An Alien Werewolf in London (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 26 January 2020 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
An Alien Werewolf In London (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: June 2019
Running Time: 2 hours

An Alien Werewolf in London is the final story in the Mags trilogy, following on from the previous months; The Moons of Vulpana. The Doctor and Mags venture to earth where Ace has encountered possible Alien activity in Camden. However, not everything is as it seems and they are soon drawn into a war between too factions of a dark society…

like the opening tale, The Monsters of Gokroth, the title is a very clear allusion to what is going on and there are several sequences which reference John Landis's 1982 classic An American Werewolf in London. Unfortunately, like Gokroth, this is not always to the stories benefit as it draws in numerous ‘horror’ elements which honestly made me roll my eyes more than anything. One, in particular, is a classic horror monster which I can only say has been overused in the Whoniverse and writer Alan Barnes has set himself an immense challenge by introducing them here. Sadly he is unable to take them in any new directions and the result is lacklustre villain. Like Vulpana, there is also a strong class element to the tale, with a lot of humour injected this time which certainly makes it a more engaging listen. There are also some great action sequences which push the story along at a good pace until we end up in a hospital and back in pastiche territory.

One of the biggest wasted opportunities in AAWIL is the stories setting. Now admittedly I’m a little biased as I LOVE Camden. Camden is one of the great indie centres of London, full of alternative theatre taking place in the attics of pubs and fantastic street entertainments. Unfortunately, Alan Barnes chooses to only set a small number of sequences here and instead we’re taken to the familiar Doctor Who settings of a sinister villains Mansion hideout. Other locations include a Hospital and the Doctors London flat, whilst the latter is certainly interesting on the whole it can’t help but feel like more could of been done. An issue that has not been helped by placing the location front and centre on the cover…

On the whole, AAAWIL is the best of the Mags trilogy with some fantastic action sequences and intriguing plot elements. However, on the whole, it’s still on the whole something of a let-down. One can’t help but feel like there was so much potential for this series, particularly given the high standard of the Kamelion stories a few months earlier. However once again a distinct lack of experimentation stops the Seventh Doctor’s monthly series from reaching the heights of his contemporaries. Whilst recent standalone adventures such as Warlocks Cross and Muse of Fire have been excellent in the extreme, his ongoing stories remain disappointing. One hopes that the move away from the trilogy format towards individual adventures will result in a greater desire to take risks.






The Moons of Vulpana (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 January 2020 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Moons Of Vulpana (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Emma Reeves
Director: Samuel Clemens
Featuring: Sylvester McCoyJessica Martin

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released:  May 2019
Running Time: 2 hours

Following on from the previous months release, Moons of Vulpana see's the Doctor and Mags return to latter’s home world in a time long before she was born. This is the period when the four great wolfpacks, each devoted to one of the planets four moons, oversaw the height of Vulpanan civilisation. This is a feudal time, a time of honour and courtly relations. When Mags appears she is treated like royalty, seen as an opportunity to introduce new blood into the aristocracy. However, all is not right on Vulpana or more correctly above Vulpana and the Doctor becomes concerned that something or someone has been tampering with the moons…

Like the rest of this trilogy there is a large element of Gothic Horror at play here, primarily in the setting of the feudal aristocracy. Here it’s a lot subtler than in ‘Gokroth’ where, even for a Hammer Horror fan like myself, it was somewhat overblown and overplayed.  There, practically every major trope Universal to Hammer Gothic movies was utilised. There were aspects that directly called back to The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frankenstein and Freaks to name just a small number. Here, mercifully, Emma Reeves crafts a story that is set within a Gothic horror-esque world but doesn’t overdo the references or allusions. This is an aristocratic society of castles and courts, of dark forests and secret labs. However, unlike the previous entry she does not feel the need to lift sequences from classic horror cinema- much to the stories benefit. Instead, Reeves chooses to focus on class politics and on building an effective and developed world. The result is a far slower piece than Gokroth, but one which effectively explores social and political elements introduced.

However the one negative to this is that whilst Reeves taking her time in exploring the world she creates can be interesting, it can also be a little dull. For those not interested in courtly dealings this is probably one to stay away, as for the most part it’s Mags attempting to mingle effectively. The slightly duller moments are not helped by a cast of primarily unlikeable and unengaging characters. This is by no means the fault of the actors but is instead the result of a lack of emphasis on those who are appealing (Barton for example). This is particularly noticeable in the case of Isaac and Tob who are given a running joke of overtly flirting with Mags, making her uncomfortable. The problem with this is that literally every other line delivered by one of these two characters is a flirtation and it get’s increasingly tiresome to the point that it really made me consider skipping ahead. Indeed this is Vulpana’s major issue, it feels like it needed one more draft, introducing and emphasising the mystery elements and action a little earlier and slimming back ever so slightly on the courtly romances. Whilst, as stated in the above paragraph, I did enjoy these aspects (and I could tell this was what Reeves was most passionate about) there can be too much of a good thing and it can tire your audience.

On the whole Vulpana is a fun listen. Flawed most certainly but it’s a story which boasts effective performances from it’s cast, skirts socio-political issues and manages to be extremely funny at points. Sadly, there are issues which hamper it from being one I’ll return to regularly but for those interested in Mags it’s a far more effective tale than Gokroth and a good direction to take the story.






The Monsters of GokrothBookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 July 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie

The Monsters Of Gokroth (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By Matt Fitton

Direted by Samuel Clemens

!

In Big Finish’s anniversary year, interesting choices have been made in terms of subjects from the ‘classic’ era of the show from which to tackle. The first three months saw a number of stories which finally chose to address the Fifth Doctors oft-unseen companion Kamelion and finally give him his due. In terms of the Seventh Doctors stories a more quirky but perhaps equally more inspired choice was made and The Monsters of Gokroth is the opening story in a trilogy which sees the return of punk werewolf Mags from the 1988 story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. It’s an inspired choice really, one which leaves room for a whole range of possible stories- possibly delving darker into horror that Doctor Who ever has before. After all ‘punk-horror’ is an intriguing sub-genre all of it’s own and the late 1980’s was it’s heyday. Indeed, the slasher and darker horror of the 1980’s is arich resource for Doctor Who to draw upon. The Monsters of Gokroth even seems to promise this, with elements of gothic littered throughout the synoposis. Unfortunately, what results is a story which whilst entertaining in it’s own right- is incredibly pedestrian and draws only from Gothic tropes, not really using the full potential of having an alien punk werewolf with the Doctor.

None of this is the fault of Jessica Martin, who is incredible and returns to her role as if it was yesterday. At several points throughout the story she…’transforms’ and the difference between her two performances are superb. One imagines playing an aggressive werewolf is hardly an easy task, the level of violence and aggression really is frightening.

Unfortunately, that is the only slightly frightening thing within the entire story. Now I don’t want to be too unfair, Matt Finton’s story is a fun and exciting romp and one imagines that perhaps some of the problems faced by Gokroth are far from his fault. As I briefly mentioned in my introduction, the main problem with this particular tale is that it’s just too safe. It draws from a number of classic Gothic horror tropes (the creepy carnival, the hunchback assistant) yet it does literally nothing new with them. Instead the result is simply another Doctor Who style take on classic horror films. it’s difficult here not to review what I have heard, but what I wanted to hear yet one can’t help but feel that the biggest issue with Gokroth is the sense of wasted potential that permeates the entire story. Even with Ace the Punk movement has hardly been touched upon at all and with the Seventh Doctor already having a darker, edgier side- it seemed the perfect era in which to explore these ideas.

Aside from the story, there’s very little wrong with Gokroth. All of the guest cast are fun and seem to be having a blast with the story. In particular, Jeremy Hitchen makes a particularly slimy villain and provides some nice creepy moments with his portrayal of the sadistic Varron. Abi Harris threatens to steel the show however as the bombastic Trella, head of the village and in an unusual move for a character of this kind within the Whoniverse, comes across as mostly sympathetic.

Whilst much of the main range of late seems to have played it safe (with the exception of last years Daniel Hopkins trilogy) with a large number of ‘romps’ it seems a shame that Gokroth is just another in this line. Hopefully, the next two tales will redeem this trilogy and use some of the potential that is unfortunately wasted here.






Muse of Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 25 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Muse Of Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Paul Magrs
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

‘Muse of Fire’ is the first of two Big Finish releases that graced listeners in December of 2018. The fifth seventh doctor release in a row, it saw the return of the popular Ace/Hex companion team and plonked them down in 1920’s Paris at the height of an artistic boom. Not only that but it features the return of Iris Wildthyme and her long term companion and friend- Panda. I must confess to being something of a humbug when it comes to overtly silly Doctor Who stories. I must also confess to not having experienced much Irirs before (indeed I had only heard The Wormery) and so I wasn’t really too excited about this particular release. However, I can not only claim it to be the best main range release of the year thus far, but I must also thank it for starting my obsessive love affair with a certain 10-inch tall panda….

Written by one of the real shining stars of the Doctor Who world, Paul Magrs, Muse of Fire is a multi-layered incredibly rich piece of storytelling that weaves an eccentric comedy around themes of art and poetry. It pits the TARDIS team against Iris and Panda with ease and manages to further the Doctor and Iris’s relationship, not as easy as it may sound given that she was first introduced into the Whoniverse (or he was first introduced into the multiverse!) in 1998. Of course, Magrs has a certain advantage over some of the other writers who have written for Iris, being her creator. It effortlessly manages to include some moments of genuine tension, even if the situation is absurd, without giving us any jarring shifts in tone. The concept of the Doctor immediately mistrusting her, particularly in this incarnation, results in some wonderful moments- with Magrs getting in some great digs at this ‘era’ of Doctor Who.

Katy Manning and David Benson are of course two of the highlights of this release. In the previous series of Iris Wildthyme (which thanks to this release, I recently binged when travelling), their team of Iris and Panda proved to be one of the prime points of amusement and the fact that it took them this long to meet the Doctor together, is criminal frankly. Admittedly some of their…’vices’ are toned down a little, though this is to be expected, given that this is a Doctor Who and not a Wildthyme release. Benson takes a little longer than Manning to enter into the story, however when he does I had to stop the playback in order to wipe the tears from my eyes. Panda’s dynamic with Ace will surely reduce any hardened Doctor Who fan to sobs of laughter. Not only that but whenever I sit down to write another Doctor Who review, I won’t be able to not picture Panda ripping into Dali.

The regular Tardis team all get some great moments and it’s nice to see this particular trio in something a little more light, though still containing an incredible richness. Phillip Oliver shows a talent for comedy and he takes an immediate shine to Iris, indeed perhaps somewhere out there, there’s an Iris and Hex miniseries waiting to happen? Sophie Aldred has some wonderful moments, particularly with David Benson and McCoy manages to play the straight man beautifully, this darker Doctor seeming a little lost amidst all the madness. Yearning for the past is almost always a bad idea, however, I’d still indulge in any more one-off adventures featuring this team reunited.

All in all Muse of Fire is an incredible piece of work. The highlight of the year.






Doctor Who - Short Trips 8.12 - The Devil's FootprintsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 6 January 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Devil's Footprints (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins; Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Penelope Faith; Directed By: Helen Goldwyn

Cast

Bonnie Langford (Narrator)

The Doctor's old friend, the reverend HT Ellacombe, has been out of touch for too long. But when the Doctor goes to find him, he and Mel discover something else entirely: unidentifiable footprints in the snow around the Victorian village where he lives.

The villagers are terrified that the very Devil walks their lands in the wintry nights, but with the Doctor distracted by finding his friend, it seems it’s up to Mel to do the snooping around in attempt to uncover the truth.....

 

The Devil's Footprints is the kind of story that Doctor Who does so very well. It takes a real event, and adds the Doctor into the mix. The actual event the story is based on happened in 1855, in Devon. Where after a heavy snowfall a trail of hoof-like imprints in the snow appeared, stretching up to 100 miles.

 

In this latest entry to the Short Trips range, writer Penelope Faith expertly weaves the Seventh Doctor, Mel and alien possession into the mix. The TARDIS materialises in Devon, in the year 1885, where the Doctor bumps into an old friend, who the Doctor discovers, might not be quite what he was the last time they met.

 

The story is read by Bonnie Langford, in it her character Mel takes the lions share of the action. The plot romps along at quite a pace, and Langford really throws herself into narrating duties, even providing us with a great take on the seventh Doctor. Rolling R's, bluster and all.

 

The story of a small town harbouring a possible devil bears inevitable comparison to 1971's The Daemons, but manages to be original enough not to totally clash with that classic.

 

The Devil's Footprints is a story that is well worth a listen, and is available HERE from Big Finish.

 





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