The War Machines (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 May 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Machines
Written by Ian Stuart Black
Read By  Michael Cochrane
Released by BBC Audio - March 2019
Available from Amazon UK

I have always ranked The War Machines fairly high in First Doctor stories.  I've always felt Hartnell is quite good in it, and it drops dead weight companion Dodo in favor of the charming Ben and Polly, who at the time better represented modern youth. It also had fun robot villains trying to overtake London and the World, and what isn't fun about that? But somehow, I didn't really find myself that interested in this audiobook of the Target Novelization. 

Written by original script writer Ian Stuart Black, the novelization just isn't written with any energy. It highlights the deficiencies of the television story.  On TV they got away with some filler and a story that isn't full of action, because the performances of Hartnell, Anneke Wills, and Michael Craze keep you engaged. But as a novel or audiobook, I just found that there isn't much happening, and even though I finished listening to it a week ago, I've been struggling to think of much to really say about it. 

The only thing of note I truly remember is that the first chapter adds a bit of business between the Doctor and Dodo, in which both note secretly think they will be parting soon.  This is certainly more than the TV version ever did, as Dodo just disappears at one point, and at the end of the story, her replacements show up and say she's gone to live on a farm upstate somewhere, and then they callously steal her job. The book does the same, but at least there is this acknoweldgement of her exit in the beginning of the story.

I don't think it is the fault of the narrator, Michael Cochrane, who I think does a fine job.  His Hartnell impression is particularly great.  But the guy has little to work with. I find it so odd that a story I have always liked has left me so cold in the novelization. 





The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Marc Platt, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), Carole Ann Ford (The Woman), Ajjaz Awad (Princess Elissa of Tyre), Jo Ben Ayed (King Pygmalion of Tyre), Orion Ben (Aiyaruc / Hanna), Youssef Kerkour (Bitias), Raad Rawi (Tubal / Maygo / King Hiarbas of Tunis), Mina Anwar (Horl), Susie Emmett (Katta), Belinda Lang (Nocta)

Big Finish's enjoyable series of adventures following the original TARDIS team as played by the cast of An Adventure in Time and Space continues for a third boxset, one which also sees a major guest appearance of Carole Ann Ford, the original Susan Foreman, whose younger self is played by Claudia Grant in these sets.  And Ford is the major draw of this set in more ways than one, as it is the story involving her that is vastly more entertaining then the first story featured here. 

The first story in this one is The Phoenicians, which is a pure historical that plays on legends and myths, and explores their true origins.  As classic pure historical stories go, this story features no sci-fi element beyond our heroes travelling to the past via the TARDIS.  I am not a huge fan of many of these historcials, which pretty much fell out of style for the series not long after the Second Doctor took over.  They only made one last attempt at a return in the early 80s, when the Fifth Doctor had a brief mystery to solve in the 1920s, with no alien threat whatsoever. But despite my own feelings that the historicals tend not to be terribly interesting, it doesn't mean I don't think they can't work.  In fact I secretly hope they can return to the show someday.  Not all the time, but I think it would be great to see a story where the adventure our heroes get embroiled in has nothing to do with aliens or monsters, but just the scariness of our own past.  They nearly did it in this most recent season, though there was an alien presence, it was incidental to the more historical turmoil our heroes got caught up in.  Someday, maybe once, Earth's ugly past can be enough for a Doctor Who threat again. 

That all said, this story is about as middle of the road and bland as so many historicals of the past had been. I just couldn't get into it, no matter how charming and likable I find the new versions of the original TARDIS crew. 

Luckily, the other story in the set, Tick-Tock World, is top notch entertainment.  With the TARDIS caught up in a planet that messes with time ships, which leaves the gang stranded in a place where time moves in mysterious ways, and ghosts of the past and future can appear and screw with them.  This is where Ford comes into play, as a mysterious figure that they all see. I doubt I am spoiling it for anyone as to who Ford turns out to be.  If you don't know that from the word go then I don't know how you ended up listening to a story based entirely on the show as it was in 1963. I just found this to be a really engaging story, and it felt like the kind of story that could have fit in really well with Big Finish's ongoing Time War tales, yet with that 60s flair that they capture so well with this cast. 

David Bradley is really a top notch replacement for William Hartnell.  He doesn't sound anything like him really, but the way he pauses and hems and haws, and stutters through his lines, it is truly like he captured the essence of the First Doctor.  Hartnell did most of it due to aging, ailing health, a giant year round workload with little to no rehearsal time...but that is part of what I find charming about the First Doctor.  Bradley captures it so well, but does it in his own way.  I definitely prefer this way of creating new 60s style Who to someone just doing an impression. 

I find this set to be somewhat harder to recommend, at least at full price. The first story is by no means awful, but it isn't really worth much either. The second story is tremendous though, which is what makes up for the whole set.  I'd say it was worth it just for that, but maybe at a sale price. If Big Finish set has 4 stories and only one is kind of a clunker, I usually can justify the price.  But with only 2 stories, the cost is essentially $10 a story, and I don't think The Phoenicians is worth $10.  Is Tick-Tock World? Absolutely.  And that's from a guy who was never much of a fan of Susan or Carole An Ford's performance in the 60s shows.  If you've enjoyed these First Doctor set so far?  It is a safer bet for you, for newcomers, I think start with the earlier sets and see if you want to spend the extra money on half of a good boxset. 






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.09 - A Small Semblance Of HomeBookmark and Share

Thursday, 18 October 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Small Semblance Of Home (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: Paul Phipps; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Carole Ann Ford (Narrator)

"Time is relative - the day is wherever we land - and if we are onboard the TARDIS - there are no days!"
 
It’s become his obsession. Through the hottest of deserts and the coldest of snows, the TARDIS crew have searched for the one remaining piece of the Doctor’s most important experiment. But now Barbara’s exhausted. Why hasn’t the Doctor learned his lesson? What’s so important that his scientific curiosity outweighs the safety of the crew once again? And will his latest arrogant trespass be the last he ever makes?
 
Paul Phipps brings us the latest Short Trips entry, which is a leisurely character piece, with Barbara Wright front and centre. We join the original TARDIS team quite early in their adventures. Barbara is starting to miss the normality of home. There is nothing in the TARDIS to indicate what time of day it is, or even what day of the week. The Doctor's new experiment is becoming something of an obsession to hi. He is looking for a plant, and seemingly finds it when him and Ian are captured by a local tribe on an alien planet. 
 
Carole Ann Ford narrates the story with passion, characterising the different characters very well. It actually made me feel rather sentimental for hearing more from this era of the Doctor Who, and with that sentimentality, rather sad also. Carole Ann Ford is seventy-eight years old now (something that I would never guess from her voice, which obviously sounds different from when she was on the show, but still quite youthful). These readings and dramatisations need to be cherished as only a handful of the original actors are still working.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is about the simple comforts of home, and is a rather enjoyable little piece of story telling that would have fitted perfectly in the very first series of Doctor Who.
 
A Small Semblance Of Home is available here.




Men of War (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Men Of War (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Justin Richards
Read By Peter Purves

Released by BBC Worldwide - May 2018
Available from Amazon UK

In this new original audiobook featuring the First Doctor, we have a short adventure built into the middle of the classic First Doctor epic serial The Dalek's Master Plan with the Doctor, Steven, and Sara Kingdom ending up in the middle of World War I, and finding that the timeline has been delayed, and it is causing havoc on the Web of Time. 

As a simple short story, Men of War is solid on atmosphere but feels incomplete. It has a good premise, a major battle of the war has not yet begun, and now the timeline is trying to fix itself by swallowing up all the lives that would've been lost if the battle had taken place.  The problems of this audio are in the ending, which feels like a lazy quick wrap up, leaving dangling threads for another story to solve. 

The big cliffhanging reveal is that Archduke Franz Ferdinand survived his assassination that launched the world into war, meaning the Timeline is even more screwed up than initially thought.  But the Doctor just sort of says that it will have to wait because they must avoid the Daleks, and the story is over. It is unsatisfying to the story being told.  It feels like this story has all this promise and then it just ends with a tease that basically tells the listener to buy another audio if it wants to get closure. 

This might not be a huge problem if the story felt like it had a more satisfying conclusion to it's contained story.  I've enjoyed many a Doctor Who adventure in a variety of formats that ends with a tease of tales to come...but if you have a self contained story that teases more to the story, the ending for the self contained bit ought to be a bit more interesting. 

As I already have the next story (Horrors of War), it takes the annoyance out of that ending.  And I've already seen that the title of BBC Audio's third release, also written by Justin Richards, is Fortunes of War, which has me more prepared for the story to end later.  But if I were a listener who purchased an audiobook and didn't know it was part of some bigger plot-line, I'd be a bit more irritated. 

But let me dial back the criticism a bit.  I actually liked the bulk of this story.  I thought Peter Purves did a lovely job reading it, and it has some brilliant ideas floating around. I am quite interested to hear this little series of audiobooks out. It doesn't have a great ending, and while the cliffhanger feels like a cheap way to not actually end this specific story...it is a good cliffhanger that left my interest peaked. 





The First Doctor Adventures: Volume 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 3 August 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures: Volume 2 (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: July 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

David Bradley, Claudia Grant, Jemma Powell, and Jamie Glover return to Big Finish for the second round of adventures in the iconic roles of the First Doctor and his original TARDIS team. Once again the cast proves to be quite fun in the roles, not mimicking but having their own takes on the characters. While I don't particularly care for Claudia Grant's Susan, I admittedly never really cared for the character of Susan in its original incarnation...so That could just be that the character will never work for me.

The set features two stories, the first The Invention of Death has the TARDIS land on a planet full of immortal beings, who somehow become infected by the mortal crew of the TARDIS and begin to die.  I like that it has some deeper themes about mortality and what drives people to create and invent and grow, it isn't just weird aliens and a bit of a mystery.  

The set continues with The Barbarians and the Samurai, which is a classic First Doctor styled Pure Historical, taking place in feudal Japan and has the Doctor and crew try to foil the plans of a Japanese leader who is plotting a coup against the current Shogun.  I liked this story, and though I was never a huge fan of the Pure Historical stories of yesteryear, I find it a bit refreshing to have a story that isn't about some alien hanging around a famous historical figure.  It is a good change of pace.  

I enjoy these boxsets, the recasting seems like it could be a huge mistake, but I think it manages to bring a new energy to these early Doctor Who-style adventures that having the older, and sadly more depleted, casts could currently have. Bradley is lovely as the Doctor, and his supporting cast does a fine job as well. 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Sep 2018
The First Doctor Adventures Volume 2 (Doctor Who - The First Doctor Adventures)



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.