Class - Original Television Soundtrack (including Bonus CD)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 May 2019 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Original Television Soundtrack (Credit: Silva Screen)
Available Now on Streaming, FLAC/MP3, CD and Vinyl.

Class will be remembered by most sci fi fans and BBC viewers as a short-lived 8 episode romp that was fleetingly available on BBC3 online before having late night showings on BBC1. Despite positive reviews, the show was undone by lacklustre viewing figures and an unwillingness by the higher ups at the BBC to provide another chance.

 

This album comes two years after the final transmission of Class on mainstream TV and is a veritable goldmine of musical atmosphere.

 


Main CD

 

I can happily report that not only does this CD meet expectations, it also goes on to exceed them. From the rousing opening of The Shadow Kin, to the hauntingly chilling cliffhanger of Governors Revealed, the forty-plus collection of music forms a very compelling and re-playable primary CD in the set.

Along the way comes the 'weird but wonderful' Strands From The Rift, the crowd pleasing Here She Comes in a Ruddy Great Bus, and the especially exciting (and unsettling) Asteroid track - which would hold its head high in an X Files or Outer Limits soundtrack collection.

Furthermore, the final brace of audio wonderment for the season conclusion (and sadly the series proper) cover all the necessary emotions, thoughts, and attachments to the core characters one can hope for. The CD culminates in Fight till your Last Breath and Souls Released with the auditory skill of Blair Mowat living up to such notable titles. 

 

**

Many other tracks are worth the listener's time. These include:

Rhodia; with the use of the first modern 'Doctor's Theme' from the parent show that Murray Gold used to such striking effect.

Time Has Looked At Your Faces; containing good multiple instruments and vocals 'as instruments' in a manner reminiscent of Enya.

Chasing The Dragon; here be rock vibes that evoke many a teenager's choice of allegiance when it comes to musical taste.

Dragon Attack has a sense of real adventure and character growth, as Charlie, April, Ram and Tanya all come under threat.

April's Past; adding further emotive pull to a character of much good writing and acting (such that she is my personal favourite of the teenage gang.

Heavy Petal; a chilling and foreboding concoction, ma­de further memorable still by the pounding drum backbeat as it comes to its conclusion.

To Share A Heart; this fits the bizarre but brilliant premise of the show's mid-season two- parter.

(And Finally) Charlie's Angry, Charlie's Winning; a multilayered effort from Mowat that helped with Detained being so intense and compelling. 

 

The only drawback is the lack of opening credits music, especially as the closing riffs of Track 43 are there to round off the album. But any such disappointment is somewhat negated by the [Song For] The Lost , which would not be out of place at a mediaeval monarch's court, and easily is one of the top 3 tracks.


Bonus CD

 

These tunes are not to be dismissed as mere 'best of the rest' but can be enjoyed repeatedly on their own, or even as part of a specific playlist to get the best possible reminder of given episodes.  The darkness and creepiness factor is ratcheted up to a great degree in many of these tracks, so for those that enjoyed Class for its horror aspects there is much to enjoy here.

At the same time a welcome change of pace comes in the form of several songs:

Nightvisitors – Tanya's Dad is a full-on song (as compared to the other CD's subtler vocals) that uses guitar and a male solo to intriguingly tell the 'point of view' of the alien visitors to various class mates in the show's third episode.

Black Is the Colour works as a good song in its own right, which also perfectly fit the overall feel of Class. It concerns fraught emotions, and unlike the track immediately analysed has a number of different singers to help give extra gravitas to the show's poignant endgame.

Previews of Episodes 3,4,5,6,7 and 8 form the tail end of this bonus disc and convincingly remind us how they added punch to viewers' initial desire to see further episodes.

 


To recap then, this release provides a solid couple of hours of arrestingly emotive and memorable music, and reminds the listener that Class (while surviving on through Big Finish) should have been allowed a couple more 'terms' at school at the very least.





9.2. Doctor Who - Short Trips: The Astrea ConspiracyBookmark and Share

Monday, 1 April 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

The conspirators sit in Antwerp, plotting to kill King Charles the Second. Aphra Behn's mission is simple: get former lover William Scot to turn against his treasonous comrades. But her money is running out and the complications don’t stop there. A strange Scottish man arrives at her inn with troubling news.

William Scot is out and the Doctor is in.

Rather excitingly, The Astrea Conspiracy marks the twelfth Doctor's first entry into the Big Finish range.....or at least that is what I thought.

Lizbeth Myles has written a historic story with a twist (there always is, isn't there?) Neve McIntosh narrates, and she does very well - until she tries to voice the twelfth Doctor, which just isn't convincing and doesn't hit home. This is the story's main problem, as it quickly becomes very distracting. I would rather McIntosh just read the story, something that I am sure must have been evident to the director, Nicholas Briggs.

The other problem with the story is that it just didn't appeal to me. There was no 'grab'. I found myself losing interest and then concentration, having to go skip back and re-listen to segments, which eventually made this Short Trip a Not Quite-So-Short Trip. It's a shame as I was quite enjoying a long run, but that is the nature of the Short Trips series, they can be quite divisive.

The Astrea Conspiracy is avail from Big Finish HERE.

 





The Phantom Piper (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 10 December 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Phantom Piper (Credit: Panini)
Written by Scott Gray

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Staz Johnson, Mike Collins, Scott Gray, James Offredi

Paperback: 148 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD 

The latest Graphic Novel from Panini collects together some of the final Comic Strip Adventures for the Twelfth Doctor, who ended his run as the star of Doctor Who Magazine’s monthly strip in October, just prior to the Thirteenth Doctor’s debut on TV. We'll get into a bit deeper, but it seems this will not be the final Graphic Novel the Twelfth Doctor will get from Panini.  Joining the Twelfth Doctor is Bill Potts, who launched on the strip not long after her TV debut, and stuck with him until the end of his tenure on the strip (just as on TV).

The book begins with the Doctor and Bill exploring Jupiter's moon Titan, but they soon get whisked into an adventure with Rudy Zoom, the conceited millionaire adventurer we first met in the Twelfth Doctor's first comic strip story.  Zoom has chartered an exploration of Titan because a woman was being called there by something.  The something turns out to be plant monsters that feed off of people's dreams and want to escape their prison on Titan.  It's a solid beginning for this Twelve/Bill era for the comic strip...it's fun, colorful, humorous, with drama and action. It is a solid start.  However, the book then takes us to the American Old West, and where they face an alien threat using a Native American Woman to exact her revenge on the White man.  This has flawed execution...while I like the idea of exploring a woman who faced adversity and great tragedy on the Trail of Tears, I think they made her too much of a revenge seeking generic villain in the end.  I think they tried to counteract this by making the Sheriff who teams up with the Doctor a black man. I guess they didn't make the Native characters have classic "Savage Indian" tropes...but I still felt like they started somewhere interesting with the character, and it kind of loses that thread, and the interesting backstory doesn't really play too much into her story.

At the end of that story, the TARDIS was marked with some kind of mysterious symbol.  To investigate, the Doctor takes Bill to Cornucopia (the alien world created and often visited during the Eleventh Doctor's comic run), and visits the vast library there for answers on what the symbol could mean.  The story is then about something evil having some kind of control over the librarian herself. It is honestly not that memorable, and really only serves as a one off filler strip.  In the end the Doctor realizes that the symbol is actually a code that needs cracking, so he then whisks Bill off to World War II, to find Alan Turing and get his help on cracking the code. This leads us directly into the final story in the set, the titular "The Phantom Piper" which closes out the set.  This is by far the best story in the collection, it has a big sweeping idea, a fun villain, and leans into Doctor Who Magazine's comic continuity in fun ways. Usually, I'd rather that media not lean too heavily into it's own storied continuity, as it can end up alienating the audience or dragging a story through the mud of references without any real deeper meaning.  This story is about something, and the continuity serves the story. 

I did think it felt like it had maybe a bit too much build-up and a solution that seemed to quick...but maybe that is because I was enjoying reading this story so much I breezed through all five parts fairly quickly.  It should be noted that for this story the page count for each installment shifted from 12 pages back to 8, which was the usual page count for the strip for a number of years. I think it wasn't until the Tenth Doctor that they beefed up the installment length.  At any rate, it did feel like the plot wrapped up rather quickly, and the set up what was the final story for the Twelfth Doctor on the strip, "The Clockwise War."  I think the ending may not have felt so quick and easy if I didn't have to now wait for an entirely new volume to come out in order to get the resolution to the book's cliffhanger.  If that final story was included, the epic scale would've probably just grown and been more satisfying.  

I'm not sure why they made the decision to leave out the final Twelfth Doctor story in this volume. Perhaps it was a decision that came down to deadlines not really coming together.  The final story for the Twelfth Doctor wrapped up only just before the Thirteenth Doctor premiered on TV. I would've honestly preferred them push back this volume to include that final story, and instead of sticking to their usual release schedule of Modern collection followed by a collection of older stuff, they could've held off and given us a bigger book that included the entire Twelve/Bill run in one volume...and in the meantime release an equally anticipated volume of classic comics, which will probably collect together the final batch of stories in the awkward years, and featured the final Seventh Doctor story ("Ground Zero") that came out before the long running Eighth Doctor era. Now it seems that there will be one more volume of Twelfth Doctor Comics to come from Panini.  This time it will be one story (about 60 pages worth of story). Maybe they will put more stuff into it.  Time will tell.

It is a shame that Bill Potts didn’t get more time in the TARDIS. In some ways, I wish her character could’ve joined the Twelfth Doctor at the beginning of Series 9 as opposed to Series 10. Bill was a solid character, well performed, and sadly will only ever have a short run on TV and a short run in the comic strip, and a short run in Titan’s line as well. Maybe someday when he’s ready, Capaldi and Pearl Mackie can revive this duo on Big Finish. Until then, we have this volume...and I guess we can await another yet to come, one story or not.

This collection is hit and miss. It starts and ends strong, but I didn't particularly care for the stories in the middle..and the fact that it ends in a cliffhanger that leads directly into the only Twelfth Doctor story left from the Magazine not included here leaves me a tad disappointed.  Ultimately, if you are a fan of the Strip, it is another well put together volume (missing the finale or not). I still think the best Twelfth Doctor volume remains Doorway to Hell, but I also enjoy Bill...so I'm happy to have more of her in any format. 





The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor - The Twelfth Doctor (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 4 October 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Road to The Thirteenth Doctor -Twelfth Doctor (Credit: Titan)
"Tulpa"
Writer: James Peaty
Artist: Brian Williamson
Colorist: Dijjo Lima

"The Road To..."
Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colorist: Enrica Angiolini

Published by Titan Comics in September 2018

The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor ends here, with the Twelfth Doctor's entry.  Again, the main story of the issue seemingly has nothing to do with the Thirteenth Doctor, only a brief short comic at the end of the book actually seems to lead to the new Doctor, but at least this time the main story of the issue is fun and interesting.  

The story involves a weird alien parasite, that feeds off of a guy's dreams and imagination, and practically destroys the Earth to revive the long-dead species.  It's fun and creative and has some tremendous art by Brian Williamson, who has an art style I am always impressed with. Again, it is a story that could have easily just headlined the Twelfth Doctor's ongoing line, but that isn't a complete negative, it is really only a negative in terms of the marketing of the book.

The "Road To..." segment in this final entry takes place near the end of the Twelfth Doctor's life.  The Doctor, Nardole, and Missy are on the lift on their way to save Bill in World Enough and Time.  They see the glowing light,  the hand reaching towards them and the Doctor acknowledges that he saw it before as the Tenth Doctor (having missed it when it appeared in his Eleventh incarnation), but despite knowing it is a situation that will need to be dealt with, he must carry on to save Bill, leaving it a problem for another day. To Be Continued with the Thirteenth Doctor.  

While this overall issue was an improvement over the previous entries of the mini-series, I don't think the actual "Road To..." segments were terribly satisfying.  For one, I always find it a bit annoying when there is an adventure of a Past Doctor, and they shoehorn in another adventure in the middle of it.  While it can work (I rather liked Twice Upon a Time), it often just feels like fan service. They could have just as easily weaved the glowing vortex with the hand reaching out into the main story of the issue, which would have tied the whole concept of the mini-series together a little neater. 

On the whole, this mini-series felt a bit like a half-baked bust. None of it is awful, but it doesn't really feel like it is building towards the Thirteenth Doctor in any meaningful way.  It feels like they just took a regular issue of each Doctor's ongoing line, slapped a mini-story in the back of each issue, and then marketed as if the whole books would be about the adventures that lead to the Thirteenth Doctor, or at the very least lead to the main arc of her upcoming Ongoing Comic.  So that is a shame.  I wouldn't say don't read the books, as they are serviceable and mildly entertaining, just know going in that they definitely lack the marketed Thirteenth Doctor element.  





Twice Upon a Time (BBC Audio)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 9 August 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Audio)
Adapted by: Paul Cornell
Based on the script by: Steven Moffat
Read by: Mark Gatiss
Cover by: Anthony Dry
Duration: 3hrs 15mins
Publisher: BBC Audio
Originally Released June 2018

“Stories too broad and too deep for the small screen.”

That was the credo of the Doctor Who New Adventures novels of the 1990s. It’s a phrase that is written on the heart of certain circles of fandom right next to “Never cruel or cowardly.” It seems appropriate then that one of the authors that most defined the voice of those books, Paul Cornell, uses his last Doctor Who book (though he’s said that before, in fairness) to lend greater breadth and depth than the small screen could allow.

Twice Upon a Time was always a remarkable story to play out on a Christmas Day. Ultimately it’s the story of a man, standing at the precipice, deciding whether or not to commit suicide. Normally that sort of thing is the reserve of Albert Square, where Christmas means even more misery than usual. But in 2017 Doctor Who danced on the tiny overlap that allowed it to be a funny, thrilling adventure about wanting to die with dignity. Part of that trade-off was the Doctor’s exact reasons and feelings not having room to be deeply explored, but Cornell takes full advantage of his page count to give us exactly that. It’s no less witty or packed with incident, but it more clearly acknowledges that this is a story full of characters who are, one way or another dead or dying.

The Doctor’s yearning for completeness comes to the fore of his thoughts. His desire to be able to finally provide a full stop to his life and say ‘so that was it.’  River comes to the fore of his thoughts and, in a genius spark of perspective, Cornell notes that this is a Doctor who lived for 75 years in a rather settled life. Twenty-four years in one long night with River, and then fifty years at St.Luke’s University. He’s had his retirement and his good death. Why can’t he just have it?

Bill’s future history with Heather is also fleshed out and with purpose as it shadows the Doctor’s dilemma. We learn of them returning to Earth to live a full, long, human life and how Bill ultimately chooses to die of old age rather than resume her ‘puddle’ form and return to the stars, even as she urged Heather to go without her. The faint hypocrisy of this isn’t touched upon, but it’s very human. The deeper, broader question of Bill’s existence – something the TV episode has time to little more than nod at – gets intelligently examined too. The Doctor connecting the concept of Testimony to growing up with the everyday reality of the Matrix on Gallifrey seems obvious in retrospect, as does that informing his opinion on whether such digital ghosts are actually the person involved, or simply an extremely detailed diary left behind by them.

All in all, Cornell has constructed a novelization which adds a new dimension of tenderness and emotion relative to the time and space of the original. A fine example of a Target which doesn’t so much overwrite, or compete with, the televised version in your mind, but rather adds additional layers of quality and grace to it.

As an audiobook, Cornell’s efforts are assisted hugely by Mark Gatiss. Himself no stranger to reading the Target range as a child, he knows exactly what’s required and turns in a touching, sensitive reading of the material. Not only are his Doctors note perfect in their voices (interestingly, he’s definitely decided to channel Bradley rather than Hartnell for his First Doctor) but he invests them with a sense of performance and character beyond the voice that truly captures their personalities.

Gatiss’ own persona also meshes smoothly with the tone required by the text. At times you can almost picture him in a comfortable antique leather chair, relating a diverting anecdote he thinks might amuse you. At others, his dropped voice and quiet control effortlessly communicates the pathos of a moment. All of the audiobooks in this series have selected appropriate and talented readers. But Gatiss is probably the only one so far to feel like he could genuinely have read any of them.

The sound design also keeps up the high quality of the series. Unobtrusive, yet giving an appropriate sense of setting, it hits just the right balance. It’s particularly nice to get the unique, and never repeated, bloops and whirrs of the console going crazy during the First Doctor’s regeneration faithfully presented her. One tiny niggle though is when the polar winds continue to blow in your earphones even when time stops still – which did prompt a little Bradleyesque “Oh, surely not? That can’t be right, can it, hmm?” from this listener that momentarily took me out of the action. But when that’s the worst criticism one can make of a three-hour recording…

This is the final of the current set of new Target novelizations and it’s fitting that they’ve proven just how varied the original range was, and just what their readers loved about them. We’ve had Jenny Colgan’s deeply traditional Dicksian take, and RTD’s version which took cues from both David Whittaker and Ian Marter (gleefully raiding other stories for bits and pieces, while upping the gore and violence beyond anything BBC One would have allowed at 7pm on a Saturday). We’ve had Steven Moffat’s wildly experimental take which doesn’t so much expand on the original but treats the TV episode as a kind of Serving Suggestion for where the story could go. And now Paul Cornell’s fine novel which manages the trick of adding massively to the inner lives of the characters while altering the actual events hardly a line.

Here’s to the next batch (“The Unquiet Dead by Mark Gatiss” anyone?)

 





Twice Upon a Time (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 July 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
Twice Upon a Time (Credit: BBC Books)
Author: Paul Cornell
Publisher: BBC Books
Released: April 2018
Paperback: 161 pages

This final Target novelisation brings us bang up to date with the Doctor’s adventures, recounting the 12th Doctor’s final journey towards his future, covering events following the end of series 10 that saw him lose his companion Bill to the Cybermen.  Arriving at the South Pole and deciding he doesn’t want to regenerate again he meets his first incarnation who is also wrestling with the prospect of change.  When time stops and the Doctors encounter a First World War soldier who is being pursued by a woman made of glass they begin a journey that sees both incarnations finding out what it means to be the Doctor.

The novelisation follows the broadcast story extremely closely, with relatively little additional material in terms of story development.  However, while the TV episode might have suffered, at least in the eyes of some, from the lack of an enemy to see the Doctor off in spectacular style, this seems less the case here, in a novel that has the space to explore the nature of the change and personal sense of loss that regeneration inflicts on the Doctor.  It, therefore, feels less of a postscript to what went before and more an exploration of some big themes in their own right, with a deeper reflection on the life of the Doctor as he faces his latest regeneration, and on the sense of the unknown as he faces his first.  To fully exploit this, a quite significant development that seems even more explicit here than on broadcast is the idea that the Doctor can choose whether he regenerates or dies, something that raises big questions for the Doctor personally but also for the web of time itself.

This serious subject matter doesn’t stop Cornell having fun throughout the book though.  The Doctor’s nicknames for his earlier incarnation prompt him to recall past encounters with various stars from the world of entertainment including a shared holiday with Mary Berry and a pub crawl with Clive Dunn.  There’s also some fun referencing the show’s history.  When the VHS tape held up by Archie is revealed to be the Doctor’s recording of the Daleks master plan, it elicits the comment ‘how they’d love to get that back’ – a nice acknowledgment of fans’ desire for the return of lost episodes.  And there’s further mischief with a joke addressing the old Dimension/Dimensions inconsistency in the TARDIS acronym.

In common with the other recent releases in this range the author also indulges fans with occasional continuity – some obvious, including references to events in the Snowcap base in The Tenth Planet, to companions Steven and Sara Kingdom, and a moving reference to Susan, - some more subtle, such as the reference to people being the sum of their memories.  The First Doctor getting to use the sonic screwdriver for the first time provides another fan-pleasing moment.  Throughout, Cornell shows the attention to detail one would expect, taking the opportunity to explain why the Blinovitch Limitation Effect isn’t functioning, and delightfully explaining why the First Doctor has to do more work at the console when flying the TARDIS compared with his later incarnations.  There’s also a nice acknowledgment of the legacy of the Target novels themselves with a chapter titled ‘Escape to Danger’.  These references demonstrate real respect for the show but don't distract from the storytelling.

Cornell finishes the book on a very serious note, adding perhaps the most chilling moment in the book with what was for me the revelation that plans for a subsequent Christmas truce in 1915 were stopped by the authorities.  This moment darkens the sombre mood as the story draws to its conclusion, as ever, reality proving to be far more shocking than anything the show can create.  This addition is well judged and feeds the somewhat melancholy mood as the Doctors finally come to terms with their destinies.

The book is not without its problems, however.  In remaining faithful to the broadcast episode the novel does retain what many people felt to be an over the top characterisation of the First Doctor’s dated attitudes.  This can be forgiven as it merely reflects the TV episode itself, however, it may possibly be compounded in the novelisation by an occasionally overstated characterisation of the First Doctor as devoid of humour.  This is something that doesn’t really reflect the softer characterisation that had evolved by this point of this incarnation and even contradicts him making a joke himself earlier in the story, albeit one that demonstrates the first point of criticism.  These are however relatively small points and don’t detract significantly from the positives.

As the final book in this batch of releases it’s worth reflecting on the nature of the Target range and what they offer in the twenty-first century.  My own Target collection has been packed away and living in my parents’ loft for a few years now, these books a remnant of my childhood, a feature of the past, not needed in an age of on demand TV and DVDs.  Reading these recent releases however I’ve rediscovered the joy of Target novels and realised that they can still have a unique place in Dr Who fans' collections .  Whilst they may not be the most challenging of reads it is clear they are written with a great deal of love and it’s a joy to be able to join the Doctor for a couple of chapters on the bus to work or a few spare moments during the day.  And given that these books have a style of their own, the reader can connect with (and appreciate) the series in a uniquely different way.  Until there are further new releases (hopefully!) it may be time for me to pay a visit to my parents’ loft.