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)
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.






The Hunting Ground (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Hunting Ground (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

The second release of December was The Hunting Ground and was easily my most anticipated of the two. Whilst I love McCoy, five releases is a lot for anyone and I’d enjoyed the previous sixth Doctor stories with Iron Bright, in particular, being a standout of last years main range. Not only that but we were constantly being reminded that this would be a riff on ‘Scandi-Noir’, utilising many of its tropes and merging them with a Doctor Who story. This seemed like it would be interesting after all scandi-noir are notoriously dark and usually it’s the darker main range adventures that get my attention. Unfortunately though, The Hunting Ground, whilst a noble attempt to try and do something a bit different, ultimately falls flat.

Landing in Iceland, the Doctor (Colin Baker) meets with Inspector Ysra (Amy Beth Hayes) who is currently investigating a rather unusual murder. As the two work together, they discover alien hunters and a slew of devilish twists and turns. Unfortunately, the Doctors part in the investigating is somewhat minimal. Sent off onto another planet around the halfway mark, the Doctor becomes involved in a The Most Dangerous Game (1932) type scenario whilst Ysra is left to uncover most of the plot. Now I’m not an obsesser who believes the Doctor should always be the one to uncover the grand plan, far from it! No, my problem with this part of the plot is that- well there isn’t one. The Doctors section involves a lot of getting captured/getting away. Certainly, information is weeded out, but the time it takes to get there involves a lot of running around and not a whole lot of threat.

Which brings me rather neatly to the next of The Hunting Grounds problems. The story is incredibly flippant. Towards the end, a number of moral issues are raised, primarily the question of loyalty. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to take any of this seriously in a tale that features an incredible amount of absurdist comedy, including a talking Printer which becomes somewhat important later on. Most likely this is a matter of personal taste and I’m being incredibly unfair to author AK Benedict who has an incredible voice and a wonderful talent for dialogue. However, I can’t help but confess that The Hunting Ground left me feeling more than a little cold, partially due to the inconsistency of its town.

However, AK Benedict really has made quite a coup in the creation of Inspector Ysra who Amy Beth Hayes brings to life so exquisitely. Along with Brunel in the aforementioned Iron Bright, she’s one of the best standalone companions of the year and one who I hope won’t be ‘one-off’ for much longer. Colin Baker, despite not being given much to do, is wonderful as ever. I felt like he was given the short straw this year, not that his stories haven’t been some of the best of the entire year but his ‘trilogy’ was loose and undefined and some episodes Hour of the Cybermen for example, didn’t really give him much to do. However, he seems to have taken it all in his stride and certainly when given the chance to shine he’s grabbed the bull by the horns and delivered some truly wonderful moments. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings us for ‘Old Sixie’.

I feel that in some way, I may have been too harsh on The Hunting Ground. It is a fun adventure and certainly has some intriguing twists and turns. Unfortunately, the tonal shifts I mentioned earlier proved to be just a little too much for me. However, with Shadow Planet AK Benedict proved herself to have an incredible talent for Doctor Who and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 8 Nov 2018
Main Range #246 (Doctor Who Main Range)




Warlock's CrossBookmark and Share

Friday, 4 January 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Warlock's Cross (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Steve Lyons
Directed By: Jamie Anderson

Cast

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Tracey Childs (Klein), Blake Harrison (Daniel Hopkins), Genevieve Gaunt (Linda Maxwell), Richard Gibson (Colonel McKenna), Tom Milligan (Gregory Lord), Russ Bain (Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Price). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer Nicholas Briggs
Script Editor Alan Barnes
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

This year’s main range, ‘UNIT’ trilogy concludes with Warlocks Cross. So far the UNIT trilogy or the ‘Daniel Hopkins’ trilogy has been excessively dark, dealing with some incredibly bleak themes. The first, The Helliax Rift was a story that dealt with some interesting ideas in a way that had some gut-wrenching impact. The second, Hour of the Cybermen was an exercise in Sawardian nastiness and violent as a result. This final installment is no different. What results is an emotionally hard-hitting and bleak affair full of characters haunted by their past, be they Klein, Hopkins or UNIT itself. The story itself also certainly sits comfortably in that area of Doctor Who stories which can be described as having elements of horror within them. In short; it’s bloody frightening.

Steve Lyons script concerns the Doctor arriving at UNIT in its dark period of the 1990’s. When here he reunites with Dr. Elizabeth Klein and becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a forgotten psychic research facility, the titular Warlocks Cross and Daniel Hopkins, still alive after his part cyber-conversion. As I stated above, Lyons really has let his darker side come out here and those who were perhaps hoping for a more jolly installment in this year's trilogy may be disappointed. This is as adult as Doctor Who can get and the scenario he creates, allows for some interesting thematic scenarios involving themes of paranoia.

McCoy himself is wonderful here. After last months, The Quantum Possibility Engine allowing him to explore the lighter side of the 7th Doctor, it’s great to see him return to the more sinister aspects of his interpretation. McCoy gives a very quiet and understated performance throughout, the sequences with Hopkins are some of the highlights, as this Doctor shows a distinct lack of sympathy and seems to play games with Hopkins. And what of Daniel himself? Well if there’s one thing that has been consistently good throughout this year's trilogy, it’s been Blake Harrison's performance. In the space of three stories, Harrison has taken an incredibly likable character and managed to transform him into one of best original characters Big Finish has created in a long time. Original Doctor Who Villains are a hard thing to create, but Hopkins must sit among the best. Of course, another talking point of this release is the return of Elizabeth Childs as Klein. Admittedly this isn’t a Klein focussed story, she has a great deal of wonderful moments of course and she does get some character exploration, but she is very much a bit character here, which may disappoint some. However, Childs is great as always and honestly, it was refreshing to see a version of Klein more at peace with herself, despite a few underlying ‘ghosts’.

All in all, Warlocks Cross, can be seen as a rousing success. This UNIT trilogy has been the highlight of the main range this year, resulting in some wonderfully rich stories full of depth. Here’s hoping that we haven’t seen the last of Daniel Hopkins!

 

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Dec 2018
Doctor Who Main Range #244 - Warlock's Cross




Doctor Who: Iron Bright (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 June 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Iron Bright (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Chris Chapman      Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor), James MacCallum (Isambard Kingdom Brunel), Christopher Fairbank (Marc Brunel), Catherine Bailey (Tan), Imogen Church (Rispa / Lady Raffles), Becky Wright (Flo Hawkins / Alayna), Anthony Townsend (Richard Beamish / John Chubb), Sam Woodward (Charlie / Lord Raffles / Captain Sanderson), Richard Unwin (Tour Guide / Scientist). Other parts played by members of the cast.

We Big Finish listening Doctor Who fans, seem to continually be on the lookout for new audio adventures through which to introduce possible converts. Less so a perfect ‘Jumping on point’, more a short introduction that perfectly epitomises Big Finish, without much continuity to speak of. Well I’d like to add  Iron Bright to that list. The second of the sixth doctors main range trilogy this year seems to harken back to the earlier days of Big Finish, being a completely stand-alone adventure with seemingly very little to connect it to last months; The Lure of the Nomad. Not only that but Chris Chapman has described his story as a ‘celebrity historical’ in the Russell T Davies vein and certainly it conjures images of The Unquiet Dead and The Shakespeare Code amongst others. Aside from just being a phenomenal showcase for what Big Finish can achieve, Iron Bright is an incredibly produced drama with a wonderful story, excellent cast and superb direction.

The story revolves around the building of the Thames Tunnel by both Marc Brunnel (Christopher Fairbank) and his son Isambard (James MacCallum), which is haunted by a mysterious blue lady. Of course much of the emphasis is placed on the young Isambard and James MacCallum is a wonderful choice for the role, indeed he steals much of the show and presents us with a multi-faciated and completely believable character. Not only that but he achieves all that with a historical figure who has been interpreted a million times before and still MacCallum manages to present a fresh and likeable figure. it’s a superb performance and I hope to see much more of him yet.

And what of the Doctor? Colin Baker is superb as ever and indeed I personally enjoy his doctor far more in a historical setting, finding that the writers seem to enjoy the sixth doctor attempting to ‘act with the times’. This paves the way for some wonderful comedic moments. However Colin really shines when working with MacCallum and the relationship between the Doctor and Isambard is one of the joys of the audio.

However it's unfair to concentrate on these two alone when the entire cast is wonderful. There’s some show stealing parts for Catherine Bailey, Imogen Church (who makes a formidable villain) and Becky Wright.  Bailey and Wright in particular have a wonderful chemistry and provide two characters who are just as interesting as any of the historical figures. The sub-plot featuring these two is one of the highlights of the drama and Chapman was lucky to have two such wonderful actresses to portray it. this sub-plot also manages to provide a little historical context away from the Brunels, providing us with an original historical character whose arc is just important as anyone else's.

And what of Chapman’s script? Well it’s certainly something of a ‘block buster’. Starting with a creepy and slow building ghost story (something doctor who has always done well) the reveal is made around the half way mark and the story switches gears, emphasising the science fiction. Rather than harming the story in anyway by having a definite change of tone, this actually works wonders and in particular manages to show varying sides of Isambard. Indeed one of the wonders of Chapman’s script is that it’s so intently rooted in ideas of industry, progress, engineering and machinery that are so central to Isambard’s place in history. The fascinating moral dilemma posed in episode three presents us with incredibly sympathetic villains and indeed Imogen Church manages to gain listeners sympathy, between some incredible comic moments.

Of course it would be remiss of me to not mention the excellent sound design and musical score which seems to be a trademark of Big Finish's high quality. The blue lady herself is terrifying (and the general idea behind her is a genius one that’s incredibly haunting) whilst the various sounds within the tunnel provide a chilling setting, constantly reminding us we're under ground. The story is helped by a wonderful score that seems to fit it’s epic scope, getting gradually more bombastic towards the end.

All in all, Iron Bright is a truly wonderful example of just what Big Finish can achieve. Simply everything works and the result is one of the best the main range has put out in a long time. A magical, superb adventure.





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.