The Apocalypse Element (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Apocalypse Element (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)

Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Cast
Colin Baker
(The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Lalla Ward (Romana); Karen Henson (Monitor Trinkett); James Campbell (Assistant Monitor Ensac); Andrea Newland (Commander Vorna); Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell); Toby Longworth (Monan Host); Michael Wade (The President); Alistair Lock  and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices); Andrew Fettes (Vrint / Captain Raldeth); Neil Corry (Alien Delegate)
Produced by: Justin Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell
Originally Released: August 2000

The Apocalypse Element, made in 2000, makes for remarkable listening eighteen years on. It’s not just that it features the Daleks and the Time Lords at loggerheads, either. After all, Genesis of the Daleks sees the Time Lords attempting to kill the Daleks in the cradle, while Resurrection of the Daleks sees Davros’ children return the favour by attempting to assassinate the High Council. The Seventh Doctor even makes sure to declare he’s acting in his capacity as Lord President before he blows up Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks.  All of these and more haver latterly being subject to attempts to pinpoint them as the start of the Time War.

No, the truly astonishing thing is the way in which it all feels so very like the modern series’ vision of what a Time War is like. The Daleks fit so perfectly with their recent appearances, it’s difficult not to picture their bronze, rivetted travel machines as they carve their way through Gallifrey’s Capitol, exterminating everything in sight. They have a relentless, unstoppability rarely seen on TV in the 20th century but very familiar to viewers in the 21st. A scene where they destroy the lights because, after all, they can see in infrared and their prey can’t could have come straight from Dalek or The Parting of the Ways, five years after this was released.

The counterpoint to this, though, is that the Time Lords are a far cry from the battle hardy cynics whose very name terrifies or enrages those caught up in the War unwillingly, but are much more like their predecessors as seen in the likes of Arc of Infinity – people who talk a good talk about their own power but go hopelessly to pieces when the pressure’s on. In fact, this may be the least flattering depictions of the Time Lords yet as here even their paranoia, distrust and disdain towards the rest of the universe goes to the wall and they actually let the Daleks in by accident, during a hair brained impulse to steal another species’ time machine and see if it’s better than theirs. Though even this depiction winds up feeding into the modern revival of Doctor Who via a conclusion that sees the Time Lords swear to toughen themselves up and prepare for the inevitable rematch.

The Daleks’ over-arching scheme, like all the best Dalek schemes, is utterly bonkers. They’ve found a way to destroy the entire universe (thanks to the ‘Apocalypse Element’ of the title) and are now approaching the problem of weaponizing it from an unusual angle  – finding a way to use this technological terror without wiping out themselves too.Near the end, there's a little "We totally meant to do that!" explanation for why the Daleks would pursue such an obvioyusly flawed plan, but it's about as convincing as a small child expounding on exactly how that crayon got up its nose, and how it was actually all a completely reasonable idea.

It’s possibly this type of melodrama which allows The Apocalypse Element to succeed where many other attempts to create a grim and gritty tale in the style of 1980s Eric Saward stories have failed. It never tips into true nastiness, even in the scenes revealing Romana has been a Dalek slave for twenty years, slowly being worked to death, and doesn’t revel in any kind of nihilism. While it pulls in just enough of the silliness present in all the best Doctor Who as an antidote to masses of death and destruction without letting it collapse into farce.

Now that Big Finish are increasingly playing in the sandpit of TV’s Last Great Time War, with the sadly ended War Doctor range being followed up by ranges featuring the Sir Derek Jacobi's Master, the Eighth Doctor and Romana herself, The Apocalypse Element seems more relevant than ever and a must for those wanting to see where it all began.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 31 Jul 2000
The Apocalypse Element (Dr Who Big Finish)
$51.27



Static (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 20 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Static (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Jonathan Morris
Director: Jamie Anderson
Featuring: Colin BakerLisa Greenwood
Miranda Raison, David Graham 
Big Finish Productions Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: December 2017
Running Time: 2 Hours

Available on General Release from January 31st 2018

The recent trilogy of adventures for the Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip concludes with this final main range release of 2017. It would be fair to say that Big Finish’s eighteenth full year of monthly Doctor Who releases has continued to provide some strong stories even whilst facing stiff competition from a dearth of other ranges such as the final instalment of the Eighth Doctor’s Doom Coalition saga and the opening boxed set of his adventures during the Time War. Whilst this reviewer’s favourite main range release of the year remains September’s delightful political comedy Time in Office, it would be fair to say that the latest trilogy of Sixth Doctor’s adventures has also been very much a highlight. As a concluding instalment, Static by Big Finish regular Jonathan Morris does not disappoint. This story sets out to try and be one of the scariest Doctor Who plays Big Finish have produced since 2002’s The Chimes of Midnight and whilst this doesn’t quite achieve the same atmosphere of a ghost story for Christmas (and whilst competent and prolific Morris is not Robert Shearman), it’s opening two episodes are an especially unsettling listen.

In addition to the usual enjoyable performances from Colin Baker, Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood, a special mention must go to the main guest contributor for this story, David Graham, who will forever be known as the voice of Parker from Thunderbirds amongst his many other credits. It’s fair to say that a few actors with connections to director Jamie Anderson’s famous father have popped up in recent releases but Graham’s casting as the mysterious Percy Till is sublime and very much adds to the spooky atmosphere. The other cast are also very competent although the dual casting of Scott Chambers isn’t entirely effective as despite an attempt at a regional accent his Sergeant Webster sounds a little too similar to the character of Andy who he plays for most of the first half and as a result does distract the listener a little.

The atmosphere is suitably aided by sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian. Kraemer has also produced a competent music score although there are some deliberately 1980s style moments which whilst giving this story the feeling of its setting within that era of Doctor Who does occasionally lessen the overall atmosphere of genuine jeopardy.

Minor criticisms aside, this story still ends this trilogy and the year on a high note and as the main range enters its nineteenth year of monthly releases it has a lot to live up to. Whilst both Flip and Constance seem keen to return to their respective times and places, they are an enjoyable team and hopefully have some mileage left for further adventures. In the meantime, the start of 2018 sees us return once again to 1982 to join the Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Adric in Kingdom of Lies.





The Middle (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Middle (Credit: Big Finish)

  Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: November 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

Having got off to an excellent start with October’s historical adventure The Behemoth, this new trilogy of adventures for Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor alongside unlikely but clearly very able companions Mrs Constance Clarke and Flip Jackson (portrayed as ever by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood who are both clearly enjoying their roles) continues with a story slightly more typical for the 1980s era of Doctor Who, The Middle. This adventure is the first full-length play from Chris Chapman, whose credentials include having produced a number of very memorable DVD extra documentaries for BBC Worldwide’s Who releases.

The play opens with a rather chilling teaser scene which gives the initial impression that the Doctor and his companions are about to land in world which euthanizes its older population once they reach the age of 70. However, when in the following scenes we are introduced to the futuristic colony world of Formicia through the eyes and ears of the TARDIS team, the truth of how this society treats both its elder and younger population is even more surprising. It’s not long before the Doctor finds himself on the receiving end of some bad treatment when he’s identified as being much older than he appears and having just celebrated her 35th birthday, Constance is soon separated from Flip and dispatched to work at The Middle, a place of never ending bureaucracy where it seems the middle-aged inhabitants of Formicia must eek out a dull existence whilst they wait for “The End”.

It is here that Constance first encounters the sinister Middleman, the most sinister company man you can imagine and perfectly played by Mark Heap. Meanwhile, Colin Baker is reunited with his former TV co-star from Vengeance on Varos (more recently seen as Clara Oswald’s Gran) Sheila Reid, who is here playing the spirted Janaiya, an elderly inhabitant whose spirit proves that “The End is the Beginning”. They are joined by Wayne Forester (fast becoming a Big Finish regular after his appearance in the previous release amongst others) as Roman.Chloe Rickenbach portrays a younger inhabitant who ends up teaming up with Flip and a finally a nice turn fromHollie Sullivan rounds off another great ensemble.

With excellent music as usual from Jamie Robertson and well-crafted sound design from Joe Meiners, this story gives a convincing future sci-fi setting which contrasts very neatly with the previous adventure. Overall, this is a second strong entry for this latest trilogy and probably one of the best of the monthly releases for 2017. However, this trilogy looks set to go out on a high with the spooky December release Static.






The Behemoth (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 14 January 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Behemoth (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: October 2017
Running Time: 2 hours

Available Now on General Release 

The Behemoth picks up from the end of December 2016’s Quicksilver which saw Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and still relatively new companion Mrs Constance Clarke team up with his former companion Mrs Flip Ramon (née Jackson). This chalk and cheese pairing, one from Wartime Bletchley Park and the other from near Present-day East London, are ably portrayed by Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood. Despite the obvious generational differences, they have quickly established an enjoyable relationship which is already likely to rival the popularity of other companion pairings of the main range as well as the Eighth Doctor’s current companion duo, Liv Chenka and Helen Sinclair.

And so, the first of this new trilogy of adventures finds the three TARDIS travellers arrive in Bath in the year 1756. This is a great example of something of a rarity, a purely historical adventure featuring the Sixth Doctor. Colin Baker revels in the Georgian setting, even down to being at one point mistaken for a major historical celebrity. However, while most of the characters in this story are fictional there is a genuine historical figure to be found in the shape of Captain Van Der Meer (ably portrayed by Giles New) and his mysterious companion Lady Clara (no, no that Clara!) who is revealed to be (and genuinely was in actual history) a rhinocerous.

Beyond the initial layer of fun to be had with the story’s setting, there is a beautifully layered story of the dark heart of the early years of British colonialism; the slave trade. The slaves in question are sensitively portrayed by Diveen Henry as Sarah and Ben Arogundade as Gorembe. By contrast, most of the action revolves around the upper-class characters who are well rounded characters especially Georgina Moon as Mrs Middlemint and Glynn Sweet as her brother Sir Geoffrey Balsam. There is also able support from Wayne Forester (recently heard in a more prominent role in Big Finish’s The Spectrum Files) as anti-slavery minister Reverend Philip Naylor and finallyLiam McKenna enjoys a more overtly chauvinistic and villainous turn as the sinister Titus Craven.

Overall, this is a very strong start to this new mini series of adventures.Marc Platt has created an extremely convincing historical setting and once again reminded listeners that visiting one’s own past isn’t always a comfortable experience, particularly when social injustice abounds.

The Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip’s adventures continue with the November release The Middle.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 30 Nov 2017
Doctor Who Main Range: 231 - The Behemoth



The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The World Shapers (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)Written by Alan McKenzie, Simon Furman, Jamie Delano, Mike Collins, Grant Morrison
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 186 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD!

The World Shapers sees out the end of the Sixth Doctor's tenure as the star of the strip.  The earliest stories are pretty good, but as the book goes on the strip seems to lose a bit of the focus that made the Doctor Who Magazine version of the strip such a joy from its debut up until this point.  I think it is "Salad Daze" which was the moment I was starting to lose interest in this book.  It is still fairly good up to there, which is about the halfway point...then it slowly devolves into mediocre to downright bad. 

For my money, the worst story in the collection is, unfortunately, the story that ended the Sixth Doctor's entire run in the strip, and the story from which the entire collection takes its name.  "The World Shapers" is exactly the kind of story I get bored by.  Instead of thinking of an interesting story or theme, the entire strip relies on continuity to seem interesting.  It's Jamie! The Voord! Marinus! Cybermen! The Voord are Cybermen? It's mixing together two monsters and claiming them as one, hoping that that twist is enough to hold up the whole story. It doesn't. I know Grant Morrsion went on to great success, but his work here is lame.  

While still a decent read with some great artwork and solid stories, I personally found the second volume of the Sixth Doctor comic strip run to be a bit more of a slog. I don’t really know why, but I think after the great run of stories featured in Voyager, it was hard to keep the momentum going. And the titular “World Shapers” was far too interested in delving into obscure continuities that it ended up souring the book for me. Not a bad collection of stories (for its first half anyhow), but it just can’t hold a candle to the first Sixth Doctor set, or even the Fourth and Fifth Doctor run. 





Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 23 December 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Voyager (Panini Graphic Novel) (Credit: Panini)
Written by Steve Parkhouse, Alan McKenzie
Artwork by John Ridgeway
Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

During his tenure, The Sixth Doctor struggled to connect on the television screen. But at the same time he was sort of bombing over the airwaves, on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine he was charming and fun to read. In many ways, he was still that same Doctor that Baker was playing on TV, but more palatable, and the fact that the art is black and white makes the coat easier on the eyes. I would say that for anyone that has ever listened to Baker's lovely Big Finish audios, the Doctor of the Comic Strip was much closer to that interpretation than the brasher TV counterpart.

The introduction of companion Frobisher, the shapeshifter who wishes to be a penguin, may seem like an oddball choice...but in the zany world of comics it just kind of works. The collection opens with his introductory tale, which also sort of wraps up the loose thread from the Fifth Doctor's tenure, by giving a bit of closure to the Dogbolter story.  

The book then goes into the "Voyager" storyline, which I personally find to be one of the finest comic story runs in all of Doctor Who Magazine. It just has beautiful artwork, a weird and ethereal plot, and in many ways surpasses much of what the TV show was doing at the same time. This entire plotline was also colorized and released in the 80s as a graphic novel, also titled Voyager.  The final story in the "Voyager" plot is also the final story by Steve Parkhouse, who had been with the strip since the Fourth Doctor. 

Unlike the 80s graphic novel of the same name, Panini's book continues on with the rest of the stories that came out in 1985, the rest of the book being written by Alan McKenzie. While the Parkhouse half of the book is definitely the stronger half, McKenzie's stories are still pretty solid, and still flowed as a series up through the final story of the book. 

The running storyline in the first half of this collection is great, and even the lesser second half of the book is quite entertaining. With the gorgeous black and white artwork by John Ridgeway and wonderfully weird adventures, it is a highly recommended read for fans who want to see just how good the ongoing Doctor Who strip can be.