Doctor Who - The Tenth Doctor Tales (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 20 September 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Tenth Doctor Tales (Credit: BBC Audio)
Doctor Who: Tenth Doctor Tales: 10th Doctor Audio
Original Audio CD – Unabridged
Read By David Tennat, Catherine Tate and Michelle Ryan

This compilation released by BBC Audio August 2016
Buy from Amazon UK
Pest Control (Parts One and Two) - By Peter Anghelides - Read by David Tennant.

On the planet of Recension, a bitter war is being raged between humans and the Aquabi. When Dr McCoy (The Tenth Doctor) and Captain Kirk (Donna Noble) arrive, they not only face the wrath of each side, but also a monstrous plan that mutates soldiers into giant insects, and a huge metal robot exterminator.

Pest control has the advantage of (in my opinion) the greatest Doctor and companion team that the series has provided us since it's return in 2005. Peter Anghelides writes for them perfectly, and David Tennant turns in a surprisingly good Donna. The story conjures up some fantastic imagery, especially the transformation of the soldiers into the giant insects (which is always accompanied by wonderfully horrendous sound effects), and the giant metal robot, whose sole job is to eradicate the insectoids by stamping on them. The story does plod a little in the middle, and Tennant's voicing of Surgeon Lenova sounds as if it is unintentionally comedic, but on the whole this is an exciting audio with some lovely Star Trek in jokes.

 

The Forever Trap - (Parts One and Two) - By Dan Abnett - Read by Catherine Tate.

The Doctor and Donna are duped into being flatmates in a huge luxury apartment complex called The Edifice. They soon discover that not all of their neighbours are particularly friendly, in fact some are just out and out murderous...

As anyone who has seen The Catherine Tate show will know, Tate is by nature a master of creating different voices, and here she gives them all character (my favourite being the overtly camp lift attendant). The Doctor and Donna's chemistry is present in the writing, but the comparison to Paradise Towers (not one of my favourites) was too much, meaning the story didn't quite work for me.

 

The Nemomite Invasion - (Parts One and Two) - By David Roden - Read by Catherine Tate.

A frantic chase through the time vortex, a splash landing and a flooded TARDIS herald the Doctor and Donna's arrival in World War 2. They are tracking an alien parasite that is intent on taking over all human life on Earth.

This story starts at breakneck speed, with the Doctor and Donna crashing into the English Channel in the middle of U Boat battle. The threat here is an alien slug-like creature, that attaches itself to the host, and spreads it's young through the water supply. The story is full of very tense and creepy moments, with the Doctor having to make some very hard decisions. Again Tate excels at voicing the different characters (there are a lot of them), and keeps the listener's attention throughout.

 

The Rising Night - (Parts One and Two) - By Scott Handcock - Read by Michelle Ryan

The Doctor finds himself in 18th century Yorkshire, with no idea how he arrived. Women are being kidnapped, and men murdered - the Doctor of course is the prime suspect. Something is feasting on the blood of the villagers, meaning the Doctor must prove his innocence and catch a monster. His only ally being a young woman called Charity.

I found the Rising Night quite hard to get into, the story took a lot of time to get going, and I am not sure that Michelle Ryan's vocal talents helped. However things finally get wrapped up nicely, and in the end the Doctor finds himself with a new travelling companion.

 

The Day Of The Troll (Parts One and Two) - By Simon Messingham - Read by David Tennant.

In the future, England has become a barren, arid wasteland. The Doctor discovers a team of scientists who are trying to help the environment, unfortunately for them all, an ancient evil is hunting them down one by one.

The Day of The Troll has the tenth Doctor in his element, leading a group of terrified scientists in a what is initially a base under siege scenario. The second half suffers a bit from bringing the characters out in the open a little, but the monster is terrific, and with the help of some subtle sound effects, Tennant really gives it air of terror. The story reminded me a lot of John Pertwee's era, in that not only did the Doctor have to face off against an alien threat, but also the establishment. With the Doctor here traveling alone, Tennant really excels in his characterisation of him.

 

The Last Voyage (Parts One and Two) - By Dan Abnett - Read by David Tennant.

The Doctor joins the flight of a revolutionary transposition cruiser, where he finds that almost all of the passengers and crew have mysteriously disappeared, and an alien threat starts to manifest itself.

Dan Abnett here writes out an out science fiction, with the craft in the story bending space and time to reach it's final destination. The realisation of the dimension hopping aliens is fantastic, with the terrifying way that they seep into our reality. There is though unfortunately an issue with one of the characters, Sugar, whom Tennant voices in a REALLY annoying American accent that I just couldn't take seriously. Still the story is tied up nicely, in a way that makes perfect sense.

 

Dead Air (Parts One and Two) - By James Goss - Read by David Tennant.

On a pirate radio boat in 1966, the Doctor and the crew are faced by a hostile alien that not only feeds on pure sound, but is also the perfect mimic. Who can he trust?

The alien threat onboard the Pirate Radio ship Bravo is outstanding, The Hush is a malevolent presence that the Doctor has been tracking that feeds on sound. However as the story progresses, it mutates into something far more threatening. The use of sound in Dead Air is brilliant. Where ever the alien has been, there are pockets of silence. Imagine walking into a room talking, and suddenly you can't hear anything, not even the words that are coming from your own mouth. Goss has created a monster that would be welcome in show on television. Capaldi would have a field day.

 

On the whole The Tenth Doctor Tales is a worthy listen, if a tad long. I felt that because of the running time (each complete story is around the two hour mark) some of the stories outstayed their welcome somewhat. Tennant and Tate are excellent narrators, Tennant using his own accent when not in character, and Tate of course excelling at handling the different characters voices and personalities. I did feel though that Ryan's delivery fell somewhat flat.

 

The stand out story for me was Dead Air. The Hush is a truly unsettling monster that works perfectly in audio. James Goss has created an instant classic. Tennant's Doctor is made to be properly vulnerable in Hush, in a similar way that he was in television's. Dead Air is a truly disturbing listen. On the other side, the weak point for me was The Rising Night. The story was too slow, and could easily have been cut to one hour.

 

BBC Audio here prove that they can indeed make interesting, entertaining and engaging audios, that rival Big Finish.

 





The Macra Terror (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 11 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Macra Terror (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Ian Stuart Black,
Read by Anneke Wills,

First published by Target Books in 1987,
Released by BBC Audio - 4 August 2016.
Running time: 3 hours,  5 mins

In the 24th Century, a human colony enjoy a truly enviable lifestyle in their domain, which in many ways resembles a holiday camp from yester-century. Conformity and contentment go hand in hand, as everyone serves the interests of a society that runs like clockwork and never shows anything other than a positive demeanour.

But one of their own, a bearded and fidgety man called Medok suddenly insinuates that foul creatures are taking over control. No-one wants to believe his rather alarmist claims though, at least that is until a crew of four strangers arrive out of the blue...

 

This story has grown steadily in my affections over the years as a fan of Doctor Who, and also someone interested in social science and philosophy in general. I first encountered it when it came out at the same time as The Evil Of The Daleks on dual audio cassette in 1992. 

As a child back then I would devoutly replay these releases on my portable Sony 'Walkman' when travelling somewhere new, yet I would only fully engage with David Whitaker's epic.

Macra was just a curiosity. Not even a solitary episode existed, and having the Sixth Doctor / Colin Baker as the narrator somehow felt more opaque than the definitive (especially back then) Fourth Doctor/ Tom Baker.

But over time I have realised how the Season Four finale does suffer slightly from its seven episodes, and multiple locations, even if it remains great escapism. Macra is however concise, ascends in its suspense and feeling of high stakes, and makes the most of its overall premise.

 

As of today, only The Power Of The Daleks stands head and shoulders higher over this tale, as the marquee story of a season of Doctor Who, that said 'goodbye' to one talented actor in the lead, and 'hello' to an arguably more skilful thespian. Of course now we have the news that the debut Troughton story will make a comeback of sorts in the coming months, in the form of an exciting and newly envisioned animation.

For a great story to exist in the first place, it invariably needs a very strong and confident writer. Ian Stuart Black is one of the perhaps more under-rated scribes in Who lore and should be thanked for giving the show a vital shot in the arm when it began to falter in the latter half of Season Three. Today, we only have The War Machines (essentially intact), whilst Black's other two efforts - The Savages, and this story - are lost almost entirely. All three do however deserve to be remembered fondly.

I do think Macra is the cleverest and boldest of Black's three televisual serials. The novelization here accomplishes admirably efficient world building whilst maintaining the pace of the 'snappy' four parter structure.

 

The story has much to make the readership ponder themes and philosophy. One of the more overt is the need to be sceptical and questioning over what a person is told, and how they should invariably conform. If there is not enough of this independent thought, then the individual is in danger of losing their array of senses, and to be effectively brainwashed. Each chapter has something to say about the subliminal techniques used by the story's antagonists to wield power, and this manipulation is effective primarily due to the victim' sense of being euphoric and having the perfect life.

By making Ben Jackson the most susceptible of the TARDIS crew, when normally he is the most argumentative and dominant in nature, the original TV story managed to take viewers at the time on a journey where they questioned if what they thought they knew about the show's heroes was perhaps more superficial than first thought.

There is also a very strong amount of in-depth exploration on the nature of what is acceptable in society, and what is 'eccentric' or 'insane'. The various references to insanity and to hospitalisation/medication that controls said malady are as relevant to today's social confines, where the idea of normal is so strongly prioritised, they were in the 'swinging' Sixties, when this story was conceived (and had its regrettably one-off UK transmission).

The fate of one of the key guest characters of the story is also altered. Whereas in the transmitted story this person seemed to meet an abrupt end, in this version the author was allowed to present an alternative fate, as he held the full reins as the writer of the novelization. Consequently this key player in proceedings is allowed a fully formed arc and a sense of vindication.

 

And as an audio book, this stands up rather well too. Anneke Wills does a very respectable job in showing her range of skills, as the sole member of a one person cast. Many guest actors in the original show were strong, not least Peter Jeffrey (as the 'Pilot'), who later went on to have an even better role as the more villainous Count Grendel in the Tom Baker Era. But Wills uses the rich text of the book to narrate events and characters vividly, and switches personas for the various members of the colony distinctly and with full attention to detail.

The only niggling issue I have is that whilst her Second Doctor portrayal has much of the core mercurial spirit of Patrick Troughton, the actual voice - in terms of pitch - is more akin to William Hartnell. But I must admit, this is one area that is rather easy to criticise, much like Maureen O'Brien could only gamely attempt to portray her Doctor in The Space Museum, released earlier this year. Sometimes the sheer star quality of the main man in this sci-fi/fantasy phenomenon can be a double edged sword...

 

Sound effects and musical cues are well up to the usual standard for these BBC Audio releases. Such is the strength of the core text, and the dedicated, whole-hearted presence of Anneke Wills, these supporting elements act as a nice bit of icing on the cake, rather than something to break up a potential monologue. Whether you are clued-up on classic Who like myself, or someone who has only glimpsed the Macra in the Tenth Doctor belter Gridlock, this is a great addition to your audio collection. This late summer release lives up to the legacy of the sadly missing black and white BBC production.





Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment (audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 11 August 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
Doctor Who and The Sontaran Experiment (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Ian Marter
Read by Jon Culshaw
Released by BBC Audio on 7 July 2016
First published by W.H. Allen & Co. Ltd in 1978
Running time: 3 hours approx.

The Sontaran Experiment was the first two-part story to be novelized. Ian Marter’s text provided a model for others to follow, selectively expanding scenes or reimagining situations and sections of the plot in such a way that the book didn’t seem to have stretched its source material too thin in order to fill the 128 page count standard for Target in 1978. Not all his examples were followed by others, but Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment remains one of the most readable Target books. It’s now one of the most listenable too.

The success of Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment as an audiobook owes much, of course, to its reader. Jon Culshaw is a versatile and sensitive performer and shows his familiarity with the television source material. His Styr (as Marter renames Styre, slightly Germanically) has a lot of Kevin Lindsay’s bored colonial officer about it, but with an added note of cruelty to the hoarse voice in keeping with Marter’s reinterpretation of the character. The Galsec crew members turn up with South African accents present and correct, all distinctive and all from Culshaw. Sarah Jane Smith is Culshaw talking slightly more lightly and gently, and Harry Sullivan not too different from Culshaw’s narrator’s voice, respecting the relationship between the authorial voice and Harry’s viewpoint in Marter’s first two novelizations.

A good number of listeners will be curious to know how far Jon Culshaw’s fourth Doctor reflects his Tom Baker impersonation from Dead Ringers. Culshaw’s Doctor is realized more sensitively and subtly here than it was in his comedy persona, though there are still more than flashes of it every time Culshaw has to talk in pseudoscientific jargon or reminisce about constellations visited. He enjoys the dialogue which Marter adds, creating a fourth Doctor a little closer to the Tom Baker whom Ian Marter knew, crossing over fiction and reality. The Doctor’s rugby ball metaphor might have appeared on television, but certainly not his carrying around a flask of Glenlivet. We are assured, though not in precisely these words, that Styr would not have survived a night in the Colony Room with Tom and his Soho friends.

One of the great strengths of Ian Marter’s writing, at least where his first two books were concerned, was that he took the sets and locations of the television stories and created something extraordinary from them while keeping faith with his source. The Dartmoor locations of The Sontaran Experiment on television become the foundation for a gnarled postapocalyptic landscape, full of monstrous ochre reeds and brittle, black ferns atop deep ravines and cavernous labyrinths. As mentioned above Styr is developed into a dedicated sadist by Marter, who writes of how Styr enjoys putting his subjects – particularly Sarah Jane Smith – through tortures far more horrible than anything realized on television. In contrast he Styre written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin is someone who can easily be read, in the words of one of my favourite reviews, as ‘a harassed Biology student trying to complete his practical on time.’ Marter’s Styr, though, is a complex creation, a cyborg entity whose flesh is likened to plastic, seaweed, rubber and steel wool, and viewed by different characters in different ways. To Sarah, he’s a noxious reptile and a bloated, snorting pig; to Harry he’s ‘Humpty Dumpty’ and the Golem of Jewish folklore, as if spontaneously generated from the devastated Earth, though Culshaw’s short vowels will make listeners think of Tolkien’s Gollum.

There’s a lot to intrigue in the writing, particularly the hallucinating Harry’s successive threatening visions of Sarah. Perhaps Marter viewed Harry as jealous of Sarah’s relationship with the Doctor, depicted as intense and trusting with Harry too often a third wheel. However, one of the more spectacular expansions is Harry’s exploration of the Sontaran ship, a more complex vessel in the book than suggested on television, which not only allows Harry to be heroic but is read with a careful urgency by Culshaw.

Simon Power’s sound design is appropriate throughout, especially in the torture scenes which are given suitably visceral cues. At about 180 minutes this audiobook isn’t too long and writer and reader are good companions for a few hours. It’s a small but determined sidestep into a reimagined fourth Doctor era, of interest to old and new audiences and an early indication of the elasticity of Doctor Who.

 





The King's Demons (audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 5 June 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The King's Demons (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terence Dudley
Read by Mark Strickson
Duration 5 hours approx.
Released 5th May 2015 (buy from Amazon UK)
 

We’re told that there is a fashion for slow television now, the latest Nordic trend to be picked up by BBC Four. Terence Dudley’s novelization of The King’s Demons is perhaps best appreciated as slow Doctor Who. However, this is no sleigh ride or canal journey. Listening to the audiobook of the story, it feels that every incident is subjected to multiple assessments and every epithet is sent in search of a synonym and in due course an antonym.

Terence Dudley’s practice as a drama series producer was often to emphasise his guest cast at the expense of his regulars. Something similar happens in the book of The King’s Demons where Dudley seems to feel his audience should be more interested in his own creations than they are in the Doctor, Tegan and Turlough. This would be less of a problem were Ranulf Fitzwilliam, Geoffrey de Lacey and the rest better-developed, but instead the listener learns little more about their backgrounds than was disclosed on television. One isn’t actually sure whether Dudley likes the Doctor and Tegan all that much. The Doctor is often priggish, smug and prone to supercilious disclosure of information. More uncomfortable is the characterization of Tegan: to be Australian and female is enough. Once Ranulf has decided that she must be a succubus – a demon who seduced men and weakened and killed them through sexual activity – Dudley likes to return to this as often as he can.

The King’s Demons has less plot than it has situation, and Dudley seems more interested in this than in story. Dudley likes to play a little with the vocabulary of material culture – he’s fond of people drinking from stoups, for example – and there is more in the text to correct the idea that Pip and Jane Baker had a monopoly on arcane and archaic wordplay in 1980s Doctor Who. The King’s Demons is painted on a small canvas but at least it has detail. Sadly a lot of that detail undermines its effectiveness. Archaic vocabulary if not used well can make an author seem self-satisfied. As for its sense of political history, Dudley seems to have read a book on King John which sought to revise conventional assumptions about his reputation, but then misunderstood it. In the novelization, Dudley not only repeats his dubious assessment that Magna Carta should be seen not as a baronial victory over the king but as an expression of enlightened royal policy, but then suggests that the charter King John signed in 1215 wasn’t as important as a later revised reissue under his son Henry III anyway. This may have something to it, but it only emphasises the oddness of the Master’s quest to prevent Magna Carta from being signed.

The source novelisation might be problematic, but this production does its best to overcome the material. Mark Strickson is a polished and sensitive narrator and the music cues are used with restraint and to good effect, though this version misses the lute playing and Strickson doesn’t attempt to sing King John’s song. His Tegan makes one wince but this accurately reflects how badly she is served by the book. Strickson does handle the many two-handed scenes of confinement well, especially the interrogation of Turlough by Sir Gilles Estram. The latter is one of the stronger characters in the book, despite his being a performance by another character, the Master. Strickson’s French accent is more thoughtful even if just as theatrical as Anthony Ainley’s was on television. The story, such as it is, is full of outsiders being cast as other people – the TARDIS travellers as demons, the Master as Sir Gilles, Kamelion as King John – but it ends with their Fitzwilliam hosts and the audience wondering what it was all about.

Sadly this is an audio adaptation for completists and the especially curious only. Terence Dudley’s grasp of what made Doctor Who work doesn’t seem to have been strong, and his belief that Tegan was still at this stage seeking to return to ‘London Airport’ (itself an anachronism in the 1980s) speaks of his detachment from the series’ continuing storylines. The effort of BBC Audio in bringing this to release is appreciated, but it’s a good thing that there remain better books than this to adapt in the novelization range.





Doctor Who: The Memory of WinterBookmark and Share

Thursday, 2 June 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Memory of Winter (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written By: George Mann
Read By: Jemma Redgrave
Released by BBC Audio, 7 April 2016

Back in November 2013, as Doctor Who’s much-anticipated fiftieth anniversary dawned, the team at the now-late AudioGO were faced with a dilemma – how could they best honour the event with a nostalgia-infused audiobook that still worked as a standalone narrative?

The result, for those who don’t remember it, was The Time Machine, the final instalment of the year-spanning Destiny of the Doctor saga which saw thespians who’d played companions return to voice an original audio adventure set in ‘their’ era of the programme. Much like its predecessors, this eleventh release conveyed a tale which could largely be heard without any prior knowledge of the previous ten storylines, but at the same time, it had the rather unfortunate job of attempting to resolve some of the overarching plot threads that AudioGO had set up over the course of 2013, leading to a rather structurally uneven release that could wholly satisfy neither franchise followers nor newcomers who were just hoping for an engaging standalone dosage of Who.

Rather than taking notes from this somewhat botched attempt at tackling a season finale of this ambitious ilk, however, George Mann – despite having more than confirmed his strengths in the realms of printed literature via his War Doctor novel Engines of War and his successive contribution to BBC Books’ short story-oriented Heroes and Monsters Collection last Summer – seems to have fallen prey to much the same pit-falls in penning the fourth chapter of BBC Audio’s Family of Winter series. Entitled The Memory of Winter, this 70-minute climactic instalment shouldn’t be regarded as a complete failure under any circumstances, but equally, it’s far from a prime example of science-fiction drama at its finest.

That’s not to say that Memory shows no signs of initial promise, nor that its narrative falls wholly flat – in fact, for the first 20 minutes or so, this reviewer couldn’t help but be convinced that the opposite would prove to be true come the credits rolling. In having the Twelfth Doctor and Clara – both of whom he manages to capture the essences of with remarkable accuracy from the outset – summoned to 15th Century France by a complacent time traveller – the last of the titular Winters, who once again summons the Doctor for help – who’s masquerading as a contemporary ambassador in the Hundred Years War, Mann instantly starts to build intrigue as to where the plot will head, particularly when he throws Joan of Arc into the mix and reveals her discourse with the mysterious “Saint of Gallifrey” in the process. Indeed, the latter mention should be more than enough to prompt any fan’s ears to perk up, as should the prospect of us finally discovering how the Winters came to secure the calling cards which Capaldi’s incarnation has so begrudgingly heeded over the course of the series to date.

Yet in spite of the inherent potential of the esteemed scribe’s premise – as well as his introduction of a similarly compelling extra-terrestrial antagonist plucked from previously uncharted realms of Time Lord mythology – this concluding part of the Family of Winter quadrilogy appears more constrained by the show’s present on-screen continuity than any of the preceding three outings were, ironically as a direct result of Mann’s ambition in dealing with the Doctor’s species at a point when he and Clara have yet to experience the events of Face the Raven, Heaven Sent or thus Hell Bent. This in turns renders the final revelations surrounding the nature of Joan’s ‘visions’, the “demon” plaguing Julius Winter’s platoon and the manner of the Doctor’s inevitable triumph against the latter antagonist that much less satisfying to the listener, a shortcoming not helped in the slightest by the struggle Mann seems to have in balancing these numerous plot threads in the space of just over a single hour of airtime.

Usually this would be the point in the review where one would hope to assert that the actor behind the microphone redeems most of the release’s faults – certainly, Clare Higgins’ enthusiastic, unpredictable approach to narrating the series’ opening chapter, The Gods of Winter, ensured that even its somewhat underdeveloped secondary characters still came off as engaging constructs for the Doctor and his Impossible Girl to interact with. In a surprising turn of events, though, Jemma Redgrave’s voice work leaves plenty to be desired, lacking the vigour she previously brought to her portrayal of Kate in both the TV show and Big Finish’s UNIT: Extinction as well as the impressively accurate differentiation of tones which Higgins employed in order to distinguish Capaldi’s oft-brash Time Lord from Coleman’s feisty but compassionate companion, with the result being that it’s not entirely difficult for one’s immersion in the storyline to be broken at times here. Perhaps it’s just a case of Redgrave not having much experience in the realm of audiobooks – finding voices for a wide ensemble of characters can’t be a walk in the park, after all – or perhaps the material simply didn’t inspire her to the same extent as Big Finish’s scripts, but either way, it’s a shame that barring a decent stab at a French accent for Joan and the soldiers, her contribution to proceedings does more to detract from Mann’s tale than to add any much-needed depth.

Not unlike November 2013’s The Time Machine, then, The Memory of Winter doesn’t so much end The Family of Winter with an impressive bang as – to paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem “The Hollow Men” – with an underwhelming whimper. Keen fans of Doctor Who’s occasional historical romp-style episodes like The Romans, The Unquiet Dead or The Fires of Pompeii might well find themselves interested enough in discovering Mann’s take on the Hundred Years War to warrant a purchase in this instance, but given the vastly superior manner in which Mann manages the various plot threads, continuity connections and overall structure of the previously-mentioned Engines of War, venturing to recommend Memory over that novel seems dishonest at best and downright counterproductive at worst. Those desperate for more Twelfth Doctor action will surely find elements to like here, but those wanting their dosages of Who to maintain their faith in the show in the midst of its year-long absence from our screens would be best advised to look elsewhere.





The Big Bang Generation (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 20 December 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Big Bang Generation (Credit: BBC)
  Read by Lisa Bowerman,
Released October 2015, BBC AUDIO

Sydney Cove becomes something more than just another tourist spot when a time portal deposits a very large pyramid all of a sudden, causing inconvenience for those wanting to use Port Jackson harbor. But furthermore beings from other worlds and time arrive with designs on the incongruous pyramid, such as notorious mobster Cyrrus Globb, Professor Horace Jaanson, and deadly female assassin Kik.  Rival Professor Bernice Summerfield and some of her dearest friends throw one more spanner into the works, and likewise for a group of con-artists headed up by a most familiar gentleman who wants to be called 'Doc'.

Eventually time and space stands to get more than a fleeting makeover, when the Ancients of the Universe are abruptly brought out of slumber. The Doctor's moniker of Time Lord will never have been put under as much scrutiny as this scenario dictates..

Despite Peter Capaldi's well-worn and wise appearance taking up much of the cover, this is very much an ensemble piece and at least as much a Bernice Summerfield story as a 12th Doctor one. For those only really familiar with contemporary TV Doctor Who, Bernice may come across as something of an unknown quantity, despite narratorLisa Bowerman's profile being reasonably high over recent years.  And many other characters are returning from numerous other spin off stories as well.

 

Gary Russell originally wanted River Song to feature in this story. Her exploratory and independent nature meant that when the author was not allowed to feature her, he opted for Bernice; possessing similarities in archaeologist/professor and just an all-round smart cookie.

With so much (dis)continuity at work Russell chooses not to try and join the dots with every previous story featuring the main character, (e.g. the Eighth Doctor classic The Dying Days is glossed over).  But there are certainly fun supporting characters, even if somewhat limited in their depth and purpose.

Professor Summerfield gang include her very own son Peter - and definitely the most intriguing of the secondary characters -  along with engaged couple Ruth and Jack (the latter being a red-eyed Kadeptian humanoid) and Keri who is a long time friend for Bernice. We also have some 'loveable rogues' in the Doctor's own temporary cohort, that comprise Legs (as the comic relief), Dog Boy (for muscle and weapons handling), Shortie, (who can plan details to a fine art), and Da Trowel, (who knows more than a thing or two about excavation across the cosmos).

 

As stated, the Doctor himself is far from the dominant character, and takes a while to be utilised. It is worth paying heed to the fact that 'Big Bang' is one of a loose trilogy called The Glamour Chronicles. Hence the other stories have the tetchy Time Lord in a more traditionally focused role, and indeed can be read/listened to in any order.

The dynamics that involve a given character against another one or group is one reason to keep listening through a 5-CD release with just the one -admittedly conscientious - performer in Lisa Bowerman. But as much as the dialogue and characterisation are quite enjoyable, there is also something of a muddled story here. The sense of threat is somehow too abstract, and come the conclusion a lot of the prior events do end up feeling incosequential.

Also troublesome is that the story proper takes a real while to get going properly. Maybe Russell should have had some real incident happen first and then use characters' speeches (and flashbacks) to fill us in on the characters. He certainly has not broken his habit of referencing the past tales of Doctor Who, be they official televised ones or officially branded spin-off in nature. We even get a roll call of a good couple of dozen former companions, bringing to mind the retrospective nature of many a 1980s TV story, such as Resurrection of the Daleks.

Fortunately one original Eleventh Doctor book I know -The Glamour Chase -gave me some appreciation for the overall plot and its resolution. There just about is enough explanation for newcomers, but I do really recommend looking to get at least a summary on this unique form of shielding which has appeared in other original Doctor Who fiction and even Big Finish audio.

There is also a lack of any really good villain. Kik the Assassin and Globb are interestingly ruthless to an extent but ultimately a McGuffin is being sought and no dark scenario for the world/ universe feature directly in the antagonists' designs.

Bowerman is a stellar audio actress, and many old-school fans will remember her very good performance as Cheetah Person Karra in Survival. She does a fine job as the narrator, is even better as Bernice (who she has played so much over the years) and does a nice enough imitation of the incumbent TV Doctor, who is in a rather subdued mood for much of the story. Other voices though are variable, and one character ends up sounding like the Spitting Image mock-up of Queen Elizabeth I, which is funny but a little too distracting for those of us who saw that late satirical show in the past.

There is some good work in production terms with the sound effects matching the cataclysmic effects of the Ancients. Backing music is suitably subtle and non intrusive. As much as Murray Gold does a fine job on he TV it is good to have a very different style for audio books such as this.

Overall success of Big Bang comes down to how much a listener is prepared for a story lacking urgency; most likely deliberately so in favour of whimsy and 'screwball' humour. This certainly is along the lines of Gareth Roberts 'missing Season 17' stories and has more than a touch of Douglas Adams' own work from outside of Doctor Who. It passes the time tolerably enough but is quite likely to prove forgettable as well.

 








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