The Diary of River Song - Series 5Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 May 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Slipcase for The Diary of River Song (yoWritten by Jonathan Morris, Roy Gill,
Eddie Robson and Scott Handcock
Produced by David Richardson
Script edited by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Stars: Alex Kingston, Michelle Gomez, Geoffrey Beevers,
Eric Roberts, Derek Jacobi, Jacqueline King, Tom Price
Big Finish Productions, 2019

Sometimes I like to look back through my diary, to remind myself, to keep things in order. Sometimes I go all the way back to when I was first locked away in the Stormcage, back when the Doctor was “dead” and spending his afterlife treating his assassin to dinner – discreetly, of course. The first of my 12,000 consecutive life sentences … Only it was never just him I had to keep track of. Sometimes I’d find myself removed from custody for entirely different reasons. You see, when you marry someone like the Doctor, you take on his baggage as well …

River Song, The Diary of River Song: The Bekdel Test

Having all but exhausted her tour of the classic TV series Doctors – in reverse order, from Paul McGann to Tom Baker – in the first four volumes of The Diary of River Song, Alex Kingston’s intrepid and mischievous archaeologist and adventurer now rubs shoulders with multiple incarnations of another Gallifreyan renegade – the Doctor’s intellectual rival and the psychopathic Time Lord/Lady universally known as the Master (or latterly Missy).

Unlike earlier boxsets in the River Song series, which were episodes with a predominant story arc, this latest offering is an anthology of self-contained stories, each set at different points in River’s professional career (she is Dr Song in the first instalment, then professor in the others). The only linking theme is the character of the Master, albeit in different but otherwise lethal incarnations, eg Michelle Gomez’s madcap mistress of mirth, Derek Jacobi’s theatrical and manipulative genius, Geoffrey Beevers’ cadaverous yet still keenly intelligent and crafty persona, and Eric Roberts’ surprisingly subtle yet calculating father-figure.

The first instalment The Bekdel Test introduces River to the character’s female persona from the get-go. It is by far the best and most fun of the four episodes, thanks to the strength of the writing and dialogue, and great performances from Kingston and Gomez, who just chews up the scenery as Missy and literally steals the limelight from Kingston.

Author Jonathan Morris (as he indicates in the behind the scenes commentary) closely follows the Steven Moffat playbook of witty dialogue and banter to help drive the story along. The River/Missy dichotomy simply could not work without the pithy exchanges and the underlying sexual tension over the other’s relationship with the Doctor. For the listener there are plenty of amusing barbs and insults traded between them, even as they are forced to work together against a common foe:

Missy: I’ve been following your career with great interest – and some amusement, and a lot of envy. You see, you’ve just done the one thing that I never quite managed to do …

River: And what’s that?

Missy (raising her voice): You killed the Doctor!

River (mournful): Yes, and I will never forgive myself for it!

Missy: Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, dearie. [Pointed remark] I’ll never forgive you for it either!

River: What?

Missy (expressing mock hurt): I wanted to do that!

Morris’s script is well conceived and paced, with plenty of action and self-deprecating humour. Most importantly, the reason the two protagonists have been brought together is entirely plausible. Even with two alpha females striving for the spotlight, there are some other fascinating, albeit largely underused characters that liven up the narrative – from the Bekdel Institute’s nameless, yet smug Director (Laurence Kennedy) to Darial Cho’s (Richenda Carey) taste for “creative homicide”.

Perhaps Morris and Big Finish ought to consider revisiting these characters in future River Song instalments. It seems pretty clear from his description who the Director’s “silent partners” are, so perhaps there’s not really much more to add to his character development. However, Darial Cho is creepy enough that she could take centre stage in a tale of her own.

The second episode in the set – Animal Instinct – pits River against Geoffrey Beevers’ emaciated version of the Master (although it’s uncertain if it is Beevers’ incarnation pre-Keeper of Traken or post-Dust Breeding – it doesn’t really matter in either case, listeners can take their pick). Roy Gill’s script cleverly turns the tables on both characters in its prologue – following an ancient prophecy, River breaks the seal on a sarcophagus, expecting to rescue the Doctor, but instead frees the Master who set up the casket as a lure to snare the Doctor in the first place! The “crispy” Master and the Doctor’s wife soon become uneasy allies as they journey to a lunar colony where the Master was once worshipped as a god. The problem for the touring party is that the inhabitants of Cheska Minor – hyper-intelligent, feral werecats with sun goggles! – have rebelled against their god and are determined to remove the satellite array that the Master installed to keep their world in endless daylight and suppress their savage instincts.

Animal Instinct is an entertaining chapter, even if it does bear some superficial resemblance to the final classic Doctor Who TV serial Survival. That tale, too, featured the Master (portrayed by the late Anthony Ainley) lording it over a colony of feral werecats – the Cheetah People – in the ruins of a dying world. The difference, thanks to River’s presence, is that Animal Instinct is a lighter, less angsty tale – no teenagers trying to prove a point here, just archaeology student Luke Sulieman (Timothy Blore) trying to prove he is made of the right stuff to his mentor.

While he doesn’t steal the show from Kingston as Gomez does, Beevers’ performance is more urbane; his voice has lost none of that mellifluous tone that carries undercurrents of menace and guile. Gill not only contrasts this version of the Master to River but also expertly highlights some disturbingly similar characteristics. For example, River recognises that a wounded member of their exploration party will have to be sacrificed if they are to escape a werecat; the Master follows through on this without the slightest compunction and then remarks later that he can tell River would have done the same had the situation escalated.

One of the other comparisons (which is also inferred in in this boxset’s other instalments) is the “obsession” that the Master/Missy has with the Doctor – that is, the desire to impress or kill him (or in some instances both). The Beevers Master’s exclamation of outrage and disbelief when River reveals that she married his arch nemesis (implying that she beat him to it!) is an almost priceless moment.

The Lifeboat and the Deathboat is notable for reintroducing Eric Roberts, who reprises the part of the Master for the first time since the ill-fated 1996 TV movie (his dialogue was recorded in Los Angeles while the rest of the full cast recording was completed in London). Perhaps it’s partly down to Eddie Robson’s writing but Roberts’ performance is subtler and less hammy than it was on television. Indeed, Roberts shows in this episode why he was once an Academy Award nominee – he delivers an almost understated performance as an apparent doting father to a teenage daughter Alison (Lucy Heath). His performance is so convincing in the first 20 minutes that you’re left wondering if he is playing yet another hapless character (in the vein of his paramedic Bruce and Anthony Ainley’s Tremas) who will become another vessel for a disembodied Master. The truth, though (as River discovers), is literally stranger than fiction …

The only drawback to this more subtle, “human” portrayal is that Roberts’ voice seems too tender and easy-going – to the point that it lacks the resonance and authority you’d usually associate with the Master. Perhaps this is just a side effect of conducting separate recordings across two continents but it does intrude on the listening experience. Nonetheless, when Roberts is in full Master mode, there is an underlying menace and cold-bloodedness in his tone that takes you back to his 1996 portrayal.

The serial features quite an extensive supporting cast, considering it is mostly set aboard time/space flotsam in the time vortex. Alison is a moody, anxious teenager with a secret that not even she’s aware of, Admiral Eno (Sasha Behar) and Ayrton Valencia (Himesh Patel) provide an intriguing juxtaposition between confident soldier and hapless engineer, and their quarry Kaliopi Mileska (Eleanor Crooks) exudes enough “crazy” to be a convincing threat to everyone in the  time/space machines that have been cobbled together.

Further, only in a Doctor Who tale – or a Who-related spin-off – could a simple VHS video cassette of a rubbish 1980s US teen comedy feature be a catalyst for the chain of events that River encounters. It’s a reminder of how quirky and weird Doctor Who can be – but it’s also a perfect example of why we as fans love and adore it so much.

It’s also interesting that the Roberts Master’s fate – along with that of Mileska – is left open-ended. While it’s highly unlikely that this combination of psychopaths could get their own spin-off series, there’s a certain appeal to seeing what other havoc they might together wreak upon the rest of the universe.

Then again, the Master/Missy has often caused havoc quite comfortably on his/her own, and it’s doubtful the character would ever really enjoy being part of a psychotic, Natural Born Killers-type of couple. That’s definitely the impression you get from listening to the great Sir Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of the Time War-era Master in the fourth and final serial Concealed Weapon. The Master in this tale enjoys his subtle manipulation, torture and murder of the supplementary characters far too immensely to ever let anyone else in on the fun. There’s almost a Hannibal Lechter-style levity, glee and mischievousness to Jacobi’s performance that rivals Gomez’s turn as Missy in The Bekdel Test.

However, whereas much of Missy’s antics are written to comical effect, the War Master’s humour is overtly more sinister because it occurs against a backdrop of claustrophobia, homicide and betrayal. All the while, Jacobi still comes across – through his jovial voice – as comely, polite, charming and paternal. The performance is even more powerful (and disconcerting) for this writer, considering he has endured several years of his two- and four-year old daughters being reared on the BBC children’s program In the Night Garden – in which Sir Derek is all of those qualities as a benign narrator!

Scott Handcock’s script is very clearly – and unashamedly – a “love letter” to Ridley Scott’s original Alien film (with a nod as well to its inferior prequel Prometheus). There are certainly parallels - a deep space exploration crew that (like the hapless members of the Nostromo) emerges from hypersleep; an ill-fated French-accented captain (played by Jacqueline King, formerly Sylvia Noble, Donna’s mother on TV!) with a name reminiscent of one of the Nostromo crew; an airlock sequence; a homicidal maniac; and a highly dangerous nascent creature that said maniac wants to exploit and weaponise.

Nonetheless, despite the lack of originality in the premise, Handcock still conveys an atmosphere of dread and impending doom, particularly through the emotionless, relaxed tones of Torchwood’s Tom Price (the former PC Andy Davidson). Price is the only other male voice in the serial – apart from Jacobi himself – and does an outstanding job of playing the ship’s computer Hugo, which is hijacked and reprogrammed by the Master. There is a cold and calculating manner to Hugo even as it maintains a veneer of cheery friendliness and helpfulness that strongly evokes the cold, emotionless candour of the title characters in the classic Tom Baker serial The Robots of Death.

The mostly female supporting cast is very good and highly convincing, even as it becomes clear that they are nowhere near as harmonious or altruistic as they seem. Indeed, some of them harbour hidden agendas that ultimately doom them all – and leave their flanks horribly exposed to the Master’s machinations.

It’s particularly effective that the Master is also sparingly used in the tale – indeed (although we as listeners know it has to be the Master), for River, all the hints point to an incarnation of the Doctor being present. The fact Jacobi has only half the airtime that his successor and predecessors have in the preceding instalments makes his performance all the more impressive.

Throughout this review, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m talking about a Master boxset and not a River Song one, given all the praise lavished on the four actors who play the Master/Missy. Nevertheless, Alex Kingston continues to impress as River Song, and clearly enjoys the broad quality of the scripts on offer, as well as the ability to work with Gomez, Beevers and Jacobi. The character clearly holds her own against three of these “masterly” incarnations – but is clearly unnerved by the War Master, who strikes a decisive blow against her colleagues.

Concealed Weapon, if it is not the best of the four serials, certainly runs second to The Bekdel Test as amongst the best offerings of this latest River Song boxset. Overall, the quality of all the serials is extremely high, with only The Lifeboat and the Deathboat perhaps being the weakest of the four (even then it’s still superior to quite a few of the serials in the earlier River boxsets). Indeed, this is probably the best of the five River Song boxsets to date – and it has been (dare I say) a “masterstroke” by BF to pair River with different incarnations of the Doctor’s greatest “frenemy”, and not just the classic Doctors.

It also acts as a great primer for the final Ravenous boxset at the end of this year, when all four of these incarnations will square off with Paul McGann’s Doctor (and presumably each other) as that story arc reaches its conclusion. For future River Song releases, it would still be great to see a few more stories in the vein of The Husbands of River Song (in which River gets up to mischief without the intervention of different versions of renegade Time Lords) but for the most part, River’s adventures have gone from strength to strength as they have combed the depths of Doctor Who’s rich history. Although I favour a more long-term approach, I wouldn’t say “no” to more rounds between River and Missy or the War Master – nor to Professor Song eventually crossing paths with John Simms’ Master, and even Alex Macqueen’s and James Dreyfuss’ portrayals. There is a rich seam still to be tapped!






Torchwood - Night of the Fendahl (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 6 May 2019 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Night of the Fendahl (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper), Guy Adams (Ged), Bradley Freeguard (Phil), Gavin Swift (Derek), Gerald Tyler (Marco)

Released by Big Finish Productions - March 2019
Order from Amazon UK​​

“We have lived for one thing and one thing alone – we are cattle, mere morsels for our masters…”

A startling confession before we begin: this reviewer’s recent first experience with “Image of the Fendahl” didn’t exactly go according to plan. The intriguing supernatural mythology’s conveyance through rushed exposition dumps, the potent gothic imagery early on giving way to noticeably budget-constrained CGI, the minimal role afforded to the TARDIS team (albeit to far lesser impact than say “Blink”) – so many elements of this supposed 1970s Doctor Who classic seemed within touching distance of greatness yet, for yours truly at least, somehow missed the mark. So with Big Finish’s Torchwood Main Range kicking off once more with a spiritual successor, Night of the Fendahl, came a considerable sense of trepidation, not least since writer Tim Foley had already made clear his intent to tackle female-exploiting horror flicks and thus #MeToo issues alongside the titular classic foes.

That said, as with many of the stronger Main Range entries to date, Foley instantly recognises the value of a focused, intimate narrative which astutely balances its homages to both Torchwood and its mother show with the former’s grislier tone and resultantly morally complex characters. Far from aping Who’s necessarily more family-friendly take on the Fendahleen community for “Image” fans hoping for more of the same, the long-running range contributor offers up a no-holds-barred take on Gwen’s (seemingly unwitting) descent into the underworld of Fetch Priory. Whether we’re privy to lecherous director Marco’s unashamed ogling of Gwen as she turns her hand at acting in a quasi-pornographic slasher, discovering the grim secrets which make crew members like Gavin Swift’s Derek tick, or envisioning certain haunting demises as they’re depicted graphically before our ears, few could accuse “Night” of shying from its franchises’ most disturbing recesses.

Such unsettling thematic explorations as these naturally serve the additional purpose of feeding into the piece’s irrefutable investigation into the entertainment industry’s gender politics, an issue which has, of course, come into the limelight in the last couple of years (after tragically lingering in the shadows for far longer than that). Indeed, it’s little wonder that Eve Myles – who departed Big Finish’s ongoing post-Miracle Day Big Finish to pursue other projects – returned to tackle meaty material of this ilk, with her character subjected to an all-manner of emotional horrors that render subsequent proceedings all the more empowering as a result. Myles should, if anything, consider adding “Night” to her next audition portfolio (not that she likely needs one at this point!), since the manner in which she’ll effortlessly flit from chillingly willing sexual victim to a possessed force of nature to a more familiar Gwen – albeit in a still harrowing context – produces a show-stopping performance which stands alongside any of her superb work in Broadchurch, Victoria or the like of late.

The only downside to Foley’s exploration of said weighty subject matter with Myles, though, is that he might’ve bitten off more than the Fendahleen can chew here. Where the much-lauded “Adrift” sacrificed Torchwood’s traditional monster-of-the-week entirely to directly confront the issue of missing children to heartbreaking effect, “Night” only has the opportunity to follow suit for #MeToo issues to a certain extent, its hands inevitably tied between this and gradually building up the fear factor of its titular supernatural entity’s return. Thankfully, the two narrative strands do eventually intertwine satisfyingly come the hour’s denouement, leaving those listeners considering a career in screen entertainment with a justifiably definitive – if slightly pressed-for-time – note on the fate which could befall them repeating past generations’ representational mistakes. Yet whether this nostalgia vs. societal discussion balancing act will hinder any of the next three Who villain-featuring Main Range entries, particularly when May’s outing features such a purposely laughable foil for Suzie Costello as Slitheen refugee Margaret Blaine, remain to be seen.

Even so, the level of effort invested into ensuring “Night” does justice to its talking point and classic Who hook remains unmistakable across the board, especially in those tertiary elements which we all so often overlook such as its supporting cast players and sound design. Approaching a play of this ilk must’ve seemed an intimidating prospect to say the least for Swift, Gerald Tyler, Gerald Tyler and even regular Torchwood scribe Guy Adams, all of whom portray unsavoury individuals brought face-to-face with their corrupt vices, but each player shows an admirably staunch commitment to ensuring that the tale’s deeply flawed human antagonists stay with us just as long as its visceral set-pieces. The latter elements wouldn’t be possible either, of course, without the behind-the-scenes team’s integrating subtle shrieks of wind enveloping Fetch Priory, blood-soaked death blows and a menagerie of other aural effects to immerse us in proceedings – a challenge which they meet with such remarkable success that future audio dramatists would do well to take note.

For all this reviewer’s reservations before hitting Play, then, and despite Foley overreaching himself in the cramped space of a single hour, here lies another thoroughly impressive audio Torchwood entry sizzling with gothic scares, topical themes at their most disturbing and psychologically nuanced characters who’ll frequently leave you utterly terrified. Whether you’re craving more time in the Fendahl’s sinister (now CGI constraints-free) presence, a Gwen-centric episode which takes her character in a bold new trajectory, or proof that we’re in for another thrilling year of standalone adventures, “Night of the Fendahl” excels itself in all of those respects; consider the resurrection gauntlet well and truly thrown down for the next eleven Main Range storylines.

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – Battling one of the Doctor’s bygone adversaries would usually seem enough of an ordeal in and of itself; doing so while sparring wits with none other than Jo Jones in an increasingly confined underground space, however, is another matter entirely. Who better to juggle both challenges in The Green Life than the always calm and compassionate Time Agent known to us as Captain Jack Harkness, then? Who indeed – not even the God Among Us knows for certain whether either of these cantankerous rebel spirits will escape Llanfairfach alive and / or with their respective sanities intact!






Doctor Who - Short Trips 9.4: Year of the Drex OlympicsBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 May 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Year of the Drex Olympics (Credit: Big Finish)

Narrator: Fraser Hines,  Cover Artist Mark Plastow 

Director: Lisa Bowerman 

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh & Nicholas Briggs

Music: Richard Fox, Producer: Alfie Shaw

Script Editoe: Alfie Shaw, Sound Design: Richard Fox

Written by: Paul Ebbs 

All the Doctor wanted to do on Venus was learn their aikido. But as ever, his plans have gone awry. The TARDIS has been stolen to be a prize in the Venusian Olympics. The Doctor is furious, not only at the theft but also that it is the third place prize! Now Jamie and Victoria must compete to get the TARDIS back, and soon find themselves winning every event.

The TARDIS crew normally win, but this time it might cost them everything…

Year of the Drex Olympics is the sort of fluffy second Doctor story that sits perfectly in that era. There is a lot of banter between the three companions (here Jamie and Victoria), with the Doctor (as voiced by Fraser Hines) getting into a few comical scrapes.

The story is that unbeknown to the Doctor, the TARDIS has been volunteered as a prize in the Venusian Olympics. The only way that the Doctor and his companions can get it back is to compete, and when they do - some very odd genetic changes start to affect them.

Listening to this audio, I think Fraser Hines must be my favourite narrator. He can still capture Jamie perfectly, and even has a fair stab at Victoria - but it is his impersonation of the second Doctor that is the real winner. Very impressive indeed.

This story is penned by Paul Ebbs, who handles proceedings perfectly, capturing all of the characters in their prime, and introducing us to a very strange new race.

Year of the Drex Olympics is available HERE from Big Finish.

 





The Comic Strip Adaptations: Vol 1Bookmark and Share

Monday, 29 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 01 (Credit: Big Finish)
Adapted By: Alan Barnes
Director: Nicholas Briggs

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: SMarch 2019

Big Finish’s year of anniversary celebrations has many surprises in store, not least of which was the reveal of a special release for Doctors 4-8. For myself, the most anticipated of these releases was the Fourth Doctors ‘Comic Strip Adaptations’ which had been teased on and off for some time now. The two stories chosen, The Iron Legion and The Star Beast are both from early in the DWM strip and were written by British comics legends Pat Mills and John Wagner. As such, they introduced some of their trademark ‘zaniness’, into the strips which whilst still traditionally ‘doctor who-ish’ had a unique whimsical flare and ambitious scope that set them apart from the admittedly cheap looking Season 17 (which was on air when Doctor Who Weekly debuted). So what of these adaptations then? Coming from such a visual medium, are they able to capture the spirit of their trend-setting originals?

The Iron Legion is the first story in the set and I think it’s fair for me to confess that alongside End of the Line, Voyager, Oblivion and Children of the Revolution it’s my favourite DWM strip. Admittedly then, I was quite nervous about how this would translate to the audio medium. The strip itself is arguably one of the most visual in DWM’s entire run and the scale is beyond vast. Alan Barnes adapts both these stories and given his history with both DWM and British comics, in general, is well placed to do so. With The Iron Legion, in particular, he keeps the main structure and set pieces of the original strip, whilst adding several new but not intrusive elements (which I wont spoil here). The result is this adaptation feels very much like a retelling of the comic original, but introduces enough to make it interesting enough to anyone who is familiar with that story. Toby Longworth and Brian Protheroe excel in their roles as Vesuvias and Ironicus respectively, the latter in particular capturing the character exactly as I imagined he sounded when I fist read the strip.

Of course, any adaptations of the Fourth Doctors DWM strip would have to include a version of The Star Beast which introduced Beep the Meep to the world of Doctor Who. Again Alan Barnes script sticks close to the original story but differs enough to keep it interesting. One particularly pleasing element kept from the strip version is the quirky natures of the humour given to the Doctor, with dialogue being taken directly from the strip itself. Tom Baker in particular, seems to enjoy this quirky and more off-the-wall version of his character (which is saying something) and he gives two intoxicating performances across the set. Rhianne Starbuck is equally wonderful as Sharon and the pair have great chemistry throughout this story. Of course, the real ‘star’ of Star Beast is of course Beep the Meep, played wonderfully by Bethan Dixon Bate. It’s a wonderfully funny and genuinely creepy performance, one that does great justice to such a well-established character.

The Comic Strip Adapations has proven to be a great success and they deserve all the recognition they can get, as the task of adapting two popular and incredibly visual stories for the audio medium must have been incredibly vast. One thing that really comes through with these two audio dramas is just how fun they are. Everybody, from Alan Barnes to Tom Baker to the sound designers, seems to be having incredible fun bringing these two wild and wacky stories to life. They may not be to everyone’s taste, given just how off the wall they are! But I for one look forward to a possible Comic Strip Adaptations Two and of course the four series of Beep the Meep box sets that must surely be around the corner…






The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 April 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Matt Fitton & John Dorney
Director: Ken Bentley
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released April 2019

Running Time: 5 hours

Ravenous 3 continues the Eighth Doctor storyline, seeing the Doctor and friends Liv and Helen trying to escape from the Ravenous, ancient monsters that love to eat Time Lords life energy.  Thinking back, it has been a long time since a Eighth Doctor lead boxset from Big Finish has let me down, and I am happy to say the rend continues!  Paul McGann has gotten some of the best stories from Big Finish since 2007 when he took Lucie Miller on board.  And that shouldn't even knock the good ol' Charley days of yesteryear, but 2007 is when I feel his Doctor truly took off...and he we are over a decade later and they are still knocking out really high quality boxsets with this Doctor. 

 

As always, I try to keep back the details of the stories as best I can, but Spoiler-phobic may wish to avoid may review...needless to say, I recommend it, those who want more details, carry on:

 

Our adventure begins with Deeptime Frontier, as the gang ending up on a Time Lord space station that is mining the Time Vortex...but the rift it has opened seems to be the very cause of the ancient Ravenous being unleashed upon the universe, and while the station seemingly only has one dead ravenous aboard, the Doctor knows more are on the trail.  I've felt that a lot of these boxsets have been staring slow, but I think this one comes out swinging.  As much as I have enjoyed the previous sets in the Ravenous series, it must be said that the actual Ravenous haven't played a large role so far.  They were only briefly mentioned at the end of the first set, and despite making their actual debut in the final story of Ravenous 2, they really played no role in the three stories that preceded.  They were good stories and fun to listen to, but they could've gone out in any set.  This set actually begins with the Ravenous heavily involved in the plot, and even as they take a backseat for an episode or two, at least the TARDIS team is technically still on the run from them.  

Episode two of the set (Companion Piece) has Liv and Helen captured by the Nine (a previous incarnation of the Eleven), and since he regenerated from the Eight back in Doom Coalition 3, he has been collecting all of the Doctor's companions and putting them in cells in chronological order.  Liv & Helen end up in a cell with a woman who keeps getting moved back in forth in her order, Charlotte Pollard.  Yay Charley!  I always liked Charley and the Eighth Doctor together.  While it is a shame there is no reunion between the Doctor and his old friend from his earliest Big Finish days, it was still nice to hear from her again.  The story also features River Song, who is being used by the Nine to help find all the old companions, though being River things are never so simple.  This was a fun episode, fun getting to hear so many companions make brief cameo, but just well executed fun beyond that.  

In L.E.G.E.N.D., The Doctor is reunited with Liv and Helen, having caught up with them at the end of the previous adventure, and with the Eleven in tow, they end up in an adventure in 19th Century Germany, where they meet the Brothers Grimm and have to fight off a super computer and some plasm that can create anything created by an alien researcher who is in over her head...the story may have little to do with the ongoing plot of the Ravenous, but I thought it was a fun story, and at least technically they are still on the run from the beasts. Likely not to be the most memorable story of the set, but still an entertaining hour. 

The set is closed out with The Odds Against, in which the TARDIS lands on a planet, they stumble upon a dead body, the authorities show up, and it seems like a regular day at the office...only the authorities don't believe they had anything to do with the death.  A nice change.  But it turns out the Abbot of the Brotherhood of Ix that seems so helpful may have something more sinister up his sleeve.  Of course, that is because he is more sinister. Meanwhile the Eleven has lost the voice in his head of his Ninth incarnation, apparently, he was eaten up by the Ravenous, or so he thinks.  It turns out that his particular regeneration condition makes him immune to the Ravenous wanting to eat him, and the Abbot is, in fact, The Nine (Ix, get it?).  Overall, a solid conclusion, and a nice cliffhanger, to this volume in the series.

The particular fact of the Eleven's immunity to the Ravenous trying to eat him will clearly play a major role in the fourth boxset, and if this series is to follow the suit of the previous Eighth Doctor boxset series, the fourth is likely to be the finale to this storyline.  If my reviews haven't made it clear, this set has been great, and it is so far the best set in the Ravenous line. 

 

 






The Kamelion Empire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 15 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Kamelion Empire (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Johnathan Morris Directed By: Ken Bentley

Starring: Peter Davison, Mark Strictson, Janet Fielding, John Culshaw and Christopher Naylor)

The Kamelion Empire is the final story in this year’s first main range trilogy, the stories thus far having shed the light on the oft-forgotten android companion with a pathos rarely seen. This final adventure had a lot to live up to, with the opening story Devil in the Mist being an intriguing tale that utilised aspects of Kamelions character only briefly touched upon in his two television adventures. The next; Black Thursday/Power Game was a particularly bleak and gut-wrenching opening story followed by a fun and zany finale. The Kamelion Empire has, even more, to live up to than these previous adventures, taking us right back to Kamelion’s homeworld and detailing the origins of the android and a dark secret or two…

It’s impossible to talk about this story without first confessing that it is, phenomenal. Johnathan Morris’s script truly is a work of genius and after a rather slow and creepy opening, he takes you to numerous locations (utilising the audio medium to it’s fullest), paints fantastic vistas and all the while manages to fix a continuity gaff or two. What’s more, this all seems to flow naturally and the shifts in setting never come across as jarring but each time add a surprising and exciting angle to the story. He also manages to give Kamelion some of the best material yet (which really is saying something given the strength of the scripts by Jamie Anderson, Eddie Robson and Cavan Scott) and I defy anyone to argue that the metal man lacks character after listening to this. Indeed, despite having never been a fan of robots on the Tardis team (sorry K9 fans) I can happily state that due to the interesting material given to the character, Kamelion has shot up in my estimations and I would love to see him given more stories at Big Finish.

A huge aspect of this has been the phenomenal work done by John Culshaw in portraying Kamelion. In this tale, in particular, he has to portray a range of emotions in a single monotone, which he seems to be able to do effortlessly. Indeed the ‘scream’ emitted by Kamelion in moments of distress is a particularly harrowing piece of voice work and one which managed to make me squirm every time it was emitted. It’s great to see Culshaw managing to bring a succession of classic ‘who’ characters to the audio medium and I look forward to how he portrays the brigadier later in the year.

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strictson all shine as usual. Throughout this trilogy, I’ve given particular attention to Janet Fielding, due to the heavy amount of attention paid by the writers to Tegan’s feelings about Kamelion. Here, she is once again phenomenal and manages to bring her and Kamelion’s story to an effective close- without leaving any emotional continuity gaps or having it seem out of place. Strictson also gets to play his more comic side in this story which I particularly enjoyed, as I often find it to be one of his strengths. Contrasting this, Davison is allowed to explore the darker side of the Doctor, particularly his disgust at some of the things discovered about the Kamelion empire, and it’s a side I always love seeing.

Christopher Naylor makes a chillingly effective villain and his rasping, evil laughter is particularly chilling. Admittedly, some of his dialogue does amount to typical ‘Doctor who villain’ lines which is a pity given the man’s many talents. However, the real horror of this villain comes from his background and relationship to Kamelion and so the character is still effective enough.

The Kamelion Empire and the trilogy as a whole, cannot be claimed to be anything else but a triumph and an excellent start to Big Finish’s anniversary year. Indeed, what makes it such a perfect start is it highlights Big Finish’s ability to take aspects of the whoniverse and explore them in thought-out and thought-provoking ways. The care and attention that has been put into these stories is evident from the first and I can’t wait to see what the main range brings us next.