The Quantum Possibility EngineBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 December 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Writer: Guy Adams
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: October 2018

Running Time: 2 hourss

The ‘Seventh Doctor Takeover’ continues with The Quantum Possibility Engine, bringing to a close much of Mel’s continuing storyline, as well as this main range trilogy. Not only that but it also features the return of Josiah W. Dogbolter, a character who made his debut in Doctor Who Magazine in the comic strip The Moderator in 1984, as one of the primary villains of the piece. In a sense that’s important to state as, The Quantum Possibility Engine, feels very much like a mid-80’s Doctor Who Magazine strip. There are bizarre characters and off the wall ideas, mixed with some less than subtle (in a good way) digs at reality and an oddly Meta sense of humour. Some things don’t make a lot of sense, but who cares? The rides worth it.

Our story opens with our hero’s (Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and of course Bonnie Langford) onboard a space station owned by the new president of the solar system; Dogbolter. Dogbolter wants the Tardis for a very specific reason, meanwhile, Mel tries to settle the score and the Doctor and Ace Find themselves locked inside the titular ‘Quantum Possibility Engine’. Oh and Narvin’s here.

The Quantum Possibility Engine is actually a pretty hard story to talk about. Part of the enjoyment of it comes from not knowing what’s coming next and to that end it’s almost impossible to discuss without spoiling anything. The ride that Guy Adams takes us on is so bizarre and outlandish that it would be unfair of me to discuss any of its elements here.  What it is fair to say is that this is one hell of an adventure and one that’s a lot of fun, certainly working more as a comedy than anything else. The return of Dogbolter is one which I’m very pleased with, he may seem like an odd choice to some but this parody of Sydney Greenstreet is one of the reasons I’m such a fan of The Maltease Penguin. Toby Longworth returns to the role and captures that Greenstreet-esque voice perfectly, apart from a few wonderful moments when he seems to be evoking Churchill instead. Wonderfully, Adams has chosen to give him a Robot assistant that sounds an awful lot like Peter Lorre (played with perfect sniveling menace by Wayne Forester), a logical thing to do given the Greenstreet connection.

Even away from Dogbolter, however, there’s still much fun to be had here. McCoy, Aldred and Sean Carlsen all get wonderful moments in the second half of the story. Carlsen especially is not someone I’m overly familiar with, never having listened to any of the Gallifrey stories (though I know Narvin has something of a fan base). Here he was extremely enjoyable and although played primarily for laughs (after all this is a comedy) I can see how his character could be more dramatic and sinister if required. The star of the show in terms of regulars (because sorry but Longworth really steals the limelight from everyone) however is Bonnie Langford. She gets some great comic moments with Wayne Forester and also some of the few seriously dramatic sequences in the entire story. Langford really has done wonders with Mel on Big Finish and I hope she gets more time to shine in successive years!

The Quantum Possibility Engine really is a hell of a blast. It may not be particularly dark or dramatic and so may not be for those who like their Doctor Who serious and straight, but for those who like I bit of fun I cannot recommend it enough.






The Seventh Doctor - The New Adventures Volume 1 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 4 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Seventh Doctor - The New Adventures (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andy Lane, Steve Jordan, Alan Flanagan, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej), Liz Sutherland-Lim (Maratuk), Vikash Bhai (Sydyck), John Heffernan (Honos), Mina Anwar (Forsetti), Janine Duvitski (Alpha Wheeler), Leonie Schliesing (Zsa Zsa Straus), Franchi Webb (Eleanor Blake), Rupert Young (Binkum Fray), Silas Carson (Arbuckle), Sara Powell (Contessa), Olivia Morris (Green), Connor Calland (Blue), Jacob Dudman (Cannon), Melanie Kilburn (Hooley), Rhian Blundell (Isabel), Elaine Fellows (Annabel), Ellie Darvill (Willis). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Scott Handcock
Script Editor Scott Handcock
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

I missed the "Virgin New Adventures" era of Doctor Who.  That strange time when the show was off the air, and the biggest thing keeping the show alive was a series of novels that continued the adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Ace following the shows cancellation.  Eventually Ace moved on, and he gained new companions, most notably Bernice Summerfield (who continued the book series after Virgin lost the rights to Doctor Who, and was actually used as the test pilot for Big Finish to prove their worth and GAIN the Doctor Who license), but also a couple of future space cops named Roz and Chris.  But while I was too young tto really experience the Virgin line at the time, I've long had an interest in it.  So when Big Finish adapted some books into full cast audio plays a couple of years ago I sampled them. Two of the adaptations starred the afforementioned Chris and Roz...and now Big Finish has launched a new boxset starring the Seventh Doctor with these two characters...but instead of just adapting books, this time they are exploring these characters in brand new original audio plays.

The set begins with The Trial of the Time Machine, Doctor, Roz, and Chris debating law and order...discussing whether certain laws are constants, or whether laws on arious worlds are unjust...but they must face these questions head on when the TARDIS crashes into another Time Ship, and because of it's own sentient nature, is put on Trial for the crime.  I really loved that premise...it isn't any of the occupants of the TARDIS on trial for an odd crime, but the TARDIS itself. I also found it interesting that a time travelling being within the story also has the Doctor question his own relationship with the TARDIS.  Does the ship enjoy their travels together, or has he just enslaved her for his own galavanting across the cosmos. It's really a small moment, but I found this introspective pause from the Doctor to be really well done.

The second episode, Vanguard, involves the TARDIS landing on the Planet Vangard, and find that a war between two factions has lead to the destruction of most of the planet's occupants.  The TARDIS team are all separated, and must do their best to end the War and bring the people together, in order to be reunited themselves...though each faction is looking for escape and hope to use the Doctor and/or the TARDIS for escape.  It's a rather generic plotline for Doctor Who, but it is well exectued and enjoyable enough to listen to. I doubt I will remember much of it a week from now, but I can't say it annoyed or bored me while I listened to it.

The third entry (The Jabari Countdown) fared better, as the TARDIS lands on a ship during World War II full of mathematicians heading towards a remote island on a secret code cracking mission.  But the mathematicians haven't actually been recruited to crack any code related to the war, but have instead been recruited by an alien to find a cure to a math related virus, a virus which makes the infected speak only in numbers. This is at least a unique concept, and the creepy atmosphere and Second World War setting make it an enjoyable listen. 

The set closes out with Dread of Night, which is an "Old Dark House" story with a sick girl, her worried sister, a seemingly overbearing nurse, and some kind of psychic monster.  It is well executed and a good creepy listen...though if I had a complaint this had one of the only instances of awful sound design I can remember in a Big Finish play.  A woman was whispering so quietly, and I could barely hear what she was saying, so I had to really crank the volume...only to suddenly be surprised by a loud "jump scare" moment...thus violently hurting my eardrums in the process.  The jump scare didn't really do it's job. I was slightly alarmed for a moment, but I wasn't scared...I was just irritated that I had to crank it for some seemingly important dialogue only to get punished by this loud moment...and that has never been an issue with Big Finish before. Their sound design is some of the best of any audio plays I have ever heard. No one comes close to them on the regular...but man that moment annoyed me! Otherwise, I thought it was a really good story.

Overall, I'd say this set is quite a good listen.  McCoy's Doctor is always a bit better than I often remember it to be, and his companions in this set are decent, if a bit forgettable.  I think my biggest complaint of the set on the whole is that Chris and Roz lack personality.  I enjoyed them in the earlier plays based on the novels they originally appeared in, but in this set I never truly feel like I got a grasp on just who they are.  They could've been exchanged with any generic companion, and it wouldn't have changed the story one lick.  They aren't awful or annoying or anything...they are just completely bland.  That is a shame.






The DispossessedBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 November 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Dispossessed (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Mark MorrisDirected By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Morgan Watkins (Ruck), Anna Mitcham (Jan), Stirling Gallacher (Isobel), Nick Ellsworth (Arkallax). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Nicholas BriggsScript Editor Guy AdamsExecutive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

‘The Dispossessed’ is the second entry in this year’s Seventh Doctor trilogy (or should that be pentology?). Mark Morris’s tale see’s the Tardis team of the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Mel (Bonnie Langford) trapped in a run-down tower block, with no-way-out. Taking the basic small-setting small-cast mold, The Dispossessed,  utilises the aforementioned interesting setting of a condemned tower block incredibly well and merges this with portals to other worlds, zombies and eccentric characters.

Mark Morris’s script is really the star of the show here and he appears to have really let his imagination go wild. What emerges is a complex mishmash of intriguing ideas, settings and characters. From Arkallax, the villain himself and the setting and the idea of an endless night all providing a haunting atmosphere. Morris also provides McCoy with easily some of the best writing he’s had in a long time. There’s a moment in part two when he’s trying to find out what he can about ‘Ruck’ and the mysterious, darker seventh doctor really comes to the forefront. Where other Doctors would of perhaps been a little more emotional, McCoy’s responses show that he cares but still remind us that he’s an alien. The final sequences of part four, in a bizarre mindscape wherein he confronts the Villain, show McCoy at the height of his powers.

Nick Ellsworth gives a wonderful performance as Arkallax, particularly in the sequences when he’s entertaining Ace and Mel in his flat. Stirling Gallacher is particularly rousing as Isobel, providing a number of laugh out loud moments. An interesting moment occurs when we don’t really know which one to trust and the sequences of them both explaining their backstories are intercut, providing some mystery over who to trust. I have to confess that Morgan Watkin’s character of Ruck and Anna Mitcham’s Jan, left me feeling a little bit cold. This is nothing to do with these two actors wonderful performances, but the characters I couldn’t help but feel were a little cardboard and lacking in any real depth or substance. Mark Morris has tried to tackle some interesting issues and I give him kudos for that, though unfortunately, the slew of interesting ideas within this story means that these deeper themes are a little swamped. The result is Jan and Ruck are not the strongest supporting characters.

The Dispossessed also suffers from re-using a large amount of the soundtrack from the previous months Red Planets. On the surface, this may not seem like a particularly bad idea, though the result is that an incredibly atmospheric and dense script with lots of intriguing imagery, isn’t really given an effective soundtrack to match. Moments that really could have been awe-inspiring are hurt by using themes that don’t really fit.  However then later on, particularly towards the end of part three, there’s an incredibly effective piece used around one of the big reveals that provides an incredibly powerful moment of tension. Not too long after that we revert to stock ques used in Red Planets.

The Dispossessed is a highly enjoyable tale that highlights the greatness of McCoy’s Doctor. It may fall flat on a few points but the real star of the show is McCoy and Morris’s script, which results in easily one of the most entertaining stories from this year's main range.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Nov 2018
Main Range 242 - The Dispossessed (Doctor Who Main Range)



The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - The Eleventh Doctor (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - Eleventh Doctor (Credit: Titan)
"The Steampunk Conundrum"
Writer: James Peaty
Artist: Pasquale Qualano
Colorist: Dijjo Lima

"The Road To..."
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colorist: Enrica Angiolini

Published by Titan Comics in August 2018

The Titan build up to the launch of the new Thirteenth Doctor continues with this one-off adventure of the Eleventh Doctor, the second in a so-called mini-series prelude to the Thirteenth Doctor.  Much like the first entry starring the Tenth Doctor, the bulk of the issue has nothing to do with the Thirteenth Doctor and seemingly will have little story impact on her storyline in the comics.  It's a standard robot invasion story, and then after that story is told, we get another brief short story told over a few pages, which actually feels like the hint of things to come in the Thirteenth Doctor story.  

As a robot invasion story, fairly middling.  It really feels like a shame for Titan to do this big promotional thing for the upcoming Doctor.  A mini-series that leads to the new Doctor, and then they spend the bulk of the issue on a story that could easily fit into any standard issue of the respective Doctor's ongoing adventures.  

The actual "Road To..." segment takes place in the middle of a previous adventure. Much like the Tenth Doctor's segment took place in the midst of the episode The Girl in the Fireplace, the Eleventh Doctor's segment is in the middle of the episode The Power of Three.  Once again a hand reaches towards the Doctor from some glowing anomaly, only this time the Eleventh Doctor is so busy complaining about being bored while waiting on Earth, that he actually misses the whole thing.  That's at least creative.  

Mostly, this feels like another wasted opportunity from Titan.  They could have had an actual build up to a storyline. Lay some seeds in each story that would pay off in a bigger way for the Thirteenth Doctor.  Instead, the seed is just a glowing light and someone reach for the Doctor. The same seed in each volume, with much of the magazine telling a story that just feels like a random adventure. It makes the whole Road to... branding seem terribly misleading.  





Red Planets (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 30 August 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Red Planets (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

Released August 2018
 

Running Time: 2 hours

Now let’s make something clear first. I love spy stories. Le Carre, Fleming, Deighton; all three are in my favourite authors and the cold war period of espionage certainly seems like an excellent setting for a Doctor Who story. The first story in this years, Seventh Doctor Trilogy (though in matter of fact the first of a pentalogy), Red Planets continues the pairing of the Doctor, Mel and Ace. Taking it’s ques from Cold War spy thrillers in the vein of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Quiller Memorandum, Red Planets is an evocative, thrill a minute story that packs its punches but keeps its secrets close to its chest until its final moments.  Written by Una McCormack, this is an impressive high concept tale that weaves intriguing espionage, with time-bending mishaps-even if the impressive ideas aren’t always given enough room to breathe.

The story opens with the Doctor and Mel in a strange parallel future, in the socialist republic of Mokoshia and Ace in Berlin in 1961. Already even here there are a few problems as why the three are split into two groups is never adequately explained. At first, I thought that it could perhaps be another example of one of the more manipulative and darker Seventh Doctor’s masterplans, though this turns out not to be the case. The only other possibility is that it’s a hangover from a previous adventure, that’s all well and good if so but giving us a little bit more info would have been appreciated. In fact, even the story doesn’t seem to know, with at points it feeling that Ace’s presence in 1961 one is intentional and at others, it’s explicitly stated that it is not. Anyway, whilst the Doctor and Mel become embroiled in the politics of the shady new republic, Ace befriends a British spy. Up in space, the first mission to Mars is about to get a nasty surprise…

If that sounds like there’s a lot going on you’d be damn right. Unfortunately, this means that some of the ideas whilst ingenuous, need just a little bit more room to breathe. The revelation of what is up on Mars in particular. This idea is one of Una’s most captivating but unfortunately, it’s reduced to an exposition-heavy explanation by the Doctor in a story that has one too many of them. The result was I often found myself having to pause and skip back a little just to make sure I was taking everything in.

However, in terms of atmosphere and thrills, the story succeeds massively. The paranoia of a lot of the aforementioned Spy fiction is captured beautifully and Mokoshia really does feel like a threatening place, reminiscent of many of our darker Socialist dictatorships. The fact that the individual who will eventually cause all of this never makes an appearance is also a wonderful decision. This is a story about consequences and the characters who have to suffer because of his actions, not about him.

Sylvester McCoy, Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred are all wonderful as usual. Sophie Aldred in particular always works incredibly well alone and the character of Ace works wonderfully well in the world of 1960’s Berlin. Bonnie Langford gets some great moments taking further swipes at the Doctors character and in particular his moral stance on the rewriting of history- no matter how many individuals from the parallel world will be lost. Likewise, Sylvester gives his own in these scenes, giving a sense of a Doctor who is tired of trying to explain, knowing she’ll never understand. The supporting cast are all great, though admittedly I didn’t feel like they were really given much to play with, the emphasis being more on the ideas than supporting characters.

Red Planets is a great Doctor Who story with some great ideas. To really of been a classic it needed perhaps one more rewrite just to sort the pacing out. However, the result is none the less entertaining and comes recommended.



Associated Products

Audio
Out 31 Jan 2019
Main Range #241 Red Planets (Doctor Who Main Range)



The Day of the Doctor (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 11 June 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
The Day of the Doctor (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Steven Moffat
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 232 pages

The 11th Doctor’s entry into the Target books range sees Steven Moffat novelise his 50th-anniversary celebration with two closely intertwined plots in a timey-wimey multi-Doctor tale.  The first plot strand sees the Doctor joining forces with his previous incarnation and the recently introduced War Doctor to thwart the Zygons who, having found themselves in Elizabethan England, hatch a plot to take over the Earth in the future.  However, the second plot strand which sees the Doctor confront his role in ending the Time War is more significant, addressing a major theme running throughout the series since its return in 2005.  This is arguably given even more weight in this novelisation than in the televised version, exploring the pain arising from his actions in a more personal way.  In revisiting the response of his Ninth incarnation at the end of The Parting of the Ways however, this book makes the point that the choice the Doctor faced here is the same impossible choice he has faced on many occasions.

This is the longest of this new batch of novelisations, perhaps understandably given the extended running length of the TV episode and the multiple plot lines, but also given that it covers the brief prequel, ‘the Night of the Doctor’.  Add to these the addition of new material and this feels a more substantial novel than the other recent releases in this range.  It also has a very different feel to it, demonstrating the versatility of earlier entries into the Target range.  Here, each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, often in the first person, making each one feel fresh while challenging the reader to work out the identity of the author.  This story-telling device is put to particularly good effect when recounting the Doctor’s journey to the Tower from the perspective of each of his incarnations in turn – a journey his later incarnations have obviously experienced before.  It also allows for the injection of some humour at the expense of the Doctor and other characters, the former being variously identified as Bow Tie, Daddy’s Suit, Pinstripe, Grumpy, and Neckwear.  (As a side point, reference to the Tenth Doctor’s ‘tight suit’ would surely become a standard Target description of this Doctor should the range be extended, much like the Fifth Doctor’s “pleasant, open face”).  Each chapter is also preceded by a communication to readers from the narrator, an archivist who seems to be piecing together events in the story.  For me, the style of these interludes seemed very similar to those of Moffat’s DWM Production Notes.  I anticipate that this may grate with some readers and might be expected to interrupt the flow of the story, but for me these did make for refreshing breaks and a lightening of the mood in some of the book’s more serious moments.

Moffat also takes the chance to add to his original story, the most notable addition being that of a small but not insignificant role for River Song, perhaps understandable as one of his most significant character creations.  There is also an extended description of the Doctor’s integration in the Court of Queen Elizabeth and, of course, reference to Chapter 9 which claims to resolve so many of the show’s big questions and controversies is a typical example of Moffat playfulness.  He has further fun with the first two Doctors here being identified as colour blind and the Doctor also refers to the Peter Cushing Dr Who films and is even reported to be consulting with Cushing on a third film.

As one would expect from an anniversary story there is lots of fan-pleasing continuity with references to the great and the good from the show’s past, including Ian and Barbara, The Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith and Susan.  The grand finale still sees all the Doctor’s incarnations join forces though here it is in a somewhat different manner to the TV episode and a significant addition comes right at the end of the book with a brief postscript featuring the thirteenth Doctor.  And as with many Target novelisations this one also takes the opportunity to extend the roles and significance of supporting characters - here Queen Elizabeth and McGillop are the main beneficiaries.  The absence of the Daleks is though more apparent in this book.  Although they are an important part of the backdrop to the story in terms of the Time War – without the impact of their on-screen cameos they are effectively absent here.

This novel then has more serious undertones than the first two additions to the Target range but is not without its moments of humour, which, as in past multi-Doctor stories are principally in the interactions between the various incarnations of the main character.  It is a book written very much with fans of the series at its heart, but going beyond the continuity this is never clearer than the beautiful moment when the War Doctor promises that whoever hears the wheezing, groaning sound of the TARDIS will know that they are not alone.  While this is of immediate significance to the Doctor in the context of the story, this is surely also speaking to the fans and their relationship with the Doctor.  The Day of the Doctor immediately soared to the top of the DWM poll of TV stories and I’m sure this novelisation will be held in similarly high regard.