Doctor Who - The Thief Who Stole TimeBookmark and Share

Friday, 6 October 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Thief Who Stole Time (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Marc Platt
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana),
Joannah Tincey (Sartia), Alan Cox (Eamonn Orensky),
 Kieran Hodgson (Klick Chervain),
Des McAleer (Blujaw Skaldson),
Alex Wyndham (Linnis Skaldson), Jamie Newall (Greygul), Jane Slavin(Frithra), John Banks (The Sleek).

Romana has been cruelly abandoned by her old Time Lady friend, and the Doctor is left, to not only clear up a mess with the furious locals of the planet Funderell that concerns the 'accidental' killing of their God, but also to try to deduce what the Time Lords have done to the fascinating planet....Oh yes, and the TARDIS has been lost, absorbed by the ever moving liquid skin of the planet's surface......things are looking grim.....

 

The Thief Who Stole Time is essentially parts three and four of the previous story, The Skin of the Sleek - and starts, in true classic Doctor Who style, by quickly and efficiently resolving the cliffhanger from the previous episode. As with the the first two parts of this story, not only is the story telling first rate but the world building is fantastic and quite dazzling.

 

I felt that the only (very slight) let down is that new Time Lady Sartia (Joannah Tinceydescends into a moustachioed twirling villain far too quickly, readily explaining her dastardly plans to anyone who will listen - but this is quite fun in a way, and harks back to the time of simpler writing. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of this story as a classically staged four parter.

 

The standout performance for me was Tom Baker himself, who seems to be reaching new levels with the character through Big Finish, and is just an absolute joy to listen to for anyone who enjoyed his era, particularly the later years. I actually laughed out loud at a number of his one liners - yes they are expertly written by Marc Platt, but Tom absolutely owns every word by the manner in which he delivers them. Lalla Ward is also excellent of course and delivers some real gravitas to the scenes between her and Sartia, when she struggling to understand why someone who she thought of as a friend, should actually despise and resent her.

 

The Skin of Sleek and The Thief Who Stole Time are essential listening to any fan of the Baker era. Not to be missed.

 

Both stories are available now from Big Finish as a digital download or an audio CD. 






The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 3Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 10 September 2017 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 03 (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: Nicholas Briggs, Andrew Smith
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Producer: David Richardson

Cast: Tim Treloar (The Doctor), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), George Watkins (Delralis), John Banks (Jickster), Amy Newton (Elaquon), Robin Weaver (Arianda), Iain Batchelor (Adam Rigg), Robert Hands (Major Hardy / Crewman), Richard Derrington (Commander Burton), Ian Cunningham (Sinko / Ronson / Lieutenant), Jake Dudman (UNIT Radio Operator) and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)

Released by Big Finish Productions - August 2017

With much of Big Finish’s annual Doctor Who content becoming inevitably geared around taking advantage of their recently-acquired New Series licence, from The Lives of Captain Jack to The Diary of River Song to UNIT: Assembled in the past year alone, classic fans of the TV series – and indeed its accompanying audio storylines – might reasonably begin to worry whether the 1963-1989 Doctors will plummet down the agenda, to the point of them rarely warranting a look-in beyond the odd multi-Doctor crossover.

Quite to the contrary, however, as well as continuing the escapades of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy’s incarnations via their Main Range along with William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton’s in the Early Adventures saga, the studio has reaffirmed its commitment to Jon Pertwee’s ever-wise, ever-courageous and ever-defiant version of Theta Sigma this Summer. Enter The Third Doctor Adventures Volume 3, the latest edition in an ongoing series of boxsets showcasing the incandescent Tim Treloar’s captivating take on the character in the late and great Pertwee’s absence.

This time around listeners can expect both a flavour of the new and the familiar from scribes Nick Briggs and Andrew Smith, their dual, standalone four-part serials combining shades of Who’s recent and distant past with innovative new conceits to form a potent concoction of wonder and adrenaline-fuelled action. While certainly not without its notable blemishes, particularly in the first half, Volume 3 is all but guaranteed to sate the appetites of long-running Pertwee aficionados as well as diverting its path just far enough from the beaten track of nostalgia to avoid intimidating newcomers either…

“The Conquest of Far”:

If we consider the two serials presented here as a wedded couple of sorts, their marital ceremony spanning the set’s sizable 5-hour runtime and the presents offered up at the reception conforming to that age-old saying of “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”, then Briggs’ opening salvo unquestionably fills the first and third of those criterions. Much as he avoided plumping for the traditional “…of the Daleks” syntactical structure when titling the piece, the man best known for voicing Skaro’s finest in the New Series has crafted a classic invasion story centred on Davros’ creations to kick off proceedings, one set just moments after Series 10’s Planet of the Daleks (1973) to boot.

En route back from giving their archenemies a rather frosty reception on Spiridon, the Doctor (Treloar) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning, as bumbling but endearing as ever throughout Volume 3) soon find themselves inadvertently tumbling to the planet Far instead, ready to face another onslaught from the Kaleds’ final mutations with the Earth Alliance’s begrudging assistance. If nothing else, it’s certainly a premise which would’ve felt right at home in Series 10 as surely was Briggs’ intent, as would the motley band of human and alien resistance fighters with whom they work and vie to ascertain the likelihood of their – and indeed any Far resident’s – survival against the near-insurmountable odds of liberating a near-fatally weakened planetoid.

Unfortunately though, while “Far” gets off to a compelling enough start, soon splitting up our intrepid time travellers – as has so often been the case in the great Who serials – to meet the various factions living under Dalek tyranny on Far and teasing the Daleks’ nefarious purpose for the long since conquered world, events soon become rather predictable, leading to the same inevitable sacrifices and pyrrhic counter-plays for which the show’s invasion sub-genre has become so irreversibly known over the last 54 years. Try as they might to reinvigorate proceedings with their energetic, psychologically tormented takes on the wearied, warring rebels tasked with overthrowing the Dalek regime, supporting stars like George Watkins, John Banks and Amy Newton – among others – struggle to bring much depth to one-note players, each of whom’s sole purpose is seemingly to progress the rather mundane plot above all else rather than undergoing any thematic personal journey.

Even Briggs himself sounds as if he’s on auto-pilot as he voices Who’s most iconic foes, a fault again perhaps of his own creation given how little his script experiments with them – surely episodes like Dalek, Asylum of the Daleks and Into the Dalek have proven it’s possible to break the invasion, base-under-siege or interplanetary scheme mould? If Big Finish plans to continue rolling out stories featuring the Thals’ mortal enemies with such rapidity – between The War Doctor, The Churchill Years and Order of the Daleks in recent months, we’ve had more than our fair share of overblown, galaxy-threatening plots – then they’d best consider how to innovate upon such tired narrative structures for the characters, or perhaps give them a well-earned break as Steven Moffat did in the 2011 TV run.

Thank goodness for Treloar and Manning then, both of whom ensure what’s otherwise a disappointingly by-the-books first half for Volume 3 remains thoroughly entertaining listening regardless. Whether it’s the former channelling Pertwee’s immense authority and unyielding sense of hope, even in the gravest of circumstances where all chances of success appear lost, or Manning endowing Jo with an admirable aura of bravery, even when inside she’s clearly as terrified by the events of “Far” as any other player, the two wholly capable lead stars sizzle both when they’re sparring off one another and when they’re desperately attempting to ensure their quest to rid a planet of Dalek tyranny once more brings the least possible collateral damage.

“Far” marks an uneven start to the boxset, then, one which stays afloat thanks to its lead performers’ stunning turns – not that we should be surprised by this point, admittedly – but doesn’t come anywhere close to matching Third Doctor classics like The Time Warrior or Carnival of Monsters owing to its near-complete lack of imagination and narrative innovation.

“Storm of the Horofax”:

Whereas Briggs opted to draft the safer – ironically, given its scale and its surprisingly inferior quality – of the two serials comprising Volume 3, Andrew Smith takes anything but a conventional route, rounding out the boxset with the far more understated yet resultantly far more successful “Storm of the Horofax”. Not dissimilar to “Far”, this riveting four-parter does pay homage to story elements from past Who serials both classic and modern, withInferno, The Time Meddler and even the cracks in time arc from Steven Moffat and Matt Smith’s first televised run of the series in 2010 springing to mind on various occasions.

But if “Far” struggled to surprise, simply imitating what had come before without innovating upon the achievements of its hallowed predecessors, then Smith’s Earth-bound tale presents a model template for Briggs to follow should he hope to avoid making similar mistakes next time around. Every instalment of “Horofax” presents one of the aforementioned past conceits in a refreshing light which reinvigorates the serial at precisely the right time, with the story serving at once as a mystery, an invasion-driven thriller and an intimate personal drama but never seeming tonally disparate either thanks to the subtle yet elegant manner with which Smith weaves together his divergent plot threads.

Just as key to its success beyond the constantly subversive script, though, are Manning and Counter-Measures star Robin Weaver, the latter of whom plays a time-travelling psychic whose powers and hidden secrets threaten to play havoc with the Earth in both its physical and evolving temporal states. “Horofax” sees the pair strike up a refreshingly unpredictable dynamic, developing from sympathy to spite to supreme terror for reasons this reviewer shan’t spoil, not least since half of the joy of experiencing a brilliant romp like this is doing so with all of the major surprises intact. Better yet, Manning doesn’t need Weaver to play off in order to tug at the listener’s heartstrings either, some of her fraught exchanges with Treloar’s Doctor towards the latter stages of the play transporting Jo through a powerful emotional gamut unlike almost anything we saw the character experience on-screen in the 1970s.

As ever, all this isn’t to say that Smith doesn’t have scope to improve his Who contributions further should he return for Volume 4 or indeed as he presumably continues to write for Big Finish’s various other ranges. While Weaver’s at first tantalisingly restrained quasi-antagonist grabs our attention within just moments of her debut, once her true intentions become clear towards the second half, Arianda’s motivations for her actions seem difficult to trace, with the about-turn she performs of course inevitable – every serial needs its threat, after all – but also lacking the beneficial psychological context or backstory which might have lent her the depth of classic villains like Davros, the Family of Blood or the Master. Listeners won’t soon forget Arianda, that’s for sure, yet it’s tough to envision the Doctor truly fearing the prospect of her potential return either.

But tossing its minor characterisation issues aside, “Horofax” nevertheless excels at providing both the quintessential Third Doctor experience that fans of Pertwee’s early ‘70s era will have come for as well as the revitalising shocks in which “Far” came up so sorely lacking. Despite “Far” getting proceedings off to a disappointingly unambitious start, with “Horofax” Smith has ensured that both diehard Pertwee devotees and newcomers looking to explore the Third Doctor’s era should come out satisfied, ready for another slice of 1970s – or should that be 1980s? – action in the not-too-distant future.

Oh, and one more thing: stop, don't move!






Short Trips Series 7 - Episode 8 - The British InvasionBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 September 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The British Invasion (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins, Script Editor Ian Atkins,
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Ian Potter, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Wendy Padbury (Narrator)

The TARDIS lands on the London  South Bank in 1951, where the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe marvel at a huge futuristic looking metal dome. They have arrived at the Festival of Britain, which was a country wide event that looked forward to a prosperous nation after the darkness of the 2nd World War. Next to the dome is a futuristic looking satellite dish perched upon an old shot tower, something which the second Doctor simply can't resist a peek at.

 

The British Invasion is a finely crafted entry into the Short Trips series that perfectly encapsulates the TroughtonTroughton era. The story is written by regular Big Finish contributor Ian Potter,and narrated by Zoe herself - Wendy Padbury, whose impersonations of the 2nd Doctor and Jamie really are top notch.

 

The story centres around the Festival of Britain, which was a showcase for a healthy future for the UK, however one of the items on show, a system that lets you bounce a signal off of the moon and back isn't working quite as it should be, something that our intrepid trio are determined to put right. Included in the narrative are references to the sonic screwdriver, and a rather belligerent TARDIS, that seems to be putting obstacles in the way of the Doctor in order to thwart his good intentioned efforts. There is also the surprise appearance of a classic Doctor Who foe that expands somewhat on their original television appearance.

 

The British Invasion is a true gem of a story and should be experienced by all of the Troughton fans out there.The story is available to download from Big Finish.

 

 






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 6 - Episode 8 - The Skin of the SleekBookmark and Share

Sunday, 3 September 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Skin Of The Sleek (Credit: Big Finish)
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Lalla Ward (Romana),
Joannah Tincey (Sartia), Alan Cox (Eamonn Orensky),
Kieran Hodgson (Klick Chervain),
Des McAleer (Blujaw Skaldson),
Alex Wyndham (Linnis Skaldson), Jamie Newall (Greygul), Jane Slavin (Frithra), John Banks (The Sleek),
Producer David RichardsonScript
Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and
Nicholas Briggs

There's a new Time Lord on the block….

 

The planet Funderell is a strange place. The whole surface is an ocean that you can walk on….but stand still and you will sink. Underneath the surface a myriad of giant electric eels flicker in the darkness. The eels are known locally as Sleeks.

 

The other indigenous life on Funderell are the Wavewalkers, a group of hunters who live in floating villages. They roam the surface using giant balloons to help keep the surface tension beneath their feet as light as possible. A ship has recently crashed on the surface of Funderell, the occupants of which have an uneasy alliance with the Wavewalkers, studying them from a distance.

 

The Doctor and Romana arrive, and the TARDIS sinks below the surface, leaving them are stranded. We soon discover that one of the survivors of the crashed ship is Sartia, a very old friend of Romana’s….but all is of course not quite what it seems….

 

I have to admit, the opening to The Skin of the Sleek did not grip me. It is essentially around twelve minutes of exposition about the Wavewalkers, a lot of which is done in a West Country accent to show that the natives of Funderell aren’t the brightest, or the most advanced. This annoyed me a tad as I am a very proud Bristolian with a slight West Country twang myself. I consider myself to be quite bright, and have a good grasp of technology…. but this seems to be the ‘go to’ accent when trying to depict a village of simpletons. Don’t worry Big Finish – I’ll get over it!

 

However, once the exposition is over, the story quickly becomes quite a gripping one. The planet itself reminded me a lot of those videos of people walking on the surface of a large vat of custard. It’s true – if you don’t believe me look it up – custard has the same viscosity of the surface of the planet Funderell. You can walk on custard, but if you stand still you will sink – I wonder if this was the initial inspiration for Mark Platt’s story?

 

Funderell is quite brilliantly realised, with slow moving, rolling waves that never break, and surface currents that can snatch you away. There is real evidence that a lot of thought was put into it’s creation. The Wavewalkers are also a great  concept for a people. They are fiercely loyal to their God, and are in possession of a strange book that seems to tell the future, including the arrival of the Doctor. It is all very intriguing.

 

Alongside Tom Baker and Lalla Ward, we have Joannah Tincey as Sartia, who is a fantastic new character that enables us a glimpse of Romana's (or ‘Mana’ as Sartia calls her) history. The end revelation is no surprise, (the cliffhanger is very well executed) but I do hope Sartia is a character that will crop up again in the Big Finish range. Of course this being part one of two, I have no real idea as to her fate as yet – but I hope that she survives.

 

Other cast members of note are Alan Cox and Kieran Hodgson who play the other two crew members of the crashed ship, there is also Alex Wyndham, Jamie Newall and Jane Slavin who play various Wavewalkers…..we also have John Banks as the voice of the sleek.

 

There is something mysterious happening on the planet Funderell……and so far everything points to the Time Lords of old being involved - bring on the next installment!

 

The Skin of the Sleek is available from Big Finish now as a digital download or an audio CD.






Torchwood: Aliens Among Us - Part 1Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 August 2017 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Aliens Among Us - Part 1 (Credit: Big Finish)Written By: James Goss, Juno Dawson, AK Benedict
Directed By: Scott Handcock

​Lead Cast: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Tom Price (Sgt Andy Davidson), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Alexandria Riley (Ng), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), and Eve Myles (Gwen Cooper)

Supporting Cast: Stephen Critchlow (The Mayor), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda), Ruth Lloyd (Vorsun), Sophie Colquhoun (Madrigal), Rhian Marston-Jones (Quenel), Lu Corfield (Brongwyn), Rhys Whomsley (Osian), Sharon Morgan (Mary Cooper), David Sibley (Vincent Parry), Sam Béart (Catrin Parry), Anthony Boyle (Hotel Manager), Sam Jones (Toobert Jailert), Wilf Scolding (Personal Trainer)

​Released by Big Finish Productions - August 2017

In receiving the licensed green light to revive Doctor Who’s first full-fledged TV spin-off show, Torchwood, as an ongoing series of audio dramas in May 2015, Big Finish set themselves arguably their most daunting challenge since embarking upon a mission to do likewise for Who back in 1999. Like its mother show in the 1970s, the four season-strong, adult-geared BBC sci-fi drama had reached the height of its televisual powers by 2009, producing an award-winning miniseries in Children of Earth which suggested its writers had finally perfected their efforts to blend universe expansion with compelling, mature storylines capable of attracting newcomers alongside ever-devoted followers of the Doctor.

Just as the arrival of iconic figures like Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner bred behind-the-scenes troubles which ultimately sealed Who’s 19-year hiatus, however, so too did Torchwood’s golden age of on-screen success reach a swift, turbulent crescendo just moments after its apex. The Starz-produced fourth season Miracle Day lacked the narrative momentum, multi-faceted supporting characters or overall British charm which had reaped Children of Earth such universal acclaim two years beforehand, once again prompting a previously beloved sci-fi saga to enter an indefinite purgatorial state, particularly as its showrunner Russell T Davies faced heartbreaking personal struggles not long after the run’s Summer 2011 broadcast.

But between their sensational opening trio of monthly runs featuring beloved characters like Gwen Cooper, Toshiko Sato, Ianto Jones and of course the indomitable Captain Jack Harkness (if you’ve yet to try The Conspiracy, Uncanny Valley, Zone 10, Broken or Corpse Day, then head to Big Finish’s website when you’re done here and remedy that error), the tremendous The Torchwood Archive serving as both a fitting series coda and 10th anniversary special, and box-sets like Before the Fall offering profound insights into the titular secret agency’s mysterious past, Big Finish have more than confirmed their status as the brand’s perfect gatekeepers for the foreseeable future. Next up on their agenda, then? Continuing the story where Miracle Day left off, albeit making a few welcome course corrections en route to ensure that Season Five doesn’t trigger another near-death experience for Torchwood.

Even with the support of the mighty Russell behind them, can the studio pull off such a Herculean feat, no longer simply hopping between eras of the show for standalone romps but instead conveying a whole new arc over the course of 12 episodes and three box-sets? Let’s begin the quest to find out with Aliens Among Us – Part 1, evaluating each of the four hour-long instalments in detail before ascertaining whether James Goss and company should ever have bothered embarking upon this audacious campaign…

Changes Everything:

“Torchwood is dead.”

There’s an unmistakable sense of irony about wright James Goss’ decision to invert the title of Torchwood’s pilot episode in naming Season Five’s opener. While the Cardiff of “Changes Everything” has undergone no shortage of transformations, between mass immigration, mass homelessness and mass alien infiltration, while Jack and Gwen were fighting to end the Miracle in the US of A, this compelling first chapter largely works to re-establish much of the show’s pre-Miracle Day status quo, from the shattered but still intact Hub to the team’s iconic SUV to Jack and Gwen back in business at Torchwood Three’s helm.

Much of the real change, then, comes with Goss’ introduction of two deliciously morally and psychologically complex new – potential in one case – recruits to the team this time around. Enter the irritable but courageous civil servant Mr. Colchester and the intrepid but concerningly ruthless ex-paparazzi Tyler Steele, the former of whom comes off as initially closed-minded yet has plenty more to him than meets the eye and the latter - brought brilliantly to life as an unashamedly slimy rogue by Jonny Green - bound to rile most listeners with his self-serving rationale as much as he does the rest of the team. For reasons that will become obvious by the end of the hour, Russell’s influence upon the characterisation of these two new players is as clear as daylight, lending them the same dramatically layered but equally realistic personalities that one would expect of any of the Doctor’s 2005-2009 companions or indeed any employee at Torchwood until the Miracle.

It’s thanks to this pair of ever-evolving characters largely taking centre-stage – especially in Tyler’s case – here that a somewhat necessarily by-the-books set-up storyline revealing the existence of an unseen alien community pulling the strings in Cardiff remains thoroughly engaging to sit through, though that’s not to say the plot doesn’t pack any dramatic heft in its own right. Much as we’ve encountered plenty such shady organisations such as those behind Season Four’s Miracle or indeed the Committee at the heart of Big Finish’s Torchwood monthly range to date, that the latest foes to emerge from the Rift provoke racist sentiments and terror attacks across Wales’ capital city gives “Changes” a disturbingly relevant edge, the depiction of bombings taking countless lives sure to unsettle anyone following today’s headlines but all the more relevant a subject matter for the show to tackle.

As with most season premieres aiming to kick-start a season-spanning arc, the extra narrative legwork “Changes” must perform ultimately robs the opening outing of the chance to become a stellar standalone outing, but even so, by injecting the show with a fresh, volatile new team dynamic at Torchwood Three and harrowing poignancy via its topical real-world ties, Goss sets Aliens Among Us off on a promising trajectory indeed.

Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy:

“Right then, let’s go to a hen night.”

Has any episode title ever served to summarised the core tenants of Torchwood as a work of mature yet oft-hilarious drama than the epithet Goss attributes to Season Five’s sophomore outing? Probably not, but thankfully the man responsible for helming the brand at Big Finish doesn’t get complacent off the back of this unparalleled achievement, instead finding time to devise a largely isolated storyline which dedicates almost an hour’s worth of time to developing bothEve Myles’ Gwen and Paul Clayton’s Colchester, not to mention exploring the fascinating interplay between these two world-wearied soldiers as they march into one of their most unlikely – not to mention hugely comedic – missions yet.

Laden with outrageous set-pieces – from absurd hostage situations to drunken car chases – and unsubtle but warranted politico-religious commentary, Goss’ script follows these veteran crime-fighters in their efforts to determine how young Madrigal’s upcoming wedding nuptials are connected to the still-mysterious powers manipulating Cardiff for their own ends, only for their investigation to result in the increasingly inebriated Maddie causing them no shortage of explosive grief throughout the night. One does admittedly get the sense as “Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy” progresses that Goss thought this delightfully disbelief-uprooting premise was entertaining enough to fuel an entire hour of audio drama, since the second act of proceedings feels rather padded, throwing in convoluted further plot developments and additional characters who don’t add a great deal to proceedings beyond further exposition surrounding the nature of Madrigal’s betrothal.

All the same, with Myles and Clayton on top form as they explore how their respective characters deal with leading lives of near-total dishonesty when balancing work with family ties, with Sophie Colquhoun’s Madrigal serving up a veritable array of painfully chuckle-worthy one-liners with each successive pint consumed, and with Goss even finding time to resolve loose plot threads from Titan Comics’ Torchwood strip by revealing the fate of the Ice Maiden’s crew, “Gravy” achieves more than enough in its running time – and builds more than enough intrigue for what’s to come – to stave off any occasional sense of plot tedium. Most importantly of all, that Episode 2 gave yours truly the joy of writing out its pitch-perfect title in full for this review is reason enough for its existence.

Orr:

“Who knew there was an alien black market right in the middle of Cardiff city centre?”

Clearly not content with allowing Goss to expand Torchwood’s core roster with Colchester and Tyler, Juno Dawson adds another player into the mix with Orr, a third RTD-endorsed recruit whose alien heritage affords her some, well, alluring abilities that play glorious havoc with each member of the team here. “Orr” once again marks a near-complete tonal departure from its immediate predecessor, returning to explore the haunting implications of extremist fanatics for a Cardiff already at economic war with itself, while also throwing in aspects of romance and series-changing tragedy for good measure along the way.

As one might well imagine, handling such a delicate balancing act – and having to carry the burden of progressing Aliens Among Us’ overall arc in a far more substantial manner than “Gravy” with the full-scale arrival of the season’s core antagonist – would prove a challenging at best prospect for even the most accomplished of scribes. Sure enough, what with tackling weighty concepts like housing shortages, illegal commercial transactions hidden in plain sight and shapeshifts forced to cater for their onlookers’ sexual fantasies, Dawson can’t quite avoid imbuing “Orr” with a lingering sense of tonal discontinuity at times, struggling to decide whether to focus on the hearty laughs Orr’s powers inspire, the aforementioned topicality of her plot or indeed setting up a twist set to inextricably alter Aliens Among Us’ trajectory for the next nine episodes.

Thank goodness, then, that the merits of those individual plot and character threads are strong enough to leave the listener suitably chortled, emotionally wrought and ultimately captivated to discover what lies around the corner as soon as the show’s iconic end credits sting kicks in. As shown by her sublime Torchwood one-off outing The Dollhouse back in April, when left to her own devices Dawson’s got more than enough comedic and dramatic chops to pull off a standalone storyline for the range, but even if “Orr” can’t quite match that entertaining Charlie’s Angels-riffing adventure’s lofty heights, as a penultimate instalment for Part 1 it’s got more than enough to keep fans and newcomers alike engaged.

Superiority Complex:

“All life is equal – animal, mechanical and everything in-between.”

Those wanting Part 1’s concluding instalment to serve as a gripping mid-season finale which leaves one desperate to hear the next four episodes might need to restrain those expectations somewhat. Much as “Superiority Complex” affords the whole team plenty to do as they infiltrate a prospering alien hotel to determine the source of recent on-site murders, with John Barrowman clearly relishing Jack’s newfound role as a typically flirtatious barman and Orr’s abilities granting her unprecedented access to employees’ psyches, it’s certainly not concerned with resolving or substantially progressing many plot threads established so far, barring a last-minute cliffhanger which promises dire straits for Torchwood Three come October’s Part 2.

With that disclaimer out of the way, though, listeners can focus on simply enjoying the sheer lunacy of the team’s present situation, one member hiding a particularly juicy secret as she spars wits with disgruntled guests and Orr’s encounters with the hotel’s true management proving both ridiculous and tangible given the current exponential growth of artificial intelligence. Between uniting Jack with a British monarch in The Victorian Age and transforming Cardiff into a disease-ridden warzone in Outbreak, AK Benedict  is no stranger to devising logic-eschewing premises anyway, but “Complex” tests the extent to which your disbelief can be suspended like never before, an experiment which if nothing else ensures an unpredictable listening experience presumably akin to watching an episode of the original TV series while under the influence of narcotic substances.

Better yet, come Episode 4’s credits we’re left with the unmistakable, gratifying sense of a truly reinvigorated Torchwood, one packing a familiar status quo but with revitalising new elements in the form of the team’s latest recruits, and the fresh, unstable dynamic between protagonists old and new ensuring that both the standalone and arc-orientated instalments compel. If Goss and company could work to justify Kai Owen and Tom Price’s top billings as Rhys and Andy – neither of whom get much in the way of dramatic meat until “Superiority” – next time around, and develop the elusive Ro-Jedda as a multi-dimensional antagonist for Jack et al to battle, then Part 2 could take the show to Children of Earth-rivalling heights once more, but for now, the show’s well and truly back on form, and long may it reign as such at Big Finish.






Shadow Planet / World Apart (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Shadow Planet / World Apart (Credit: Big Finish)
 Shadow Planet by AK Benedict

World Apart by Scott Handcock

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast:Sylvester McCoy(The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Belinda Lang (Mrs Wheeler), Sarah Thom (Sandy/Captain Karren), Nickolas Grace(Professor Grove), Ben Mansfield (Loglan/Shadow Loglan)

Big Finish Productions - Released June 2017 

 

The final instalment of this unlinked trilogy of double bill releases sees the welcome return to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range of long-running audio companion Staff Nurse Thomas Hector Schofield otherwise known as Hex, played once again byPhilip Olivier. After a decade of regular appearances alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, Hex was finally written out of the range in 2014’s Signs and Wonders. He returns alongside his two regular co-stars for two very enjoyable stories set during the early days of his travels before he started to become wise to the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative persona and the beginning of the story arc featuring the black and white TARDISes.

Shadow Planet by AK Benedict finds Ace and Hex ignore the Doctor’s warning about visiting a seemingly innocent planet called Unity which they soon discover has recently been opened to visitors by a group of colonists who have developed psychic technology to separate shadows into separate personas. The Unity corporation is headed by Mrs Wheeler, played a great sinister edge by Belinda Lang. The supporting cast also includes the always excellent Nickolas Grace as Professor Grove and a well-judged performance from Sarah Thom as Mrs Wheeler’s long suffering PA Sandy who is also a central character to the plot as the revelations as to how the planet Unity was colonised are revealed. Aldred and Olivier also get to have fun by playing twisted shadow versions of themselves. Overall a very enjoyable opening two-parter which, in a similar fashion to Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, ends on a neat cliff-hanger which segues directly into the second story.

World Apart by Scott Handcock continues directly from the end of the previous story with the TARDIS encountering a mysterious planet in the middle of the vortex. After landing and discovering that there is no else alive on the planet there is a nice two-hander scene between the Doctor and Ace which culminates in a shock for the Doctor when he learns that they are on a planet called Nirvana. It becomes apparent that they need to leave immediately, but having allowed Hex to go off on his own Ace refuses to leave him behind. Unfortunately, they are then too late getting back to the TARDIS which takes off with only the Doctor on board. Finding themselves stranded on this inhospitable planet provides some great two-handed scenes between Aldred and Olivier which shows just why they worked so well as a companion team and indicates that even now there is still potential to tell more stories featuring this pairing.

Both stories featured in this release are very enjoyable with the second being one of the best of the six two-part stories that have featured over this trilogy, largely due its only featuring the three main characters throughout aside from a brief cameo in one scene. It is a credit to both authors that these stories fit so seamlessly into the existing canon of previous audio adventures, given that neither has previously written for this particular TARDIS team.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace are back alongside Melanie Bush for the next trilogy of releases which resumes the main range’s traditional four-part story format beginning with The High Price of Parking.

 

Shadow Planet / World Apart  is available now from Big Finish and on general release from July 31st 2017