Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 2Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 March 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Syndicate Masterplan: Volume 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: John Dorney
Director: Nicholas Briggs
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: February 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

Time's Assassin – GUY  ADAMS

 

"Please! Don't explain you're nefarious plot - I don't think I can bear it!"

The true identity of the Director has been revealed and he wants vengeance upon the Doctor for past crimes….

But the Director is not the only danger to the crew of the TARDIS. Deadly experiments are coming to a head, and everyone’s life is at risk.

However, the greatest threat is yet to come. The Syndicate’s plans are in motion….and no one is safe from them.

When we left the Doctor and Ann at the end of the last episode (and volume) they were still stranded and in peril. Jon Culshaw was chewing scenery, and monsters were about to be unleashed. Part two is much the same, and provides some major hints and themes of the coming episodes, further developing this series story arc as all really is not what it seems.

Writer Guy Adams ensures that events in this second part of the story proceed at breakneck speed. He has a real feel for the characters.

The story is a lot of fun, with major call-backs to this classic era of the show. There are lots of growling monsters, moustache twirling villainy. There is also a rather dashing rescue from a very special ‘Old Girl’ that made this listener grin like a ten-year-old.

 

Fever Island  – BY JONATHAN BARNES

 

"Not at all, Mr Vain....what I expect of both of you, is to die....horribly!"

Jason Vane is England’s suavest secret agent, and today he is on his deadliest mission yet. Tracking down the evil Okulov….before he destroys the world.

The Doctor, Ann and K9 are, in contrast finding their own mission a little hard to complete. A strange storm in the vortex has swept them back in time, back to Earth in 1978, and to a strange place called ‘Fever Island’.

A place where their worst nightmares are about to come true….

From the above, you can deduce that Fever Island is a James Bond spoof….of sorts anyway. But it is actually quite a bit more than that, and a great deal of fun. The story twists reality in such a way that Tom Baker and John Leeson get to play an evil megalomaniac and his fierce sidekick, Severous. I thought the writing by Jonathan Barnes was excellent, a great balance pastiche, tension and humour.

The cast is perfect – with the stand out being Gethin Anthony as Jason Vane, who plays the role with oodles of very ironic smarm.

 I wasn’t really looking forward to Fever Island from its story summary, but it turned out to be a real gem.

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 1  – JOHN DORNEY

 

You know what they say K9? If it aint broke, don’t adjust the polarity.”

The Doctor, Ann and K9 are hot on the trail of The Syndicate, and straight into trouble.

After contending with killer robots and dangerous aliens, the clues lead straight to a machine that can literally make you dreams come true. A device that in the wrong hands could lead to misery for millions.

But who’s the real villain here? And what exactly is their masterplan?

The Perfect Prisoners stats at a breakneck pace, with the Doctor and Ann already well into an adventure, in fact we catch up with them as danger draws in and hope seems lost. The Perfect Prisoner could almost be a direct sequel to The Daleks' Master Plan. If you thought that The Syndicate Masterplan was cannon heavy, wait a while.

I’m probably going to disappoint you now Reader, I was never a plan of The Daleks' Masterplan. To me, it felt that the Daleks had already been heavily overused, and I found the plot just….dull. So it was with some trepidation that I started listening to this story, especially when I realised it was four episodes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  All four parts positively romp along. The characters are all integrated perfectly, and there isn’t a lot of presumption that you know The Daleks Masterplan inside out. The twists come thick and fast, as do the clever sleight of hand that seems around every corner.

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 2 – JOHN DORNEY

 

“Geronimoooooooo!!!”

Secrets have been revealed, and the Doctor and his friends at least know who they’re fighting.

An epic journey across space leads them to the true mastermind of The Syndicate conspiracy.

Alliances will shift. Friends will die. Can even the Doctor come out of this alive?

As we emerge surprisingly quickly from the last cliff-hanger and catch our breath from a very dramatic rescue, courtesy of K9, we barely get time to take stock of events before we are being whisked off to a climax that looks hopeless for the Doctor.

Throughout these two volumes, there have been double-crosses and twists galore, and this final episode delivers even more, alongside a rather splendid dose of sleight of hand, which I do not want to spoil.

John Dorney ties these volumes up perfectly, picking up all the loose threads, and tying them neatly together. I’ve really enjoyed the character of Ann, and I love the way that Big Finish, Jane Slavin, and the writers involved have treated her, and let the character evolve over these two volumes, all coming pretty much full circle here, and leaving the Doctor (literally) a very different character than when she joined him. Well done Big Finish.






Missy - Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Missy (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Roy Gill, John Dorney, Nev Fountain, Jonathan Morris

Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Michelle Gomez (Missy), Rufus Hound (The Monk), Oliver Clement (Oliver Davis), Bonnie Kingston (Lucy Davis), Simon Slater (Montague Davis / Moses Walker / Coachman), Dan Starkey (Mr Cosmo / Park Keeper / Old Man / Sphinx), Beth Chalmers (Djinn / Housemaid), Maggie Service (Catherine Parr), Leighton Pugh (Sir Foxcroft / Gramoryan 1 / Priest), Graham Seed (Gramoryan 2 / Taverner / Squire), Kenneth Jay (Dick Zodiac), Guy Paul (Joe Lynwood), Ryan Forde Iosco (The Actor Playing Joe Lynwood), Daniel Goode (Mark / Roy), Rachel Verkuil (Frankie / The Actress Playing Missy), Abbie Andrews (Aleyna), John Scougall (Cort / Guards), Lucy Goldie (Sath / Mother), Jason Nwoga (Doctor Goodnight), Jamie Laird (Mr Bryce / Father). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson Script Editor Matt Fitton Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Confession: I am not a fan of Missy.  It's nothing against Michelle Gomez...she played the role with enthusiasm.  I just didn't like the way she was written. She was more Anthony Ainley camp than the darker side of the character I prefer.  John Simm could play the Master as goofy and over the top but look at any scene that was just between him and Tennant.  Suddenly he strips away most of the antics and becomes a very sinister guy.  I never felt Gomez was given that chance.  She was always a campy character making snide remarks and ever so witty. I know a ton of people loves that, but I tire of it.  She always felt one note to me. So a whole boxset of Missy seems overwhelming to me, do I really want to spend four hours with this character?

Maybe they can change my mind on the character, maybe they can showcase another side of her.  Hell, they did a tremendous job with the War Master, somehow making stories that can revolve around the Master but not turning him into some anti-hero...he is still clearly an evil guy.  Could they strike a balance with Missy as well? Apparently, they cannot. The character is just as one-note as she had always been.  Always ready with a quip and a silly voice, always having more delight in the idea of being sinister than actually being sinister. I found myself increasingly irritated with the stories in this set, and the character left me colder than ever.  I said I wasn't a fan, but I didn't hate her. This set made me kind of hate her.

The opening story has her posing as a Victorian Governess.  I didn't really buy the premise, and I found the two kids she was taking care of to be boring and poorly acted.  Usually, Big Finish has good performances from all involved, people who really get the Audio format.  I don't know what was with these two, but I found them frustrating, and the goofy heists they are doing with Missy also left me cold. The music kept telling me I should be having fun. I was not having fun.

But maybe it was a fluke, there are three more stories, they can't all be bad.  The second story involved the spin-off media go-to Time Lord, the Meddling Monk.  A character with no real character that can be moulded into anything you need him to be for a story.  This time he is a bumbling idiot, posing as Henry VIII, marrying the wrong women hoping the Time Lords will rescue him?  But also Missy is here to steal a part from his TARDIS. And they nearly get married and they nearly get killed...and it was so campy I lost interest halfway through.  It is never good when I'm alone in my car and begin to yell "Get on with it!" at some point during the listen.

So we come to the third story, which is sort of a parody of America's Most Wanted, or shows like it, but gets more complex than that.  To be honest I didn't really click with it.  I think it had an interesting premise but even though I just listened to it I've already forgotten why everyone thought they were in a TV show. The episode is essentially a murder mystery, with the murderer turning out to be the Master's old TARDIS attempting to find a more sane pilot than the Master, the results often ending in accidental deaths. 

The set closes out with what is, luckily, the best story of the set.  Missy is an evil overlord using slave labour to mine for something mysterious.  It turns out that the caves they are mining in is some kind of giant creature, and the slaves are all clones.  I liked the Missy was just a clear villain in the story, though the bits with Missy also being the leader of the rebellion with a comedy accent left me cold.  They just did the comedy accent in the previous story, so I don't know if they ever intended me to believe that it wasn't Missy the whole time or not, but it was painfully obvious, and didn't really have any meaning, as the whole rebellion plot is just Missy having some fun and killing time until she finds what she is after.

Ultimately, what she was after was "The Master TARDIS," some advanced TARDIS that can control other TARDISes.  This is the clear set up for some future story, either for the next volume of Missy, or maybe some run-in with the Doctor in another boxset.  The Master TARDIS thing isn't even brought up until the closing moments, so the weight of the development is minimal.  They should have made this object a clear goal from the beginning of the set, so the success of her evil plans could have more of an impact. 

If it hasn't been clear, this set did not thrill me. Obviously, I started from a place where I'm not a huge fan of the character to begin with.  And without having Capaldi to spar with, I think Missy is an even emptier character than she was on TV.  It's all goofy voices and quips and there is rarely a moment where I take her seriously as a genuine threat. Big Finish has only amplified the things I found so uninteresting about the character.  Give me another War Master, at least those are filled with the Master being a genuinely evil jerk.






The Caves of Androzani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Caves of Androzani  (Credit: BBC)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Peter Davison

Released by BBC Worldwide - November 2018
Available from Amazon UK

The Caves of Androzani is not only my favourite Peter Davison story, it is not only among the top of my regeneration story lists, but it is definitely my favourite story from the entire 1980s.  So much of that decade had iffy scripts, were still stiffly directed like it was 1965 and were overly lit studio episodes.  Anytime they would leave the studio it becomes a relief because suddenly everything is lit so naturally.  But then there is The Caves of Androzani, a story which mostly takes place in dark caves, and is directed with a modern pace with the camera movement feeling free once.  And then there is Davison giving the performance of his life in his final moments as the Doctor.  I just love the serial, I think it is excellent.  But what if you strip away Davison's fiery performance?  What if the directing and lighting that I admire are taken out of the equation? 

Peter Davison reads this audiobook of the Target Novelization from the 80s, and while certain elements aren't nearly as exciting as their television counterparts (the crash landing cliffhanger from Episode 3 is one of my favourite moments in the whole of the classic show, and a lot of the umph is sucked out of it in this reading), I think I appreciated the base story elements better in this.  For example, I sometimes forget that this story is so simple.  It could be any random adventure for the Doctor...he lands on a planet, finds there is two factions warring over a rare medicine, there are androids and cave monsters, and the Doctor and his friend get captured by each faction have to figure out a way to save their own skin while possibly helping fix this society's ills. 

It is a fairly standard Doctor Who story...but what sets it apart is that all those elements aren't actually what the story is about in any way.  Our heroes step out of the TARDIS and almost immediately touch an odd plant, which immediately poisons them. The entire story has the Doctor and Peri dying from the word go, and all of those fairly average story bits that might otherwise be the focus of the story, merely become obstacles in the way of the Doctor finding an antidote in time.  The Doctor doesn't try to find a way to sort out the fighting, he doesn't solve any issues with cave monsters or help find an alternative for this rare drug that is being battled over...no beyond the two main leaders of the faction killing each other, the problems of Androzani aren't really solved in the end.  Because the Doctor is actually just too damn busy trying to save his friend.  And that is what sets this story apart.  

We've become accustomed to regeneration stories that are big sweeping epics...the Doctor against a horde of Daleks, with Earth in the balance!  The entire universe will be destroyed by the Master, but the Doctor will give his life to stop him and make a grand farewell speech before he finally changes into a brand new actor.  But for as much fun as those can be, sometimes it takes dialling it back a bit.  Focus in on a more personal story, and the regeneration can be just as, if not more, powerful.  The Doctor doesn't have to save the galaxy for his death to have meaning, sometimes he can just save his friend.  

This audiobook was read with enthusiasm from Peter Davison, who has long professed that his final outing was his favourite of his tenure.  Terrence Dicks novelization of the original Robert Holmes script is quite good, and it let me focus in on different details that I've sometimes glossed over when I think of this story. If you are a fan of the original story, and we all know you are...check out this audiobook, it added to my already high enjoyment of the original television adventure.

 





UNIT: Revisitations (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 4 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
UNIT: Revisitations (Credit: Big Finish)
 
Director: Ken Bentley
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: November 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

The latest UNIT box set takes the idea of our heroes having to face some threats from the past. Following on from 'Encounters' this is more of a set of standalone stories, with one two parter, as oppose to the more traditional 'long story' format. 

Hosts of the Wirrn

Sam Chapman’s Wirrn two-parter opens the latest series of UNIT, telling the story of a mysterious egg left behind as a ‘present’ by the Master…you can see where this is going. The resulting two-parter is a tale of epic proportions that should probably of been placed at the ending of this set, rather than the start. As it is, it feels a little odd as a season opener and isn’t wholly successful. One of the first problems is that ‘Hosts of the Wirrn’ spends far too much time introducing a new character, Shana, played by Vineeta Rishi.  Rishi gives a stellar performance and I found her genuinely likeable. Unfortunately, Shana appears only in this story and so it seems a bit of a waste of time. I can understand if she returns later on in another series, but again- an odd way to open the set. The Wirrn themselves, whilst being given some new tricks, sadly have some of their fear factor removed in the process- becoming a little more comical and being given a few jokes to sprout. It perhaps can’t be chalked up as a negative, but it just seems like a slightly odd choice and as such, I felt the Wirrn came across more as a generic alien force rather than a returning foe from the Whoniverse. Perhaps not an overly bad story, but one which didn’t jell with this listener and certainly would have been better placed as a season closer.

Breach of Trust

The second story in this series also happens to be the best. In fact, not only this but it’s also perhaps one of the finest stories to have emerged from the UNIT series thus far. Taking place all in one night, the story concerns a mysterious alien vessel arriving on earth and it’s even more mysterious occupants seeking asylum. David K. Barnes concocts an incredibly powerful story, involving as the title suggests- trust. The story also asks some difficult questions about morality and the nature of UNIT’s role in the world. Kate is placed forefront here and it gives Jemma Redgrave to explore some new and interesting aspects to her character, the result is one of her finest performances to date. ‘Breach of Trust’ may not be the easiest story to listen too and is genuinely emotional at points, but it is one hell of a listen.

Open the Box

The season finale features some more returning faces, namely Captain Ching Lee (Pik-Sem Lin) and the Keller Machine from the ‘Mind of Evil’. Now I have to confess but I was more than a little bemused when it was announced that Ching-Lee would be one of the returning foes in this series of UNIT. It’s not that Pik-Sem Lin presents us with a bad character or anything of the sort, (far from it as this story proves!) but Ching-Lee seemed always to be a 'bit' character, indeed she disappears halfway through ‘Mind’. However, I should know better than to doubt the skills of Roy Gill and he gives the character a truly wonderful return. Indeed the entire tale, whilst not quite reaching the emotional heights of the previous adventure, is a wonderful little story and a testament to the entire UNIT team.

Definitely a set of two halves, this latest UNIT series still manages to tell some great stories even if it gets off to something of a weak start. I look forward to seeing where the team goes next and look forward to a few more one-off adventures, as well as the larger epic story based sets.

 






Doctor Who: Scratchman (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scratchman, by Tom Baker (BBC Books) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK

As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced.  There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made.  Some of these stories are more legendary than others.  There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline.  There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.  

Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set.  The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks.  At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up!  They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see.  I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.

This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story?  I think we missed out on a fine little movie.  I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements.  How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977? 

But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era.  I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.  

The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing.  It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work.  I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut.  There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.  

The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk.  His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!"  This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it. 

I highly recommend checking this story out.  I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.  





Doctor Who - Target Audio - The Invisible EnemyBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 27 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Invisible Enemy (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks

Narrated by John Leeson

"Contact has been made......"

John Leeson reads this exciting novelisation of a classic adventure for the Fourth Doctor – and the introduction of K9.

A mysterious cloud drifts menacingly through space, and the Doctor becomes infected with the Nucleus of a malignant Virus that threatens to destroy his mind. Meanwhile, on Titan, human slaves prepare the Hive from which the Virus will swarm out and infect the universe. In search of a cure, Leela takes the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation, where they make an incredible journey into the Doctor’s brain in an attempt to destroy the Nucleus.

Can the Doctor free himself from the Nucleus in time to reach Titan and destroy the Hive? Luckily he has help ― in the strangely dog-like shape of a mobile computer called K9… 

John Leeson, who was the Voice of K9 in the TV series, reads this unabridged novelisation of the 1977 television serial

 

The Invisible Enemy is probably most famous for three things – introducing K9, making the Doctor a threat (a surprisingly rare occurrence across the history of the show), and having a dodgy looking giant prawn as the main villain.

I was quite looking forward to listening to the Target Audio, as I fondly remembered the story on television, I have the DVD, which think I might have seen once.

With a running time of well over three hours, I have to admit I struggled a little. The story is narrated (of course) by John Leeson, and he does his best – but I, unfortunately, found things to be rather plodding when compared to other Target Audio readings that I have listened to. Perhaps this highlighted that the story wasn’t quite all that I remembered, or maybe that the additional material contained in the Target novelisation just didn’t do anything to make the story more dynamic.

So, to sum up, overall I was left quite disappointed – I’ll have to revisit the DVD at some point soon.