The Star Men (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 13 February 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Star Men (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Andrew Smith

Directed by Barnaby Edwards

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Sue Holderness (Kala Tace), Sophie Wu (Autumn Tace), Peter Guinness (Rovus), Damian Lynch (Fell/Lom), Kris Dyer (Nomar/Vedrin / Surgical Robot/ Pilot), Barnaby Edwards (Computer).

Big Finish Productions - Released January 2017

Big Finish’s first trilogy of main range releases for 2017 gets off to a flying start with this enjoyable entry from stalwart Andrew Smith. After the critical success of 2014’s The Fifth Doctor Box Set, it was only a matter of time before Big Finish persuaded Matthew Waterhouse to reprise the role of Adric once again and so this story sees his debut in the main Fifth Doctor range. Once the usual season 19 checklist is ticked off (Adric learning how to fly the TARDIS in the opening scene, an obligatory line for Tegan about them not yet reached Heathrow during which you can almost sense Janet Fielding’s eyes rolling as she says it), the Doctor and his companions find themselves on the Gallius U space station at a pivotal moment in the history of space exploration. The typical scenario of the TARDIS crew being mistaken for stowaways is quickly bypassed as Adric is given the first of several hero moments in this story (presumably this was incident which led to an interesting exchange on twitter between Waterhouse and Fielding last year).

The team are sensibly split up with Adric and Nyssa remaining on the Gallius U whilst the Doctor and Tegan head off to explore the mysterious goings on in the Large Magellenic Cloud (a nice touch to include a genuine astronomical phenomenon) which leads to the first direct encounter with the eponymous Star Men, led with menacing example by the excellent Peter Guinness as their ruler Rovus. There is further strong cast support from Sue Holderness as Kala Trace and Sophie Wu as her daughter Autumn, who proves to be something of a potential love interest for Adric. Knowing that fate has another path in store for our favourite Alzarian the audience is kept guessing as to how the story will resolve itself. Although it is to be hope that the remaining stories in this trilogy will resist the urge to continuously foreshadow that fate. Whilst Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are on their usual great form as the Doctor and Nyssa, this particular story belongs most to Tegan and Adric. The only mild criticism this reviewer can think of is the author’s occasional over use of the phrase “lead on” which brought to mind some of the author’s previous plays at inopportune moments.

Overall though, this play sets a high bar for the remaining plays in this trilogy to match up to and certainly left this reviewer looking forward to this TARDIS crew’s next adventure which will see them return to Victorian London for a visit to The Contingency Club.

 

The Star Men is available now from Big Finish and on general release from February 28th 2017



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Short Trips - Rulebook (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 28 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Rulebook (Credit: Big Finish / Anthony Lamb)

Producer & Script Editor: Ian Atkins

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Tony Jones

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast: Nicola Bryant (Narrator)

After helping save Beadledom 3, and it’s inhabitants the Ellani from an invasion by the Valtor, a cybernetic race, the Doctor and Peri find themselves on Beadledom 3 caught up in a mind boggling loop of continuous red tape, forms to complete, rules, then more rules and cheerfully mindless local authorities to contend with. The Ellani are a race whose society is totally dependent on the rules, they literally have rules for everything. Our two heroes are separated from the TARDIS, and as the story progresses, it looks less and less likely that they will be reunited….

We have all had jobs, or found ourselves in situations where we have been stuck in some awfully pathetic and petty internal issue where one department is quoting one rule at you and another doing the same, and there you are, feeling very frustrated and caught in the middle, exasperated, and not knowing which way to turn. That is the basis of Rulebook. You feel for the Doctor and Peri, especially when the rules are manipulated in the Ellani’s favour when it suits them in order to settle a local dispute.

Toby Jones brilliantly paints a picture of a society that knows nothing of spontaneity. The listener can really relate to the Doctor and Peri’s plight, and share their frustration. Of course, scratch the surface, and the story is a satire on our own world today, somewhere where risk has been removed, and if something goes wrong – well it is always someone else’s fault – the rules say so.

Nicola Bryantis a true joy to listen to, you can really feel the frustration in her voice when she is voicing the straight talking American Peri. Counter this with the monotonously calm and cheerful Ellani, and the contrast is perfect. I also thought that it was great to hear a new adventure with this Doctor and companion pairing. Although Big Finish have done the Fifth Doctor and Peri proud, I still feel the pairing as being a tad underused on television. When I think of the character of Peri, I always put her in the TARDIS with Colin Bakers doctor. I loved a chance to hark back to an era on television that seemed wrongly abrupt.

Rulebook is an easy listen, from a brilliant new writer, the story is available now from Big Finish.





The Memory Bank and Other Stories (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 17 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Memory Bank and Other Stories (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Chris Chapman, Paul Magrs, Eddie Robson,
and Ian Potter

Directed by Helen Goldwyn

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Mark Strickson (Turlough),Suzann McLean(Max/Autumn Voice), Ian Brooker (Archivist/Computer/Elder), Sarah Sweeney (Diamon/Lara) Mandi Symonds(Alitha/Inspector Jill Sveinsbottir) Duncan Wisbey (Grayling Frimlish/Shiri/Zounds),Kae Alexander (Waywalker)

Big Finish Productions – Released October 2016

This year’s anthology release of four single-episode stories featuresPeter Davison and Mark Strickson on great form as the Fifth Doctor and Turlough in a collection which following in a now annual tradition does not disappoint. Largely due, one assumes, to Strickson’s limited availability and the decision to use Turlough in a long-running arc which also involved Tegan and Nyssa and only concluded in March 2015 with The Entropy Plague, this is the only the fourth release in the Big Finish main range to feature this particular pairing and the first in over a decade since 2005’s Singularity. The continuity gap in the between Tegan’s departure in Resurrection of the Daleks and Turlough’s exit in the following televised adventure Planet of Fire remains ripe for exploitation making this team an excellent choice for this anthology. It is also a joy for those who listen to the behind the scenes tracks, to discover that the director for this collection is long-time Big Finish regular Helen Goldwyn, best known as an actress whose numerous credits included series regular Elena in the much-missed audio series of The Tomorrow People.

The Memory Bank by Chris Chapman plays with the concept of lost memory and why memories are important, a theme which loosely recurs throughout this anthology. This is a strong start to the set with good supporting performances from Suzann McLean as Max and Ian Brooker as both the Archivist and Archive computer voice.

The Last Fairy Tale has a typical feel of a Paul Magrs story which sees the Doctor and Turlough arrive in a medieval European town awaiting a storyteller for whom, naturally, the Doctor is quickly mistaken. This enjoyable tale clearly evokes the importance of storytelling as a way of preserving memory and again is well-supported, especially byDuncan Wisbey as Frimlish.

Repeat Offender by Eddie Robson is the highlight of the set with a cleverly evoked futuristic setting of 22nd Century Reykjavik which feels as if it’s not as far away from our own world as we might like with its erosion of civil liberties. There are some neat twists which will keep the listener guessing and some strong central performances by Mandi Symonds as Inspector Jill Sveinsbottir and (for some reason uncredited except by mention in the extras tracks) Sarah Sweeney as Lara. It is also good to be reminded that Turlough has an occasional darker side which Strickson really plays up to.

The Becoming by Ian Potter is for the most part a three-hander in which the Doctor and Turlough encounter the enigmatic Waywalker, played in an excellent debut performance by Kae Alexander. The theme at the heart of this story is the rivalry between the preservation of traditions against the necessity to adapt and survive with Turlough’s interaction with Waywalker proving to be an unexpected catalyst for change.

Overall, this is a strong collection of very different stories yet with similar themes relating to the importance of memory. Unlike previous anthologies such as You are the Doctor and Other Stories where there was a clear arc running through, there is no direct link between these four tales, however the conclusion of the final episode still provides a satisfying feeling of the circle having been squared. Once again, this collection proves to be one of the best releases of the year so far and on this form it is to be expected that the annual anthology release will remain a regular feature of Big Finish’s Doctor Who main range for many years to come.

 

The Memory Bank and Other Stories is available now directly from Big Finish and on general release from 30th November 2016.



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Short Trips - A Full Life (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Full Life (Credit: Big Finish / Anthony Lamb)

Producer Ian Atkins. Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and
Nicholas Briggs
Written By: Joseph Lidster. Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast - Matthew Waterhouse (Narrator)

A Full Life is an interesting, and very thought provoking listen. It is essentially a ‘what if’ sort of story that veers off after a known ‘event’ into a parallel universe, that in the end, finds Adric an old man with grandchildren.
 
Written by Joseph Lidster, and narrated by Matthew Waterhouse, it starts quite jarringly with someone flicking backwards and forwards on a tape player, the sound of the clicking and fast forwarding ringing loud in your ear. An older Adric is relaying the action, which for very obvious reasons grabs the listener's attention from the start. What the older Adric is disclosing is essentially the story of Adric’s life, starting of course on Alzareus with the loss of his parents, then mist-fall, and the the Marshmen, and  later of course the tragic death of his brother Vash. We follow as Adric then stows away on the TARDIS (so far, still so familiar), and of finding himself on a planet where vampires are real. As his adventures progress we hear about Adric slowly forming a meaningful relationship with the Doctor and Romana, a feeling that he actually belonged somewhere once again. It’s not only quite nostalgic that the story mentions moments that we have seen, but also very interesting the mentions of adventures between those that we know. How the Doctor, Romana K9 and Adric have become a force to be reckoned with for the monsters and megalomaniacs of E-Space, whilst all the time hunting for the elusive CVE that would take The Doctor and Romana back to their own universe.
 
Suddenly, and rather jarringly there is a mention of the planet Veridis, and the tape is abruptly wound backwards for the first time. We rejoin the narration when the TARDIS first lands on Veridis, our trio (K9 is left in the TARDIS because of the rain) soon manage to thwart a young girls murder, and stumble upon a rather horrific secret.
 
A Full Life is about death as much as it is life, probably more so in fact. Oh - and resurrection, there is a lot of resurrection. I couldn't help but grin when I heard a classic reference to Frankenstein (and, of course the Paul McGann TV movie). The story asks the age old question of - if we could bring a loved one back from the dead, who would it be? And then where would we stop after that, who else would we bring back? What if we didn't have to stop? It also asks that once a power and responsibility of bringing the dead to life is removed - what is next? How does a world acclimatise to suddenly having to lose their loved ones for real?
 
For a seemingly unassuming forty five minute audio, A Full Life packs a real emotional punch, and when the skew in the established timeline happens (and believe me - it's a doozy!) the listener discovers what consequences this has to Adric. What would happen if he were allowed to live on Veridis, to fall in love and build a family. Oh – and there is even a clever cliff-hanger in there, where the tape that we are listening to ends and needs to be 'turned over'. You can hear the listener trying to clumsily ram the cassette back into the player as quickly as he can, and then fumble the buttons before the story resumes - something that is perfectly simple, yet very effective.
 
My only slight gripe with this release is the actual narration. I need to say that I am not an Adric 'hater'. When he was introduced to Who back in the day he was a very similar age to what I was at the time, meaning that I felt a real connection with the character. I'd go so far as to say I still find him endearing to this day. He was from a period of time when the TARDIS was a busy place, a time I REALLY enjoyed. Plus of course he was one of the few companions to be killed off. The thought of that crumbled gold star for mathematical excellence, on a black backdrop, while the credits roll silently still makes me feel misty eyed right now. Well I might be exaggerating a bit. A lot. Probably. Anyway, the narration. i felt that Matthew Waterhouse threw himself into some of the reading a little too much. Sometimes sounding a little desperate. This was only occasionally, and when it happened, it was mostly when he was trying to voice either the Doctor or Romana. Let me stress though that this is a very minor moan. It did nothing to quell my enjoyment of the story.
 
A Full Life is the first of the Short Trips that i have listened to. I'd definitely be back again. A Full Life is available from Big Finish.




Short Trips: Series 6 #1-3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen

Gardens of the Dead (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Gardens of the Dead
Written by Jenny T Colgan, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Mark Strickson
Released January 2016

 

Seeing Jenny T Colgan’s name on a by-line associated with a Doctor Who story usually indicates that the listener is in for a treat and Gardens of the Dead is certainly no exception to this rule. The story is told entirely from the point of view of Turlough as so it is doubly a treat that Mark Strickson is on hand to narrate it. He gives some spot on impersonations of the other characters especially Tegan and the Doctor and it really feels as if it Turlough telling the story from the way Colgan has captured his personality. Another nice touch is that the story is set shortly after Turlough’s arrival in Mawdryn Undead and so he is still under the influence of the Black Guardian and we get to enjoy Strickson impersonating the late Valentine Dyall. The story centres on Turlough building a relationship with and eventually coming to the rescue of Nyssa who finds herself falling foul of a sinister influence in the eponymous gardens. However, the conclusion of the story then disappoints as it references Nyssa’s departure in the television story Terminus a short time later but doesn’t make any reference to the various audio adventures set post-Enlightenment which Turlough would go on to share with Nyssa. Despite losing points for overlooking a significant development of the Big Finish continuity universe, this remains an extremely well-written story and is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

Prime Winner (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Prime Winner
Written by Nigel Fairs, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Nicola Bryant
Released February 2016

 

This slightly odd story from the usually excellent Nigel Fairs is something of a curate’s egg. It finds the Doctor and Peri arriving on a space cruiser with an on-board casino where one of the players seems to having an extremely lucky day. The more curious aspect is that the gambler at the centre of the story apparently bears a strong resemblance to Peri’s step-father Howard. It is perhaps because this story seems to feature the more fractious season 22 relationship between the Sixth Doctor and Peri that this reviewer found the story didn’t gel as well as it might have although the relationship does show a hint of softening towards the end of the story. Also, there are a lot of continuity heavy references as a result of the appearance of ‘Howard’ including mentions of the Master and Kamelion as well as Necros mourning colours. This 42-minute story seems to become a little confused around the midway point when it takes on a rather repetitive Groundhog Day aspect but eventually reaches a satisfactory conclusion. The only disappointment is the slightly dismissive explanation for the central character’s resemblance to Howard, which ultimately serves to set up a final continuity punchline which unfortunately feels rather forced. Nicola Bryant gives a good reading and it will hopefully get to read some stronger stories in future.

Washington Burns (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)Washington Burns
Written by Julian Richards, directed by Lisa Bowerman, narrated by Sophie Aldred
Released March 2016

This enjoyable short story from Julian Richards opens in July 1814 when the city of Washington was under siege from the British with the rather shocking revelation that Ace has just accidentally shot and killed a horse. It then becomes apparent that we are starting the story in the middle as the action moves back several weeks from Ace’s point of view to Washington in the 22nd century where she and the Doctor are on the trail of a mind parasite known as Cerebra which spreads through transmission of the written word. This is not an entirely novel concept and will call long time Big Finish listeners to mind of the Word Lord but still the threat is well realised within the confines of a single person narrative. There is an initial confrontation between the Doctor and Ace and the parasite’s commanding host body before it manages to escape into a time corridor. The action then moves forward, or rather back, to Ace’s present where it becomes apparent that the Doctor has cleverly infiltrated the British army to ensure that any books in which Cerebra might be hiding are destroyed. The story reaches a sinister conclusion with the suggestion that the parasite may yet have survived but there is at very least a strong suggestion that there is a bootstrap paradox which will result in Cerebra’s presence in the Washington of the future. Overall, aside from the slight misfire of the opening scene, this is one of the strongest and at only just over 30 minutes in more compact stories of the range and all the better for not outstaying its welcome. Definitely a worthwhile listen.





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 Phil Mulryne’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.

 








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