Original Sin - Big Finish AudioDramaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Original Sin (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: Andy Lane,

Adapted By: John Dorney

Directed By: Ken Bentley

STARRING:
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), 
Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), 
Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), 
Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej)

WITH: Andrew French (Beltempest), 
Philip Voss (Robot/ Under-Sergeant), 
Amrita Acharia (Rashid/ Computer/ Shythe Shahid), 
Robbie Stevens (Dantalion/ Homeless/ Securitybot), 
Jot Davies (Powerless/ Pryce/ Hater/ Evan Claple).

( Other parts played by members of the cast).
 


 


Written By: Andy Lane + Adapted by John Dorney

Director: Ken Bentley

Sound Design: Russell McGee

Music: Crispin Merrell & Gordon Young

Cover Art: Tom Newsom

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

****

Available on 2 CDS or Digital Download

Duration: 2 hours approx
 

Big Finish Release: December 2016

General Release: 31st January 2017

The future Earth Empire is truly a bustling and expanding phenomenon. But something very suspect and decadent lies at its core. Two of the law-keepers of the ‘United Kingdom’ – better denoted as Spaceport Five Overcity – start their day assuming ‘business as usual’. One is the experienced Roz, the other the relatively fresh-faced Cwej.

By the end of their run-in with a mysterious little man called ‘the Doctor’ and his unusually informal academic friend Bernice, they will have markedly different views of their identity and the wider cosmos around them. Unstable stasis fields, cybernetic technology, and travels across the stars will all come into play. And a slug-like race known as the Hith will have a chance to restore their reputation, in spite of the sizeable propaganda delivered on the ever-present public newscasts.


Original Sin was a novel that saw the New Adventures range re-calibrate for a different ‘era’. Following the milestone that was Human Nature – a book so remarkable it had a second telling as a Tenth Doctor story in 2007 - more ‘traditional’ adventures across the cosmos were back amongst the status quo. Sporting a very nice cover, the book is now unfortunately hard to track down, and thus for many this adaptation is even more welcome.

I had become a somewhat infrequent reader of the paperback adventures, at the time. Owing to having a multitude of other books to read as part of homework assignments, as well as those tomes given as presents, the net-result was that the Seventh Doctor’s literary incarnation had some serious competition for my escapist affections.

Damaged Goods had already showcased the wonderful duo of Cwej and Forrester, with Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver established as committed and engaging performers. Credit once again to them for managing to convince of the same characters, but this time at an earlier point in their lives; before they had the chance to travel with the Doctor and Bernice.

What is important, and what Ken Bentley so handily delivers in this play, is a credible bonding process between the two markedly different Adjudicators. The listener swiftly cares for their friendship, and it is also important that they relate as well as they do to the Doctor’s present companion; Professor Summerfield.

Supporting characters are especially well done here, a by-product of Andy Lane’s sterling source material and enlivened with panache by the voice talent enlisted by Big Finish. Especially well-characterised is Provost-Major Beltempest, who goes from seemingly heartless military professional to someone more helpful and open- minded, and then a key twist is revealed which ties in with one of the core story strands. Also the psychotic criminal Zebulon Pryce is portrayed in more than broad brush strokes, and together with the Doctor – during a standard moment of captivity for our title hero - has a truly fascinating ethical debate, where some of the ‘Time’s Champion’ burden is fully explored. The only real drawback is the scale of the story, and thus some familiar sounding voices recur as some cast members  have two (or more) roles.

Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman typically work well together, and this story sees an even better partnership. Whilst their alter egos do split up several times, they have enough audio time together, which perhaps was not the case in a story such as The Highest Science. With plenty of knowing wit and teasing of one another, it is clear they match as personalities, and furthermore it is clear that each would take a bullet/ laser/arrow for the other.

Having a returning villain from the classic series is typical for the Virgin line of books that lasted for much of the Nineties. This antagonist hales from the black and white days of the TV series, and is well-done and authentically acted; thus justifying his/her inclusion. Furthermore, the theme of survival, but at the cost of identity, is nicely combined with this use of Who continuity.

The demented prisoner Pryce is in some ways a more interesting character in the context of the story proper, but I still enjoyed the nod to the past. However the inconsistency over the TARDIS’ internal dimension rules is only re-enforced in the final showdown, so perhaps this area of Doctor Who lore is best regarded as a convenient plot device (along with the likes of the Sonic Screwdriver).

Also I did find the Hith voices an acquired taste, and the timbre also for some reason reminded me of the rather forced third cliff-hanger from The Paradise of Death; a contemporary of the Virgin New Adventures, but rather more solitary compared to the Big Finish audios that followed.

However any quibbles with the production are negated by the truly superlative interludes featuring news broadcasts to the various citizens of the Earth Empire. Often showing just how little humanity has advanced in terms of emotional intelligence and diplomacy, they are a great way to prevent the story proper from ever stalling. Transitioning from one supremely confident anchor to a rather more ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ colleague further on, these ‘excerpts’ of daily life add much to the already competent world building conveyed by the dialogue from the supporting characters, in addition to the exposition the Seventh Doctor so eloquently provides to his dear friend Bernice (who certainly appreciates it in spite of her sizeable qualifications).

The previously released Seventh Doctor audios managed to deftly condense the source material of these often groundbreaking novels, and this latest release is particularly confident, thanks to the experienced and astute writing skills of John Dorney.

A whole-hearted recommendation is awarded to this two-parter. I hope more such adaptations will follow, in due course.


BONUS:

Full and candid interviews are again in supply here, along with some proper explanation of what the production team were aiming for with this re-telling. McCoy in particular has some interesting input, as well as evident enthusiasm that he has so many opportunities to deepen the character, that he first portrayed all those years ago in the final stanzas of the 20th Century.





The Highest Science - Big Finish AudioDramaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

The Highest Science (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)

Written By: Gareth Roberts,
Adapted By: Jacqueline Rayner
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), 
Lisa Bowerman (BerniceSummerfield), 
Sinead Keenan (Rosheen), 
Daniel Brocklebank (Sheldukher), Sarah Ovens  
(The Cell), Rehanna McDonald (Hazel), 
James Baxter (Rodomonte), Tom Bell (Fakrid/Jinka)


Producer/ Script-Editor: Cavan Scott,

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released December 2014 by Big Finish Productions

The planet Sakkrat is widely known across the cosmos for once being home to an ancient empire, which created the legendary technology known as 'The Highest Science'. But eventually this monumental asset ushered in doom, and the civilisation fell into oblivion.

The Seventh Doctor and his keenly intelligent assistant - Professor Bernice Summerfield - are in transit abroad the TARDIS. They are alerted to a remarkable fluctuation in time, which originates from Sakkrat. The Doctor announces to Bernice that this is a 'Fortean Flicker'. The Time Lord's curiosity demands that they both investigate proceedings on Sakkrat immediately.

Other parties are also drawn to the large green planet. The despicable and galaxy-wide infamous Sheldukher, is absolutely determined to obtain the aeons old technology, and will stop at killing no-one. He prepares his mission with the  help of several associates, one of those being the telepathic brain-entity, known as the 'Cell'.

Similarly lethal, if perhaps less malicious and instead more imperialistic and military are the Chelonians - a race of anthropomorphised turtles/tortoises. They are focused on conquest and the eradication of all human 'parasites' that get in their way. And a group of time-displaced humans from 20th century Earth are the latest such irritant.

Many lives will be endangered, and the safety of the wider cosmos could also be in peril. The Doctor's resourcefulness and wisdom will have to employed to full effect, if events are not to spiral out of control completely.


 

This particular adventure for the diminutive, chess master incarnation of the Doctor was one of the earlier ones to be published by Virgin back in the early 1990s. It is most notable for seeing the debut of Gareth Roberts in contributing an original, official story to the Doctor Who canon. In later years Roberts would complete other novels for both the New Adventures and Missing Adventures lines, and then be a semi-regular writer for the reborn TV series itself. Roberts is a lively and witty creative force, whose works under both main showrunners (Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies), helped add some contrast from more po-faced or worthy efforts. He also was vital to the success of the excellent Sarah Jane Adventures spinoff.

There is a lot of Douglas Adams-style humour in this tale, and many of the best one-liners are given to Big Finish stalwart Lisa Bowerman to deliver. It should be noted that Jacqueline Rayner is very familiar with writing for Bernice, and this adds to the rhythm of the adaptation.

Much like Love And War and Nightshade, this reworking has made an effort to reduce the number of players, as well as significantly simplifying one of the major subplots concerning humans that belong to a different time and place altogether. This is effective to an extent in giving the production some vital pace, but there is still the drawback of the plot meandering a little. The opening episodes have some interesting character moments, but also a rather stately set up. Benny's particular storyline - which is the staple one where the Doctor's assistant is separated from him - does fall somewhat flat. The cliffhanger to Episode Two concerning her safety is poor, as it heavily involves a secondary character that is alternately bland and irritating.

However, the concluding pair of episodes have plenty of incident and surprise. There is a two pronged ending, with one adversary comprehensively defeated, but the other crisis needing the Doctor's genius is merely granted a temporary 'solution', and is best described as a Pyrrhic Victory.

McCoy is reasonable enough here, but a little weaker than in Nightshade and some of his better original Big Finish stories. He is at his best facing down either the Chelonians or Sheldukher, and showing a range of outrage, playful disdain and intellectual smarts. His interplay with Bowerman is enjoyable, but clearly a touch less authentic and affecting than the much stronger bond with Sophie Aldred, which many a general Who fan may be more used to.

Some of the one-off characters do engage the heart and/or mind, such as a pair of small time criminals who somewhat deserve justice, but still are angels compared to Sheldukher. The more wholly innocent human characters that have suffered time displacement also are identifiable, if perhaps lacking sufficient audio time to truly be memorable. And the Cell arguably steals the show, with a wonderfully lively portrayal by Sarah Ovens.

However I am not too convinced that Sheldukher needs to say with such arch relish the play's title, and with such frequency. It is somewhat jarring and makes him seem just a bit more unbalanced than is credible. Otherwise, Daniel Brocklebank is serviceable enough in the key adversary role.

The Chelonians have become a staple of the wider Who universe, if surprisingly not yet realised on mainstream TV. They can be fooled on occasion but are still notable opponents. Even if they are as unrelenting in sweeping aside those unlike them, in a manner similar to Daleks or Cybermen, there is a sense of nobility and honour that prevents them being purely 'evil'.

 

The music is quite strong, for the most part, and does help with adding a sense of wonder, dread or urgency as when needed. The audio effects result in the Chelonian creatures having a distinctive voice. It is also commendable how Tom Bell portrays the different creatures so distinctly.

Later on during the days of Virgin Publishing, Roberts would contribute a loose trilogy:  'The Romance Of Crime'/ 'The English Way Of Death'/ 'The Well Mannered War'. All have been adapted by Big Finish, and were critiqued by a fellow reviewer on this site previously.

Overall, this initial story from the pen of Roberts (originally out in book form in 1993) stands up both in past and present as an artefact of what was to come. The author has left his mark in a number of very enjoyable television episodes (particularly The Unicorn And The Wasp and The Shakespeare Code). It is far from flawless, but is still a good read, and now thanks to Rayner's commendable attempts at adaptation, also a worthwhile listen. 









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