The Doctor Who Audio AnnualBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 February 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Doctor Who Audio Annual (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
BBC Audio 2017
Read By: Peter Purves (Steven), Anneke Wills (Polly), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) and Nicola Bryant (Peri).

Wow. Now, this is an odd one. Released by BBC audio in time for December 2017, The Doctor Who Audio Annual is a collection of narrated stories from the World Distributors Annuals. Now I think it’s worth stating up front that I have very little nostalgia for these annuals, born in the mid 90’s, I missed them upon their original release. However, I did pick one or two up from charity shops at a young age and fell in love with the garish artwork and gaudy designs, though even then the stories didn’t seem…quite right. As I got older I discovered the reputation these books had, essentially as the nadir of classic who merchandise (a particular article from Eccleston’s era in DWM springs to mind). Of course, I have to agree. Bar a few exceptions the majority of the Annual stories are… dire and badly misrepresent both the Doctor and his companions. Now it’s been a few years since I’ve had one of the original copies in my hands and so this new release seemed like a chance to give some of these stories a second chance.

Read by original cast members there are six stories in total, along with two vintage essays. The first story The Sons of Grekk, whilst hardly a classic in any sense, isn’t exactly a bad listen. Simple like all of the annual stories, it does manage a vaguely atmospheric opening, helped massively by Peter Purvis narration and an eerie sound design. Unfortunately, things quickly go downhill with The King of Golden Death. The second Doctor continuously refers to his companions as ‘my children’ is woefully patronising and the story incredibly dull, simply being an exercise in basic Egyptology. Things pick up massively with Dark Intruders, read wonderfully by Geoffrey Beevers…giving you a rough idea of who the villain in this particular tale. Featuring the Brigadier and Joe, this tale perfectly captures the UNIT era.

Conundrum follows next and being a tale of warped physics within the Tardis, feels like the writers were at least trying to emulate the feel of season 18, with its themes of high science and mathematics. Unfortunately, it’s also the tale that suffers the most due to the lack of artwork and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it’s fun but that’s all. The Penalty is a pretty standard ‘Doctors nightmare’ story, where he’s haunted by old friends and adversaries whilst The Real Hereward is a fun historical. Ultimately though, neither are essential listens.

For those wanting a nostalgia trip, then there may be something here for you to enjoy. Ultimately, however, the audio annual, whilst an admirable attempt to bring new life to the world distributors annuals, the stories were never really that good to begin with. All of the actors do a fine job and the sound design as always is superb, but their building on less than solid foundations. It feels perhaps that the joy of those particular items relies mostly on the aspect that there wasn’t really much merchandise available at the time, along with the zany and trippy artwork. Stripped of their illustrations and placed in a world where we’re over-saturated with high-quality Doctor Who Merchandise (most of all audio adventures) these stories are exposed as being…well…a little naff. However, they do remind us that, as who-fans in a world where we have access to a constant stream of top quality merchandise, we’ve never had it so good.





The First Doctor Adventures Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Matt Fitton, Guy Adams
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), James Dreyfus (The Master), Raymond Coulthard (Robac / Servers / Dalmari), Sian Reeves (Tanna), Deli Segal (Reena), Jackson Milner (Patrick), Cory English (Daniel), Carolina Valdes (Rosalita), Ronan Summers (O'Connell), Christopher Naylor (Policeman / Man with Ladder / Gang Member / Henry). Other parts played by members of the cast.

David Bradley won over many a Who fan's heart with his performance as William Hartnell in the 2013 docu-drama An Adventure in Space and Time, released as part of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations.  He may not be the spitting image of Hartnell, or even really sound anything like him...but he managed to capture that spirit and essence of the actor, to the point where you believed he was Hartnell, or even the Doctor.  Bradley got a crack at being the legitimate Doctor this Christmas in Twice Upon a Time, and he has also recorded this box set for Big Finish (the first of at least two Volumes), featuring two stories covering a total of eight episodes. 

This boxset not only brings Bradley back as the Doctor, but also three of his co-stars from the TV movie are reunited to play his original companions.  It's sort of an odd concept when you think about it, they've completely recast the original cast of the show, with people who previously didn't play these roles, but the actors behind those roles.  But yet...this set really works well.  I mentioned in my review of Big Finish's The Morton Legacy, that I personally felt the mixing the audiobook format with the full-cast format didn't really work, and I suggested that while it might not be everyone's favorite idea, recasting with a good soundalike, might be a better option for recreating the feel of tht era. This set does a full recast of everyone, even the actors that are still with us...and the results are actually great. This boxset did a fantastic job of recapturing the tone and feel of that first season of the series. Even down to each episode in both serials in the set having their own individual titles!

The first story in the set is The Destination Wars is great science fiction story featuring a previously unknown early version of the Master.  The Master wasn't originally introduced until the Third Doctor's time on screen, so The First Doctor never face him on screen, yet this story feels like it could've been a 60s tale, and the story is written as if this is the first time the Doctor has met the Master away from Gallifrey, their first run in as hero and enemy, and it sort of sets up the kind of relationship they would have in the 70s and and 80s.  James Dreyfus is also, it should be noted, a pretty fantastic Master.  Very much like a proto-Delgado...just sinister and methodical.  It was made clear in some of the behind the scenes stuff in this set that he has recorded more stories as this incarnation of the Master.  I'd love to hear those!

That story ends with it's final episode leading right into the events of opening episode of the the second story...and this time it is a pure historical story!  Just as the early days of the show almost always would have a sci-fi story followed by a pure historical, and almost always lead directly into each other, this set follows suit.  This second story, The Great White Hurricane, has our heroes get embroiled with gangs and a woman trying to escape her abusive spouse in 1888 New York City, during the Great Blizzard that occured that year.  Much like my view of those early seasons, I personally prefer the sci-fi over the historcial.  But like quite a few historicals, there is some good stuff in here, and a part of me wishes the show could do a pure historical from time to time. 

Bottom line, this set is great for anyone who loved the First Doctor's era. Everything from the kinds of stories, to the more subdued sound effects and slower pace, it just feels like it has been plucked from 1963.  Bradley and co. do a great job, and I particularly liked the addition of James Dreyfus as the Master.  This is top notch stuff, highly recommended!





The Tenth Planet AudiobookBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 January 2018 - Reviewed by Dustin Pinney

Doctor Who novelisations are endlessly fascinating due to their continued necessity. Before Home Video, there were books to let viewers know what amazing adventures they missed. For Who viewers too young to have witnessed the original transmissions of stories featuring earlier Doctors, those previous incarnations were mere myths. If it weren't for the novels, who knows if those Doctors would have been anything more than fading, black and white memories?

In a world where we can pull up any existing Doctor Who episode we want with the push of a button, the novelisations remain just as vital. Thanks to the expense of tape in the early days of the series, far too many William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton stories were destroyed in favor of other programs. Although there have been attempts to give some the animated, or the audio drama, treatment nothing is as crucial to the survival of these stories than the novelisations.

Although I’ve seen the existing clips of The Tenth Planet, I have never known the full story, until listening to this audiobook. I have to imagine that this may be the ultimate way to experience Bill Hartnell’s swan song. Few things can place you right in the center of a tale like a novel, and nothing does it better than an audiobook.

From our earliest years, stories are told to us. Parents and teachers read us books. Friends recount experiences. Stories are best shared through speaking. This particular audiobook, complete with haunting, droning music, crackling sound effects, Nicholas Briggs’ unnerving Cybermen voices, and Anneke Wills’ superb narration, communicates everything to you beyond what can be achieved in prose. Your imagination holds no budgetary constraints, so the bounds of cheap set design can’t restrict you, and the perfectly timed touches of sound give you all the help you need in envisioning the atmosphere crafted within the novel’s pages.

While listening to the reveal of the Cybermen moving through the snow, killing the men in their way, I couldn’t help but think, “What were kids thinking when they saw this in ‘66? They must’ve been terrified!” The coldness of their surroundings, matched with the lack of empathy is wonderfully depicted in the book, making this jaded listener a little nervous, wondering what these monsters I’ve seen numerous times before might be capable of.

I’ve come to place Doctor Who stories into categories. You’ve got the historical, the base under siege, invasion stories, horror stories, and romps. Often times these categories intermingle. You might get a historical horror story, a base under siege  horror story, a historical romp, and so on. The Tenth Planet blends base under siege, invasion, and horror. What we’re witnessing is a small element to the larger story at play. A handful of frightening Cybermen are invading this base and killing the men inside, while all over the world more Cybermen are doing the same thing, AND there’s a whole new planet in the sky draining Earth of all its energy!

This is epic storytelling on par with anything the current series would do. You don’t need to see the fleet of Cyberships, armies marching through cities, or the Mondas sucking up all our energy, because you feel it. We know the Doctor, Ben, and Polly, we’ve just met the faculty of the base, and their reactions to the situation are enough to inform the massive scale of what’s going on elsewhere.

That being said, there is a downside. A few too many sentences are spent detailing Polly’s long legs and the reaction aroused in men upon viewing her form. The tendency of summing up a character by their ethnicity is more than tad dated and simplistic. Miss. Wills’ American accent, with all those hard R’s, can get a bit grating, but those are nitpicks. True, I would have preferred if such things were omitted, but the novel is what it is.

The majority of The Tenth Planet is devoted to the men spending their careers in a bunker below the frozen surface of the South Pole. This is something utterly unique to Classic Who. The Doctor may be the title character, Ben and Polly may be his friends and second leads, but the stories aren’t about them. Classic Who stories are about the people the Doctor saves. One would imagine that a show like Doctor Who would deal with WHO this Doctor person is and why they do what they do. Superman isn’t about the various citizens of Metropolis going about their day and being saved by the Blue Boy Scout. Why would Doctor Who be about the people he encounters, rather than the Doctor himself?

The answer, I believe, has to do with another reason the novelisations are so important to the survival of Doctor Who. This is a literary show. They’re not simply interested in giving you a cool new monster. The creators of the show are building a world and a world is populated with lots and lots of people. While making the Doctor the point of view character for every adventure would result in a thrilling good time, it wouldn’t construct a believable world. By experiencing the space these military men and scientists inhabit, getting small insights into their background and personalities (however shallow) and how they treat each other sets the scene for the terror about to unfold. The Cybermen are a scary concept, sure, but what makes them effective is that we know the people in danger. We’re set up to understand who these people are, thus making the threat of invaders that much more menacing. That is a trope you find more in literary storytelling than a visual medium like television.

This story doesn't only launch the legendary Cybermen. More importantly, of course, it is the introduction of regeneration. Without this plot-convenient aspect to the Doctor’s Gallifreyan biology, Doctor Who would have ended in the late ‘60s. Had the producers said, “Well, this Doctor Who concept is wearing a bit thin,” then there would have been no UNIT, tin dogs, long scarves, celery lapel pins,  bizarro rainbow jackets, question mark umbrellas, body hopping Time Lord lizards, Time War, lonely gods, cool bow ties, or sonic sunglasses. We would never meet Jamie Mccrimmon, Sarah Jane Smith, Romana, Tegan, Peri, ACE!, Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Donna Noble, The Ponds, Bill Potts, or Nardole. Who would face off against Santaurons, Vervoids, Silurians, or Weeping Angels?

How different would the pop cultural landscape be if William Hartnell was the one and only Doctor? It’s a question too big to be answered in one audiobook review. The importance of regeneration cannot be understated. It is, along with the Tardis,  the mechanism which keeps this universe fresh, and it all started with The Tenth Planet.

 




Doctor Who - Short Trips - O TannenbaumBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
O Tannenbaum (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Anthony Keetch, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast Peter Purves (Narrator)

"His old body is wearing a bit thin......It happens to us all."

 

How very apt that Big Finish should give us a festive Short Trips, featuring the first Doctor (the original you might say!) ahead of this  Christmas day television outing?

 

The story opens with the TARDIS materialising into what seems like an idealised Christmas scene. As Steven and the Doctor step out, they see that there's snow all around, along with a forest of pine trees and, just off in the distance, a cosy looking cottage. However (as always) everything s not quite as it seems, because in the  cottage the pair find a young girl, Greta, and her Grandfather, Herman, cowering from an unlikely alien threat outside.

 

The story is a joy to listen to, and this is a lot down to Peter Purves narration, which starts off warm and gentle, but slowly leaves the listener feeling somewhat claustrophobic and quite tense. His impersonation of the first Doctor is almost perfect. Between Antony Keetch's writing talent, and Purves vocal skills we find ourselves suddenly in the company of William Hartnell, which is a lovely Christmas present in itself.

 

O Tannenbaum is essentially a tightly written, base under siege story, with a taste of first contact thrown in for good measure. What is a nice surprise though, is, as was the original intention of Doctor Who, the story also manages to sneak in some historical facts for the listeners to ponder over.

 

The words O Tannenbaum, of course is German for O Christmas Tree, and this short story will ensure that you keep you keep that real tree you have in the living room well watered and alive for as long as possible - otherwise, you never know it's loved ones might just come looking for it - and you!

 

As Steven Taylor / Peter Purves rounds off this story with a cheeky  "A very merry Christmas to all of you at home." you will walk away from this festive little treat with a lovely, warm feeling.

 

Merry Christmas!





The Time Meddler (Audiobook/ Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 8 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Doctor Who: The Time Meddler (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Nigel Robinson

Based on a TV story written by Dennis Spooner

Read By: Peter Purves
 

Published: 6th October 2016

Duration: 240 Minutes

1066, Planet Earth. The Doctor and Vicki must now move onto new journeys without the company of lively and brave Ian Chesterton, and wise, protective Barbara Wright. The two Coal Hill School teachers have finally made it back to their home time and place after the Doctor's team made a close escape from a Dalek execution squad.

To their surprise another has immediately joined their crew (in somewhat stowaway fashion): pilot Steven Taylor, who was a prisoner in the city of the Mechanoids, and had begun to lose his grasp of reality. As they explore their new surroundings in north-east England, the Doctor repeatedly is forced to convince Steven Taylor that he pilots a craft that is both capable of space flight, but also time travel.

What none of the new arrivals can anticipate is that a member of the Doctor's own race has landed sometime earlier in this pre-Renaissance era, and is posing as a native monk. And this individual is both scheming and manipulative, yet perfectly jovial and charming. He is also determined to use his awareness of future events to execute a scheme whereby the Viking invasion never went ahead. This would allow reigning King Harold to comfortably defeat William (of Normandy), and thus the whole course of future history both in England and the whole world changes irrevocably...


The Time Meddler has been something of an acquired taste for this reviewer. Soon after Doctor Who's cancellation, a repeat season on BBC 2 was commissioned, and this particular black and white story was chosen as the representative of the Hartnell years of 1963 - 1966. One reason was that no episodes were missing, and another was its relatively brief episode count. The copy shown on TV was serviceable for those fans used to the BBC Videos, but certainly would not stand up today on modern TV screens (many of which support high-definition).

To my (then nine-year-old) eyes, this was quite hard to watch for other reasons. The lack of frenetic music and the long, talky scenes meant I struggled to keep myself in the moment as I normally did. I would watch the episode once or twice and quickly move on. By contrast my viewings of the next couple of stories that followed in the season, saw me re-watch each and every episode many times on home cassette. The week long wait for the next repeat seemed an eternity.

 

Now however, watched in context of a marathon of the Hartnell era, or at least a number of consecutive stories, this serial is easily one of the more thoughtful, well-crafted and realistic (in terms of then-production facilities). The Time Meddler may be relatively small stakes compared to various other tales, but it still was at pains to show how dedicated the Doctor was in terms of protecting the web of time that was integral to planet Earth. 

Many Classic Who fans cannot help liking The Chase  despite all its problems, but only would one dare show the final episode (and possibly the opener for those that like Shakespeare or the Beatles) to a 'newbie'. By contrast this story had director Douglas Camfield who always throve on the pressures and made each and every cast and crew member feel part of a team.

 

Nigel Robinson was one of the better contributors to the TARGET novelisation range, and later went on to produce two very enjoyable early entries in the Virgin New Adventures book line (Timewyrm - Apocalypse and Birthright). Robinson understood what the essence of Doctor Who was, but also what material would be worthy of expansion and exploration in book form. A lot of the two-dimensional characters of the source material are given that bit more meat on their bones. I also appreciated the use of both a prologue and epilogue - the former to give a sense of Steven's terrifying ordeal escaping Mechanus and stumbling upon the TARDIS, the latter to fully portray the just desserts the Monk has been served by his fellow (but far more moral) time traveller.

One aspect of the story which really was unusual for 1960s Doctor Who was its exploring of adult themes. Yet - by contrast to the very first season of Hartnell - some stories in the 1964-1965 run had a rather more adult side to them: Susan's relationship with a human that made her leave the TARDIS and her grandfather, and the politics and morality aspects of Richard the Lionheart's campaigns in Palestine, were certainly more than mere teatime escapism.

One section of The Time Meddler saw a rather disturbing 'after-shock' scene of Edith conveying that she had been sexual assaulted, or raped, with the actual crime taking place off-screen. In the original story this was rather brushed under the carpet soon after and it appeared that all was more than well by the time the TARDIS crew have won their battle of wits with the Monk. In this book Robinson commendably tackles the topic in some detail, and was surely aware of portraying keystone morals for the youngster/child demographic that was essentially the target readership. The final violent end for the two Vikings who committed the despicable act feels justified. But there is that tinge of 'two wrongs do not make a right' which is part of the laudably strong characterisation at work by the adaptor.

 

Peter Purves once again shows his all round skills as a narrator and voice artist. I had the pleasure of reading his enthusiastic and detailed memoirs some years back. The former Blue Peter presenter had a varied and interesting career, with a lot of fast paced training/ performing in theatre in his formative years. Consequently the alter ego of Steven Taylor is able to handle both high pitched and bass voices with equal aplomb, and has the uncanny sense of when to speed up the tempo of his reading and when to allow some meaningful silences. Some of the music used is familiar from other BBC Audio releases, which is welcome, as so few TV Hartnell stories were linked to each other through recurring musical themes. Suspense and excitement are punctuated well, and the sound effects continue to be employed with good judgement.

So in short, this is yet another entertaining and atmospheric audio gem, and you could do far worse in choosing an item for the impending Yuletide gift list.





The Early Adventures: The Ravelli Conspiracy (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 23 November 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Ravelli Conspiracy (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)
                                Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky
                                     Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Cast: Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor/The Doctor/Narrator), Mark Frost (Niccolo Machiavelli), Jamie Ballard (Guiliano de Medici), Robert Hands (Pope Leo X), Olivia Poulet (Carla),
Joe Bor (Guard Captain).
Big Finish Productions - Released November 2016 

This month’s offering in this mini-season of First Doctor stories sees Ian and Barbara give way to Steven Taylor, once again reprised by Peter Purves who also vocalises William Hartnell’s Doctor and provides most of the story's narration. He is joined for this historical adventure by Maureen O’Brien, who once again brings the youthful Vicki to life as if she were only on television last year rather than fifty years ago.

A failed attempt by the Doctor to take his companions to the 2784 Olympics results in them instead finding themselves in early 16th century Florence, where the TARDIS just so happens to land in the cellar of a house belonging to none other than Niccolo Machiavelli, a man whose infamous reputation in print, largely exceeds his actual achievements.Mark Frost gives an enjoyable performance as Machiavelli who is by turns charming and devious as he attempts to regain favour in the eyes of the influential Medici family who are represented in this story by Guiliano de Medici, ruler of Florence and his brother, the newly elected Pope Leo X.

The two brothers make an enjoyable double-act of contrasting characters. Jamie Ballard is ruthlessly cutthroat as Guiliano whilst Robert Hands gets to enjoy being a clever pontiff who forms an interesting friendship with Vicki. This allusion to Leo X’s historical reputation as “the gay Pope” is only hinted at, but this is one of several moments that make this story feel that it is not quite as contemporary to the TV series of 1965 as some of the other Early Adventures releases. There are some fun scenes with the Guard Captain played by Joe Bor, although his estuary accent seems a little out of place compared to the other RP speaking characters who are more typical of the TV series.

There are definite shades of Dennis Spooner in this story although thankfully it does not at any point descend to the level of farce experienced in The Romans. It is welcome to see that Big Finish have encouraged new writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky to produce a story of a not often visited area of history.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable historical tale with a strong cast which occasionally feels a little more post-modern than the 1965 series it is attempting to emulate. However, it is nonetheless a welcome addition to this range.

 

TheRavelliConspiracy is available now from Big Finish and is on general release from December 31st 2016.