Doctor Who - Shot Trips - All Hands On DeckBookmark and Share

Monday, 20 November 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
All Hands on Deck (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Eddie Robson; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

All Hands On Deck is the second consecutive release to feature the Eighth Doctor and mention the Time War - what could Big Finish be building up to I wonder? The story also just happens to be my favorite Short Trip to date. It's not often that these stories move me to shed a tear, but this one did.

The story is in parts a sequel to The Dalek Invasion Of Earth where we catch up with Susan in 2213. She lives in an apartment block that is on the site of the old Coal Hill school. Everyone she has ever cared for has gone, most of them had died in the second Dalek invasion.

Susan has quite a quiet life, that is until she is called away to help with a series of planet-threatening emergencies. Firstly there is the Dalek artifact that suddenly comes to life. It oozes a yellow liquid that turns out to be custard. This is followed by the asteroid that seems certain to hit Earth but fades away at the last minute. Then we have the cyborg spiders that suddenly start to terrorise the neighborhood, but turn out to be harmless. Every day there seems to be a new threat. What can possibly be happening? Perhaps the man hiding in her cupboard might be able to explain?

Of course, the man hiding in her cupboard is the eighth Doctor. He is creating events in an effort to try to distract Susan from noticing a message that has been sent via tesseract by the Time Lords. A message requesting that Susan return to Gallifrey as soon as possible, and help fight the Time War. Will the Doctor succeed in talking Susan out of heading home?

The story romps along at a great pace. It seems that Susan hardly has time to draw breath before another Bubble' is sent to her, which whisks her away to help avert a new disaster. The story also has some rather lovely nods, not only is it sweet that Susan now lives in the old Coal Hill School, but it's also rather touching that from her window she can see an oak tree that was planted in memory of Ian and Barbara. The story also finds Susan reminiscing about her time attending Coal Hill School, times when she loved to listen to the Beatles, but always being wary when she talked about them to friends, just in case she mentioned a song that hadn't been released yet.

Carole Ann Ford is a great narrator. She steps back into somewhat world-weary shoes of Susan Campbell (nee Foreman) with ease. Between her telling and Eddie Robson's beautiful story, this tale delivers a massive emotional punch. I really am going to look up Robson's other works as he is a truly skilled author.

All Hands On Deck is an instant classic and the only entry in this series that I have listened to twice. Don't miss out on this one, I promise it could be the best £2.99 you could possibly spend.






Doom Coalition 4Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 9 April 2017 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition 4 (Credit: Big Finish)
Doom Coalition 4
Written by John Dorney and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), Emma Cunniffe (The Sonomancer), Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Carolyn Pickles (Cardinal Ollistra), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Olivia Poulet (Jerasta), Vince Leigh (Volstrom/ Matrix Keeper/ Computer), Sasha Behar (Presidential Aide/ Tessno/ Ladonne), Ronnie Ancona (Joanie Carrington), Alex Beckett (Alekall). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released March 2017 by Big Finish Productions

Doom Coalition, the sequel series to the acclaimed Dark Eyes Saga, has come to its final instalment.  Having been able to review each individual box set as it was released, I was curious to see just what Big Finish might pull from the wealth of material they now have to play with, given their ability to use at least elements of “classic Who”.  Turns out that River isn’t the only thing transferring into the audio-only adventures this time, even just going from the trailer.  Let’s see what else the company manage to achieve and whether ultimately this works as well if not better than the conclusion to Dark Eyes.

 

4.1.  Ship in a Bottle

With the intro setting the tone for what is to come, the events pick up from the ending of Doom Coalition 3.  Feeling very much like a 12th Doctor introduction, there are even subtle nods to the cherished Tennant era and that’s just in the opening 5 or so minutes.  The initial scenario The Doctor, Liv and Helen find themselves in allows for significant demonstration of their personalities and their feelings as to the events of previous stories in the series.  Even as the story progresses, regardless of how dangerous the situation, the characters remain well-developed throughout.  This episode serves partly as a recap, but also as a method of seeing the entirety of Doom Coalition from a new perspective.  Given there’s no actual enemies, the slew of references to prior events and the theme of the acceptance of death featuring so prominently, it’s a very human opening to what I hope will be a fitting conclusion, even if there’s no complete closure to this story.

 

4.2. Songs of Love

With a title like that, it was almost certain what, or rather who, was going to show up and the character in question doesn’t disappoint.  Appearing as part of a flashback relative to the previous story, what we see is an interesting change of heart, though one that is sure to have a reason behind it.

This primarily Time Lord centric story features some moments that, whilst unexpected, are well-executed, in addition to sequences that really emphasise just how much danger the universe is really in at this point in the plot.  However, the references to Series 6 of the television show and events therein might confuse those who stopped watching after the 10th Doctor’s departure.

That does not mean this story suffers, though it does try to run two simultaneous plot threads as well as introducing several important points.  At least the political edges of this story fit with the rest of the puzzle in well thought out cinematic fashion.

 

4.3. The Side of the Angels

Finally this box set has a clear villain to work with, but blink and you might miss them.  If I say nothing else about them and if you haven’t heard the trailer, I will credit the sound designers on introducing one of The Doctor’s most well-known foes in recent memory with a fitting entrance.  Of course, The Eleven is now embroiled in the plot too, but that doesn’t mean other Time Lords from The Doctor’s history can’t join in either.

This story seems to take a far clearer line than the last, with sound design and musical scoring to match the setting and the enemies involved in what are only described as “insane” plans.  Such plans, with a fair number of references and memorable moments, speed this story forth to its dramatic conclusion.

 

4.4. Stop the Clock

Is it too much to make a half pun, half reference to Mummy On The Orient Express here, specifically that certain events we witness during this story have been Foretold?

Probably.  Then again, considering how many references the stories leading up to this have provided, it’s probably not the worst way to open discussion on this final piece in the Doom Coalition puzzle.  So as not to spoil what is a slightly disorienting conclusion, including an ending that appears to possibly have influences from a well-known Japanese film franchise, I’ll leave it at that.

 

With a seamless score, a confident cast and a plot that knows just where it’s going even if the audience doesn’t, Big Finish certainly deliver in what probably won’t be the final 8th Doctor adventures set in this overarching plotline.





The Chimes of Midnight - Limited Vinyl EditionBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 November 2016 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty
The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Robert Shearman
Director: Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor); India Fisher (Charley Pollard); Louise Rolfe (Edith); Lennox Greaves (Mr Shaughnessy); Sue Wallace (Mrs Baddeley); Robert Curbishley (Frederick); Juliet Warner (Mary)

Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016

This deluxe vinyl edition of TheChimesofMidnight follows on from the story being voted the best of Big Finish’s main range in their 2015 poll (runner up Spare Parts will also get the vinyl treatment next year). The release is limited to 500 copies and comprises the original story and a brand new retrospective documentary spread across four discs.

The story

As noted above, The Chimes of Midnight has been voted the best of Big Finish’s main range, and I’m not going to argue with this. Chimes is one of those Doctor Who stories where all the elements come together to create something truly exceptional. The writing, performances and production are pretty near faultless.

Putting a Doctor Who spin on classic TV shows Sapphire and Steel and Upstairs Downstairs was a clever choice by Robert Shearman. From those inspirations he tells a story which is both darkly funny and genuinely moving, skewering the injustice of the British class system in the process.

This is a story all fans of Doctor Who should own, and demonstrates not only the best of Big Finish, but one of the best Doctor Who stories in any medium.

What’s different?

The move in format CD to vinyl has resulted in some unavoidable modifications to the story. Instead of the original CD’s four episodes, this edition is split into six parts of around 20 minutes each. Rather than ending on a cliff-hanger, each disc finishes at a convenient (usually dramatic) point in the dialogue. It’s better to think of this as a compilation spread across six sides than as a six episode version, although I suspect some purists may miss the original cliff-hangers.

The documentary

The fourth disc in this collection contains a brand new documentary looking back at the production.  We’re fast approaching the 20th anniversary of the start of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range and it’s great to see the company celebrating their history. The audio releases have been a significant part of the Doctor Who landscape for nearly two decades, and it’s nice to see them getting some more in-depth exploration.

The documentary rounds up a broad range of contributors to Chimes’ creation, and conveys they sense that the story’s success was in part due to the coming together of the right people at the right time. Along with writer Robert Shearman, director Barnaby Edwards and the Big Finish producers, we also hear from sound designer Andy Hardwick and composer Russell Stone. Hardwick and Stone give a wonderful insight into their craft, and it’s great to see these (sometimes neglected) areas getting the attention they deserve.

For me the highlight of the documentary is the interview with Robert Shearman, in particular his discussion of discarded ideas for the story, and an audio tour of his own house (which inspired the story’s setting).

The one thing that feels missing from this documentary is a contribution from the cast. It would have been nice to hear Paul McGann and India Fisher’s take on The Chimes of Midnight’s continuing popularity but it’s a minor oversight in this excellent piece.

Overall

The Chimes of Midnight is a Doctor Who classic of the first order and is essential listening for fans. The documentary accompanying the release is a fascinating insight into the story’s creation, which brilliantly captures the context of the time it was created.

This release is a limited edition of 500 at a premium price, so it’s a shame that it will have a small audience. Hopefully the documentary will get a wider release at some point. If Big Finish have plans to explore their back catalogue in future such releases it would be great to see some cheaper downloadable options, alongside premium, physical releases like this.

The Chimes of Midnight (limited edition vinyl) (Credit: Big Finish)





Doom Coalition 3Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 20 October 2016 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition: 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Jeremy Clyde (George), Ian Puleston-Davies (Angus Selwyn), Richard Hope (Phillip Cook/Kal), Anna Acton (Kate Drury), John Shrapnel (Thomas Cromwell), Kasia Koleczek (Apolena), Glen McCready (Solvers/Abbot), Emma D'Inverno (Rosalia), Tim McMullan (Octavian), Janie Dee (Risolva), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), John Heffernan (The Imposter) and Nicholas Woodeson (The Clocksmith). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Big finish Productions

The Doom Coalition series, which follows on from the acclaimed Dark Eyes box sets, is a very promising sequel saga.  The third installment has a large amount to live up to after the events of Doom Coalition 1 and 2.  In order to help the reviewing process, I won’t go into the more intricate plot details, partially to not make this review longer than it needs to be, but also to allow for those listening to the story to experience their own responses to the unfolding events.
 

3.1. Absent Friends

Mobile Phones are commonplace today, but twenty years ago they were still technically considered as a new innovation.  The opening of this story transports us to a time and place where a phone mast is considered an eyesore by residents of a small English village.  Living with the recent entrance of a mobile communications company into their midst, The promise of a free phone seems far too good to be true, an observation this reviewer made as soon as it was brought to the table.

Landing in the aforementioned small village, using debit cards (an unfamiliar technology to them), with a pin number that is actually a Doctor Who TV Easter egg, Liv and Helen are booked into a pub and The Doctor goes off to tinker with the Tardis.  As Helen goes on what would seem like a reckless journey that has the potential to rip holes in space and time, the mast is revealed to be causing problems of its own and they most certainly have far-reaching consequences.

This story’s relatively calm opening is supplemented by a suspenseful plot, along with some suitably awkward moments that contrast this to what might be expected.  This was a very much appreciated introduction, with an ending that might just leave you scratching your head.

 

3.2. The Eighth Piece

This story’s intro, after the structure of 3.1 Absent Friends, might come as a bit of a shock.  However, as the three simultaneous missions of The Doctor, Liv and Helen to uncover pieces of an ancient device begin to conjoin, the implications of what happened in the previous box set also begin to make a part of a greater whole.  Alex Kingston returns in an appearance that is not entirely surprising but is definitely a welcome re-entry into the series, with references to the prior events meaning that to fully grasp what’s going on, it is best you check out Doom Coalition 1 and 2.

 

3.3. The Doomsday Chronometer

The introduction to this episode actually takes place part way through the second story, 3.2 The Eighth Piece.  Confusing?  That’s how the rest of the story builds itself, around multifaceted plotlines that all converge to be part of a greater whole, much like the titular Doomsday Chronometer.  With the discovery of clues and hints pointing to pieces of the device, so to come references to other times in The Doctor’s and River Song’s lives, as documented in the television show.  This particular episode might seem convoluted, but eventually, it coalesces into an easier to understand line that works its way smoothly into the final part of this box set. Moreover, we see an appearance from a crucial figure we have not seen thus far in Doom Coalition 3, but whose return was, I think, inevitable.

 

3.4. The Crucible of Souls

The occasionally comedic overtones this concluding story provides are overshadowed by the high stakes situation.  If I say any more than that this review would surely double in length to accommodate the necessary plot summaries and character profiling.  Suffice it to say, it was very much worth the wait.

Doom Coalition 3 was definitely worth waiting for, with a cast who deliver their lines with great emphasis on their characterisation, a score that fits directly into the production and a plot that whilst it might be confusing is still understandable.  With the end of Doom Coalition 3, realisation dawns on the fact that all we as fans have to do now is wait for the conclusion of the saga.  Personally,  I am excited at the prospect of the final four stories and the potential they have to be at least as good as, if not better than Dark Eyes 4, the final box set in the preceding series.

 

This title was released in September 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until October 31st 2016, and on general sale after this date






Classic Doctors New Monsters: Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 9 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Classic Doctors New Monsters (Volume 1) (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard, Paul Morris, James Goss, Andrew Smith
Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Starring Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy,
Paul McGann

Released by Big Finish July 2016, order from Amazon UK

This reviewer confesses to have been pleasantly surprised as to how well the four stories in the box set all work to complement each other and the respective Doctors they feature. When this set was first announced there was a certain amount of scepticism about whether some of the visual gimmicks of the post 2005 creations would translate well to audio. Also, as the behind-the-scenes disc indicates there are only a finite number of “new” monsters which can be included without breaking continuity, as indicated by the presence in the fourth story of the Sontarans which do not seem much different to how they have already appeared in previous Big Finish outings and by the revelation that next year’s volume 2 will only be featuring three “new” monsters across four plays.

This collection gets off to a strong start with 14772’s Fallen Angels which uses the Weeping Angels ability to send their victims back through time to excellent effect as the Fifth Doctor encounters a twenty first century married couple who have fallen foul of an angel in the crypt of a church in Rome and ended up in the fifteenth century where they soon encounter Matthew Kelly’s wonderfully temperamental Michelangelo. Newlyweds Joel and Gabby are well played by Sacha Dhawan and Diane Morgan (unfortunately this reviewer found the latter’s presence reminded him of annoying alter-ego Philomena Cunk) and are clearly intended to remind listeners of Rory and Amy and there are some clear parallels to The Angels Take Manhattan. Overall, the story is very much an homage to Blink and the silent presence of the angels is well-realised through clever use of music and sound-design. None of these stories attempts to offer a genesis account for any of the monsters featured and this is very much to their benefit especially here where the Fifth Doctor is shown very much in parallel to the similarly youthful Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, a role which Peter Davison responds particularly well to.

Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor is equally well suited to the second story of this set, particularly in the scenes with a courtroom setting. Simon Barnard and Paul MorrisJudoon in Chains is a clever tale which owes a debt to a number of well-known sources such as The Elephant Man and Pygmalion with one of the proto-companions even being called Eliza. Nicholas Briggs shows that the Judoon are capable of being much more than just space rhinos with a funny voice and the central character of Captain Kybo being a wonderfully nuanced performance. There is also a scene-stealing performance to enjoy from another Big Finish regular Nicholas Pegg as the wonderfully arch Meretricious Gedge.

The inclusion of one-off monsters the Sycorax for the third story of this set was initially suprising but James GossHarvest of the Sycorax proves that they have plenty of mileage left. Sylvester McCoy is reunited with former Red Kang Nisha Nayar who gives a great performance as Zanzibar, another great one-off in a collection full of similarly strong characters. There is also great support the rest of the cast, with particular mentions due to Giles Watling as the Sycorax Chief and Jonathan Firth as Cadwallader. This script has a great fast pace which definitely feels as if it could sit comfortably in a post-2005 series.

The set concludes in style with Andrew Smith’s The Sontaran Ordeal, which sits very much at the end of the Eighth Doctor’s life with the Time War beginning to make its presence felt. This is a solid final story which teams up Paul McGann with Josette Simon as Sarana Teel, an unlikely companion who just wants to bring peace to her planet. Her horror as she realises that the impact of the Time War means that there can never be lasting peace is wonderfully portrayed and her final confrontation with the Doctor gives a clear nod towards the inevitable events of The Night of the Doctor. Christopher Ryan and Dan Starkey also give excellent performances as variations on their new series Sontarans. Above all, this final story provides a hint of exciting things to come in next year’s much anticipated prequel to Big Finish’s War Doctor series, The Eighth Doctor: The Time War.

Overall, this is a set of four very different but equally enjoyable stories with too many highlights to mention individually. Based on the form of this collection and most of Big Finish’s other new series titles, the second volume also promises to be something special.

 





Doctor Who: Doom Coalition 2Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 July 2016 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Ken Bentley

First Released: Thu 31 Mar 2016

Running Time: 300 minutes 0 seconds

 

During the Big Finish sale that celebrated 20 years of the eighth Doctor being a presence in the franchise canon after the 1996 television movie, I thought I’d look to see what was on offer.  I discovered that Doom Coalition 2 had been released and considering it was half price, I decided to purchase it.  When I discovered it had not been reviewed for this site, I was surprised but willing to take up the opportunity as I’d found the first one definitely worth listening to.  As with previous boxsets I’ve reviewed, I briefly go through each story in sequence.  Moreover, I have endeavoured not to spoil anything that couldn’t be gleaned from the cast list.

 

2.1 Beachhead

This episode opens with no prologue, just the introductory theme.  Though this lack of introduction means that it doesn’t directly tie into Doom Coalition 1, the fact that the second and third stories also begin in this way at least means that throughout some semblance consistency is maintained.  

After the events of Doom Coalition 1, The Doctor and his companions decide to take a holiday.  For those who have heard the third series of the Fourth Doctor Adventures, you’ll be aware that attempts to relax and take holidays that previous incarnations of The Doctor have taken rarely if ever end up as planned.  The Tardis is caught in a flood and from there things just get more and more life-threatening, not just for the Time Lord and those around him, but for humanity itself, thanks to the presence of the Voord, a race previously encountered within the Big Finish cannon.

 

2.2 Scenes From Her Life

With the previous story ending on a comedic note, the opening of the second part of this adventure darkens the tone somewhat with some ominous hints of what is to come, though no clear word on what is actually at stake. The Doctor and his companions are following a time machine’s energy signature, until they come across something that frankly is extremely dangerous.  Manipulation, facades and flashbacks follow.  But will the clarity of the situation and the realisation of what’s occurred come in time to allow everyone to get out alive?

 

2.3 The Gift

It’s a curse, they say.  It is 1906, and The Doctor and his companions find themselves drawn into a battle with The Gift, a psychic energy that is being manipulated to bend to the will of one of The Doctor’s enemies.  However, it won’t just cause problems for the people of the city but if left unchecked, it could tear the planet in half.  The question is if it can be stopped and if so,, how?

The mentions and build-up to River Song’s inclusion in the Doom Coalition series that feature at this story’s conclusion were somewhat marred by the fact that the cast list revealed her presence before even listening to this adventure in the first place.  However, the wait until the reveal is worth the time it takes to occur.

 

2.4 The Sonomancer

This final part acts as a continuation of the previous episode in the set, though not a direct one.  Its opening confirms River’s presence in the series as well as establishing the setting for this conclusion, a mining planet where the leading corporation isn’t the only issue to deal with.  The cinematic storytelling afforded by a full cast, if it hasn’t been said to be of good quality up to now, certainly shines in this final chapter and feels very much like high points of the television show in places.

As with the Dark Eyes saga and the first Doom Coalition entry before it, the sound design and score evoke a more cinematic atmosphere than some of the other ranges in Big Finish’s catalogue.  The production value on this set rises to the challenge of the first, most certainly matching, if not exceeding it.  The inclusion of a race that had previously been used in a different range with a different doctor is an appreciated touch, as the aforementioned race (the Voord) have now made a full cast appearance to add weight to their characterisation.  In fact, the casting of all four adventures has been well thought out, allowing all the characters to develop their own personalities and presence in the worlds they inhabit.

 

If you enjoyed the first Doom Coalition set, I’d say you’re definitely in for an entertaining ride with this continuation.  The summaries of the second and third stories in this set were deliberately written in a slightly vague manner, so as to not spoil any potentially crucial plot points revealed within those pieces of the overall puzzle.  If you haven’t listened to the first Doom Coalition box set, these adventures might stand on their own, but as there is a possibility you might be confused at The Eleven’s introduction, I’d suggest you buy both Doom Coalition 1 and 2 and see where you stand from there.  I am, to say the least, curious to see just how far Big Finish can push this run’s cinematic storytelling and the inclusion of River Song as a character, as she seems to fit right in where she has been included so far.