Torchwood One: Machines (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 October 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Torchwood One: Machine (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matt Fitton, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tim Foley
Director: Barnaby Edwards
Featuring: Tracy-Ann Oberman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Jane Asher, Adjoa Andoh, Daniel Anthony, Paterson Joseph, Nicholas Pegg
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 3 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - July 2018
Order from Amazon UK

From 3D printers to 4D cinemas, from smartphones to smart houses, from HDMI to AI, the march of technological progress hastens by the day, presenting us inferior mortal beings with quite the existential dilemma all the while – give it another ten years and the human workforce might just find itself rendered obsolete. Admittedly long-running fans of Doctor Who’s longest-running spin-off, Torchwood, might justifiably expect the eponymous covert agency to remain steadfastly unfazed by such developments; surely after tackling extraterrestrial deities, zealous religious cults with aspirations to intergalactic stardom and even the odd “Cyberwoman” (good times!), humanity’s increasingly intertwined flirtation with artificial ‘life-forms’ would scarcely offer cause for concern?

Well, they’re not entirely wrong – Big Finish’s latest foray into the organization’s past confirms that its London-based branch had no qualms about embracing this new era of mechanical innovation. Yet as just about any Gothic writer from Mary Shelly to Charlie Brooker will attest, that leap of faith can – and indeed does – soon prove deadly if the individuals responsible fail to understand its implications before leaving the ground. Indeed, as evidenced by the two century-spanning gap between Frankenstein’s publication and Black Mirror’s launch, there’s been no shortage of literary or screen contemplations on the man-machine dynamic over the years, so ever since its inception, Torchwood One: Machines faces such a considerable uphill battle to distinguish itself from the pack.

While the Thirteenth Doctor sprints brazenly into the technological future with her Sheffield steel-clad sonic screwdriver in hand, then, let’s see whether Yvonne Hartman and company’s Earth-bound exploits warrant as much global attention as Season Eleven has received to date, or whether this ever-compelling Torchwood saga will soon join cassette players and dial-up internet connections as yet another relic of the past…

“The Law Machines”:

“Yvonne Hartman is dead? But she was required.” “Oh yes, by so many…”

Had you asked Torchwood devotees which classic or modern Who antagonists they’d love to see the agency – in any of its endless guises – battle upon the show’s 2015 revival at Big Finish, chances are that WOTAN wouldn’t have come anywhere near the top of the list compared to Sontarans, the Master or proper Cybermen.  That said, Doctor Who’s HAL-9000 precursor proves an ideal narrative fit for Machines’ first instalment, the formless AI entity’s defeat in 1966’s “The War Machines” leaving its hardware susceptible to Hartman’s goals as she introduces a wave of seemingly hacking-immune robo-cops onto the streets at the Mayor of London’s cost-driven request. How could anything possibly go amiss?

Laden with explosive setpieces across England’s capital and more quips about London life than commuters could imagine (look out for Hartman’s especially seething one-liner on the hindrance that empty Oyster cards pose in a hurry), “Law Machines” barely lets up for a second, introducing new players by the half dozen only to off plenty of them with scarce remorse over the course of its running time. Unfortunately, taking such a whirlwind structural approach does arguably limit scribe Matt Fitton’s capacity for intricate character arcs somewhat; Daniel Anthony’s intriguing tech whiz-turned-WOTAN disciple Julian, for instance, only receives scarce airtime to convey his basic plot purpose, despite the Sarah Jane Adventures star’s admirable efforts to imbue him with simultaneously endearing innocence and underlying sinister malice along the way, while the deliciously corrupt Mayor barely gets time to register either.

What “Law” perhaps lacks in sophisticated characterisation, though, the opener more than compensates for with a sense of scale often absent from the franchise’s TV or audio outings. Whereas we only caught glimpses of how Miracle Day’s titular phenomenon affected the planet Earth at large via brief fictional news footage, Hartman, Ianto Jones and their comrades bear direct witness to WOTAN’s heartless rampage across London, the carnage unleashed by their hubris brought home as the sound design team depict shootouts, resultant demises and other terrors with brutal realism – no wonder Fitton peppers in the aforementioned moments of satirical wit to keep his script from feeling too morose. Nevertheless, his efforts (alongside everyone else working behind-the-scenes) to showcase the franchise’s grimmer tone certainly pay off in full force, hopefully encouraging more writers to follow his lead with mature contributions of their own going forward.

“Blind Summit”:

“Ianto Jones, my name is Yvonne Hartman – and I work for an organisation called Torchwood.”

If there’s one area wherein Big Finish truly excel, it’s filling those niggling continuity gaps which Doctor Who and its various spin-offs never found time to properly address on-screen: just ask the Time War’s participants, the Committee, the Valeyard, Coal Hill Academy’s alumni network or Paul McGann for ample evidence. Sometimes these middle man storylines focus on long-awaited plot threads like those above, other times – as in the case of “Blind Summit” – the writer involved crafts connective tissue that catches us off guard, further enriching underappreciated constructs even when it appeared as if their journey had already played out in its entirety. This time around it’s the turn of Ianto Jones to plummet through the ringer yet again in a tale which (barring one or two modern interludes) occurs long before the days of WOTAN’s resurgence, instead chronicling his first meetings with Yvonne Hartman and the morally overwhelming transformation that these soon triggered.

As if to answer the cries of anyone like yours truly for meatier character drama after “Law Machines”, Gareth David-Lloyd – back on dual writing / performing duties after his stellar debut with The Last Beacon in April – delves deeper than ever before into Ianto’s psyche with a minimalistic yet extremely powerful script, unfolding hitherto unseen layers in the Torchwood Three agent’s past. Remember the strained father-son dynamic teased in Children of Earth? That’s explored in harrowing fashion, along with his consequential yearning for greater professional fulfilment and reckless willingness to thrust himself into unknown territory so as to achieve this goal, all of which the newfound writer handles with the utmost touching sincerity even as the threat of a deadly drug-testing company escalates over the piece’s second half.

Better yet, David-Lloyd’s contributions clearly didn’t diminish in the slightest upon departing his office and entering the recording studio, his sizzling chemistry with Tracy-Ann Oberman proving equally potent whether they’re deciphering each other’s secrets over coffee, on the run from alien onslaughts or coming to terms with the personal demons that will ultimately define their partnership in the years ahead – for better or for worse. We’ll keep our take on Machines spoiler-lite as always to preserve your listening experience, but suffice to say that even the most hardcore Torchwood devotees won’t predict every emotional twist that “Summit” has up its spacious sleeve, not least thanks to David-Lloyd’s stirring performance as a far more vulnerable incarnation of his yet-to-be world-wearied butler. Never mind the 21st century as a whole – when it comes to re-visiting past Ianto-focused stories, “Summit” might well represent the moment where “everything changes” for your perspective.

“9 to 5”:

“See you in the morning!” “Sure, 9am – like clockwork…”

Whilst robotics and pharmaceuticals mark some of the more tangible technical developments for society in recent years, there’s another aspect of mechanical ‘progress’ which has increasingly come to dominate the headlines of late – that of the corporate machine and its oft-exploited human cogs. One only need gaze at recent reports surrounding video gaming behemoth Rockstar North’s supposed enforcement of 100 hour weekly work cycles in order to wonder whether the situation’s getting out of hand in some circles, with the banking / legal sectors particularly notorious in this regard too, hence why the matter’s rife for contemplation in Machines’ aptly-titled final instalment, “9 to 5”.

Returning us to the ‘present day’ (as much as is possible for a miniseries set years before the events of Torchwood Seasons One-Six), Tim Foley’s pertinent denouement depicts Hartman and Jones’ not-so-coincidental run-in with a temp-reliant firm that takes the term “worker drones” to rather horrific new levels. At first glance, those of us who’ve been around the block several times with the sci-fi genre might fret that we’ve seen it all before: secret agents recruit insider employee to unravel a mystery, employee gets in over her head then office-wide chaos ensues. But Niky Wardley’s dramatically charged performance as the manipulated employee in question, Stacey, easily keeps the format fresh enough to avoid fatigue, her relatable curiosity begetting her initial naivety such that we’re just as fascinated as her to discover the truth behind his latest temp employer’s true machinations (in every sense of the word), even in spite of the growing tension surrounding her fate as a result.

That’s not to say “9 to 5” instantly courts consideration for the Big Finish Hall of Fame, however – as well as mostly conforming to the familiar story beats discussed above, Foley (perhaps at the studio’s behest) seems all too keen to tie together Machines’ various disparate plot strands as rapidly as possible come the third act, when in reality we’d have preferred a standalone affair which took its time in bringing events to a conclusion. Luckily the way in which he wraps up proceedings does still successfully deliver an inevitable yet undeniably impactful gut-punch that’s sure to stay with listeners long after the credits, but with Foley set to pen half of the War Master’s third boxset next year as well as further scripts for Torchwood: God Among Us, there’s still plenty of room for this promising writer to develop his skills ever further in the next 12 months.

The Verdict:

As ever, exactly whether Machines lies up your alley will depend on the extent to which you’re intrigued by the notion of exploring non-Cardiff Torchwood branches, particularly given the riskier investment of £20-25 rather than the £8-10 required for standalone monthly releases. Persevere through the mindless – albeit breathless entertaining – action of the London department’s clash with WOTAN, however, and listeners will reach two undoubtedly thought-provoking Gothic thrillers which intelligently investigate humanity’s obsession with technology to both hilarious and moving effect, echoing shows like Black Mirror but with Yvonne’s self-assured complacency adding a snarky, bitter-tongued edge in trademark Torchwood style. Sure, this latest boxset probably won’t garner awards come year’s end as this reviewer hopes Aliens Among Us Part 3 or Believe will, yet not every release needs to; with such remarkable consistency throughout the range’s 2018 output, what matters most is that there’s never been a better time for newcomers to hop aboard the show’s bandwagon.

Next Time on Torchwood – In the absence of any further news on her prequel outings’ longevity, Yvonne ‘returns’ via her Pete’s World counterpart this month for God Among Us Part 1, wherein she’ll need to promptly dust herself down after almost being crushed in Season Five if Torchwood Three is to stand any chance of overcoming the titular immortal being presently besieging Cardiff. Look out for our verdict on Part 1 in the coming days, as well as our ongoing coverage of Torchwood in all of its forms as the monthly range returns (alongside Parts 2-3 and presumably other boxsets) next Spring…






The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released October 2018
 

Running Time: 5 hours

The Eighth Doctor is a box set machine these days.  Pretty much has been since his Fourth Series of "Eighth Doctor Adventures" ended it's run in 2011. Since then he has had four box sets under the Dark Eyes moniker, another four titled Doom Coalition, and more recently began a new line taking place nearer the end of his lifetime simply titled The Time War.  While Big Finish is producing The Time War, They are also continuing the story of The Eighth Doctor along with his friends Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair (his companions throughout Doom Coalition) with Ravenous.  This is the second box of that series, so unlike The Time War which is jumping closer to the time of the Eighth Doctor's regeneration as seen in Night of the Doctor, this one essentially carries on his adventures that really began back in 2007.

Ravenous 2 begins with Escape from Kaldor which has the Doctor return to Liv's homeworld, where they end up again battling killer robots and reunite Liv with her estranged sister.  It's a decent enough episode, plants some seeds of things to come, but I won't claim it was the best opener to a set. It felt like the family ties to Liv weren't perfectly conceived.  The episode also lacked a certain energy it needed to kick this new set off.

Luckily, things kick into a more interesting gear with the second story, Better Watch Out.  This story is more Christmas themed, and since the episode that follows continues that storyline...it made me wonder why they released Ravenous 2 in October, instead of waiting until December. At any rate, the story involves the Central European Christmas monster, the Krampus, who is essentially the anti-Santa Claus who steals the bad children away.  Krampus has had a bit of a pop culture jolt in recent years, with a pretty entertaining Christmas themed horror movie in 2015 (simply titled Krampus) as well as a slew of direct-to-video schlock in the last 5 or so years.  So Big Finish feels, in some ways, a bit late to the party.  Though their entry into the party is actually pretty darn good.

The Doctor takes Liv and Helen to Salzburg for their annual Krampusnacht event, but unfortunately, the bit of holiday fun falls apart when Krampus becomes real and begins to take all of the bad people in town.  This particular adventure spreads across two episodes in the set, concluding in Fairytale of Salzburg. That episode sees Krampus fought off by the ingenuity of the Doctor's companions and his historical opposite.  It's a good epic tale, and in some ways, I wish the entire set had been based around this one story.  Expand it in some places, end in Salzburg, then set up for the next boxset.  Then you'd have a pretty fun four hour Christmas adventure. 

Instead, the set comes to it's conclusion with Seizure, which brings the Eleven back into the fold.  The Eleven sends the Doctor a distress call, and the Doctor decides to answer the call, knowing that with the Eleven it could very well be a trap.  The Doctor lands inside the Eleven's TARDIS, but it is a labyrinth that begins to separate the Doctor and his friends...and a frightening beast is aboard.  The beast is the titular Ravenous, first mentioned in the first box set, and making it's first actual appearance here. It's a monster that feeds on life energy, constantly hungry for more...with it's favorite meal being Time Lords.  I think it is a cool monster, and this first glimpse is promising...though part of me wonders how much depth a monster like this can have, especially if it is to be the main antagonist of this particular series of boxsets going forward.  

All in all, this is a pretty good boxset.  While the first story didn't really grab me, the rest of the set is a lot of fun. While I enjoyed the eerie closing episode that marked the first appearance of the Ravenous, I still kind of think the whole set would've worked better if it had focused more on the whole Krampus story.  I think there was more to explore in those episodes, they had a lot packed into them, and the opening episode being dull, and the final episode felt like it belongs to a bigger story yet to come...I might've just enjoyed a Krampus set.  Still...McGann always delivers as the Doctor, and any set starring him is worth a listen.

 

 

 

 






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.09 - A Small Semblance Of HomeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Small Semblance Of Home (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Paul Phipps; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

"Time is relative - the day is wherever we land - and if we are onboard the TARDIS - there are no days!"
 
It’s become his obsession. Through the hottest of deserts and the coldest of snows, the TARDIS crew have searched for the one remaining piece of the Doctor’s most important experiment. But now Barbara’s exhausted. Why hasn’t the Doctor learned his lesson? What’s so important that his scientific curiosity outweighs the safety of the crew once again? And will his latest arrogant trespass be the last he ever makes?
 
Paul Phipps brings us the latest Short Trips entry, which is a leisurely character piece, with Barbara Wright front and centre. We join the original TARDIS team quite early in their adventures. Barbara is starting to miss the normality of home. There is nothing in the TARDIS to indicate what time of day it is, or even what day of the week. The Doctor's new experiment is becoming something of an obsession to hi. He is looking for a plant, and seemingly finds it when him and Ian are captured by a local tribe on an alien planet. 
 
Carole Ann Ford narrates the story with passion, characterising the different characters very well. It actually made me feel rather sentimental for hearing more from this era of the Doctor Who, and with that sentimentality, rather sad also. Carole Ann Ford is seventy-eight years old now (something that I would never guess from her voice, which obviously sounds different from when she was on the show, but still quite youthful). These readings and dramatisations need to be cherished as only a handful of the original actors are still working.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is about the simple comforts of home, and is a rather enjoyable little piece of story telling that would have fitted perfectly in the very first series of Doctor Who.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is available here.




Doctor Who - The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield - Vol 4: Ruler of the UniverseBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 September 2018 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Doctor Who - The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield - Vol 4: Ruler of the Universe
Director: Scott Handcock

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: September 2017

Running Time: 5 hours

 “Well, you did find something! So what’s the problem?”

“You are, Mr President! You are!”

“Don’t call me that – you know I hate being called that! I’m the Doctor ...”

“No, that’s the problem, you’re not – not anymore!”

The “Unbound” Doctor and Bernice Summerfield

 

As this month marks 20 years since Professor Bernice Summerfield (Lisa Bowerman) made her audio debut with Big Finish, it seems only fitting ahead of BF’s birthday celebrations for Benny later this month to review her most recent set of adventures which occurred in a parallel, “Unbound” universe.

In Volume 3 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield, Benny found herself stranded in another universe with a completely different version of her (and our favourite) Time Lord – one of the “Unbound” Doctors (brilliantly portrayed by veteran David Warner). To compound matters, this variation on the Doctor Who universe (or Whoniverse) was on the brink of total collapse.

When Volume 4 opens, Bernice has returned to her roots and is undertaking an archaeological dig on an ancient world, hoping to uncover evidence of the Apocalypse Clock, a mythical device that could halt this universe’s imminent demise. The Doctor, meanwhile, has resumed his role as president of the universe (after initially shunning the responsibility) and is finding himself increasingly burdened in the day to day affairs of state – much to his and Summerfield’s chagrin. He is therefore happy to visit Benny to inspect her progress on the dig as a little bit of PR and to escape the trappings of office.

The City and the Clock, the opening instalment in this quadrilogy, is the straightest and most conventional of the four serials which are, for the most part, quite satirical and madcap. Unfortunately, it’s also a quite plain drama, lacking the tension and suspense that you would associate with a tale about mummified, undead creatures stalking the ruins of their ancient city at night. Indeed, if it weren’t for the introduction of the infamous clock that is a recurring theme in the box set, the story would be redundant.

It’s saying something when the memorable moments of this play are the cleverly written dialogue, exchanges and interplay between Benny and the Doctor (“What possible interpretation of the words ‘first’ and ‘class’ include having Karfel’s Next Top Model played at you? I wanted to confess five minutes in and I hadn’t done anything!”). A balloon ride over the ancient ruins also has Warner’s Doctor waxing philosophically:

The Doctor: It puts things in perspective, rather doesn’t it? Seeing it from up here – a whole ancient town, once a thriving community, people living lives, sleeping, eating, loving and dying under all those roofs and then …

Benny: The dust of ages, layer by layer, burying it from sight …

The Doctor: You’d think travelling in time, I’d get used to it – the idea that we’re all nothing more than temporary fixtures, walking bones, but I don’t! Everything we’re doing at the moment – all the plans, all the panic, all the meetings, everyone thinks it’s important because nothing’s ever more real than now. The people that lived down there thought the same thing – look where it’s got them! Nothing matters, not really. We’re all just waiting for the dust to bury us!

Benny: Well, I’m so glad you popped by – you’ve cheered me up no end!

Otherwise, aside from terrific dialogue, the plotline of The City and the Clock – and the premise behind the clock – is entirely forgettable. It’s a pity because writer Guy Adams clearly devises the story to put Benny back into her element – yet the tale, which is slow from the get-go, never builds to a dramatic crescendo, and Benny doesn’t get to employ the smarts that make her such a terrific archaeologist.

Strangely, after the “drama” of the first instalment, Asking for a Friend is a more character-based and pensive piece, as Benny and the Doctor grapple with the dilemmas of having to make compromises in a dying universe to save the hundreds of civilisations that fall outside the clock’s sphere of influence. This includes diplomacy with tyrants and zealots, and false promises to the needy. Indeed, Benny’s disappointment in the Doctor is apparently so great that at her suggestion the Time Lord ends up seeing a therapist (played by the wonderfully ebullient Annette Badland, famous for her portrayal in the first season of the modern TV series as the Slitheen Margaret Blaine). Of course, conducting therapy sessions with someone as complicated and self-absorbed as the Doctor is never going to be easy (he himself remarks it’s like “a mosquito scratching at a continent”!) – and that’s before you factor in time travel as well!

James Goss, the other writer of this boxset, provides a quite compelling tête-à-tête between Guilana the therapist and the Time Lord, as they verbally spar to pry sensitive information from the other. Attention to detail is required of the listener, as each new session between the two hints at subtle, new elements from the last scene between them (in the CD extras, Goss admits that he has “borrowed” an idea from former executive producer Steven Moffat that he used not just once but twice – notably in the TV serial A Christmas Carol, and a short story called Continuity Errors from way back in 1996!). When the consequences of these sessions finally come to a head, it is only then that you perhaps fully appreciate just how alone and isolated – and hopelessly disconnected – the Doctor must be in this – and in any other – universe.

In turn, put a solitary character like the Doctor in charge of executive government, and it’s little wonder that in the next serial Truant, he returns to his adventuring of old. The pre-titles sequence to this third instalment is highly amusing, as the Doctor’s attempts at heroics against amateurish evildoers and ne’er-do-wells are thwarted by their cowardice and his own reputation for being a champion (“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Is there nobody with a backbone in this stupid universe?” he moans at one point).

Even when the Doctor eventually encounters a conspiracy he can get his teeth into, much to his frustration he realises he has arrived too late to overturn the appalling wrong that has been inflicted. Nevertheless, Truant is one of the highlights of the set, mixing the right levels of drama and humour, as the Doctor and Benny evade unprofessional and sloppy villains in the Silvans, who are as much incidental victims of the conspiracy historically as their purported victims. Only in Doctor Who could the titular hero convincingly pull off a getaway by stealing not only a vehicle but its effusive driver as well – or “interrogate” the chief villain over coffee and chocolate biscuits! Guy Adams’ script is probably still a little too wacky for TV, but it suits the BF audio format perfectly.

The boxset closes with The True Saviour of the Universe, as the Doctor upon his return to parliament is arrested and thrust into impeachment proceedings. Much to Benny’s suspicion, the arrest coincides with the sudden arrival of this universe’s incarnation of the Master (Sam Kisgart, aka Mark Gatiss) and the emergence of a hooded figure which has been offering parliamentarians incentives to oust the Doctor from office since the events of The City and the Clock. Are they connected? Does the Master have designs on the presidency, so he can hijack the Apocalypse Clock? James Goss’s clever script challenges and upturns all the listener’s expectations while poking fun at all of Doctor Who’s conventions.

Goss jokes that The True Saviour of the Universe is “a remake of Logopolis involving Cthulu and singing nuns” – which, despite sounding far-fetched, is an apt description. The Sisterhood of Beedlix, like the Logopolitans, can influence the fabric of the universe through songs and prayer that recite the power of numbers. The appearance of the “old ones” at the gateway to another universe at the climax is an old riff on the nineties New Adventures novels, which regularly pitted the Doctor and his companions, including Benny, against “ancient evils from the dawn of time” – to the point of overkill.

Further, Goss has fun challenging the many clichés that fans have come to associate with the Doctor and the Master over many decades. For example, when Benny asks the Master how he survived his execution at the Emporium in the closing chapter of the Vol 3 boxset, his response is simple yet curt - “Don’t be boring!” – a subtle nod to eighties Doctor Who, in which no explanation was ever given for the Master cheating death or escaping from tight scrapes. Other quotations and dialogue subtly homage Logopolis and The Daemons, as the Master seeks to harness the power of the “old ones” to seize control of the universe. Of course, the joke is very much on the Master – and in the most unexpected way …

The production qualities of this boxset, like next to all of BF’s input, is first class – as are the performances of the first tier and supporting casts. Warner and Bowerman are a fantastic Doctor/companion combo and Kisgart/Gatiss is charming, urbane and oily as the Master (although Gatiss has far too much fun as his Kisgart persona in the CD extras for my taste). The flirtatiousness of the Benny/Master combo also puts an unusual spin on the usual antagonism between Master and companion.

As mentioned above, Badland is outstanding as the Doctor’s therapist, while Catrin Stewart (Jenny Flint of the Paternoster Gang) puts in an understated appearance as the aide-de-camp to the wimpy Silvan leader (Jonathan Bailey). Most notably, Hattie Hayridge (better known as the female Holly in Red Dwarf) delivers a terrific performance as the Doctor’s press secretary, deftly diverting and deflecting the tough questions about her President’s leadership in exchanges with Guy Adams’ hard-hitting journalist.

Volume 4 of The New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield is an entertaining boxset which isn’t afraid to be tongue-in-cheek about Doctor Who’s conventions and show a strong sense of humour and fun. It isn’t constrained by the continuity of the regular series, so it can afford to be more audacious and satirical. This means it won’t necessarily be for every fan who prefers the more no-nonsense style of the TV series adventures, or even some of BF’s regular Doctor Who output – but if you’re a long-term fan of Benny (who as a character herself isn’t above taking the piss), then you’re in for a treat.

Indeed, the set ends on an upbeat note and with a paradox to boot. I won’t say what that paradox is (spoilers!) but if BF isn’t already sorely tempted to exploit the potential for a run-in with Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in the future, then clearly the company’s heart isn’t in the right place! We’ll perhaps have a better idea of how this oxymoron may be addressed later this month in Volumes 1 and 2 of the next Benny series The Story So Far.

 






Class: Vol 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 13 September 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Class - Volume Two (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish
 

First Released:  August 2018
 

Running Time: 3 hours

Like the first volume, Class vol 2 contains three stories each concentrating on a small number of the leads from the series, again set during the original television run.

Everybody Loves Reagan

Unfortunately this opening story I found to be the weakest in the set. Now it’s worth saying that every single one of these Class audios is a GEM and even a slightly weaker story such as this one is still of an incredibly high quality. In this particular tale, it’s Sophie Hopkins and her character of April who really gets to shine. The story tackles a lot of the traits of her character, introducing a figure who essentially usurps what April feels her position is, but seemingly more successfully. Whilst April believes this ‘Reagan’ is a genuine threat, the others think that she’s just being jealous. The problem with this story is that it falls victim to a lot of the pitfalls stories in this mold usually do. Namely, there’s a lot of people denying anything strange whilst April insists. After a while, it does admittedly get a little dull, though the resolution is interesting.

Now You Know…

Once again it is the second story that wins my affections. Now you Know is an incredibly touching little story that chooses to tackle, in some depth I might add, the issue of bullying. Tim Lengs script is incredibly powerful, mostly putting the alien machinations in the background, though not to the point that it no longer feels like an episode of class. His character of Peter Dillard (brought perfectly to life in a show-stealing performance by Anson Boon) is an incredibly touching piece of script writing and a wonderful piece of tragedy.  The two leads in this one are Tanya and Matteusz, an excellent choice to lead such a powerful tale given that they are arguably the two most underdeveloped in the entire series (not at all due to the excellent performances of Vivian Oparah and Jordan Renzo) and the characters interactions are a highlight.

In Remembrance

The third story is eagerly the most highly awaited being, as the name suggests, a sequel to Remembrance of the Daleks. For the most part, this is an adventurous romp, with plenty of Dalek action and lots of nods to the classic 1988 story that inspired it. On the other hand, this (far more than the previous sets Don’t Tell me you Love Me) is Quills story, and explores her character in a number of interesting dialogue sequences with the Dalek. Katherine Kelley is superb in these sequences, utilising the wonderful dialogue by Guy Adams to really get to the heart of who Quill is and what makes her tick. At the end, she still remains a mystery, but we’ve had one more privileged scratch beneath the surface. Greg Austin, on the other hand, is given far less to do, a shame, primarily as I thought he was astounding in the original series and without a doubt the highlight. Here he’s given a few amusing interactions but is mostly left to running up and down Coal Hill corridors. What of the stories two guest stars? Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Briggs? Well as always they are excellent, Aldred, in particular, relishing exploring her character a little more it seems. The score is also excellent, evoking the score of Remembrance at appropriate points. Unfortunately, the story itself is a little sluggish at points with a bit too much running around, though on the whole this is an excellent finale.

 

Following on from an excellent first box set, this second series has been another al round success. Featuring clever and inventive scripts, Class must rank among the best BF releases this year. Not only that but these new Class audios have demonstrated without a doubt that the show still has a lot of life left in it, bring on a BF continuation series is all I say!






Class: Vol 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Class - Volume One (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: Roy Gill, Jenny T Colgan, Scott HandcockDirected By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Katherine Kelly (Miss Quill), Greg Austin (Charlie Smith), Fady Elsayed (Ram Singh), Sophie Hopkins (April MacLean), Vivian Oparah (Tanya Adeola), Jordan Renzo (Matteusz Andrzejewski), Rhys Isaac-Jones (Thomas Laneford), Deirdre Mullins (Mab), Lu Corfield (Marta Vanderburgh), Scott Haran (Jason Campbell), Joe Shire (Aubrey Khan), Jasmine M Stewart (The Mayor), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Alicia Yan), Gavin Swift (Boris). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott HandcockScript Editor Scott Handcock, James GossExecutive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

The brainchild of celebrated young-adult author, Patrick Ness; Class is certainly one of the more unfortunate Doctor Who spin-offs. Something which I found to be a great shame as the series was full of solid ideas and the potential was clearly evident from the start. When Big Finish got the rights to do Class, I’m not sure if anyone was actually surprised but this reviewer was certainly pleased. I enjoyed Class upon first viewing it and although it was certainly flawed, the cast, characters and general aesthetic clearly had a lot more to give. This first series of two-box sets features individual stories, each concentrating on 2 or 3 characters. It’s an interesting but ultimately fruitful technique that results in some highly interesting character based material. 

Gifted

The opener sets the tone for the series in style, concentrating on the characters of Ram Singh and April Maclean and taking many of its story beats from their character traits. So, the threat in this story is drawn from folk legends and stories (a particular passion of Aprils) but one that preys on a character’s ambition and manipulates them (Ram and his desire to be a football star). It’s clearly a well thought through story that manages to emphasise both of these characters weak spots and ambitions. Wonderfully it gives expansion to elements in the series, Ram and his robotic leg and his and Aprils relationship as a whole. The latter felt a little too quick in series and an element that perhaps more than any other needed a little bit more air-time. The two leads (Fady Elsayed and Sophie Hopkins) are wonderful here and recapture their characters as if they’d never been away. It also captures the same level of darkness as the show, namely in the character of Thomas Lainford played wonderfully Ryhs Isaac-Jones, who is as tragic as they come.

Life Experience

Easily the highlight of the series, Life Experience is a non-stop romp. Taking the scenario of a secret lab experimenting on creatures falling from the ‘tears’, when one gets loose and Ram and Tanya are amongst those trapped inside. There’s plenty of laughs and plenty of wonderful horror moments with dashing’s of gore and nastiness.  It may not provide the same level of character depth and exploration as the first and third story in this set but it’s a welcome break that demonstrates the versatility of the series. This story also features the largest guest cast in the entire set and it’s a superb collection of characters, all likable and amusing. I do hope that those who are able to return do in future installments, it would be a shame to waste such excellent characters and performers. A highlight was the performance of Lu Corfield, who puts in a wonderful guest appearance as the villainous Marta Vanderburgh. Her character makes an imposing but incredibly funny antagonist, delivering many of the wonderful moments of black humour that assist in making this story so enjoyable.

Don’t Tell me you Love me

Concentrating on the characters of Charlie, Matteusz and Miss Quill, Don’t Tell me you love me is easily the darkest and deepest story in the set. Scott Hancock has managed to create a multi-layered tale built around the simple premise of a parasite that enters a person’s mind and makes them unable to stop talking. The parasite then gets them to say things which may or may not be truths, resulting in interesting dynamics between Charlie and Matteusz when they start discussing aspects of their relationship. Throw into this mix the in dominatable Miss Quill played as always by Katherine Kelly and the result is a story that manages to explore all three characters, treat them equally and deliver an emotional packed punch in its ending. Unfortunately, the idea of a creature that makes its victims unable to stop talking does have…. some problems in the audio medium with characters talking on top of each other or without a break for minutes at a time sometimes getting a bit much through the headphones. Katherine Kelley, Greg Austin and Jordan Renzo are all excellent in this story and I’m intrigued to see more of them in vol 02.

The first volume of Class manages to be incredibly successful at telling one-off individual stories within the run of the original series. In choosing to do this by concentrating on only a small number of the leads at a time, they have been able to further these characters in a way the television series was never able too. What’s more, the stories chosen wonderfully exploit character traits and expand series plot points further. Not only this but the atmosphere of the television series is captured seamlessly. Highly recommended.