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. 





The Two Doctors (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 9 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Two Doctors (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Robert Holmes
Read By Colin Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - September 2015
Available from Amazon UK

I have never been particularly enamored with The Two Doctors. While it was nice to get the relief of Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines back into the show during a season that was lead by the bickering characterizations of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant (neither of whom I consider to blame for that nonsense), the story itself was still poorly written, somewhat scattershot, and a bit muddled. I can ignore strange contiuity issues for the Second Doctor and Jamie, because the show's contiuity is the biggest mess in all of franchise contiuities...but I just didn't find the story engaging at all.

So we come to Robert Holmes novelization of his episode, now brought to life in audiobook form by the Sixth Doctor himself - Colin Baker. In general, I think this version is better. I attempted to rewatch the TV version, but the tone kind of turned me off.  But the book has better characteriations, more gruesome death scenes for characters, and flows a lot better.  For instance you spend a lot of time with the Second Doctor and Jamie before cutting to the Sixth Doctor and Peri.  In the show, they cut back and forth early on, and it is more muddled and doesn't flow as well. I think one of the weirdest things about it is that it is a multi-Doctor story for no real reason. The book fixes some of those story flow issues. 

That isn't to say that the story is suddenly really interesting, because it is still mediocre. The villain's evil plot is too vague, the Sontarans don't really do much, and the threat to the Doctor seems minimal.  Having the Second Doctor's life in danger might actually be interesting if it seemed as if the Sixth Doctor could be wiped from existance, but they never really go for it. I never feel like the threat is real. 

I think multi-Doctor tales need to be saved up for special occasions. Anniversary's are worth it. Or in the case of Time Crash, as a comedy sketch for charity.  But this episode did it just for fun, and since the story has no real need for Patrick Troughton or the Second Doctor to return, it just seems like a lame reason to bring him back. It diminishes the excitement of having two Doctors together when it isn't for a big occasion and is just in the middle of a season.

As for the audiobook itself, Colin Baker does a great job reading it. That should come as no surprise to anyone that has heard his excellent work for Big Finish. He makes the story seem far more interesting than it actually is, and reads with gusto. It will alwys be a bit of a bummer that this charismatic guy got such a short straw on TV.  Just two seasons worth of pretty horrible stories in an obnoxious costume. When a mediocre story like this is on the better end of his television output, that really is a shame.

I don't think this audiobook is particularly worth it. Baker's narration is top notch, but it is all in service of a lame story. 



Associated Products

DVD - Region 1
Released 8 Mar 2011
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors (Story 141)
DVD - Region 2
Released 8 Sep 2003
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors [Region 2]
$12.71
Audio
Released 3 Sep 2015
23% off
Doctor Who: The Two Doctors: A 6th Doctor Novelisation



Doctor Who - Short Trips - MEL-EVOLENT (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 6 March 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Mel-evolent (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Simon A Forward
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Bonnie Langford

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

 
Mirror, mirror on the wall, something stalks the TARDIS halls…..
 
A glimpsed reflection in a dark and dusty corner leads Mel on a journey Through The Looking Glass.
 
Witchcraft and shadows reign.
 
Mel must face the evil at the heart of it all, while the Doctor battles to save the TARDIS determined to prove it’s not only bigger on the inside but darker. Much darker.
 
As alluded to in  Big Finish's blurb for Mel-evolent (above), this latest Short Trip opens up a fairytale world that borrows a lot from classic literature, but essentially boils down to Mel having to imitate an evil queen who happens to look startlingly like her in order to stop the TARDIS being torn apart by the goblin-like Thrusks.
 
The story does conjure some great visual imagery, especially in the huge theatre hidden away in the TARDIS (the theatre rather handily has a costume department that includes a ready-made evil witch outfit). There is also the return of the Time-Space Visualiser, which was first introduced 1965's The Chase.
 
I new timelord is introduced in this story; Lady Tamara. In quite an interesting twist Lady Tamara has had to enter a constant state of regeneration in order to help her deal with the Thrusk.
 
There are some fun elements in this story, but sadly for me, it didn't all quite gel. I was never a fan of Mel when the character was on television, and this story didn't make me warm to her any further. It was also all a bit predictable and theatrical for my taste.
 
Mel-evolent is written by Simon A Forward and directed by Helen Goldwyn. Narration duties are of course carried out by Bonnie Langford
 

Mel-evolent is available now, from Big Finish.






Bloodtide (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 February 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Bloodtide (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)
  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: Tuesday 31st July 2001
Running Time: 2 hours
Cover by: Clayton Hickman

Silurian stories can be oddly one note. To an extent, for much of their existence, the Silurians haven’t been so much a monster as a story trope – the same singular story retold in various ways. It’s understandable - Doctor Who and the Silurians is a magnificent piece of work and a highlight of early seventies Doctor Who. And divorced from its central conflict of newly awakened ancient owners of the Earth having to choose between living alongside the upstart humanity or retaking their world by force, the Silurians are arguably just a bunch of standard reptile men with an inexplicable heat ray in their forehead.  But with The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep and The Hungry Earth all ploughing the same vein of inspiration, it’s a mine that risks being played out.  Love it or loathe it, at least Dinosaurs on a Spaceship succeeded in being a completely different type of Silurian story.

The same can’t really be said of Bloodtide. Hitting many of the same standard plot beats in its first half, we meet a newly awoken Silurian colony, a plot to cleanse the Earth of the ‘apes’ infesting its surface, and a power struggle between the group’s more militant and more tolerant factions, you’d be forgiven for thinking you know exactly where it’s going almost from the beginning of the journey.

However, to its credit, it does try hard to distinguish itself and add a new wrinkle to the well-worn formula. Unfortunately, the main way it does this is to transplant some familiar Doctor Who ideas from elsewhere in its canon. I’m not sure the Silurians were ever crying out for their own Davros style figure yet, in the person of Tulok, that’s what we get. Cunning, sly and political, Tulok is less up front than his reptilian predecessors and rather than openly confronting any hint of weakness from his own kind with challenges, he lies and wheedles to push them into conflict. More than that, with shadows of Davros’ conspiracy to destroy the Kaled Dome, Tulok proves himself more than prepared to kill huge numbers of his fellow Silurians in order to ensure his own mad scientist dreams come true.

Another major influence here merged with the Genesis of the Daleks vibe, is classic British SF horror Quatermass and the Pit. For the abomination which Tulok has genetically engineered to the disgust of his peers aren’t Daleks… they’re us. And, moreover, like the Martian altered humans of Kneale’s film his tinkering with ancient human biology has given Tulok a backdoor into the human brain – giving his Silurians third eye a somewhat bizarre new superpower: mind control.

Doctor Who and the Silurians, Genesis of the Daleks, Quatermass and the Pit; this is a high-quality crop of ingredients to mix into your creation but the resulting concoction doesn’t really work. Part of this is the way they combine to fight against the script’s other big idea: Charles Darwin. It’s always been one of the tightropes which Doctor Who has had to walk in showing aliens engaging in human history – trying not to take away from either the heights of human accomplishment nor the depths of very human evil by giving either the credit or the blame to outside influences. A young Darwin encountering a Silurian colony beneath the Galapagos was always going to risk portraying him as not developing his Theory of Evolution through hard work and genius but simply reporting on what he’d learned. But Bloodtide ups the ante by having him confronted by evidence that the human race was engineered, not the result of some natural process. It tries to turn this into a benefit by having him declare his faith in evolution and the ascent of man despite the evidence of his own experience – a faith which to an extent allows him to fight off Tulok’s psychic control – but that, with its echoes of Curse of Fenric,  simply positions evolution as a belief in the same category as religion or socialism rather than a simple scientific fact. It all makes for a rather confused way of praising Darwin for his vision.

Ultimately, Bloodtide gathers some high-quality parts from well-renowned suppliers but assembles them in a way that causes them to grind painfully against one another. If nothing else it illustrates just how hard it really is to try and play with the Silurian formula.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 23 Jul 2001
Bloodtide (Doctor Who)