The Helliax Rift (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Helliax Rift (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Scott Handcock
Director: Jamie Anderson

Featuring: Peter Davison :Blake Harrison :
Russ Bain :Genevieve Gaunt

Big Finish Productions - First Released April 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours Approx
Available on General Release from 31st May 2018

Big Finish are ringing the changes with the main range as it nears its twentieth anniversary next year. To start this off their fourth release for 2018 see them break with the tradition of trilogies of consecutive releases featuring the same Doctor and companion team. Instead, Peter Davison returns as the Fifth Doctor, this time travelling alone for what at first glance appears to be a standalone adventure. The Helliax Rift, from the pen of writer and sometime producer/director Scott Handcock introduces a new 1980s UNIT team headed by Russ Bain as Lieutenant Colonel Price, assisted byGenevieve Gaunt as Corporal Maxwell and Acting medical officer Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, played by former Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison, a genuine casting coup for Big Finish.

The story opens with the Doctor already in situ tracking an alien signal which in transpires has also come to UNIT’s attention. This sets up a humorous encounter which references Peter Davison’s other famous role as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Before long UNIT have captured their errant scientific advisor who quickly falls foul of Colonel Price’s impatience. He does however form an easier relationship with Harrison’s Daniel Hopkins, a likeable character very much in the mould of Harry Sullivan (who naturally is name-dropped) who slips very quickly into the companion role for this story. The other new UNIT characters Price and his comms officer Linda Maxwell are also well written characters and will hopefully have more interaction in their next appearance. Russ Bain’s Colonel Price is certainly far from being the new Brigadier in terms of likeability, especially during the play’s conclusion. Time will tell as to whether his relationship with the Doctor improves in future encounters, although one imagines the Doctor’s next incarnation will be even less likely to relate him.

The new UNIT team are joined for this story by an interesting pair of alien researchers played by Deborah Thomas and Anna Louise Plowman. There is additional support from Big Finish regulars Robbie Stevens and Jacob Dudman, the latter portraying a key role in the concluding act of the play. One does occasionally wish they would get someone less instantly recognisable than the play’s author to provide the voice of a lift.

As ever, there is evocative sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian, with some great 80s style music cues from Kraemer. After a rather mixed start to the year featuring the season 19 TARDIS team, this enjoyable story sees the main range very much back on track. This reviewer will be very much anticipating the return of the new 80s UNIT team for July’s Hour of the Cybermen, featuring some other very special guests.

As for the Fifth Doctor, “…now it’s time to take a bow like all your other selves…” but he will no doubt return at an as-yet to be confirmed date either later this year or early in 2019. In the meantime, our next few monthly adventures will see the welcome return of the Sixth Doctor for three seemingly unconnected adventures, beginning in May with the arrival of a possible new companion in The Lure of the Nomad.





Serpent in the Silver Mask (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen

Serpent In The Silver Mask (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: David Llewellyn
Director:Barnaby Edwards

 Featuring: Peter DavisonMatthew Waterhouse:
 Sarah SuttonJanet FieldingSamuel West:
 Phil CornwellSophie Winkleman:

Big Finish Productions - First Released March 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours Approx
Available on General Release from 30th April 2018

 

The latest trilogy of adventures for the Season 19 TARDIS crew concludes with a whodunnit from David Llewellyn which brings the four travellers to space tax haven called Argentia. The story borrows its main gimmick from the 1949 classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets with the excellent Samuel West playing a number of members of the Mazzini Family, one of whom appears to be prepared to kill to obtain a significant inheritance. Unlike its Ealing Comedy predecessor, Serpent in the Silver Mask keeps the identity of the murderer behind the silver mask a secret until the play’s closing act. This gives the story much more the feeling of an Agatha Christie style mystery as the number of victims grow and the pool of suspects dwindles.

Peter Davison’s Doctor fits naturally into the role of detective, even to the point where he delights in keeping everyone in the dark until the killer’s identity is finally revealed. As ever they are ably assisted by Matthew Waterhouse's Adric and Sarah Sutton's Nyssa. Janet Fielding as Tegan has an enjoyable arc through this story as she develops a friendship with Joe Mazzini. Samuel West clearly has a ball playing the various Mazzini family members, with his flirting with the Doctor being a particular highlight. The cast are also ably supported by Sophie Winkleman as Sofia alongside Phil Cornwell as Superintendent Galgo and the robot Zaleb 5.

Unlike the average whodunnit the conclusion has an enjoyable twist. As ever there is excellent music and sound design, this time from Andy Hardwick.

After a couple of rather standard entries, this is a definite return to form for the main range. However, from the next release onwards, it seems Big Finish are about to mix things up a bit and move away from trilogies of consecutive releases featuring the same TARDIS teams which has been a regular pattern for the last ten years or so. After nearly twenty years it will good to see some new ideas coming into the main range which has been in danger of growing predictable. To start this off, the Fifth Doctor returns for a fourth consecutive release, but this time without any of his regular companions in The Helliax Rift.





Ghost Walk (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ghost Walk (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Fenella Woolgar (Leanne), Sacha Dhawan (Matthew), Stephen Greif (Sabaoth), Carolyn Seymour (Mrs Stubbs), Philip Childs (Giles), John Banks (Louie), Rebecca Tromans (Nancy). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Guy Adams
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

This is an interesting new Fifth Doctor audio from Big Finish, which bounces around time and features a ghostly entity as the main antagonist.  The story is fun to piece together, as you have to wait for certain pieces before the whole picture becomes clear, but it is fairly satisfying when it all comes together in the end.  

The Doctor, along with Nyssa, Tegan and Adric land in some catacombs, but there they discover there is an entity that feeds off of their energy, and there is no real escape from the tunnels.  So the Doctor attempts to send his companions forward in time, in the hopes that they will remain safe while he concocts a plan to save himself.  While Adric and Nyssa end up in separate eras in which they are faced with the possibility of death...Tegan tries to stay behind with the Doctor. We end up following four stories in four different eras.  

So you've got the Doctor and Tegan trying to figure out a plan to defeat the entity in the catacombs, Nyssa having to prove she is not a witch to some villagers, Adric facing a hanging for stealing some bread, and in a more modern era, you have the Guide of a Ghost tour who is hearing a voice in her head...the apparent ghost of the Doctor talking to her.  

For all these different elements and different eras, as well as storylines that leave you hanging for whole episodes before being resolved, you'd think this story could be a lot messier and less entertaining...but it is a really tight script from James Goss, and Barnaby Edwards direction is really great. It has a good spooky atmosphere, good performances from the whole cast (even our main cast actually sounds closer to their 80s voices than they did in their last entry), a really unique story, even the music sounds like the 80s scores...it is just a lot of fun. Definitely recommended.   





Kingdom of Lies (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 21 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Kingdom Of Lies (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky

Directed By: Barnaby Edwards

Cast

Peter Davison (The Doctor), Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Jonathan Firth (Sebastian, Duke of Cardenas), Charlotte Lucas (Duchess Miranda), Harriet Thorpe (Amelia), Tim Bentinck (Lord Crozion), Richenda Carey (Lady Crozion), Piotr Hatherer (Tomek), Patsy Kensit (Mercenary), Harry Smith (Additional Voices). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Guy Adams
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Peter Davison is joined by his original TARDIS team of Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, and Matthew Waterhouse in the first of three new stories from Big Finish starring the group.  In this story, the TARDIS lands in a kingdom that is currently embattled with itself, as the Royal Couple have separated and are using the hackneyed sitcom premise of drawing a line between their kingdom to designate all their stuff. If this was a sitcom, the premise would be lame...but as it is Doctor Who and it takes that goofy premise to the extreme, it becomes rather fun, plus it doesn't really focus too hard on that aspect.  

The bulk of the episode is actually more of a comedy of mistaken identities. After landing, Tegan and Adric are soon arrested by the Military of the Duchess, as they have crossed over into her side of the line. Not long after, the same happens to The Doctor and Nyssa, but this time by the Duke. But since the Duke had recently hired an off-worlder to assassinate his estranged wife, he believes the Doctor is the assassin known as "The Scorpion."   So while the Doctor poses as an assassin with Nyssa as his assistant, Adric and Tegan pretend to be a couple that can stop assassins for the Duchess.  Obviously, antics ensue.  

And those antics are fun!  This story is light and has a good comedy pace.  It is also quite fun to hear this Fifth Doctor team again. Admittedly I never found Adric to be much fun during his time on TV, and as such I preferred his eventual replacement of Turlough...but with that said there is something that is a bit fun in hearing this original Fifth Doctor team together again. I've not had a chance to hear some of their earlier Big Finish reunions, but I don't think I would mind picking those up some time.

This story really captures the feel of those early Fifth Doctor stories, with the crwoded TARDIS team bickering and going off on adventures.  The only thing that can keep you from getting completely lost in 1982 is that everyone's voice has audibly aged, particularly Davison and Waterhouse. But who cares, it is a fun little adventure with some good humor and a cast that is clearly having a ball. 





Four to Doomsday (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 March 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who - Four To Doomsday (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Matthew Waterhouse

Released by BBC Worldwide - March 2017
Available from Amazon UK

Four to Doomsday seems like the type of story that is rarely going to make anyone's Top Ten list. It is a rather tedious and boring story, it doesn't have much of a thought provoking plot, and it lacks any real exciting action to make up for that.  I actually rewatched this story not too long ago when I was in the mood for some Fifth Doctor style stories, and even having recently rewatched it, most of it ended up being forgotten. If nothing else, Terrance Dicks' novelization really captures just how boring and forgettable the original serial was. 

The Fifth Doctor - along with Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric - land on a spaceship lead by some aliens who have visited Earth throughout it's history and gathered up locals each time they make it to Earth.  So there are some humans from various time periods in Earth's history aboard as well. But now they seem to be heading back to Earth to overtake it. Adric gets hypnotised or something by the evil leader, nd Tegan pouts about how much she wants to get to work some more....and eventually the only thing I remember from the story happens, which is that the Doctor uses the bounce of a cricket ball off a spaceship to propel himself back towards the TARDIS while floating in space.

It is a dul story, but I must give Matthew Waterhouse, who originally portrayed Adric, some credit, he does his best reading this dull story.  As much as I never cared for his character on screen, he proves himself a decent narrator, and actually does a pretty good impression of Peter Davison's Doctor as well! 

This is a release only for completists.  It is a lame story, and despite being nicely read by Waterhouse, that really can't make up for how uninteresting the story always has been. 





The Diary of River Song - Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Diary of River Song: Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nev Fountain, Jacqueline Rayner, John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Ian Conningham (Kevin / Rindle), Julia Hills (Sharon / Rindle), David Seddon (Mr Quisling / Tarn 2), Leighton Pugh (Lake 2 / Dave / Tarn), Sophia Carr-Gomm (Lily), Joanna Horton (Brooke), Issy Van Randwyck (Giulia), Rosanna Miles (Antoinette / Maid / Constanze), Teddy Kempner (Viktor / Mozart / Stefan / Apothecary), Jonathan Coote (Maitre D' / Chef / Assassin), Nina Toussaint-White (Brooke 2), Francesca Zoutewelle (H-One / H-Two / Mission Captain), Pippa Bennett-Warner (O / The Deterrent). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson
Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

When Big Finish began their River Song series, I was initially quite excited. I had really warmed to the character, and so the idea of her living on for further adventures on audio, at a company that consistently releases entertaining stuff, thrilled me, to say the least.  But the first boxset actually left me quite indifferent to the idea of even listening to more. It wasn't bad, and it had Paul McGann in it...but it felt like it was missing something. In preparation for this review, I decided to give the second boxset a whirl, just in case it had some lingering plot thread I might need to fully understand this newest set...and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first set.  Maybe it was better plotting, a more engaging story, or if it was just the timey wimey Doctor crossings featuring both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the tales...but whatever it was I felt was missing from that first set, seemed rectified by Series 2.

Some SPOILERS may be ahead, as it would be somewhat impossible to talk about certain episodes without discussing plot revelations in earlier episodes.  Reader Beware!

So we come to this third box set of River Song adventures, and from the word go it is quite exciting.  The opening story, The Lady of the Lake is slightly intertwined with the Eleventh Doctor story A Good Man Goes To War, which was the episode that finally revealed just who River was. We find out here that River wasn't the only thing Madame Kovarian experimented on at Demon's Run, they also took River's DNA and created seven other Time Lord hybrid babies...basically River's own brothers and sisters...and she has to stop one of them that has gone a bit mad due to the mysteries of his regenerative nature.  It's an exciting opener, with lots of wonderful bits, character moments, and a tremendous pace.

The second story has the River playing companion to the Fifth Doctor, along with a previously unknown companion known as Brooke. They land in Vienna in the 18th Century and end up on the trail of murders and mystery...as things so often tend to go when you travel anywhere or anywhen with the Doctor.  It is basically a solid Fifth Doctor story, from the point of view of River Song.  The big reveal of this episode is that Brooke is not who she says she is when in the end she attempts to kill the Doctor. using the same means as the murders of the episode. River is able to save the Doctor, the question remains what to do with Brooke, and just who is she?. 

It is quite clear that the River Song series is taking it’s time travel shenanigans and story structures from the Eleventh Doctor era, and that is probably most evident in the third story in the set, My Dinner With Andrew which plays with time travel and hopping around more than most. it is a quite entertaining, though just like the Eleventh Doctor era it moves fast and sometimes needs a bit of relistening in order to get the full picture of what is going on. I rather liked this one, but I did find a few things hard to keep track of...such as which River is which, but ultimately it is a fun story with good performances from Kingston, Davison, and co. The story also brings back Madame Kovarian, and reveals that Brooke is, in fact, another DNA clone of River hoping to succeed in killing the Doctor...which she does, only his Fifth Incarnation.

The final episode of the set reveals that there are several other clones of River still alive, with Brooke being the favorite. Kovorian's plan seemingly succeeded, but killing the Doctor so early in his time stream has catastrophic results for her.  She begins to see ghosts and then becomes the target of a new radical faction that wants to destroy her, for just as her plan to kill the Doctor was meant to stop him from destroying the Universe, her killing of him ends up doing just that, so now she is seen as the cause of the Universe ending.  The episode is really, at its heart though, about River and her sisters.  Brooke has a taste for killing now, even killing one of her own sisters, and the sisters are all completely warped by Kovarian, can River somehow get them to come around against Kovarian and maybe undo the killing of the Doctor and thus save the universe? 

SPOILERS...the Doctor lives.  This should be surprising to no one that they haven't killed the Doctor off in his Fifth incarnation, the means about how he is saved is where the story is interesting though, and that I will not spoil.  This is a good box set, with a story and structure that heavily ties into the Eleventh Doctor's era of stories, any fan that enjoyed the time hopping and intricate plotting (and even major plot elements) that shaped that era of the series will probably find something to enjoy in this set.