Short Trips - The Hesitation Deviation (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 10 January 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Hesitation Deviation (Credit: Big Finish / Anthony Lamb)

Producer & Script: Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: James Goss
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast: Lisa Bowerman (Narrator)

Or the lost Sylvester McCoy Christmas Special....this festive, but very dark story finds the seventh Doctor and Bernice Summerfield visiting a planet that celebrates Christmas for just two weeks of the year, where mince pies are considered one of your five a day, and Christmas jumpers must be worn ( seven fits in quite well here then!). But in true Who fashion, something is not quite wrong, and the locals are revolting...

 

Now, please reader - don't judge me, I need to start this review by saying that I have never listened to a Big Finish that featured Bernice Summerfield as the companion (I'm still a relative Big Finish novice - but thanks to DWN, I'm getting there!). I was, of course, aware of the character, and it was a pleasant surprise for me to read that Lisa Bowerman has been playing the role since 1998. The character herself was of course created by Paul Cornell as a literary post-Ace companionin the New Adventures back in 1992, but I'm sure that you all know this already! 

 

I was actually blown away by the character of Bernice, someone who in this story has a very established relationship with the Doctor. Lisa Bowerman voices the story very well (have a look at the credits - Bowerman also directs this story!), she gets McCoy's very Scottish 'burr' spot on. Bernice Summerfield is obviously a very feisty character who has no problem taking chances and standing up to the Doctor when the need arises. 

 

The Doctor here is at his absolute most playful and mysterious, the story contains a lot of true to form seventh doctor moments - apparently he uses a toffee hammer to mend his train-set, and only likes
jigsaw puzzles with missing pieces of blue sky. He is portrayed essentially as a child at Christmas, which I think quite fits the character. Bernice is there to make weary excuses for his odd behaviour, and to put him back on the right track, just like one of his broken train-sets. The vocal ticks of the Doctor are excellently realised, and you can imagine them all fitting neatly into a  McCoy episode. "Ah! Corridors!" particularly made this listener smile.

 

The story is cleverly book ended by Summerfield visiting a robotic therapist. She wants the therapist to help her forget the Doctor, to remove all traces of him from her mind. Now with a genius lead-in like that, I was instantly drawn into the story.  I was needing to know what had happened to make Bernice want to erase all trace of the Time Lord from her life. There are plenty of surprises, and beware - the story does veer from fluffy Christmas, to something rather disturbing quite quickly - oh - and the final reveal is a joy.

 

The Hesitation Deviation is written by James Goss, who of course is more than adept at jotting out the odd short story for Big Finish. He knows the material so well, you know you are in safe hands. The running time is a very brief 35 minutes, but this only makes things more tense. Download it and have a listen, I promise that if you are a fan of Sylvester McCoy interpretation of our favourite Time Lord, you won't be disappointed.

 

The Hesitation Deviation is available from Big Finish as a digital download now.





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. 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Dec 2014
The Highest Science (Doctor Who)
$8.96



You Are The Doctor and Other Stories (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 17 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
You Are the Doctor and Other Stories (Credit: Big Finish / Joseph Bell)

Written by John Dorney, Jamie Anderson, Christopher Cooper, and Matthew Elliott

Directed by Ken Bentley

Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Jon Culshaw (Keith/Guard/Chafal), Kim Wall (Chimbly), Nadine Marshall (Katrice/Kordel), Amrita Acharia (The Resurrectionist/Clerk), Juliet Cowan (Bryer/Adriana Beauvais), Oliver Dimsdale (Morecombe/Mervyn Garvey), George Potts (Ruben/Guard), Vinette Robinson (Cynthia Quince)

Big Finish Productions - Released December 2015

Big Finish’s final main range release for 2015 is an anthology release of four separate single episode stories with a linking thread. These anthology releases have become something of an annual tradition with a reputation for being one of the highlights of the Big Finish calendar so this release has a lot to live up to. In this instance, we join the Seventh Doctor and Ace in the aftermath of the departure of Hex in 2014’s Signs and Wonders. Ace is attempting to learn how to pilot the TARDIS but try as she might she can’t seem to get the old girl to take her and the Doctor to Australia. Her failed attempts are a linking theme between the stories and the suggested explanation cues up the events of the Doctor and Ace’s next appearance in A Life of Crime, released in June 2016.

You Are The Doctor by John Dorney is a rather uniquely audio take on the classic Choose your own adventure format with choices to be made at the end of each track as to what decision the Doctor and Ace should take. If you think this reviewer enjoyed this unusual format then continue reading onto the next paragraph. If you think that this reviewer enjoyed the characters rather than the story itself then skip to the third paragraph.

You chose the second paragraph, unfortunately for you this reviewer found that after the first couple of times of listening to two different variations of the same scene, the first of which invariably resulted in one of both of our regulars being killed the format was rather grating. The only consolation being that there was a reasonable explanation provided for the alternate versions of events at the story’s conclusion. You chose unwisely, go back to the beginning and start again.

Congratulations, you correctly guessed that this reviewer’s favourite part of the story was the characters especially the Porcians played by Kim Wall, reprising his role of Chimbly from 2012 release The Fourth Wall, this time joined by the excellent Jon Culshaw in the first of several roles in this anthology as Chimbly’s wife Keith. You have chosen wisely and may continue to the second story.

Come Die With Me by Jamie Anderson finds the Doctor and Ace in a much more typical scenario of strange goings in a spooky old house where they have somehow been brought at the behest of the mysterious (and strangely uncredited) Mr Norris to solve an apparently unsolvable murder mystery. This neat little story, which is Anderson’s first sojourn into the world of Doctor Who is clearly a paean to Ghost Light although perhaps it belongs in the true crime section.

The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel by Christopher Cooper opens with Ace on trial for a murder which, naturally, she didn’t commit facing a sinister Judge (Jon Culshaw, this time showing his darker side). The gravity of the situation is made clear through the tolling of an ominous sounding bell which on its own gave this reviewer shivers. Through flashbacks we learn that what led to Ace’s current predicament and how it seems that the Doctor (aka “the Approaching Inclement Weather System”) is up to his usual manipulative tricks during an investigation into strange goings on in the eponymous Betelgeuse hotel.

Dead to the World by Matthew Elliott concludes this set of stories with a straightforward tale with a few comic twists which finds the Doctor and Ace on board a tourist ship which has fallen foul of a plague sent by intergalactic estate agents with an unhealthy interest in planet Earth. Viewers of The Sarah Jane Adventures will no doubt recognise the star turn in this story from Juliet Cowan as the unsympathetic ship’s Captain Adriana Beauvais. The Doctor is able to offer a whole new meaning to the term hard bargaining.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable quartet of single episode adventures with the final reveal of the clues linking all four stories being particularly enjoyable. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are on great form and it is a relief to hear them both having fun rather than dwelling overly on the angst-ridden events of previous releases. Based on this release, the annual anthology continues to be a highlight and it to be hoped that the latest 2016 release The Memory Bank and Other Stories will also live up to expectations.

 

You Are The Doctor and Other Stories is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk



Associated Products

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Released 31 Dec 2015
38% off
You are the Doctor (Doctor Who Main Range)



Terror of the Sontarans (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Terror of the Sontarans (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by John Dorney and Dan Starkey

Directed by Ken Bentley

  Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Melanie Bush), Daniel O'Meara (Ketch), Jon Edgley Bond (Anvil Jackson/Technician Gyte), Andree Bernard (Tethneka/Carter/Thing #1 and #2), Dan Starkey (Field-Major Kayste/Skegg/Stodd), John Banks (Adjutant Commander Klath/Stettimer), John Dorney (Glarr).

Big Finish Productions – Released September 2015

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Having recently enjoyed the reunion of the Seventh Doctor and Mel in the most recently released trilogy of stories which concluded with last month’s Maker of Demons, now seems an apt time to review this concluding story to last year’s trilogy of adventures set during season 24 which also featured Sylvester McCoy andBonnie Langford, both clearly enjoying being reunited for the first time in a number of years.

Rather intriguingly, Big Finish regular John Dorney has teamed up with actor Dan Starkey, who is best known for portraying the new series iteration of the Sontarans, to produce this rather curious tale about the nature of fear. Big Finish are to be applauded for giving Starkey the chance to write for the Sontarans and he and several of the other cast members certainly seem to enjoy bringing them to life but the overall story itself is perhaps not the most original that this reviewer has ever heard.

The story itself finds the Doctor and Mel arrive at seemingly abandoned mining station on a planet with an inhospitable atmosphere. So far so traditional sci-fi. In due course they find a rather motley group of survivors – Ketch and Jackson are the sort of double-act that initially may remind listeners of typically roguish space farers of the classic series. They are both well portrayed by Daniel O’Meara and Jon Edgley Bond respectively. Anvil Jackson in particular is larger than life character who provides most of the comic relief but proves to have a key role in later proceedings. They are joined in their captivity by the quasi-religious Tethneka (one of several roles played by Andree Bernard).

It transpires that the three surviving crew members have been the subject of experiments by the Sontarans, who have also been attacked by an unknown force and unusually have reported being afraid. Of course, some more Sontarans, angry at the disgrace of such a report being made soon arrive and seek to get to the bottom of events.

The Doctor and Mel spend a large amount of the story separated which gives Mel the chance to learn more about the crew whilst the Doctor seeks to get the heart of what has really caused the terror of the Sontarans. The story’s conclusion is reasonably enjoyable if not hugely surprising.

Overall, this is not the most memorable of entries in the Big Finish main range but it is still a solidly plotted enjoyable story with a good cast of characters. 

 

Terror of the Sontarans is available to buy now from amazon.co.uk



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Sep 2015
Terror of the Sontarans (Doctor Who Main Range)
$24.99



Illegal Alien (AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 19 September 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Illegal Alien (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Mike Tucker + Robert Perry
Read By: Sophie Aldred
Voices Of The Cybermen: Nicholas Briggs


Publisher: BBC Audio
Released: 28th July 2016

Duration: 543 Minutes 

American private detective Cody McBride witnesses the arrival of the sphere, and is certain it opened, allowing some alien being to depart its confines. But the British military will only credit McBride's account of events as a German weapon, that has 'accidently failed' to work. It is November 1940 and Britain is enduring the Blitz, with the Second World War dominating human affairs. As the Luftwaffe wreak devastation on London, other dangers are not far away. A brutal murderer, branded as 'The Limehouse Lurker', is at large around the streets of the capital that have sustained attack. And a mysterious silver sphere has fallen from the sky. Its contents could bring massive change to the fortunes of the two sides in the War.

However, soon he encounters two bizarrely dressed people that call themselves 'the Doctor' and 'Ace', and they very much give credit to his account. And many more odd events are about to happen now McBride is involved with people who can seemingly navigate the fourth dimension of space and time...

 

Once again, as with other books featuring earlier Doctors, BBC Audio has released another such title to bring to full life a story that was popular enough with fans and general readers to merit a re-release in recent times.  When this story first hit shelves in late 1997, it perhaps came across as rather 'traditional' and 'safe', given how many original novels of the decade aimed to break new ground. But in its defence, it was originally conceived as a properly made TV story featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Of course, the infamous cancellation of the classic series put paid to any realisation of the story onscreen. And if anything the story would have been very ambitious for TV, and here benefits from expansion to a full novel.

The narrative fundamentally is a simple one, but does have a notable number of subplots and allows for certain characters' back stories to be sketched out in detail. For the most part, the listener is left in no doubt over the virtues or vices of the supporting characters.

On one side we have clearly brave and good-intentioned people such as McBride and Chief Inspector Patrick Mullen. 

And on the other end of the spectrum, are a number of deplorable Nazis and/or their conspirators, with notable antagonists being Captain Hartmann, Colonel Schott, and the creepy Mr Wall.

But, then there is one key character that is more shades of grey, and who is a real intellectual match for the Doctor. He almost evokes some sympathy, but his methods are still deplorable, and he clearly leans towards the amoral and indifferent stance, despite all the suffering and devastation going on around him. Despite this story being nigh on 20 years old, I will leave it to the individual listener to go on the path of seeing which character I am describing.

 

Mike Tucker and Robert Perry not only know how to pace their story well, but how to achieve effective inter-relations between the personalities that populate the novel. There is plenty of fine material for either the 'one-to-one' or 'group' dynamic, with it being most effective when featuring the leading lights, that are the Seventh Doctor, and his still very exuberant teenage protégé Ace. The authors are well-versed in the McCoy section of Classic Doctor Who, and there is never a moment when the complex character that is the Seventh Doctor feels any less than authentic. And, in terms of this being not just a dramatic story, but a thriller as well, there is sufficient depiction of war and monstrosity in equal measure.  Cyber body horror is done very well here, and the full lethal potential of the Cybermats is also explored in commendable fashion. Some aspects of Cyber-Lore, that were new to this book at the time, have since gone on to feature in New Who stories such as The Pandorica Opens and Nightmare In Silver.

 

Sophie Aldred is as impressive here as in any audio book or full cast drama I have heard her in previously. In the audio release Dark ConvoyI had a small reservation with her being forced to convey a group of characters that were all male. But with time to use the prose and character development here, she grasps fully the opportunities afforded to her to show her vocal range. And yet again, her own defining voice/performance of Ace works just as well, as when first unveiled in 1987 

The actual vocals for the Cybermen are handled by Nicholas Briggs - who has clearly become the definitive voice of the metal conquerors at this point - and work well, both in tying with modern TV stories, but also a vintage 1960s TV escapade. This bit of continuity work is given just a passing bit of exposure in the wholly satisfying epilogue to the novel.

There are some fine bursts of incidental music, which never linger too long, but do add successfully to the overall impact of this audiobook. They are particularly strong when a chapter ends or one of the four 'episodes' reaches a climax, (with Tucker and Perry being determined to retain the original TV serial structure in this book version). The 'shooting' signature noise designed to evoke the Blitz is quite effective in its unsettling intent, and helps remind listeners this is not just an entertaining work of fiction but something with roots in our own world history and reality.

Ultimately, Illegal Alien is best described as a rattling good yarn. It is worthy of unequivocal recommendation for anyone who feels the Seventh Doctor and Ace TV stories deserved more entries, than what eventually transpired in actuality. 





Maker of Demons (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Maker Of Demons (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matthew J Elliott

Directed by Ken Bentley


Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Andrew Hall (Alonso/Gonzalo), Lucy Briggs-Owen (Miranda), Rachel Atkins (Juno), Ewan Goddard (Talpa), Aaron Neil (Stephano/Klossi/Trink/Setebos)


Big Finish Productions – Released September 2016

 

 

We are such stuff as dreams are made on…”

The Tempest Act IV Scene I, William Shakespeare

 

This is a rather curious story which opens with the conclusion of a story set during the Doctor and Mel’s pre-Dragonfire adventures as they are thanked for brokering peace between the crew of the Duke of Milan and the inhabitants of the planet Prosper known as the Mogera. Fast forward a hundred years and the Doctor, Ace and Mel arrive to find something has gone badly wrong on Prosper which is still very much at the centre of a conflict of between the ‘Milanese’, descendants of the original Duke of Milan crew and the Mogera, the supposedly peace-loving inhabitants. The Doctor is horrified to discover that the conflict is a direct result of his own earlier interference and that he is the eponymous Maker of Demons.

Only a singularly unobservant individual would fail to notice that this story draws a large amount of reference to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, particularly with liberal use of character names such as Alonso and Miranda and even numerous quotes and paraphrases. This reviewer’s favourite coming towards the conclusion of the play when the Doctor advises the villain of the piece “your revels now are ended.” Writer Matthew J Elliott doesn’t get huge points for originality but spotting these references added to this reviewer’s enjoyment. One minus point near the beginning of the play came with a distinctly overwritten gag about Frank Sinatra. It seems rather brave of both the writer and Big Finish to include an interview in the extras in which Elliott admits that the story underwent a fairly drastic rewrite. However, the finished product proves to be a worthwhile listen albeit one not exactly packed with surprises.

The reunited dream team of Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred and Bonnie Langford prove once more that they have great potential for further development. It is perhaps slightly unfortunate that Ace is on her own for a large section of this story even though it does provide her with some enjoyable scenes with Talpa, who rather like Caliban in The Tempest, is a beast with an occasional intelligent side, well portrayed by Ewan Goddard. Being on her own with the Doctor also provides Mel with an opportunity to show off her companion credentials however hopefully future adventures will have Ace and Mel working together.

 

The concluding act of this reunion trilogy is not quite the stuff that dreams are made of but nonetheless it is an enjoyable adventure. With no details yet announced regarding next year’s audio adventures for the Seventh Doctor we can only hope that these will see the continuing adventures of Ace and Mel and follow up on the loose ends from A Life of Crime. In the meantime, next month sees the welcome return of the Fifth Doctor and Turlough in the now traditional annual anthology release The Memory Bank and Other Stories.








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