The Darkened EarthBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 August 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Writer: John Pritchard
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Featuring: Miranda Raison

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Released August 2018
Running Time: 35 minutes

"Doctor.....are you saying you are not sure of something?"

 

Mrs Constance Clarke has faced perils on many planets, but now she finds herself in the most dangerous place on Earth. A place like home, yet terrifyingly different, where ordinary decent folk might hand her over to a dreadful fate. And as night falls, she and the Doctor realise that something is on the prowl outside, a creature darker than the dark. And hungry...

 

The Darkened Earth is my first encounter with Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison - also Tallulah in Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks), and I must say, what a wonderful companion she makes. Constance is clever, confident and a perfect foil for the sixth Doctor. Her plummy vowels and old-fashioned virtues are a breath of fresh air.

 

The story sees the Doctor and Constance arrive in what they think is a rural post-war Britain when in reality this couldn't be further from the truth. After a slight glitch with the TARDIS's translation circuits, they realise they are in Germany, at the very height of the war. Not only do they need to dodge British bombs, but also a terrifying creature that feasts on whatever light can be found.

 

John Pritchard's writing is tense and fast-paced. Constance is a serving WREN, and to put her behind enemy lines with a frightened family during a blackout is a very interesting plot twist. There would have been more than enough story farmed from this one idea, but add to this a creature that is stalking the darkened streets seeking light energy to feed upon, and you have a proper corker of a story that I can't recommend enough.

 

The Darkened Earth is available from Big Finish HERE.






Hour of the Cybermen (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 July 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie

Hour of the Cybermen (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Andrew Smith
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Colin BakerDavid BanksMark Hardy

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

Released July 2018
Running Time: 2 hours

Hour of the Cybermen, is the second entry in this year’s UNIT themed multi-doctor main range trilogy, following on from the previous The Heliax Rift. To that end, it features the return of a number of characters from that story namely Blake Harrisons as Daniel Hopkins and Russ Bain as Colonel Price. Of course, for many fans, however, the main draw of this story is the return of David Banks and Mark Hardy as the Cyber-Leader and Cyber-Lieutenant respectively. The 80’s Cybermen have a curious longevity about them that make them something of a fan favourite. Whilst the Cybermen had already had several reinventions by the time they appeared in 1982’s Earthshock, this new version was so utterly modern and completely terrifying yet somehow evoked memories of their previous designs. Add to this Banks’s portrayal of a Cyber-Leader that somehow manages to have underlying currents of emotions, whilst debating their usefulness. Banks would return to play the role in three more serials; The Five Doctors, Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, whilst Hardy would return in just two (The Five Doctors and Nemesis). Since then Banks became something of a ‘spokesperson’ for the Cybermen, writing an original novel and a ‘history’ of the Cyber-Race. However, it’s always been something of a missed opportunity that he, nor hardy, never got to reprise their roles for Big Finish….until now. So does Hour of the Cybermen provide the triumphant return for the Cyber-races two stars?

Well yes and no, depending on your expectations. What hour isn’t is a dark exploration of what it means to be a Cyberman, along the lines of Spare Parts or The Silver Turk. No, Hour is more the Cybermen as ‘monster of the week’, featuring them using a dehydration weapon in an attempt to take over the earth. It’s pretty classic ‘alien invasion’ storytelling. However whilst the general plot may be somewhat basic, the way in which the story chooses to get from point A to B is not. There’s a hefty helping of ‘Sawardian’ nastiness in the way that some of the characters are dealt with and several brutal and distressing descriptions of Cyber-conversion. The story also chooses to play with our expectations of those characters we’ve already met in The Heliax Rift. Whilst the decisions these characters make may not always be wholly…convincing (without giving too much away, motivation seems somewhat thin for one individual), the grim, bleak world that Hour takes place in allows you immediately sympathise. Not only that but the story brisks along with so much pace that you can easily forget it, with a heavy emphasis on Cyber-Action.

And what of Banks and Hardy themselves? Well in a word they are superb, it’s like they never went away. Banks, in particular, gets plenty of time to shine, including uttering some of his most famous catchphrases. However, it is his scenes with Russ Bain’s Colonel Price that he really gets to shine. In these moments Banks is utterly terrifying, reminding us immediately why his Cyber-Leader was such an imposing figure when he first stomped onto our screens in 1982. He also works particularly well against Colin Bakers Sixth Doctor, who seems to be relishing his first Cyberman story in quite some time. Their final confrontation is a hell of a moment and builds expertly on the tension achieved in what is an almost non-stop action thriller. Blake Harrison impresses again as Daniel Hopkins and is certainly given plenty of chances to show off his range, as does Russ Bain. Newcomers Frog Stone (Riva) and Wayne Forester (Atriss) are also given plenty of chance to shine, with my only regret being a lack of exploration of Rivas part cyber-conversion.

Hour of the Cybermen is a thrill-a-minute action adventure that manages to take two icons of 80’s who and give them the comeback they deserve. Highly recommended.






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.





The Lure of the Nomad (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Lure of the Nomad (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Matthew J Elliott
Directed By: John Ainsworth

Cast

Colin Baker (The Doctor), George Sear (Mathew Sharpe), Matthew Holness (Eric Drazen), Susie Riddell (Esther Brak), Ruth Sillers (Willoway), Jonathan Christie (Captain Schumer), Anna Barry (Juniper Hartigan), Dan March (Varian). Other parts played by members of the cast.

 

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

The latest adventure for the Sixth Doctor in Big Finish's Monthly Range is a mildly enjoyable tale. Colin Baker, as always, delivers as the Doctor...but the story around him is average at best.  That is not to say there are not good ideas, but the best idea of the bunch is undercut by the presentation...but  will dive deeper into that in a moment. 

First, the story.  The Sixth Doctor has been adventuring lately with a fellow named Mathew Sharpe.  The two have been traveling for a bit, but the Doctor thinks it may be time for their adventures to come to a close. Before he takes Mathew home though, they answer a distress signal.  They end up on a big ship in space being renovated into some kind of resort, but the creatures in tentacle robot suits that are renovating it begin killing people. The question is why? 

It's all standard Who stuff, and it isn't really told in any new interesting way.  That isn't to say it can't be entertaining, but it certainly keeps it from being terribly memorable.  The best element of the story, for me, was also a bit of a letdown.  So...SPOILERS AHEAD:

The problem with the big reveal is that it is totally undercut by the fact that we had never heard of this Mathew character before now.  So the big reveal that he is actually an evil alien that was trying to trap the Doctor loses some impact in that we don't know Mathew.  We haven't spent time with him, so the reveal that he is secretly evil isn't too shocking.  As the story progressed I figured he was going to either die or be a villain.  If they had actually lead up to this story with Mathew, it may have had more impact.  But I don't care that the Doctor loses a friend here, because I never met him before this story. I am told they adventured together, but I never experienced it. 

So this is a hit and miss story for me. It doesn't do anything too new or creative, and the most intriguing element...a companion that is secretly evil all along, lacks the impact it may have had if they had actually had a series of adventures leading up to this moment.  Instead it feels like a climax to a story I missed out on. 





Project: Twilight (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Project: Twilight (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: August 2001
Running Time: 2 hours

There was a point in the early 2000s when the shadowy group known as the Forge were emerging as Big Finish’s big, original, villain. It’s a concept that will be fundamentally familiar to viewers of Doctor Who after its return to television – a sort of dark version of UNIT; utterly ruthless in its methods and devoted not to defending the human race against alien threats, but to exploiting such technologies to empower the British Empire.

But it’s the contrast to Torchwood that stands out when listening to these now. While Torchwood One gave us the natural businesslike extension of the concept of an organization for which busting interdimensional threats and exploring crashed spaceships were literally just another day at the office, and Torchwood Three gave us the sighing, grumbling, sloppiness of a team largely seeing it as ‘just a job,’ the Forge is full of howling fanatics and True Believers. Their main ‘hunter’ Nimrod is so given to pretentious monologuing about the nature of Absolute Power and Destiny that he’s frequently just short of ‘catharsis of spurious morality’ territory. He desperately needs the Doctor to puncture his pomposity with a bit of silly banter.

That doesn’t happen in Project: Twilight, however, which sits squarely in the uber dark and gritty corner of 80s Who and has zero tolerance for any whimsy or even wit. From the moment the Sixth Doctor finds the gruesomely disembowelled corpses of cats and dogs in an alley, the tone is pretty much set for the rest of the story.

Attempting to say something new about vampires, and explore moral relativity, Project: Twilight doesn’t really succeed in either regard. The coven of vampires lead by Reggie and Amelia are just so thoroughly and totally unpleasant – doubling as both creatures of the night and mob bosses – that their attempts to present themselves as victims of circumstance doesn’t really convince. Yes, the Forge may have infected them against their will, but their behaviour since is much more Near Dark than Interview with a Vampire (let alone the glittery remorse of Twilight). The Doctor’s agreeing to help with their experiments to reverse their condition is a little hard to accept, even as he tuts and sighs at their brutal methods. Even odder is quite how long it takes him to cop on that he’s working with vampires even after a couple of episodes working  on the genetic code and blood (never mind people trying to kill them with crossbow bolts through the heart, trouble crossing running water and the rest). Weirder still, Evelyn asks him to check his white, male Gallifyrean privilege and confront his racism against vampires when… y’know...  they kill and eat people. ‘You only dislike them because they kill and eat people’ is a deeply troubling high horse to choose to mount.

And that’s before the not so shocking twist Amelia isn’t interested in a cure for anything but their weaknesses so that she can breed a new race of super-vampires with which to conquer and enslave the human race.

Only Cassie, the single mother newly employed at Reggie’s casino the Dusk, comes across sympathetically. And by the final scenes of Nimrod promising the Doctor a future rematch, it sounds like not just a threat to the Time Lord, but to the viewer as well.Across all their ranges, there must now be the best part of five hundred Big Finish audios so they can’t all be brilliant. But that also just underlines that there’s no need for newer listeners dipping into the Big Finish back catalogue to listen to this.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Aug 2001
Project: Twilight (Doctor Who)



The Mark of the Rani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
Read By Nicola Bryant

Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK

I was never a big fan of Pip and Jane Baker's writing on the series.  They only wrote three stories, but none of them thrilled me. "The Mark of the Rani" was probably the best of the three...but even then it was a little too campy. I didn't think the Rani was an interesting new villain, as she just seemed to be a pale imitation of Anthony Ainley's version of the Master, and her scientist goals seemed very anti-science in their depiction.  

Little did I know I'd need to write a review of the audiobook someday.  

This is the kind of sentence that seems to end a lot of sequences and chapters in this novelization.  "Little did they know..." and variations upon that permeate the book. The Bakers aren't particularly good writers in my opinion, not for the screen, not for the page.  While Nicola Bryant proves to be a great narrator, the story is only so-so.  

I don't remember disliking the original episodes, though I went back and read my review of when I last watched it many years ago, and my review is pretty critical of it.  I'd have to rewatch to see where I stand on the televised version.  But the novel is mediocre.  Not awful, but just somewhere in the middle...and there is little that is less interesting to talk about than something that is middle of the road in terms of quality.  

If you happen to be fan of this story, Nicola Bryant is giving her all to the audiobook. I would say her reading made up for the lack of story and interesting characters.  If you don't really care about this particular Sixth Doctor story, I wouldn't waste my time.