At Childhood's End (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 April 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
At Childhood's End (Credit: BBC)
Written by Sophie Aldred
Read By Sophie Aldred
Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2020
Available from Amazon UK

It is always interesting when an actor writes a story based on the character they are so famous for.  It can be very revealing about the actor. When Colin Baker wrote a comic about the Sixth Doctor in the 90s, his Doctor was not the cranky know-it-all jerk he was on TV, he was far more reserved and kind...clearly the Doctor Baker always wanted to play was on those pages. William Shatner wrote a series of novels (with the help of ghostwriters) in which his Captain Kirk is written as the greatest guy in the universe who comes back from the dead and can beat up Data.

Sophie Aldred has now returned to the world of Doctor Who with her novel, At Childhood’s End, and it pretty much shows she just gets it.  She sees what worked about her character back in the late 80s, but is not afraid to give her character a ton of growth and maturity (as she is an older version here). Aldred recently made a brief return to the role of Ace in a specially made trailer for Season 26’s Blu-ray release, reflecting on her time with the Doctor while standing in her office for “A Charitable Earth,” her successful charity organization (first mentioned in the RTD penned Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor)...and now she has dug deeper into that version of an older Ace, in which Ace gets a chance to reunite with the Doctor, albeit with the latest version.  

Aldred not only knows Ace (and how she would be as a middle-aged woman), but she also seems to be steeped in the confusing expanded universe lore involving the character. Ace is arguably the first of the modern companions, the first to have a real unfolding storyline.  When Doctor Who was put into hiatus following the 1989 season, Ace was still with the Doctor...her story left unfinished. The character then took on a new life in the comic strip, then the Virgin New Adventures novel series really let the character change and grow (becoming some kind of space mercenary), then the comics retconned everything and killed her off, meanwhile, the audio adventures at Big Finish have had their own life and development for over 20 years.  If you dig too deep you find a lot of conflicting ideas of where Ace ended up. She is either a space bad-ass, a spy for Gallifrey, dead, a perpetual teenager, or running a charity on Earth. It’s confusing.  

This story doesn’t dwell on rectifying all of that, and it is better for that, but it does feature Ace (in flashback) with the Seventh Doctor using a machine that shows a variety of these outcomes for her possible futures.  I also feel like there are some deep-cut references to audios or novels thrown in her. I get the feeling Aldred kept up, at least a bit, with the novels or comics that followed her and Sylvester McCoy’s exit from the show. She certainly was involved in the audio stuff. Luckily, while it feels like her story fits in nicely with (or at least compliments) the variety of adventures Ace had in spin-off material, it still stands on its own.  

It is extremely weird to pit Ace against the Thirteenth Doctor.  The thirteenth is so light and happy and utterly different to the Seventh.  He became so restrained, serious, and mysterious...and his little games certainly began to rub Ace the wrong way. All of Ace’s baggage for that version of the Doctor is carried over to a woman who is so utterly different, and it is odd.  But that odd nature is in the book. Ace is weary of the Doctor at all times and clearly is put off by her newer bubbly personality.  

 

Aldred’s audiobook is extremely well-read. Beyond being able to perform as Ace again, she puts on a variety of voices to keep things interesting.  She nails her performances as the Thirteenth Doctor and her three companions, really capturing their voices. The story is not nearly as interesting as all the character development for Ace...but that development is really good and the closure this story brings to Ace is welcome and makes it all worthwhile. 





Doctor Who - Short Trips 9.6: The Same FaceBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 31 July 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Same Face (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrator: Katy Manning
Written by: Julian Richards
Director: Nicholas Briggs

No one survives in politics on Samael. Felicity Morgan has learnt this the hard way, as she keeps being assassinated. However, she has a secret. A secret that has kept her alive. A secret that has propelled her to the top job. When the Doctor and Jo arrive on Samael, they learn the impossible truth.

One woman. One face. Many lives.

The story for The Same Face is a third Doctor classic template. An alien government in crisis - with the Doctor turning up just in the nick of time. I must admit to rolling my eyes a little when I started listening to the story unfold, thinking to myself how unoriginal it was.

Then something happened that gave the story a much-needed kick up the rear end, something that perhaps I should have seen coming, but didn't....and THEN well, the least said about that big second twist, the better!

In short, The Same Face takes a (very) well-worn plot and adds a lot of magic to it. What also helps is that Katy Manning is on ABSOLUTE top form, slipping back into Jo Grant with startling ease. I expected the character to sound different with age, but no, not at all.

Julian Richards has created a mini-masterpiece with this story. An absolute gift to fans of this era that was an absolute joy to listen to.

The Same Face is available from Big Finish HERE.

 






The Tenth Doctor Adventures - Volume Three (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Three (Credit: Big Finish)


Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Jacqueline King, Nicholas Briggs
Written by James Goss, Jenny T Colgan, & Roy Gill
Directed by Ken Bentley

Released by Big Finish - May 2019

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to Big Finish for Tennant's third and Tate's second boxset, and this time they've brought along some supporting characters from Series 4 as well: Wilf and Sylvia! 

The set opens with No Place, seeing all four characters in a haunted house, with the Doctor and Donna pretending to be newlyweds for some haunted house makeover show. Obviously, this is all in order to deal with whatever alien presence is stalking the house. In all honesty, the opener feels half baked, like they got part of an idea and never truly figured out the details...maybe hoping that the joy of hearing Bernard Cribbins as Wilf again would distract us from the fact that the story isn't terribly great.  And while it is great to hear Wilf and Sylvia in on the action, I can't say I even buy the idea that Sylvia would get involved in this plot.  It's nothing against Jacqueline King, she is good in this...but the way the character had always been written is contrary to her getting roped into a Doctor Scheme. She just wouldn't. And in the end, these are the kind of silly details I focus in on when the story itself isn't terribly interesting. 

Luckily the set bounces back with One Mile Down as the Doctor takes Donna to a tourist trap that was once a beautiful underwater city, but in order to make money with tourism they've encased it in a bubble, with the original fish like inhabitants forced into protective helmets, and essentially be treated as lower life forms despite having built the beautiful city everyone has come to see.  It can be a bit ham-fisted with it's social commentary, but that was the Tenth Doctor era I loved so much!  You've got 45 minutes to an hour to explain your premise, introduce your guest characters, build a world and solve it all for the next adventure...if you want to put in a message, well you just need to shove it in and get the point across quickly.  And I enjoyed this episode!

The set closes out with The Creeping Death, which takes place in Smoggy London in 1952. This was an actual thing that got really bad in December 1952, and a number of people got ill or died due to toxins in the air.  In this story, some minuscule alien lifeforms that live in those kinds of toxins have come to Earth and hope to make the smog last forever, and of course, it is up to the Doctor, Donna, and a small group of people to stop them.  This one has a fun atmosphere, and I enjoyed all the guest characters. It is definitely the best outing for this set. 

As the Tenth Doctor is probably my favourite version of the character, and Donna my favourite companion of his, I'd be hard pressed not to just enjoy hearing Tennant and Tate together again (even out of character the two are always a blast to listen to).  I think despite the lame opening effort, they bounce back and make stories that definitely feel like episodes that could've fit into Series 4.  The only thing that could capture the feel of that era better is Murray Gold's music.  Unlike the first set in which Tennant had to sort of find his Doctor voice again, and the second set in which Billie Piper didn't quite feel like the old Rose, this time Tennant and Tate are rock solid in their performances, and it's a fun ride. 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures - The Haunting of Malkin PlaceBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 May 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Haunting of Malkin Place (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana), 
Simon Jones (Talbot), Denise Black (Mrs Mountford), 
Gunnar Cauthery(Maurice), Fiona Sheehan (Beatrice),
Rikki Lawton (Tom), Phil Mulryne (Jack). 
Written By: Phil Mulryne, directed By: Nicholas Briggs

We first come across the Doctor and Romana in the Doctor’s Baker Street address in 1922. Romana is reading an M R James novel and is questioning the Doctor about what makes a good ghost story, all the while being interrupted by unexplained bangs and bumps from the attic Spooky goings on that for once the Doctor refuses to investigate. To further enlighten themselves, they decide to hop on a train and visit the village where M R James lived. While on the train the pair befriend a spiritualist, Talbot (Simon Jones) , and his assistant Tom (Rikki Lawton), who are on the way to Malkin Place, where their presence has been requested by Beatrice (Fiona Sheehan) and her brother Maurice (Gunnar Cauthery), who claims that Malkin Place is VERY haunted. Of course, the Doctor can never resist a good ghost story, so he and Romana decide to tag along and help.

 

Doctor Who will of course normally do a ghost story very well, and this one has all of the hallmarks of a classic:

A daunting house in the middle of nowhere? Check. 

A vulnerable woman who (at the beginning) refuses to acknowledge the danger that she is in? Check.

Creepy séances? Check.

A mysterious neighbour with an ulterior motive? Check.

A great reveal of a scientific explanation by the Doctor? Check.

 

So why didn't I enjoy it as much as I felt that I should? I'm as surprised as anyone else, as I’ve been loving these Fourth Doctor audio dramas. I suppose there would have to be the odd one that I wouldn’t find up to scratch. I think with this, it was just the predictability of it all. You know that there is something amiss with Maurice, thanks to the opening scene. If this had been held back, and we just get the details of his nightmares, things could have been a little more intriguing. Plus no matter how spooky things get, you know that the Doctor will have a non-supernatural explanation for events – even if it is starting to sound like he might have doubts himself. I did chuckle though at the big reveal as to who was making the noises in the attic of Baker Street.

 

The sound design is great and reminded me of the recent Knock Knock television episode from its audio abilities. Tom Baker and Lalla Ward are as always very reliable, and the supporting cast is good. I just found the writing by Phil Mulryne a tad pedestrian. I hound the Haunting of Malkin Place to be average stuff I'm afraid.

 

The Haunting of Malkin Place is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.