The Kamelion Empire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 15 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Kamelion Empire (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Johnathan Morris Directed By: Ken Bentley

Starring: Peter Davison, Mark Strictson, Janet Fielding, John Culshaw and Christopher Naylor)

The Kamelion Empire is the final story in this year’s first main range trilogy, the stories thus far having shed the light on the oft-forgotten android companion with a pathos rarely seen. This final adventure had a lot to live up to, with the opening story Devil in the Mist being an intriguing tale that utilised aspects of Kamelions character only briefly touched upon in his two television adventures. The next; Black Thursday/Power Game was a particularly bleak and gut-wrenching opening story followed by a fun and zany finale. The Kamelion Empire has, even more, to live up to than these previous adventures, taking us right back to Kamelion’s homeworld and detailing the origins of the android and a dark secret or two…

It’s impossible to talk about this story without first confessing that it is, phenomenal. Johnathan Morris’s script truly is a work of genius and after a rather slow and creepy opening, he takes you to numerous locations (utilising the audio medium to it’s fullest), paints fantastic vistas and all the while manages to fix a continuity gaff or two. What’s more, this all seems to flow naturally and the shifts in setting never come across as jarring but each time add a surprising and exciting angle to the story. He also manages to give Kamelion some of the best material yet (which really is saying something given the strength of the scripts by Jamie Anderson, Eddie Robson and Cavan Scott) and I defy anyone to argue that the metal man lacks character after listening to this. Indeed, despite having never been a fan of robots on the Tardis team (sorry K9 fans) I can happily state that due to the interesting material given to the character, Kamelion has shot up in my estimations and I would love to see him given more stories at Big Finish.

A huge aspect of this has been the phenomenal work done by John Culshaw in portraying Kamelion. In this tale, in particular, he has to portray a range of emotions in a single monotone, which he seems to be able to do effortlessly. Indeed the ‘scream’ emitted by Kamelion in moments of distress is a particularly harrowing piece of voice work and one which managed to make me squirm every time it was emitted. It’s great to see Culshaw managing to bring a succession of classic ‘who’ characters to the audio medium and I look forward to how he portrays the brigadier later in the year.

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strictson all shine as usual. Throughout this trilogy, I’ve given particular attention to Janet Fielding, due to the heavy amount of attention paid by the writers to Tegan’s feelings about Kamelion. Here, she is once again phenomenal and manages to bring her and Kamelion’s story to an effective close- without leaving any emotional continuity gaps or having it seem out of place. Strictson also gets to play his more comic side in this story which I particularly enjoyed, as I often find it to be one of his strengths. Contrasting this, Davison is allowed to explore the darker side of the Doctor, particularly his disgust at some of the things discovered about the Kamelion empire, and it’s a side I always love seeing.

Christopher Naylor makes a chillingly effective villain and his rasping, evil laughter is particularly chilling. Admittedly, some of his dialogue does amount to typical ‘Doctor who villain’ lines which is a pity given the man’s many talents. However, the real horror of this villain comes from his background and relationship to Kamelion and so the character is still effective enough.

The Kamelion Empire and the trilogy as a whole, cannot be claimed to be anything else but a triumph and an excellent start to Big Finish’s anniversary year. Indeed, what makes it such a perfect start is it highlights Big Finish’s ability to take aspects of the whoniverse and explore them in thought-out and thought-provoking ways. The care and attention that has been put into these stories is evident from the first and I can’t wait to see what the main range brings us next.






Black Thursday/Power Game (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Black Thursday / Power Game (Credit: Big Finsh)
 
 Director: Ken Bentley

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

 

First Released February 2019

Running Time: 2 hours

The fifth doctor’s Khameleon trilogy continues with the now almost traditional set of two-parters, Black Thursday and Power Game. Like the previous story, both of these are centred either on or around Khamelion, using him both as a plot point whilst fleshing his character out.

Black Thursday opens the set and is easily the crowning jewel of the two. Taking place in a small Welsh mining village on the brink of disaster, the story is a hard-hitting one that is incredibly layered and nuanced for something that runs half the time of a standard release. Jamie Anderson manages to explore Khamelion’s character within this context in a way that gives the android a whole other level of depth and character, giving him some wonderful emotional moments, which John Culshaw perfectly captures.

Indeed Culshaw’s performance is something that I feel cannot be given enough praise. Kamelion is a character cursed with a fairly unemotive voice and also a lack of any real character (at least until this trilogy). The challenge must of seemed immense, trying to bring a level of depth and emotion to a character whose persona is established and lacking in many opportunities to do that. Culshaw uses the iteration of every word to his advantage and he’s helped by a stellar sound design that uses garbled computer sounds in a way that can be interpreted as cries of anguish from the metal man.

The second story; Power Game does suffer from following such a strong opener but it’s also somewhat unfair to compare them as they are VERY different beasts. Whereas Black Thursday took a real historical tragedy, set it in a fictional setting and treat it with heart and emotion- Power Game is more of a traditional romp. Perhaps that at first seems like a negative but honestly, after the previous adventure, a romp was an exactly what I needed! This is a fun story that is attempting to do just that. Sprinkle in a little bit of satire and you have an incredibly enjoyable ride. Eddie Robson has once again managed to create a wonderful adventure and has proven himself a writer with an immense amount of talent.

The Tardis crew respond well to this situation, perhaps enjoying a lighter break after the aforementioned darkness of Black Thursday. Janet Fielding, in particular, seems to be having a whale of a time and it’s nice to see the funnier side of her character. Fielding has incredible comic timing and I always appreciate when Big Finish takes advantage of this, utilising the more humorous elements of her character. I feel sometimes Tegan is used just to moan and complain and it always seems unfortunate when there’s a multitude of character traits to be mined and utilised. It’s wonderful that Big Finish is continuing to give this character the recognition she deserves.

Davison and Strictson both give admirable performances, though the latter seems to be given deridingly less to do compared to the previous release. Culshaw is in this story deridingly little but the manner in which Kamelion is used despite him not being there is inventive and further shows Robson’s imagination.

All in all, this is a wonderful collection of stories in what is proving to be a stellar year for the main range.






The Caves of Androzani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 5 March 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Caves of Androzani  (Credit: BBC)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Peter Davison

Released by BBC Worldwide - November 2018
Available from Amazon UK

The Caves of Androzani is not only my favourite Peter Davison story, it is not only among the top of my regeneration story lists, but it is definitely my favourite story from the entire 1980s.  So much of that decade had iffy scripts, were still stiffly directed like it was 1965 and were overly lit studio episodes.  Anytime they would leave the studio it becomes a relief because suddenly everything is lit so naturally.  But then there is The Caves of Androzani, a story which mostly takes place in dark caves, and is directed with a modern pace with the camera movement feeling free once.  And then there is Davison giving the performance of his life in his final moments as the Doctor.  I just love the serial, I think it is excellent.  But what if you strip away Davison's fiery performance?  What if the directing and lighting that I admire are taken out of the equation? 

Peter Davison reads this audiobook of the Target Novelization from the 80s, and while certain elements aren't nearly as exciting as their television counterparts (the crash landing cliffhanger from Episode 3 is one of my favourite moments in the whole of the classic show, and a lot of the umph is sucked out of it in this reading), I think I appreciated the base story elements better in this.  For example, I sometimes forget that this story is so simple.  It could be any random adventure for the Doctor...he lands on a planet, finds there is two factions warring over a rare medicine, there are androids and cave monsters, and the Doctor and his friend get captured by each faction have to figure out a way to save their own skin while possibly helping fix this society's ills. 

It is a fairly standard Doctor Who story...but what sets it apart is that all those elements aren't actually what the story is about in any way.  Our heroes step out of the TARDIS and almost immediately touch an odd plant, which immediately poisons them. The entire story has the Doctor and Peri dying from the word go, and all of those fairly average story bits that might otherwise be the focus of the story, merely become obstacles in the way of the Doctor finding an antidote in time.  The Doctor doesn't try to find a way to sort out the fighting, he doesn't solve any issues with cave monsters or help find an alternative for this rare drug that is being battled over...no beyond the two main leaders of the faction killing each other, the problems of Androzani aren't really solved in the end.  Because the Doctor is actually just too damn busy trying to save his friend.  And that is what sets this story apart.  

We've become accustomed to regeneration stories that are big sweeping epics...the Doctor against a horde of Daleks, with Earth in the balance!  The entire universe will be destroyed by the Master, but the Doctor will give his life to stop him and make a grand farewell speech before he finally changes into a brand new actor.  But for as much fun as those can be, sometimes it takes dialling it back a bit.  Focus in on a more personal story, and the regeneration can be just as, if not more, powerful.  The Doctor doesn't have to save the galaxy for his death to have meaning, sometimes he can just save his friend.  

This audiobook was read with enthusiasm from Peter Davison, who has long professed that his final outing was his favourite of his tenure.  Terrence Dicks novelization of the original Robert Holmes script is quite good, and it let me focus in on different details that I've sometimes glossed over when I think of this story. If you are a fan of the original story, and we all know you are...check out this audiobook, it added to my already high enjoyment of the original television adventure.

 





Devil in the Mist (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 1 March 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Devil In The Mist (Credit: Big Finish)
T

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: January 2019

Running Time: 2 hours

Devil in the Mist is the opening story for the main range this year and the fifth Doctors trilogy, or should that be Kamelion’s trilogy. Yes, after many years Big Finish has taken the bold step of filling in one of the largest gaps in Doctor Who continuity, namely where the hell was Kamelion during his time on the Tardis? Of course, we all know that Kamelion spent most of his time in a cupboard due to the issues with the cumbersome prop, a problem that audio can very easily solve. Simply bringing Kamelion back however would perhaps be too simple and Devil in the Mist utilises the brief bit of information we have concerning his character (obtained from the Kings Demons and Planet of Fire) and creates a wonderfully rich story that exploits these aspects and explores several new ones.

Cavan Scott’s story follows the Tardis team as they land on a prison ship- with just one prisoner. Nustanu (Simon Slater) last warlord of the Zamglitti, is able to transform himself into mist and is currently the prisoner of Hippo like Orma (Anjella Mackintosh) and Rako (John Voce). He isn’t kept a prisoner for long though, as the ship soon makes a crash landing and our heroes soon find themselves fighting for survival on a savage planet…

The premise of Scott’s story seems, on the surface, relatively simple but as it progresses it rewards the listener with a number of genuinely startling revelations and some of the best character work from a Fifth Doctor story in recent years. Each and every character is given something interesting to work with, either calling up something from their past or putting them in a new and compromising position. This makes the threat seem very real and resulted in an incredibly tense survival story. Scott’s genius fully reveals itself however when several unforeseen and surprising twists are made that explore further aspects of our main characters and cause the listener to reflect on, with fresh eyes, on the previous episodes.

The cast all respond to this rich material admirably. Stepping into the Robots metallic shoes is Jon Culshaw whose already proved himself able to mimic a number of Doctor Who characters and does an excellent job capturing the enigmatic android's voice. It would be incredibly easy to make Kamleion something of a flat and dull character but Culshaw manages to make him wholly sympathetic whilst still leaving him (as is appropriate) not wholly trustworthy. The regular Tardis team are all excellent as usual, with Davison, in particular, getting some real moments to shine. Mackintosh and Voce as the two Hippo-like warriors concerned me at the start as I thought they would fall victim to the comic-alien supporting characters that the main range seems so fond of recently, but honestly leave me rather cold. Scott’s writing, however, makes sure that they remain fully formed throughout and never become simple comic characters. He utilises the differences between their culture and ours to further expand both and although we may not agree with the decisions they make, we always understand why they make them.

The savage planet is brought to startling life by the wonderful sound design of Andy Hardwick, who must have had immense fun creating the various sounds of the creatures on the planet. His score is also incredibly rich and wonderful, some listeners who prefer more ‘era-appropriate’ music may not like the violins and rich layered pieces he provides, but honestly, to me it worked far better than any synth-based score would have.

Devil in the Mist sets a high standard for the rest of this year's main range, not to mention the other two stories within the Kamelion trilogy. A triumph.






Mawdryn Undead (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 1 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Peter Grimwade
Read By David Collings

Released by BBC Worldwide - July 2018
Available from Amazon UK 

I've always rather liked Season 20's Black Guardian Trilogy...not necessarily because of the Black Guardian, but I felt each story was rather good in spite of their interconnected storyline. In actuality, Mawdryn Undead was probably my least favorite of the three, though in this new audiobook context, I found I enjoyed the story better.  I'm sure the ugly design of Mawdryn and the lame 80s flashy redesign of the Black Guardian hurt my enjoyment, so maybe having those taken out of the equation helped my enjoyment factor just a bit. 

The story doesn't have too much meat on it, but I did find elements of the story were better presented in book form.  I felt I had a better grasp on Turlough as a character then I ever really did throughout the show, particularly in his early days as a pawn of the Guardian. We get more in depth as to what drives him, and how he feels about the whole deal he struck with the Guardian.  That is the kind of stuff a novel can do better than a TV series, particularly a series of this era.  On the show, Turlough seemed like a slightly conflicted jerk who I warmed up to after the Guardian left the picture.  In this book, I like him earlier on, because I felt he his conflict is better explored. 

The storyline with the two Brigadiers and the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, and the wacky time travel mechanics are pretty interesting, and feel like a precursor to the eventual Moffat/Smith Era of the show.  I still think that this stuff could have been better expanded upon, but the book gets into the gritty of it better than the show did.  Or my memory of the original TV version is just fuzzy.  I remember being slightly underwhelmed by this when watching it, but it has been so long since I have, it could just be that I am misremembering the whole thing.

The audiobook is nicely read by David Collings, and while unabridged only runs about 4 hours.  Easy listening for Classic Who fans.  Not the best story of the show's long history, but fans can not complain about this presentation. 





Land of the Blind (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 19 July 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Land of the Blind (Credit: Panini)
Written by Dan Abnett, Gareth Roberts, Nick Briggs, Kate Orman, Scott Gray
Artwork by Colin Andrew, Enid Orc, Martin Geraghty, Barrie Mitchell, Lee Sullivan
Paperback: 132 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Available from Amazon UK

In the mid-90s, with Doctor Who off the air for a few years and showing no signs of returning, Doctor Who Magazine Editor Gary Russell tired of the comic strip playing second fiddle to the Seventh Doctor novel series, and decided it was time to change it up. Instead of continuing to have confusing continuities with a book series that possibly not all readers were reading, he decided that the Comic Strip should forge it's own path.  The first step to that was to stop the Seventh Doctor adventures in the strip. This was a bold move, because up to that point the Doctor Who Magazine strip had been pretty much running continuously in a variety of publications, but had always featured the most recent Doctor. Instead, the long running strip would now focus on different Doctor adventures.  Land of the Blind is a collection of the first batch of these comics, and features a story each for the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors.

The book opens with the Fourth Doctor story "Victims," which has the Doctor and Romana thwart a plot to take down the Human Empire via beauty products on a Fashionista Planet.  The story here is okay, and the art is pretty bad, but there is a bit of charm to the premise...it is just rushed.  We then move forward the Fifth Doctor who has an adventure on the Moon with some evil Space Cows.  That is just the kind of bonkers premise I like in Doctor Who, particularly in comic form.  Following from there we venture back to the First Doctor with Ben and Polly, in which they battle a giant slug that is eating cryogenically frozen people or something.  It is fast paced and hollow, with little substance. It also doesn't really capture the tone of those early 60s stories.

The next stop is the Third Doctor, who is reunited with his first companion Liz Shaw as they stop a Professor who is using psychokinetic powers to kill his perceived adversaries. This story captures the tone of the Third Doctor era pretty well, and tries to give more detail to the offscreen exit of Liz Shaw from the TV series, which is nice.  The final two stories both feature the Second Doctor.  First up is the titular Land of the Blind and has the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe save a spaceport from some alien overlords who have trapped them there for decades. This is a pretty good story, with a good script and good art.  The last story in the volume is a one-off from a a Doctor Who Magazine special, called "Bringer of Darkness" which is told from the perspective of Second Doctor companion Victoria Waterfield, as she explains of an adventure with the Daleks that made her realize that her time with the Doctor was going to need to end soon.  It is a short but solid piece, with some good character development, including some stuff about the Doctor that surprisingly has paid off in the years to come.

While not the most cohesive period, for the strip, it is an interesting one.  There may not be a uniting factor behind all of the stories, whether that be a single Writer or Artist, or even a continuing plot thread.  But it does have some fun random adventures for these past Doctors. They are all pretty short and light, but that isn't always a bad thing.  Only a few feel like they rush to the finish line. I think this was sort of a lost period for the strip.  The Seventh Doctor had run his course, especially with all the Novel Continuity clogging up the works, and they didn't really find their voice again until the Eighth Doctor would finally launch as the star of the strip. So here is this weird little period, where they are trying to figure out their voice again, and they didn't even really have a regular Doctor starring.  As a bit of a novelty, this volume collects together some interesting stuff.  It may not be the best collection they have put together, but I still enjoy reading these old black and white strips.