Black Thursday/Power Game (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Black Thursday / Power Game (Credit: Big Finsh)
 
 Director: Ken Bentley

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

 

First Released February 2019

Running Time: 2 hours

The fifth doctor’s Khameleon trilogy continues with the now almost traditional set of two-parters, Black Thursday and Power Game. Like the previous story, both of these are centred either on or around Khamelion, using him both as a plot point whilst fleshing his character out.

Black Thursday opens the set and is easily the crowning jewel of the two. Taking place in a small Welsh mining village on the brink of disaster, the story is a hard-hitting one that is incredibly layered and nuanced for something that runs half the time of a standard release. Jamie Anderson manages to explore Khamelion’s character within this context in a way that gives the android a whole other level of depth and character, giving him some wonderful emotional moments, which John Culshaw perfectly captures.

Indeed Culshaw’s performance is something that I feel cannot be given enough praise. Kamelion is a character cursed with a fairly unemotive voice and also a lack of any real character (at least until this trilogy). The challenge must of seemed immense, trying to bring a level of depth and emotion to a character whose persona is established and lacking in many opportunities to do that. Culshaw uses the iteration of every word to his advantage and he’s helped by a stellar sound design that uses garbled computer sounds in a way that can be interpreted as cries of anguish from the metal man.

The second story; Power Game does suffer from following such a strong opener but it’s also somewhat unfair to compare them as they are VERY different beasts. Whereas Black Thursday took a real historical tragedy, set it in a fictional setting and treat it with heart and emotion- Power Game is more of a traditional romp. Perhaps that at first seems like a negative but honestly, after the previous adventure, a romp was an exactly what I needed! This is a fun story that is attempting to do just that. Sprinkle in a little bit of satire and you have an incredibly enjoyable ride. Eddie Robson has once again managed to create a wonderful adventure and has proven himself a writer with an immense amount of talent.

The Tardis crew respond well to this situation, perhaps enjoying a lighter break after the aforementioned darkness of Black Thursday. Janet Fielding, in particular, seems to be having a whale of a time and it’s nice to see the funnier side of her character. Fielding has incredible comic timing and I always appreciate when Big Finish takes advantage of this, utilising the more humorous elements of her character. I feel sometimes Tegan is used just to moan and complain and it always seems unfortunate when there’s a multitude of character traits to be mined and utilised. It’s wonderful that Big Finish is continuing to give this character the recognition she deserves.

Davison and Strictson both give admirable performances, though the latter seems to be given deridingly less to do compared to the previous release. Culshaw is in this story deridingly little but the manner in which Kamelion is used despite him not being there is inventive and further shows Robson’s imagination.

All in all, this is a wonderful collection of stories in what is proving to be a stellar year for the main range.






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

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

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: February 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

Time's Assassin – GUY  ADAMS

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fever Island  – BY JONATHAN BARNES

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 1  – JOHN DORNEY

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 2 – JOHN DORNEY

 

“Geronimoooooooo!!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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






Missy - Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

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

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

Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






UNIT: Revisitations (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

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

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: November 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

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

Hosts of the Wirrn

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

Breach of Trust

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

Open the Box

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

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

 






Devil in the Mist (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 1 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Devil In The Mist (Credit: Big Finish)
T

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: January 2019

Running Time: 2 hours

Devil in the Mist is the opening story for the main range this year and the fifth Doctors trilogy, or should that be Kamelion’s trilogy. Yes, after many years Big Finish has taken the bold step of filling in one of the largest gaps in Doctor Who continuity, namely where the hell was Kamelion during his time on the Tardis? Of course, we all know that Kamelion spent most of his time in a cupboard due to the issues with the cumbersome prop, a problem that audio can very easily solve. Simply bringing Kamelion back however would perhaps be too simple and Devil in the Mist utilises the brief bit of information we have concerning his character (obtained from the Kings Demons and Planet of Fire) and creates a wonderfully rich story that exploits these aspects and explores several new ones.

Cavan Scott’s story follows the Tardis team as they land on a prison ship- with just one prisoner. Nustanu (Simon Slater) last warlord of the Zamglitti, is able to transform himself into mist and is currently the prisoner of Hippo like Orma (Anjella Mackintosh) and Rako (John Voce). He isn’t kept a prisoner for long though, as the ship soon makes a crash landing and our heroes soon find themselves fighting for survival on a savage planet…

The premise of Scott’s story seems, on the surface, relatively simple but as it progresses it rewards the listener with a number of genuinely startling revelations and some of the best character work from a Fifth Doctor story in recent years. Each and every character is given something interesting to work with, either calling up something from their past or putting them in a new and compromising position. This makes the threat seem very real and resulted in an incredibly tense survival story. Scott’s genius fully reveals itself however when several unforeseen and surprising twists are made that explore further aspects of our main characters and cause the listener to reflect on, with fresh eyes, on the previous episodes.

The cast all respond to this rich material admirably. Stepping into the Robots metallic shoes is Jon Culshaw whose already proved himself able to mimic a number of Doctor Who characters and does an excellent job capturing the enigmatic android's voice. It would be incredibly easy to make Kamleion something of a flat and dull character but Culshaw manages to make him wholly sympathetic whilst still leaving him (as is appropriate) not wholly trustworthy. The regular Tardis team are all excellent as usual, with Davison, in particular, getting some real moments to shine. Mackintosh and Voce as the two Hippo-like warriors concerned me at the start as I thought they would fall victim to the comic-alien supporting characters that the main range seems so fond of recently, but honestly leave me rather cold. Scott’s writing, however, makes sure that they remain fully formed throughout and never become simple comic characters. He utilises the differences between their culture and ours to further expand both and although we may not agree with the decisions they make, we always understand why they make them.

The savage planet is brought to startling life by the wonderful sound design of Andy Hardwick, who must have had immense fun creating the various sounds of the creatures on the planet. His score is also incredibly rich and wonderful, some listeners who prefer more ‘era-appropriate’ music may not like the violins and rich layered pieces he provides, but honestly, to me it worked far better than any synth-based score would have.

Devil in the Mist sets a high standard for the rest of this year's main range, not to mention the other two stories within the Kamelion trilogy. A triumph.






The Hunting Ground (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Hunting Ground (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

The second release of December was The Hunting Ground and was easily my most anticipated of the two. Whilst I love McCoy, five releases is a lot for anyone and I’d enjoyed the previous sixth Doctor stories with Iron Bright, in particular, being a standout of last years main range. Not only that but we were constantly being reminded that this would be a riff on ‘Scandi-Noir’, utilising many of its tropes and merging them with a Doctor Who story. This seemed like it would be interesting after all scandi-noir are notoriously dark and usually it’s the darker main range adventures that get my attention. Unfortunately though, The Hunting Ground, whilst a noble attempt to try and do something a bit different, ultimately falls flat.

Landing in Iceland, the Doctor (Colin Baker) meets with Inspector Ysra (Amy Beth Hayes) who is currently investigating a rather unusual murder. As the two work together, they discover alien hunters and a slew of devilish twists and turns. Unfortunately, the Doctors part in the investigating is somewhat minimal. Sent off onto another planet around the halfway mark, the Doctor becomes involved in a The Most Dangerous Game (1932) type scenario whilst Ysra is left to uncover most of the plot. Now I’m not an obsesser who believes the Doctor should always be the one to uncover the grand plan, far from it! No, my problem with this part of the plot is that- well there isn’t one. The Doctors section involves a lot of getting captured/getting away. Certainly, information is weeded out, but the time it takes to get there involves a lot of running around and not a whole lot of threat.

Which brings me rather neatly to the next of The Hunting Grounds problems. The story is incredibly flippant. Towards the end, a number of moral issues are raised, primarily the question of loyalty. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to take any of this seriously in a tale that features an incredible amount of absurdist comedy, including a talking Printer which becomes somewhat important later on. Most likely this is a matter of personal taste and I’m being incredibly unfair to author AK Benedict who has an incredible voice and a wonderful talent for dialogue. However, I can’t help but confess that The Hunting Ground left me feeling more than a little cold, partially due to the inconsistency of its town.

However, AK Benedict really has made quite a coup in the creation of Inspector Ysra who Amy Beth Hayes brings to life so exquisitely. Along with Brunel in the aforementioned Iron Bright, she’s one of the best standalone companions of the year and one who I hope won’t be ‘one-off’ for much longer. Colin Baker, despite not being given much to do, is wonderful as ever. I felt like he was given the short straw this year, not that his stories haven’t been some of the best of the entire year but his ‘trilogy’ was loose and undefined and some episodes Hour of the Cybermen for example, didn’t really give him much to do. However, he seems to have taken it all in his stride and certainly when given the chance to shine he’s grabbed the bull by the horns and delivered some truly wonderful moments. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings us for ‘Old Sixie’.

I feel that in some way, I may have been too harsh on The Hunting Ground. It is a fun adventure and certainly has some intriguing twists and turns. Unfortunately, the tonal shifts I mentioned earlier proved to be just a little too much for me. However, with Shadow Planet AK Benedict proved herself to have an incredible talent for Doctor Who and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 8 Nov 2018
Main Range #246 (Doctor Who Main Range)