Zaltys (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 April 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Zaltys (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Matthew J Elliott
Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sean Barrett (Perrault),
Niamh Cusack (Clarimonde), Philip Franks (Gevaudan),
Rebecca Root (Sable), Alix Wilton Regan (Lusca/Siobhan), CarolSloman (Talia/Computer)

Big Finish Productions - Released March 2017

The first main range trilogy of 2017 concludes with another solid entry which once again allows all four members of the season 19 TARDIS crew to play to their strengths. Kudos due once again to director Barnaby Edwards, who once again has clearly done well to get the best possible performances from the lead characters and assembled yet another strong supporting cast. First up we have Niamh Cusack as Clarimonde, the main villain of the piece who convincingly portrays the role of old adversary (with a gentle nod the habit of the 1980s series to reference previously unseen adventures). Among a sea of great performances, honourable mentions also go to Philip Franks as Gevaudan and Carol Sloman, the daughter of The Green Death writer Roger Sloman, as Talia. Finally in what is possibly a first for Doctor Who, we have openly Trans actress Rebecca Root in the key role of the mercenary Sable, who is one of the most enjoyable characters in this play. Well done Big Finish for allowing such a significant step in LGBT representation.

Matthew J Elliott’s story of space vampirism and psychic attacks is another very strong evocation of the best of this era. There is also some clever retconning of Nyssa’s psychic abilities which have previously been alluded to in her solo adventures with the Doctor set during the gap between seasons 19 & 20. Overall, this is a strong conclusion to what has been an enjoyable trilogy of plays. Having very few ties to other plays or indeed each other, means these are all enjoyably accessible to fans of this TV era who may not have heard Big Finish’s extensive back catalogue. A massive credit is due to the original actors Peter Davison,Matthew Waterhouse, Janet Fielding and Sarah Sutton for proving that this TARDIS team still has an immense of storytelling potential. It is very much to be hoped that we will hear more from all four of them in the not too distant future. Although fans of the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa can rejoice in the knowledge that they can shortly be heard in the next release which sees the main range experiment with a new release format of two linked stories in Alien Heart/Dalek Soul.

 

Zaltys is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 30th April 2017.





Short Trips - Series 7.3 & 7.4 - The Jago & Litefoot Revival (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 20 April 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Jago & Litefoot Revival - Act One (Credit: Big Finish)The Jago & Litefoot Revival - Act Two (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins; Script Editor Ian Atkins

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Jonathan Barnes; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Trevor Baxter (Narrator), Christopher Benjamin (Narrator)

A two part Short Trip? Surely this is a Medium Meander then, but believe me - it's a joy to have these two parts as they are surely two of the best Short Trips to date.

 

Jonathan Barnes brings us an infectiously enjoyable tale of our two favourite Victorian gentlemen as they recount a recent adventure in a lecture to the Club For Curious Scientific Men. The tale follows them as they both fight the sinister Men of Dice, simultaneously, from two different countries. Professor George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) finds himself being chased across a beach on the island of Minos by floating gunslingers. While back in London we find Henry Gordon Jago menaced by a terrifying, huge arachnid in the basement of his very own theatre. Both are helped in their fight by a certain enigmatic Time Lord that they are proud to call a friend, its just that the version of the Doctor that they encounter here has a very different face to what thy are used to.

 

I was lucky with this story. I had seen no promotional art, so fully expected it to be a tale in the same vein as most other Short Trips, a companion recounting an unseen tale which involves THEIR Doctor. The set up of these stories usually the same in that you would normally expect a narrated introduction to the story by the companion, followed by the Doctor Who theme tune of their Doctor. Being completely unspoiled, I listened to the opening narration from Baxter and Benjamin, there was a pause - and I waited for the fourth Doctor's theme. What I got instead was the tenth Doctor's theme in all of Murray Gold's loud strings and drums glory. I couldn't help but grin like a loon. 

 

The teaming of these two great characters with a modern Doctor is genius. There are one or two other surprises along the way that I refuse to spoil as their reveal is a pure joy to listen to, and discover as the story unfolds.

 

And unfold it does - the narration is very fast paced, switching from the straightforward storytelling of Litefoot to the bluster and pompous exaggeration of Jago. The story goes backwards and forward between the two characters, each time leaving a mini cliffhanger in it's wake, eventually bringing the pair together beautifully in the end where they must literally perform for their lives.

 

Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin are simply exquisite. We need to bear in mind that these two have over 120 years of acting experience between them - and it shows in a very good way. Big Finish are lucky to have them, and we are equally as fortunate to be still listening to them.

 

The Jago & Litefoot Revival is essential listening to fans of the show, thank you Big Finish for allowing us to be able to listen to this brilliantly executed tale.

 

The Jago & Litefoot Revival Acts 1 & 2 are available to download separately from Big Finish now.





Torchwood: Visiting Hours (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Written by David Llewellyn
Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: 
Kai Owen (Rhys), Nerys Hughes (Brenda Williams), Karl Theobald (Mr Tate), Ryan Sampson (Mr Nichols), Ruth Lloyd (Nurse Brown), Stephen Critchlow (Dr Fletcher)

Big Finish Productions - Released March 2017
 

Eighteen months since the first Torchwood audio was released by Big Finish, which started a continuous run of twelve monthly releases followed by three special releases which has seen this fledgling range go from strength to strength, the monthly series returns with the first of six new releases which promise to continue their successful expansion of the Torchwood universe.

Visiting Hours finds Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) visiting his mother Brenda in hospital where she is recovering from a routine hip operation. Brenda is once again played by the wonderful Nerys Hughes who previously appeared in the television episode Something Borrowed. There is a great chemistry between mother and son and when strange things start to occur, it is Rhys who is forced to take the lead without being able to ask for help from his wife Gwen. Both characters are a joy to listen to, especially when they find themselves in danger and Brenda starts swearing like a trooper!

The two main characters are ably supported by the small supporting cast including Stephen Critchlow as the mysterious Dr Fletcher, and Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson as henchmen Tate and Nichols. The story reaches a sinister conclusion with the appearance of the robotic cleaners who reminded this reviewer of being scared by Paradise Towers. The almost too neat ending suggests that we may not have heard the last of Fletcher and his cronies.

Overall, this is an enjoyable start to the new series of adventures from veteran Torchwood writer David Llewellyn. On this form, the series looks set to continue as one of the most consistently strong ranges produced by Big Finish. Next month the series heads stateside as we meet an all new cast of characters in The Dollhouse.

 

Visiting Hours is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 31st May 2017.





Original Sin - Big Finish AudioDramaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Original Sin (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: Andy Lane,

Adapted By: John Dorney

Directed By: Ken Bentley

STARRING:
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), 
Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), 
Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), 
Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej)

WITH: Andrew French (Beltempest), 
Philip Voss (Robot/ Under-Sergeant), 
Amrita Acharia (Rashid/ Computer/ Shythe Shahid), 
Robbie Stevens (Dantalion/ Homeless/ Securitybot), 
Jot Davies (Powerless/ Pryce/ Hater/ Evan Claple).

( Other parts played by members of the cast).
 


 


Written By: Andy Lane + Adapted by John Dorney

Director: Ken Bentley

Sound Design: Russell McGee

Music: Crispin Merrell & Gordon Young

Cover Art: Tom Newsom

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

****

Available on 2 CDS or Digital Download

Duration: 2 hours approx
 

Big Finish Release: December 2016

General Release: 31st January 2017

The future Earth Empire is truly a bustling and expanding phenomenon. But something very suspect and decadent lies at its core. Two of the law-keepers of the ‘United Kingdom’ – better denoted as Spaceport Five Overcity – start their day assuming ‘business as usual’. One is the experienced Roz, the other the relatively fresh-faced Cwej.

By the end of their run-in with a mysterious little man called ‘the Doctor’ and his unusually informal academic friend Bernice, they will have markedly different views of their identity and the wider cosmos around them. Unstable stasis fields, cybernetic technology, and travels across the stars will all come into play. And a slug-like race known as the Hith will have a chance to restore their reputation, in spite of the sizeable propaganda delivered on the ever-present public newscasts.


Original Sin was a novel that saw the New Adventures range re-calibrate for a different ‘era’. Following the milestone that was Human Nature – a book so remarkable it had a second telling as a Tenth Doctor story in 2007 - more ‘traditional’ adventures across the cosmos were back amongst the status quo. Sporting a very nice cover, the book is now unfortunately hard to track down, and thus for many this adaptation is even more welcome.

I had become a somewhat infrequent reader of the paperback adventures, at the time. Owing to having a multitude of other books to read as part of homework assignments, as well as those tomes given as presents, the net-result was that the Seventh Doctor’s literary incarnation had some serious competition for my escapist affections.

Damaged Goods had already showcased the wonderful duo of Cwej and Forrester, with Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver established as committed and engaging performers. Credit once again to them for managing to convince of the same characters, but this time at an earlier point in their lives; before they had the chance to travel with the Doctor and Bernice.

What is important, and what Ken Bentley so handily delivers in this play, is a credible bonding process between the two markedly different Adjudicators. The listener swiftly cares for their friendship, and it is also important that they relate as well as they do to the Doctor’s present companion; Professor Summerfield.

Supporting characters are especially well done here, a by-product of Andy Lane’s sterling source material and enlivened with panache by the voice talent enlisted by Big Finish. Especially well-characterised is Provost-Major Beltempest, who goes from seemingly heartless military professional to someone more helpful and open- minded, and then a key twist is revealed which ties in with one of the core story strands. Also the psychotic criminal Zebulon Pryce is portrayed in more than broad brush strokes, and together with the Doctor – during a standard moment of captivity for our title hero - has a truly fascinating ethical debate, where some of the ‘Time’s Champion’ burden is fully explored. The only real drawback is the scale of the story, and thus some familiar sounding voices recur as some cast members  have two (or more) roles.

Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman typically work well together, and this story sees an even better partnership. Whilst their alter egos do split up several times, they have enough audio time together, which perhaps was not the case in a story such as The Highest Science. With plenty of knowing wit and teasing of one another, it is clear they match as personalities, and furthermore it is clear that each would take a bullet/ laser/arrow for the other.

Having a returning villain from the classic series is typical for the Virgin line of books that lasted for much of the Nineties. This antagonist hales from the black and white days of the TV series, and is well-done and authentically acted; thus justifying his/her inclusion. Furthermore, the theme of survival, but at the cost of identity, is nicely combined with this use of Who continuity.

The demented prisoner Pryce is in some ways a more interesting character in the context of the story proper, but I still enjoyed the nod to the past. However the inconsistency over the TARDIS’ internal dimension rules is only re-enforced in the final showdown, so perhaps this area of Doctor Who lore is best regarded as a convenient plot device (along with the likes of the Sonic Screwdriver).

Also I did find the Hith voices an acquired taste, and the timbre also for some reason reminded me of the rather forced third cliff-hanger from The Paradise of Death; a contemporary of the Virgin New Adventures, but rather more solitary compared to the Big Finish audios that followed.

However any quibbles with the production are negated by the truly superlative interludes featuring news broadcasts to the various citizens of the Earth Empire. Often showing just how little humanity has advanced in terms of emotional intelligence and diplomacy, they are a great way to prevent the story proper from ever stalling. Transitioning from one supremely confident anchor to a rather more ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ colleague further on, these ‘excerpts’ of daily life add much to the already competent world building conveyed by the dialogue from the supporting characters, in addition to the exposition the Seventh Doctor so eloquently provides to his dear friend Bernice (who certainly appreciates it in spite of her sizeable qualifications).

The previously released Seventh Doctor audios managed to deftly condense the source material of these often groundbreaking novels, and this latest release is particularly confident, thanks to the experienced and astute writing skills of John Dorney.

A whole-hearted recommendation is awarded to this two-parter. I hope more such adaptations will follow, in due course.


BONUS:

Full and candid interviews are again in supply here, along with some proper explanation of what the production team were aiming for with this re-telling. McCoy in particular has some interesting input, as well as evident enthusiasm that he has so many opportunities to deepen the character, that he first portrayed all those years ago in the final stanzas of the 20th Century.





Doom Coalition 4Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 9 April 2017 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition 4 (Credit: Big Finish)
Doom Coalition 4
Written by John Dorney and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), Emma Cunniffe (The Sonomancer), Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Carolyn Pickles (Cardinal Ollistra), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Olivia Poulet (Jerasta), Vince Leigh (Volstrom/ Matrix Keeper/ Computer), Sasha Behar (Presidential Aide/ Tessno/ Ladonne), Ronnie Ancona (Joanie Carrington), Alex Beckett (Alekall). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released March 2017 by Big Finish Productions

Doom Coalition, the sequel series to the acclaimed Dark Eyes Saga, has come to its final instalment.  Having been able to review each individual box set as it was released, I was curious to see just what Big Finish might pull from the wealth of material they now have to play with, given their ability to use at least elements of “classic Who”.  Turns out that River isn’t the only thing transferring into the audio-only adventures this time, even just going from the trailer.  Let’s see what else the company manage to achieve and whether ultimately this works as well if not better than the conclusion to Dark Eyes.

 

4.1.  Ship in a Bottle

With the intro setting the tone for what is to come, the events pick up from the ending of Doom Coalition 3.  Feeling very much like a 12th Doctor introduction, there are even subtle nods to the cherished Tennant era and that’s just in the opening 5 or so minutes.  The initial scenario The Doctor, Liv and Helen find themselves in allows for significant demonstration of their personalities and their feelings as to the events of previous stories in the series.  Even as the story progresses, regardless of how dangerous the situation, the characters remain well-developed throughout.  This episode serves partly as a recap, but also as a method of seeing the entirety of Doom Coalition from a new perspective.  Given there’s no actual enemies, the slew of references to prior events and the theme of the acceptance of death featuring so prominently, it’s a very human opening to what I hope will be a fitting conclusion, even if there’s no complete closure to this story.

 

4.2. Songs of Love

With a title like that, it was almost certain what, or rather who, was going to show up and the character in question doesn’t disappoint.  Appearing as part of a flashback relative to the previous story, what we see is an interesting change of heart, though one that is sure to have a reason behind it.

This primarily Time Lord centric story features some moments that, whilst unexpected, are well-executed, in addition to sequences that really emphasise just how much danger the universe is really in at this point in the plot.  However, the references to Series 6 of the television show and events therein might confuse those who stopped watching after the 10th Doctor’s departure.

That does not mean this story suffers, though it does try to run two simultaneous plot threads as well as introducing several important points.  At least the political edges of this story fit with the rest of the puzzle in well thought out cinematic fashion.

 

4.3. The Side of the Angels

Finally this box set has a clear villain to work with, but blink and you might miss them.  If I say nothing else about them and if you haven’t heard the trailer, I will credit the sound designers on introducing one of The Doctor’s most well-known foes in recent memory with a fitting entrance.  Of course, The Eleven is now embroiled in the plot too, but that doesn’t mean other Time Lords from The Doctor’s history can’t join in either.

This story seems to take a far clearer line than the last, with sound design and musical scoring to match the setting and the enemies involved in what are only described as “insane” plans.  Such plans, with a fair number of references and memorable moments, speed this story forth to its dramatic conclusion.

 

4.4. Stop the Clock

Is it too much to make a half pun, half reference to Mummy On The Orient Express here, specifically that certain events we witness during this story have been Foretold?

Probably.  Then again, considering how many references the stories leading up to this have provided, it’s probably not the worst way to open discussion on this final piece in the Doom Coalition puzzle.  So as not to spoil what is a slightly disorienting conclusion, including an ending that appears to possibly have influences from a well-known Japanese film franchise, I’ll leave it at that.

 

With a seamless score, a confident cast and a plot that knows just where it’s going even if the audience doesn’t, Big Finish certainly deliver in what probably won’t be the final 8th Doctor adventures set in this overarching plotline.





The New CounterMeasures - Series OneBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
New Counter-Measures: Series One (Credit: Big Finish)

STARRING: Simon Williams, Pamela Salem,
Karen Gledhill, Hugh Ross

WITH: 
Carolyn Seymour, Tam Williams, Joanna Bending, 
George Asprey, Robin Weaver, Gunnar Cauthery, 
Christian Edwards, Vincent Carmichael, David Rintoul, 
Claire Calbraith, Andrew Wincott 



Written By: Guy Adams, Ian Potter, 
Christopher Hatherall, and John Dorney

Director:Ken Bentley

Sound Design:Rob Harvey

Music:Nicholas Briggs

Cover Art:Simon Holub

Script Editor: John Dorney

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

 

Duration: 5 hours approx

Product Format:5-disc CD (slipcover box set)/ Digital Release

Producer: David Richardson
 



Initial Release: December 2016

General Release: 31 Jan 2017

After the Who Killed Toby Kinsella standalone release, another eagerly awaited full series of adventures for the Counter Measures team is available – being now set in the Seventies time zone. For the most part it continues the fine work of its predecessors.


The box set’s opening story is entitled Nothing to See HereStarting off with the shock of Gilmore being involved in violent armed robbery, it soon is made clear that the rest of the Group were fully aware of his choice to risk his safety by going undercover. The main story concerns invisibility and the threat of long-term use of this ‘special ability’ that causes loss to one’s mental equilibrium, and overall identity. The themes and plot mostly concern just how vulnerable a seemingly rock-solid soldier like Ian can be, when under the influence of an unprecedented invention, with unknown powers.

Guy Adams has provided a serviceable enough script and storyline, although it never quite goes beyond third gear in terms of tension and jeopardy. The majority of the antagonists are not quite imposing enough, and the deranged main adversary evokes more pity and concern for his safety than anything else.

 

The second story of the four is the work of Ian Potter - who has particular experience in the Companion Chronicles range - and is evocatively called Troubled WatersWith a relatively limited cast, the story makes good use of a submarine location (with latent nuclear capabilities), and explores aspects of distrust, claustrophobia and distorted views of the 'best possible' future for mankind. 

Coupled with a strong central mystery over why the submarine has gone ‘off grid’ and what caused its crew to mysteriously vanish, the listener is fully engaged with this play’s unveiling of various answers. It builds well on the core theme of identity from the prior story, and sees all of the main quartet of regulars having their integrity and defining characteristics assaulted.

 

The penultimate story of the set sees another sharp change in setting and story inspiration. Christopher Hatherall’s The Phoenix Strain has both a connection to The Birds – one of the seminal Hitchcock movies – and feature films from the time the story is set in, concerning animals running amok. Whilst involving vicious birds, there is also a theme of chemical engineering, designed against a very specific ‘enemy of the state’.

Operating on a much larger scale of action than the first two stories, this involves several antagonists. They have rather dubious principles, but are not directly connected to one another, and their agendas and methods are very dissimilar. The play does well in keeping followers uncertain over just which of these troublemakers actually has the more troublesome moral code.

This story really works well on initial listen, and has enough meat on its bones to stand up to repeated exposure. It perhaps is the most seamless of the four adventures, in terms of reflecting popular culture of the decade in question. There were many 'disaster movies' working their influence on the general public, and somehow they proved to have a winning mixture of paranoia and thrills, that kept justifying more being made in double-quick time.

 

The concluding story for this collection shares its title with the prototype of what ending up becoming the immortally beloved City of Death. However, A Gamble With Time is markedly different in overall story beats, and how the time travel trope is used. Allowing our four regulars to all go undercover as they investigate dealings between Gus Kalworowsky and Lady Suzanne Clare, twists and turns are unleashed with each successive track. Despite appearing to be harmless to most onlookers, Clare is actually a ruthless arms dealer who is intrigued by Gus’ supposedly alien time travel technology. One aspect that is kept from David Fisher’s markedly altered proposal, is the setting of a casino.

John Dorney's story just pips its predecessor to the post of being the standout, and features well-drawn characters played with full gusto by the supporting cast. Clare is one of the best Big Finish villains to originate, from a line that is divergent from the main Doctor Who releases.  She seems always one step ahead of even the smartest of people, and the ending is left open for her to wreak havoc in future.

 

This set of mysteries is notable for having a very loose structure in terms of inter-story continuity. Whilst presumably listeners are meant to approach the quartet in chronological order, in practice there is little to no difference rendered by selecting an arbitrary sequence instead. 

The main cast continue to provide excellent portrayals, and clearly enjoy the different situations and character moments that they each receive. This is a particularly good collection in terms of advancing the Gilmore/Jensen relationship. Williams and Salem clearly know how best to convey chemistry and connection, through this particular form of audio adventure.

Sir Toby is notably more benign following the events of the Who Killed.. two-part release, from earlier in 2016. Ross still plays the role with depth, and in an intriguing manner, but his darker edges are less conspicuous. His challenging of Lord Balfour is particularly riveting. Yet we also see this calculating political being take a moral high ground, rather than being more pragmatic, as so often was the case in his earlier stories.

Perhaps Gledhill's Allison has the least notable material, apart from her undercover work in Gamble, and the brainwashing/’romance’ she is subjugated to in Troubled Waters is just a bit too similar to previous stories, in the original Counter Measures range. Also, I continue to find much of the music a little too harsh, and the main theme is something I personally choose to skip.

However, other fans of both Doctor Who and of these characters that first showed up in a top-drawer 1988 TV serial, may enjoy the compiled music that features as one of the bonus tracks. The behind the scenes material continues to be enjoyable, with a particularly nicely done ‘as live’ insight into how happy the regulars were to hear they would be recording further original stories, after this current run.


This set does a fine job of building on the foundations of the first story, which brought the Counter Measures team into the markedly different decade of the Seventies. It demonstrates with some flair just how much there is still to be uncovered, by this group of smart and enterprising talents – whether political, scientific or military.

 







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