Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 18 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Short Trips Rarities: The Switching (Credit: Big Finish)

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Simon Guerrier
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Read By: Duncan Wisbey
)Originally Released: September 2017

 

An unapologetically slight tale, The Switching jettisons having much of a plot at all in favour of some fun character moments grounded in the UNIT family dynamic.

Though the blurb makes a half hearted attempt to play coy, and the script takes its time to say it out loud, it’s pretty clear from the off that we’re getting a classic Freaky Friday scenario with a Time Lord twist. In a way, it’s such a perfect idea it’s almost a surprise we never saw a version from Letts and Dicks on screen though I’m not sure Jon Pertwee’s pride could have taken playing across from another actor doing their best impression of him. As it is, we get Duncan Wisbey doing a remarkable job of capturing the Third Doctor’s sibilance and that slightly ragged edge to his voice. Except this isn’t the Third Doctor, of course, but the Master.

Surprisingly charming and pragmatic as he makes a nuisance of himself at UNIT HQ, it’s a reminder that, back in the day, the Master didn’t tend to kill unless it actually advanced his agenda. Instead, quickly discovering that the Doctor’s TARDIS is in parts all over the place and not fit for making an escape from Earth in, he restricts himself to having a bit of fun at his best frenemy’s expense.If there’s a flaw, it’s the Master’s surprise that the Doctor is clearly so habitually rude and disrespectful to his UNIT colleagues (everyone reacts with slight suspicion as to why ‘the Doctor’ is being so nice and pleasant to them). It feels like the Master should know the Third Doctor better than that. All the supporting characters are perfectly drawn, however, with Jo in particular note perfect.

Essentially a throwaway novelty, it’s nicely wry humour and talented and flexible reader this is well worth the handful of coins and half hour of your time it will cost you.

 





The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 December 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
Written By: Nicholas Pegg
Directed By: Nicholas Pegg
Cast
Colin Baker (The Doctor), Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe), Nicholas Courtney (The Brigadier), Susan Jameson (Mrs Moynihan), Barnaby Edwards (Philip Ludgate/Scryfan), Toby Longworth (Professor Morgan/Sancreda/UNIT Sentry), James Bolam (Sir Archibald Flint), Helen Goldwyn (Nikki Hunter/Pelagia Stamatis/Corporal Croft), Nicholas Pegg (Captain Ashforde)
Cover by Clayton Hickman
Originally released: June 2000
The early days of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range still vibrate with innovation and excitement even all these years later. Relics from a time before things settled down into a polished, professional operation with a large, regular company of actors to draw from, there’s a powerful sense here of true fanatics who can’t quite believe their luck that they’re getting to play in this universe. Whom are keenly aware that it might not last and so fire off all their best ideas into it. This extends as well to the guest cast, with big names grabbing with both hands what might have been their only chance to be in Doctor Who, when the announcement of its TV revival was still three years away. Where Spectre of Lanyon Moor's contemporary Phantasmagoria boasted Mark Gatiss and David Walliams, here James Bolam (JAMES BOLAM!) adds a touch of real class to proceedings and proves a great foil for Maggie Stables’ Evelyn in a series of verbal sparring matches between her and his Sir Archibald. There may never be any better putdown of a Doctor Who villain in mid monomaniacal monologue about ‘the little people’ and the divine right to rule than “Don’t let’s get above ourselves, old chum; you’re only a baronet you know.”

 

Fantastically conceived by Nicholas Pegg (a man who perhaps doesn’t get his full due credit for all he’s contributed to Doctor Who in various ways down the years) Spectre of Lanyon Moor is, to an extent, a mash up of Terror of the Zygons, The Curse of Fenric and The Daemons. In its Cornish setting, there’s a corner of Britain possessed of a desolate beauty and a wealth of local myths and legend, while an archaeological investigation of an ancient structure, a legendary being of vast supernatural power which turns out to be an alien and a local lord who’s openly friendly but undoubtedly shady add to the sense of a greatest hits collection of, oddly enough, entirely the wrong era for Colin Baker’s Doctor to wander into.But it’s hard to complain about that.

 

Not only because this story is from the days long, long before Big Finish ensnared Tom Baker into its den of fabulous lunches, but because it gives an opportunity for the Sixth Doctor to finally adventure alongside the Brigadier. For the first episode and a half or so I had a rising fear that this was going to be a missed opportunity, with the semi-retired Brigadier simply used to ease the Doctor’s entry into the story and vouch for him with the other characters. Thankfully, as the story proceeds he moves beyond being a moustachioed Psychic Paper and instead this proves to be one of the Brig’s strongest, most heroic personal contributions to the action. In addition, it’s lovely, especially since his death, to hear Nicholas Courtney in such sparkling form. Courtney’s performance, as it often was, is a work of subtle genius – a tightrope rope between projecting unflappable decency that grounds the outrageousness around him and a twinkle in the voice to show he’s in on the joke.

 

UNIT are back too, in a small way, though low level UNIT troops seem as adorably incompetent as ever. With the name and description of a villain possessing a planet destroying device that must be kept apart from the ancient site at all costs distributed, one sentry still just ‘ums’ and ‘aws’ as said villain shows up, describes her disdain for lesser mortals and plans to revenge herself on them all, very slowly takes out her alien technology from her handbag and kills him.

 

The creature at the heart of the mystery is presented as an alien twist on the old idea that faeries are maybe a great deal more malignant than advertised in children’s books. Short but superhumanly strong, and given to cackling madly while messily and noisily tearing people limb from limb despite constant boasting about civilized and advanced his species are, Sancreda is a monster in the true sense. Doctor Who often treats villains and alien species as having a point of view, no matter how destructive their actions – even the first Dalek story circled the issue of whether the Daleks were actually evil or just driven by paranoia and fear of the previously war like Thals. But Sancreda is an out and out gibberingly sadistic maniac, if one driven mad by millennia of imprisonment. This leads to some nastily violent scenes but also helps sell the level of threat involved.It’s also a great showcase for Toby Longworth, who plays both the harsh voiced alien maniac, pompous old duffer Professor Morgan, and the aforementioned UNIT sentry, a fact which astonished me when I saw the cast list after. His ability to make all three totally distinct with such seemingly effortless ease is extraordinary. Elsewhere in the cast future Mrs. Wibbsey Susan Jameson is to be found as housekeeper Mrs. Monyhian, a kind of twised mirror of her later, more famous Doctor Who role.

 

The only possible criticism here is that the story unfolds in rather predictable fashion, with every strand evolving and climaxing pretty much exactly as you’d expect. However, that simply adds to the sense of being enveloped in a lovely, warm blanket of cosy familiarity. And, perhaps as a result of since seeing how the revived series handles such things, it would perhaps have been nice to see Evelyn still in a phase of learning the ropes or TARDIS travel. Instead there’s the sense of a number of adventures having being skipped over, with the unreliability of the TARDIS to get where its supposed to be going already a running joke between the Doctor and Evelyn.

 

As a rare opportunity to hear Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier swing into action once again, and as a fine homage to the Hinchcliffe Era of Doctor Who, The Spectre of Lanyon Moor is a must on any short list of early Big Finish plays for people to explore and discover.



Associated Products

Books
Released 1 Jun 2000
The Spectre of Lanyon Moor (Doctor Who)
$97.12



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

Thursday, 30 November 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck

Written By: John Dorney, Guy Adams, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Featuring: David TennantBillie PiperCamille CoduriRosie CavalieroGuy Henry

Released Thursday 30th November 2017

David Tennant returns to Big Finish for a second round of audio adventures, this time bringing his first companion Rose Tyler (Billie Piper) along with him.  This is an iconic duo from the show, and having them back together is surely to be exciting for fans. 

The opening story (Infamy of the Zaross) also brings Camille Coduri back as Rose's mom, Jackie Tyler, who calls Rose and the Doctor back to Earth to deal with an alien invasion.  But this ends up being no ordinary invasion. I wont give it away, but I rather liked the twist on this episode. It had a lot of good social commentary, and felt not only like a great premise for Doctor Who, but also felt exactly like the kind of story that would fit perfectly within the period of Doctor Who this set revisits. 

The second episode in the boxset is The Sword of the Chevalier, which takes place in the past and featured the Doctor and Rose meeting the historical figure Chevalier d'Éon, a person I'd never heard of before but, after reading up on it, I find to be a fairly interesting tale.  It's a story that mixes humor and adventure well, and features a nice creepy alien threat as well. 

Cold Vengeance, the third and final story in the set is possibly the only letdown. It isn't necessarily a badly told tale...but it just feels generic, and features what is possibly one of my least favorite of the "classic" Doctor Who monsters - the Ice Warriors. I know that I am probably in the minority on this one, but the Ice Warriors just never felt particularly interesting to me.  And really, the only thing this final episode has going for it is that you get to hear the Tenth Doctor face off against them. There is really little else driving the story, at least nothing that felt fresh or new enough. 

Ultimately, this is a great set, well worth getting.  Tennant slips back into the Doctor like he never left the role, though I do think it took Piper a little longer to slip back into the voice of Rose.  But if you loved these two as a team, you should be thrilled to get this set. It feels like slipping back in time, to those early days of the shows revival.  Recommended!








The Blood Furnace (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 November 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Blood Furnace (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Eddie Robson

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast:Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), 
Bonnie Langford (Mel Bush), Julie Graham (Carolyn), Jade Anouka (Danuta), Todd Heppenstall (Stuart Dale), Clare Calbraith (Orla), Louis Tamone (Vinny), Ignatius Anthony (Lee).

Big Finish Productions - Originally  Released August 2017
Available Now on General Release 

The second installment of the recent trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor alongside Ace and Mel finds them coming back to a fairly familiar setting of Merseyside in 1991. It seems slightly odd that having had several previous adventures set in Liverpool owing to the presence of former companion Hex that neither he didn’t even rate a mention. This combined with Ace’s more youthful persona which has shown through in recent audio adventures has led this reviewer to wonder if this series is set prior to the arrival of Hex although for reasons that will be elaborated on in my review of the next release this seems unlikely.

Leaving these minor gripes aside, it seems appropriate to put Ace and Mel into a time which might have been contemporary if this series of adventures had followed on directly from the TV series’ cancellation in 1989. As such we are introduced a new element of Mel’s backstory in the shape of her ex-boyfriend Stuart, played by Todd Heppenstall who has an instant rapport withBonnie Langford that allows the listener to believe they really could be old university chums. In this story Stuart appears to have had a significant reversal of fortune since he and Mel last met as he is now managing a shipyard which seems to have bucked the trend of the early 1990s recession and be successfully ship-building with the help of his mysterious financial backers, the Dark Alloy Corporation. At this stage enter the sinister Carolyn, played as a fun villainess byJulie Graham, it isn’t spoiling too much to reveal that she is a character with much more going than on than is initially revealed.

This is an enjoyable tale of double-crossing, alien espionage, the science of magic and a reinforcement of the old fable that you should never go into business with mysterious strangers who probably aren’t human. Whilst Ace and the Doctor get into all the usual sort of trouble, and as ever Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy are on great form as usual, this story really belongs to Bonnie Langford’s Mel. For the first time since she rejoined the TARDIS crew last year (and indeed since she left originally left Pease Pottage with the Sixth Doctor – see the novel Business Unusual and the 2013 audio play The Wrong Doctors) we see her back in rightful time and place and seriously tempted to stay there.

Overall another fun story to accompany The High Price of Parking, although listeners will possibly hope for something with a little more originality from the concluding story for this year The Silurian Candidate.





The Early Adventures: The Morton LegacyBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 November 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Early Adventures: The Morton Legacy (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Justin Richards
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast
Anneke Wills (Polly Wright/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Elliot Chapman (Ben Jackson), David Sibley (Josiah Morton), Kerry Gooderson (Jemma Morton), Ewan Bailey (Blazzard / Copeland), Alan Blyton (Dexter).

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released: November 2017

The Doctor, Polly, Ben, and Jamie land in 1860s London (much to Ben and Polly's disappointment that they are not home in their own 1960s), and they soon find themselves trapped when the TARDIS is stolen. They track it down to a man named Morton, who runs a private museum in his home filled with plenty of exotic items...and while it is clear he has the TARDIS, they aren't sure how to get to the workshop where he is keeping it. The plot thickens as there are mysterious deaths around town, with Morton as the prime suspect. The Doctor and crew must somehow keep him out of jail, at least long enough for them to find the TARDIS. So they make an attempt to solve the murders, become increasingly weary of an artifact in Morton's collection, and foil a couple of crooks who attempt to steal from the collection. The story is decent, there are some nice character bits here and there, but I think it is the format of these Early Adventures that holds it back. 

I'm not sure I see the merit in moving halfway between the Companion Chronicles style of "enhanced Audiobook" and the Full Cast Dramas I am (admittedly) more familiar with.  Having narration describe things that could be easily illustrated by one of the characters via creative dialogue seems odd, particularly when the rest of the story is presented like a regular Full Cast Drama. The narration slowed the pace, and while a slower pace makes some amount of sense for a story trying to replicate the 60s era of the show...it just doesn't really flow like an episode from that era, so the whole operation doesn't really work. While I still didn't really enjoy the narration in the Third Doctor boxset, it still seemed to work better than it does here, and in general, it just managed to capture the era's feel much better. Really, when the whole concept of the Companion Chronicles was to skirt around the fact that some actors are no longer with us, it seems odd to then try and move on from that idea and replace actors yet still hold back and do that narration thing. If you're going to do it, go full throttle. 

Up until this moment, I had not yet found any time to give Big Finish's Early Adventures series a real go.  I think the concept is actually really novel.  But while Frazer Hines' vocal inflections often have that Troughton feel, sometimes I found it too hard to distinguish when exactly it was The Doctor that was supposed to be talking.  Clearly Hines is doing his best, and he certainly remembers his old friend's vocal inflections well...but it might have been less distracting or just easier to know who is who by finding a better Troughton impersonator, much as they did in replacing the late Michael Craze with Elliot Smith as Ben (or Tim Treloar's very good Pertwee impersonation from the Third Doctor sets). 

Personally, I found the story hard to engage in, and I really think it is the format of this particular Big Finish range. If the goal is to recreate the tone and feel of the 60s episodes, it doesn't really do that, nor does it feel like a modern and exciting story featuring characters from a totally different kind of era. It is just middle of the road, and there is nothing more forgettable than middle of the road. 

The Second Doctor ranks among my favorites, but it is always going to be hard for Big Finish to ever really capture that spark, when there is no possible way to bring back the man who made the part so fun and alive. 

 






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.