediately thrown out, as before they even released the first episode, the BBC finally decided to announce that they would bring the show back properly.  And so Scream of the Shalka became this odd diversion, the singular story for a Doctor that is not considered official. Plans for further episodes featuring this cartoon Doctor were shelved, and this Doctor became a footnote in the series history.

Cornell also wrote a novelization of his story, which has now been brought to life again as an audiobook. While each of the six original episodes ran around 10-15 minutes, each episode is expanded upon in the book, giving greater characterizations for our main players, as well as deeper motivations. This is a good thing, it makes the story stronger, as the original story lacked this due to it's shorter format. 

For example, this version of the Doctor was heavily implied to have a tragic backstory.  While it is only hinted at, it seems he lost a companion that he was quite close to. The obvious conlcusion is some tragic death, but what we are never truly given the details. The novelization doesn't either, but the hints are stronger, and help explain the Doctor's attitude. The robot version of the Master that accompanies the Doctor in the TARDIS also gets a lot of extra characterization. While it is still not clear how exactly his conscienceness ended up in a robot that lives in the TARDIS, we get a better sense of what he is all about here.  New characters like Allison, Joe, and Major Kennet all have better development here as well.

It then becomes odd that, as a story that had such short episodes, this audiobook has a full hour disc for each episode.  For a story that is less than 90 minutes in length, the fact that the audiobook is well over six hours is incredible. The average Target Novelization of even a classic six parter is about 3-4 hours.  So Cornell really expanded his story for the book, and it shows in this subsequent audiobook. To be perfectly honest, while Scream of the Shalka is a decent story, and the book version is clearly superior to the truncated original webcast, part of me thinks six hours is a lot of time to dedicate to a story that isn't really THAT good.  While Cornell did make some attempts at modernizing Who via this cartoon, he was too traditional in too many ways to make the show properly work for anything but old fans. They might've gotten into it with time and subsequent episodes, but it would not have brought in new folks the way Davies eventually did. And that is still evident in listening to this audiobook.

David Collings is a fine narrator, and this novelization by Paul Cornell clearly had a lot of love put into it.  The audiobook is a good way to experience that novelization, but if you are interested in Shalka, you can pick up the cheaper DVD and watch the story and special features in about the same amount of time it would take to get through this audiobook (probably less time really). If you find you really liked that cartoon and then want to get more intimate details of the characters featured within, then the audiobook would do you well.  Personally I found that watching the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD to be the most satisfying and interesting thing to come from this story, because there was a brief period of time when a small team at the BBC Website thought they had found a way to bring back Doctor Who in a new way, and that is truly fascinating. 





Survival (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Survival (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Rona Munro
Read By Lisa Bowerman

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2017
Available from Amazon UK

In 1989, Doctor Who aired the final story of Sylvester McCoy's Seventh Doctor...and then was quietly put into "hiatus," but was really just secretly cancelled. That final story was Survival, and involved the Doctor and Ace facing off against the Master and Cheetah People in Ace's hometown of Perivale. In the end the Doctor and Ace walked off back to the TARDIS, and they weren't to be seen together on screen again. It was one of the stronger efforts in that final era of the Classic show, and while you can definitely see the upturn in quality of scripts returning during the Seventh Doctor's era, I think it was very much a "too little, too late" situation for the series at the time. 

So we come to Target's novelization of that finale episode, which is written by the author of the television script Rona Munro, and it is actually slighlty better than it's television counterpart.  Munro adds in some extra details and character motivations which were lost in the TV adaptation, as well as whole sequences that were probably cut for time.  These details improve the overall story.  The television version was always pretty solid, but the book just works better in some ways. 

The audiobook is read by Lisa Bowerman, who played Karra the Cheetah in the original serial, and has gone on to become quite well known to Who fans as Seventh Doctor companion Bernice Summerfield in a wide variety of Big Finish audios.  She does a fine job as narrator for the most part. Her impression of Sophie Aldred's Ace is impeccable, though her McCoy is a little too cartoonish and distracting.

This is a good audiobook, it's a novelization that builds on and improves upon it's source material, and it is nicely read by Bowerman...even if her impression of McCoy is kind of awful.  Fans of this era and this story would most likely enjoy this one.