An Alien Werewolf in London (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 January 2020 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
An Alien Werewolf In London (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: June 2019
Running Time: 2 hours

An Alien Werewolf in London is the final story in the Mags trilogy, following on from the previous months; The Moons of Vulpana. The Doctor and Mags venture to earth where Ace has encountered possible Alien activity in Camden. However, not everything is as it seems and they are soon drawn into a war between too factions of a dark society…

like the opening tale, The Monsters of Gokroth, the title is a very clear allusion to what is going on and there are several sequences which reference John Landis's 1982 classic An American Werewolf in London. Unfortunately, like Gokroth, this is not always to the stories benefit as it draws in numerous ‘horror’ elements which honestly made me roll my eyes more than anything. One, in particular, is a classic horror monster which I can only say has been overused in the Whoniverse and writer Alan Barnes has set himself an immense challenge by introducing them here. Sadly he is unable to take them in any new directions and the result is lacklustre villain. Like Vulpana, there is also a strong class element to the tale, with a lot of humour injected this time which certainly makes it a more engaging listen. There are also some great action sequences which push the story along at a good pace until we end up in a hospital and back in pastiche territory.

One of the biggest wasted opportunities in AAWIL is the stories setting. Now admittedly I’m a little biased as I LOVE Camden. Camden is one of the great indie centres of London, full of alternative theatre taking place in the attics of pubs and fantastic street entertainments. Unfortunately, Alan Barnes chooses to only set a small number of sequences here and instead we’re taken to the familiar Doctor Who settings of a sinister villains Mansion hideout. Other locations include a Hospital and the Doctors London flat, whilst the latter is certainly interesting on the whole it can’t help but feel like more could of been done. An issue that has not been helped by placing the location front and centre on the cover…

On the whole, AAAWIL is the best of the Mags trilogy with some fantastic action sequences and intriguing plot elements. However, on the whole, it’s still on the whole something of a let-down. One can’t help but feel like there was so much potential for this series, particularly given the high standard of the Kamelion stories a few months earlier. However once again a distinct lack of experimentation stops the Seventh Doctor’s monthly series from reaching the heights of his contemporaries. Whilst recent standalone adventures such as Warlocks Cross and Muse of Fire have been excellent in the extreme, his ongoing stories remain disappointing. One hopes that the move away from the trilogy format towards individual adventures will result in a greater desire to take risks.






The Moons of Vulpana (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 January 2020 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Moons Of Vulpana (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Emma Reeves
Director: Samuel Clemens
Featuring: Sylvester McCoyJessica Martin

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released:  May 2019
Running Time: 2 hours

Following on from the previous months release, Moons of Vulpana see's the Doctor and Mags return to latter’s home world in a time long before she was born. This is the period when the four great wolfpacks, each devoted to one of the planets four moons, oversaw the height of Vulpanan civilisation. This is a feudal time, a time of honour and courtly relations. When Mags appears she is treated like royalty, seen as an opportunity to introduce new blood into the aristocracy. However, all is not right on Vulpana or more correctly above Vulpana and the Doctor becomes concerned that something or someone has been tampering with the moons…

Like the rest of this trilogy there is a large element of Gothic Horror at play here, primarily in the setting of the feudal aristocracy. Here it’s a lot subtler than in ‘Gokroth’ where, even for a Hammer Horror fan like myself, it was somewhat overblown and overplayed.  There, practically every major trope Universal to Hammer Gothic movies was utilised. There were aspects that directly called back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein and Freaks to name just a small number. Here, mercifully, Emma Reeves crafts a story that is set within a Gothic horror-esque world but doesn’t overdo the references or allusions. This is an aristocratic society of castles and courts, of dark forests and secret labs. However, unlike the previous entry she does not feel the need to lift sequences from classic horror cinema- much to the stories benefit. Instead, Reeves chooses to focus on class politics and on building an effective and developed world. The result is a far slower piece than Gokroth, but one which effectively explores social and political elements introduced.

However the one negative to this is that whilst Reeves taking her time in exploring the world she creates can be interesting, it can also be a little dull. For those not interested in courtly dealings this is probably one to stay away, as for the most part it’s Mags attempting to mingle effectively. The slightly duller moments are not helped by a cast of primarily unlikeable and unengaging characters. This is by no means the fault of the actors but is instead the result of a lack of emphasis on those who are appealing (Barton for example). This is particularly noticeable in the case of Isaac and Tob who are given a running joke of overtly flirting with Mags, making her uncomfortable. The problem with this is that literally every other line delivered by one of these two characters is a flirtation and it get’s increasingly tiresome to the point that it really made me consider skipping ahead. Indeed this is Vulpana’s major issue, it feels like it needed one more draft, introducing and emphasising the mystery elements and action a little earlier and slimming back ever so slightly on the courtly romances. Whilst, as stated in the above paragraph, I did enjoy these aspects (and I could tell this was what Reeves was most passionate about) there can be too much of a good thing and it can tire your audience.

On the whole Vulpana is a fun listen. Flawed most certainly but it’s a story which boasts effective performances from it’s cast, skirts socio-political issues and manages to be extremely funny at points. Sadly, there are issues which hamper it from being one I’ll return to regularly but for those interested in Mags it’s a far more effective tale than Gokroth and a good direction to take the story.






The Monsters of GokrothBookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 July 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie

The Monsters Of Gokroth (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By Matt Fitton

Direted by Samuel Clemens

!

In Big Finish’s anniversary year, interesting choices have been made in terms of subjects from the ‘classic’ era of the show from which to tackle. The first three months saw a number of stories which finally chose to address the Fifth Doctors oft-unseen companion Kamelion and finally give him his due. In terms of the Seventh Doctors stories a more quirky but perhaps equally more inspired choice was made and The Monsters of Gokroth is the opening story in a trilogy which sees the return of punk werewolf Mags from the 1988 story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. It’s an inspired choice really, one which leaves room for a whole range of possible stories- possibly delving darker into horror that Doctor Who ever has before. After all ‘punk-horror’ is an intriguing sub-genre all of it’s own and the late 1980’s was it’s heyday. Indeed, the slasher and darker horror of the 1980’s is arich resource for Doctor Who to draw upon. The Monsters of Gokroth even seems to promise this, with elements of gothic littered throughout the synoposis. Unfortunately, what results is a story which whilst entertaining in it’s own right- is incredibly pedestrian and draws only from Gothic tropes, not really using the full potential of having an alien punk werewolf with the Doctor.

None of this is the fault of Jessica Martin, who is incredible and returns to her role as if it was yesterday. At several points throughout the story she…’transforms’ and the difference between her two performances are superb. One imagines playing an aggressive werewolf is hardly an easy task, the level of violence and aggression really is frightening.

Unfortunately, that is the only slightly frightening thing within the entire story. Now I don’t want to be too unfair, Matt Finton’s story is a fun and exciting romp and one imagines that perhaps some of the problems faced by Gokroth are far from his fault. As I briefly mentioned in my introduction, the main problem with this particular tale is that it’s just too safe. It draws from a number of classic Gothic horror tropes (the creepy carnival, the hunchback assistant) yet it does literally nothing new with them. Instead the result is simply another Doctor Who style take on classic horror films. it’s difficult here not to review what I have heard, but what I wanted to hear yet one can’t help but feel that the biggest issue with Gokroth is the sense of wasted potential that permeates the entire story. Even with Ace the Punk movement has hardly been touched upon at all and with the Seventh Doctor already having a darker, edgier side- it seemed the perfect era in which to explore these ideas.

Aside from the story, there’s very little wrong with Gokroth. All of the guest cast are fun and seem to be having a blast with the story. In particular, Jeremy Hitchen makes a particularly slimy villain and provides some nice creepy moments with his portrayal of the sadistic Varron. Abi Harris threatens to steel the show however as the bombastic Trella, head of the village and in an unusual move for a character of this kind within the Whoniverse, comes across as mostly sympathetic.

Whilst much of the main range of late seems to have played it safe (with the exception of last years Daniel Hopkins trilogy) with a large number of ‘romps’ it seems a shame that Gokroth is just another in this line. Hopefully, the next two tales will redeem this trilogy and use some of the potential that is unfortunately wasted here.






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.






Devil in the Mist (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

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