The Ambassadors of Death (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 24 February 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Ambassadors Of Death (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Geoffrey Beevers

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2018
Available from Amazon UK

Way back in the day, before home video, and before there were even many reruns of Doctor Who, many serials of the Classic Series were fondly remembered by fans via their novelizations printed by Target Books. There are probably still older fans who remember seeings bits of stories that never actually aired, because their memories of the Target Novelizations were so embedded into their memories of the show.  Now the BBC are taking those novelizations, and producing audiobooks of them.  So The Ambassadors of Death this is an audiobook adaptation of a novelization of a TV serial that aired in 1970.  Also, this is not to be confused with the television soundtrack of the story which was previously released, which was the soundtrack of the TV story with linking narration by Caroline John

With all that out of the way, I can say, I was not one of the fans who grew up with hte Target books.  I've never had an opportunity to read any of them, as I grew up i nthe wrong era and wrong continent for these books to be too available.  So this is really my first taste of what Target brought to the table. I can see why this line of books lasted so long, and managed to adapt nearly every serial from the classic series. The Story Editor of the Pertwee Era, Terrance Dicks, wrote this novelization (he actually wrote several and was fairly prolific in the book series), and his adaptation of the TV story he co-wrote is very detailed and captures the spirit of the original Pertwee story perfectly. I haven't watched The Ambassadors of Death in a few years, but listening to this I could just picture it all brought back to life in my head. 

Of course, an audiobook version of any book is only as good as the person reading it, and Geoffrey Beevers could read me the phonebook.  He has a great voice, actually voices as he distinguishes several characters with different tones and accents, and that voice encouraged me to zip through the audiobook.  Beavers also briefly played the Master on television against Tom Baker, and went on to reprise that character in severa Big Finish audio plays.  He was also, fact fans, the husband of Caroline John who portrayed Liz Shaw during the first season of Pertwee's tenure (including this very story).  I have all sorts of pointless trivia!

Anyhow this audiobook was quite good.  If you are on the go and want to relive the Target novels you once read (or, like me, experience them for the first time) you want be disappointed in this.  Beevers is a great narrator, and the audiobook reminded me just how entertaining the original Serial was. 





Doctor Who: The Day She Saved the Doctor - Audio BookBookmark and Share

Sunday, 18 February 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Day She Saved The Doctor (audiobook) (Credit: Puffin)
Stories by Jacqueline Rayner, Jenny T Colgan,
Susan Calman and Dorothy Koomson
Read by Yasmin Page, Rachae Stirling,
Catrin Stewart and Pippa Bennett-Warner

Published by Puffin on 8th March 2018
Purchase the Book or Audiobook from Amazon

The Day She Saved The Doctor (Credit: Puffin)






 
This interesting take on Doctor Who includes four stories that are told from the point of view of the Doctor's companion, who in each of these cases are female. The collection is published quite handily on March 8th, which is International Woman's Day. Each story is written by a high profile, female author and read by an actress with ties to Doctor Who.
 

 

Story One - Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes
Written by Jacqueline Rayner. Read by Yasmin Paige.
"It's a snake. Great" - Sarah Jane Smith.
 
In this, the opening story of the four we find the fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith somewhere near Rome, at the height of the Roman Empire. While perusing a market they come across a woman who has quite literally just been struck blind. With the help of Sarah's finely honed investigative reporting skills, they discover that this isn't the first time this mystery blindness has struck, and rather mysteriously, the blindness only afflicts women.
 
As their investigation proceeds, it's not before long the Doctor is tied up and about to be slaughtered by a female cult - can Sarah Jane Smith save the day?
 
Jacqueline Raynor has a list of previous credits with Doctor Who that is VERY impressive, from
original novels, through to comics and Big Finish. This is probably why this story was my most anticipated of the set, especially as it featured my companion, Miss Sarah Jane Smith and my Doctor. Because of this, to say I was disappointed is sadly an understatement. 
 
The story is placed somewhere between The Brain of Morbius and The Hand of Fear, which doesn't leave a lot of space for it to fit in. Raynor's story deals with blindness and a female cult - which means there are a lot of similarities between this story, and The Brain of Morbius. Too many if I am honest, it all felt too familiar. I also struggled with Raynor's characterisations of my favourite TARDIS pairing. For me it didn't feel quite right.
 
Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes is read by Yasmin Paige, who played Maria Jackson in The Sarah Jane Adventures.  Unfortunately I found her narration very bland - which didn't help the weak story at all.
 
 
Story Two - Rose and the Snow Window 
Written by Jenny T Colgan. Read by Rachael Stirling.
"Ohhh! I will NEVER get tired of the TARDIS translation circuit." - Rose Tyler
 
The second story opens with the tenth Doctor and Rose playing cat and mouse with the International Space Station. They are looking for a time leak, and quickly find it in Toronto. Once they arrive in the Canadian city, they quickly find a tall building from where they have a better vantage point. The time leak is (rather handily) in the building opposite, where they can see a room that looks out of place from those surrounding it. This room looks bigger than it should be, and there is a roaring fireplace. The room is indeed out of place - by a couple of centuries. It belongs to a Russian aristocrat, Nikolai, and it's up to Rose to get into a corset, pop on a posh frock and enter the quantumly displaced room to find out exactly what is going on.
 
Jenny T Colgan (or J T Colgan, and also sometimes Jane Beaton) has written for Who before, and is also known for her romantic fiction. Which actually comes into play quite well here as there is definitely a spark between Rose and the enigmatic Russian aristocrat.
 
Colgan has great fun with the 'person out of time' concept, as we witness the pure joy and wonder Nikolai experiencing a 21st century warm shower for the first time. This also works the other way with the amusing imagery of a group of rather confused 21st century Canadian Mounties trapped in a snowy 19th Century Russia. Thankfully Colgan's characterisations of the tenth Doctor and Rose are absolutely spot on. The story is very fast paced, dashing between different time-zones faster than anyone could say 'time-anomaly'.
 
Rachael Stirling, who played Ada Gillyflower in The Crimson Horror, does a great job at reading Colgan's work, and throws herself eagerly into making a good impersonation of both Rose and the Doctor.
 
After the rather bland Sarah Jane and the Temple of Eyes, my faith in this new set of tales was well and truly restored.
 
 
Story Three - Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta
Written by Susan Calman. Read by Catrin Stewart
"Doctor, don't you think there is something strange about this place?" - Clara Oswald
 
Bored with her housekeeping duties Clara begs the eleventh Doctor to whisk her away to somewhere exciting, so he takes her to Cui Palta, where they find a colossal maze. As always, finding his curiosity hard to resist the Doctor leads them both into a maze, a maze that they discover seemingly has no solution. The pair are soon hopelessly lost and surrounded by the bones of those who previously wandered the maze's ever changing paths. The situation looks desperate indeed. 
 
Comedian, author, presenter, Doctor Who fan and sometime Strictly contestant Susan Calman's entry is a wonderfully breezy story that captures the pairing of the eleventh Doctor and Clara perfectly. If I had one complaint (and it is a small one), it would be that Clara sometimes falls into being the 'default' companion by saying things like "Look Doctor" a few too many times. Otherwise Clara and the Maze of Cui Palta is a lovely romp, lovingly written by a fan of the show.
This entry is read by Catrin Stewart, the Paternoster Gang's very own Jenny Flint, Catrin reads in a lovely bright and breezy way that perfectly suits this story.
 
 
Story Four - Bill and the Three Jackets
Written by Dorothy Koomson. Read by Pippa Bennett-Warner
“Time and Relative Dimensions in Space means....Life!" - Bill Potts
 
Bill has a hot date that she is VERY excited about. She wants to get herself a smart, new jacket for the occasion, and quickly finds a shop on the outskirts of Bristol centre that seems absolutely perfect. Inside, she finds a very helpful sales assistant named Ziggy. Bill picks three coats, but would love to see how they suit her, so Ziggy breaks the shop's strict 'no selfie' rule (they don’t want their designs stolen), and takes some polaroid pictures of Bill in the three different coats. Bill decides to go and get a coffee so she can ponder over which coat to buy, but strange things begin to happen. No one she knows now recognises her as Bill, plus there is an imposter in the TARDIS with her face. Can she convince the Doctor that she is the real Bill before she loses all of her own memories?
 
Dorothy Koomson is a contemporary author, originally from Ghana who has a dozen published novels to her name. Her entry into the Whoniverse is fast paced, claustrophobic, confident and sometimes quite frightening. It's a story of loss of identity and the fear of never getting it back. Bill and the Three Jackets has a lovely continuity with the series, especially proven when Bill employs the help of Lou - the 'chip girl' from the episode The Pilot. I enjoyed it immensely, enough for me to want to read more of Koomson's work. 
 
The story is very enthusiastically read by Pippa Bennett-Warner, her Who credit being that she starred as Saibra in season eight's Time Heist. Her impersonation of Bill is spot on. So much so that I had to check that it wasn't actually Pearl Mackie on reading duties.
 

 

Overall I felt that The Day She Saved the Doctor contained three very good original stories. It's odd for me that the story that I was looking forward to the most was the weakest, and the one I was least anticipating (Bill and the Three Coats) was my overall favourite.
 
The Day She Saved The Doctor is a highly recommended listen/ read. I have to be honest though, I'm not entirely sure that it is unique in the way it approaches it's story telling, as a lot stories featuring the Doctor are told from the companion's point of view.

This new entry into Who cannon though, is far more unique in introducing real female talent to a very male dominated world. There are around 500 'official' novels and novelisations that feature the Doctor. After a quick glance over the this very long list I found 30 by, or with input from female writers. Thats 6% - which is a truly shocking statistic.





The Doctor Who Audio AnnualBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 February 2018 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Doctor Who Audio Annual (Credit: BBC Worldwide)
BBC Audio 2017
Read By: Peter Purves (Steven), Anneke Wills (Polly), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) and Nicola Bryant (Peri).

Wow. Now, this is an odd one. Released by BBC audio in time for December 2017, The Doctor Who Audio Annual is a collection of narrated stories from the World Distributors Annuals. Now I think it’s worth stating up front that I have very little nostalgia for these annuals, born in the mid 90’s, I missed them upon their original release. However, I did pick one or two up from charity shops at a young age and fell in love with the garish artwork and gaudy designs, though even then the stories didn’t seem…quite right. As I got older I discovered the reputation these books had, essentially as the nadir of classic who merchandise (a particular article from Eccleston’s era in DWM springs to mind). Of course, I have to agree. Bar a few exceptions the majority of the Annual stories are… dire and badly misrepresent both the Doctor and his companions. Now it’s been a few years since I’ve had one of the original copies in my hands and so this new release seemed like a chance to give some of these stories a second chance.

Read by original cast members there are six stories in total, along with two vintage essays. The first story The Sons of Grekk, whilst hardly a classic in any sense, isn’t exactly a bad listen. Simple like all of the annual stories, it does manage a vaguely atmospheric opening, helped massively by Peter Purvis narration and an eerie sound design. Unfortunately, things quickly go downhill with The King of Golden Death. The second Doctor continuously refers to his companions as ‘my children’ is woefully patronising and the story incredibly dull, simply being an exercise in basic Egyptology. Things pick up massively with Dark Intruders, read wonderfully by Geoffrey Beevers…giving you a rough idea of who the villain in this particular tale. Featuring the Brigadier and Joe, this tale perfectly captures the UNIT era.

Conundrum follows next and being a tale of warped physics within the Tardis, feels like the writers were at least trying to emulate the feel of season 18, with its themes of high science and mathematics. Unfortunately, it’s also the tale that suffers the most due to the lack of artwork and doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it’s fun but that’s all. The Penalty is a pretty standard ‘Doctors nightmare’ story, where he’s haunted by old friends and adversaries whilst The Real Hereward is a fun historical. Ultimately though, neither are essential listens.

For those wanting a nostalgia trip, then there may be something here for you to enjoy. Ultimately, however, the audio annual, whilst an admirable attempt to bring new life to the world distributors annuals, the stories were never really that good to begin with. All of the actors do a fine job and the sound design as always is superb, but their building on less than solid foundations. It feels perhaps that the joy of those particular items relies mostly on the aspect that there wasn’t really much merchandise available at the time, along with the zany and trippy artwork. Stripped of their illustrations and placed in a world where we’re over-saturated with high-quality Doctor Who Merchandise (most of all audio adventures) these stories are exposed as being…well…a little naff. However, they do remind us that, as who-fans in a world where we have access to a constant stream of top quality merchandise, we’ve never had it so good.





The Diary of River Song - Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Diary of River Song: Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nev Fountain, Jacqueline Rayner, John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Ian Conningham (Kevin / Rindle), Julia Hills (Sharon / Rindle), David Seddon (Mr Quisling / Tarn 2), Leighton Pugh (Lake 2 / Dave / Tarn), Sophia Carr-Gomm (Lily), Joanna Horton (Brooke), Issy Van Randwyck (Giulia), Rosanna Miles (Antoinette / Maid / Constanze), Teddy Kempner (Viktor / Mozart / Stefan / Apothecary), Jonathan Coote (Maitre D' / Chef / Assassin), Nina Toussaint-White (Brooke 2), Francesca Zoutewelle (H-One / H-Two / Mission Captain), Pippa Bennett-Warner (O / The Deterrent). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson
Script Editors Matt Fitton, John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

When Big Finish began their River Song series, I was initially quite excited. I had really warmed to the character, and so the idea of her living on for further adventures on audio, at a company that consistently releases entertaining stuff, thrilled me, to say the least.  But the first boxset actually left me quite indifferent to the idea of even listening to more. It wasn't bad, and it had Paul McGann in it...but it felt like it was missing something. In preparation for this review, I decided to give the second boxset a whirl, just in case it had some lingering plot thread I might need to fully understand this newest set...and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first set.  Maybe it was better plotting, a more engaging story, or if it was just the timey wimey Doctor crossings featuring both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the tales...but whatever it was I felt was missing from that first set, seemed rectified by Series 2.

Some SPOILERS may be ahead, as it would be somewhat impossible to talk about certain episodes without discussing plot revelations in earlier episodes.  Reader Beware!

So we come to this third box set of River Song adventures, and from the word go it is quite exciting.  The opening story, The Lady of the Lake is slightly intertwined with the Eleventh Doctor story A Good Man Goes To War, which was the episode that finally revealed just who River was. We find out here that River wasn't the only thing Madame Kovarian experimented on at Demon's Run, they also took River's DNA and created seven other Time Lord hybrid babies...basically River's own brothers and sisters...and she has to stop one of them that has gone a bit mad due to the mysteries of his regenerative nature.  It's an exciting opener, with lots of wonderful bits, character moments, and a tremendous pace.

The second story has the River playing companion to the Fifth Doctor, along with a previously unknown companion known as Brooke. They land in Vienna in the 18th Century and end up on the trail of murders and mystery...as things so often tend to go when you travel anywhere or anywhen with the Doctor.  It is basically a solid Fifth Doctor story, from the point of view of River Song.  The big reveal of this episode is that Brooke is not who she says she is when in the end she attempts to kill the Doctor. using the same means as the murders of the episode. River is able to save the Doctor, the question remains what to do with Brooke, and just who is she?. 

It is quite clear that the River Song series is taking it’s time travel shenanigans and story structures from the Eleventh Doctor era, and that is probably most evident in the third story in the set, My Dinner With Andrew which plays with time travel and hopping around more than most. it is a quite entertaining, though just like the Eleventh Doctor era it moves fast and sometimes needs a bit of relistening in order to get the full picture of what is going on. I rather liked this one, but I did find a few things hard to keep track of...such as which River is which, but ultimately it is a fun story with good performances from Kingston, Davison, and co. The story also brings back Madame Kovarian, and reveals that Brooke is, in fact, another DNA clone of River hoping to succeed in killing the Doctor...which she does, only his Fifth Incarnation.

The final episode of the set reveals that there are several other clones of River still alive, with Brooke being the favorite. Kovorian's plan seemingly succeeded, but killing the Doctor so early in his time stream has catastrophic results for her.  She begins to see ghosts and then becomes the target of a new radical faction that wants to destroy her, for just as her plan to kill the Doctor was meant to stop him from destroying the Universe, her killing of him ends up doing just that, so now she is seen as the cause of the Universe ending.  The episode is really, at its heart though, about River and her sisters.  Brooke has a taste for killing now, even killing one of her own sisters, and the sisters are all completely warped by Kovarian, can River somehow get them to come around against Kovarian and maybe undo the killing of the Doctor and thus save the universe? 

SPOILERS...the Doctor lives.  This should be surprising to no one that they haven't killed the Doctor off in his Fifth incarnation, the means about how he is saved is where the story is interesting though, and that I will not spoil.  This is a good box set, with a story and structure that heavily ties into the Eleventh Doctor's era of stories, any fan that enjoyed the time hopping and intricate plotting (and even major plot elements) that shaped that era of the series will probably find something to enjoy in this set. 






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 January 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), 
John Leeson (K9), Martha Cope (Commander Lind),
Oliver Dimsdale (Rebben Tace), Toby Hadoke (V26),
John Dorney (Brin / SV9 / V12 / Gary), Cathy Tyson (Jennifer), Damian Lynch (Colin Marshall), Julian Wadham (Dr Holman), Dan Starkey (Linus Strang), Josette Simon (Taraneh),
Sarah Lark (Jacinta), Alex Wyndham (Raph),
Robert Duncan (Krayl / Sternwood / Eldren),
Andy Secombe (Cloten / Shift), Justin Avoth (Cain).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs

 

Available February 2018 via Amazon UK

The Sons Of Kaldor by Andrew Smith

 

"Please do not throw feet at me..."

That line is unfortunately……..not in this audio - but wouldn't it have been fun if it were?

Not that theThe Sons of Kaldor isn’t fun - in it, we find the Doctor and Leela are on a seemingly deserted craft, where, while having a quiet snoop around they discover a humanoid female and an angry looking creature, both in some sort medically induced suspended animation. As they journey deeper into the ship they meet some very familiar robotic faces in the form of the Voc robots from the planet Kaldor (previously seen in, of course, The Robots of Death). Concerned that there are no humans on the ship to lead a mission, the Doctor convinces the robots to revive the female, who is the ship's commander. Once revived she reveals that the ship and it's crew are in the middle of a vicious civil war, and that they are spying on the Sons of Kaldor, who are a group of alien mercenaries, looking to instigate a regime change on their home planet. However, things might not quite be when they seem...

The Sons of Kaldor is a great story for the fourth Doctor and Leela, and a perfect way to start this new volume of tales. It's great to hear the pair react to a for that is to both of them (are the robots REALLY a foe? Discuss). The sound design of this story is magnificent, especially in the way that the technology being used on the craft here, emulates that used on the Sandminer, from the classic television series perfectly. It really helps you to believe that you are in the same universe. This, along with the calm and friendly tones of the Vocs and Super Vocs, gives the story a very nostalgic feel.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are excellent, once again recreating their characters as if they had never stepped away. I'm loving Baker in these stories, he seems to be getting better and better.

The supporting cast are also great - Martha Cope (the controller in Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways) as the human commander of the ship is a strong but sympathetic character, especially when she realises the situation that she has been thrown into, Oliver Dimsdale is an old school, suitably smug villain. The writer of the last two parts of this volume, John Dorney provides most of the other voices, including SV9 and V12 - we also get the wonderful Toby Hadoke as V26. 

The Sons Of Kaldor is a perfect two part opener to this new volume of fourth Doctor adventures, and provides some great questions about the humanity and possibility of sentient robot life.

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment is in itself, quite an experiment for this format, as it almost immediately turns everything that we are used to, upside-down.

The Doctor and Leela are attacked on an alien world, Leela is knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, finds herself in a completely different time and place. She is at the Crowmarsh Institute, in London, 1978. To her surprise, she is Doctor Leela Marshall, someone who isis struggling to separate realty from fantasy. In Crowmarsh the Doctor that she is used to is a work colleague, Doctor Stewart, and  she is married, with children. But Leela can feel  that this place is wrong. The question is, can the Doctor break through from the reality that she is used to and help her?

There are so many great things to say about The Crowmarsh Experiment. Louise Jameson really does carry the story, and it is a wonderful opportunity for her usual  supporting role to come a lot more to the fore. Never quite believing that Crowmarsh is a real place,  her nod’s, and knowing winks to Doctor Stewart (of course played by Tom Baker) are great fun. The Doctor as we know him doesn’t really feature until quite a way into the story. In fact if this were a modern day tale, it could almost be described as a ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. The threat here is palpable, and the Doctor’s (our Doctor’s) final solution is deliciously fiendish.

David Llewelyn’s writing is compulsive, and sometimes claustrophobic stuff. The supporting cast, which includes Cathy Tyson, Damian Lynch, Julian Wadham, and Strax himself, Dan Starkey are all excellent.

I think that no matter how much of a nostalgia-fest The Sons of Kaldor is (and believe me, I LOVE a nostalgia-fest!), The Crowmarsh Experiment is the best of this trio of stories, with a lot of that due to it’s originality and ability to bend the narrative of Who into something quite different.

 

The Mind Runners & The Demon Rises by John Dorney

 

Mind Running is a technique through which one can enter the minds of total strangers, just to see and feel what they saw and felt. The Mind Runners, however are being wiped out, dying in an onslaught of suicides. No one on the planet Chaldra knows why.

Something quite horrific is happening, and it’s up to the Doctor and Leela to find out what.

Both of these stories final stories on this volume have a real feel of classic Who. We find the Doctor and Leela separated on an alien planet. K9 is front and centre, and there is a puzzling mystery to solve. Everything is here, but rather surprisingly my interest just wasn’t quite held as well as it had been with the previous two stories.

For me, I really think the strange, almost electronic treatment to the sound of the alien's voices didn’t help. I also found the stories villain Mr Shift to be very over the top, in a bad, TheHorns of Nimon kind of way (his maniacal cackle closes the episode - I promise, you will cringe).

Don’t get me wrong - there are great bits. The macabre rocket, and a planet-wide, man-eating city does conjure up some quite horrifying imagery, these ideas, along with the way that the afore mentioned Mr Shift despatches his victims are quite inventive. However, I couldn’t help thinking that some of the elements of this story just weren’t quite gelling as well as they should have, and I really couldn’t put my finger on what and why.

These final stories, when compared to the others in this volume, do have quite a large cast, with Josette Simon, Sarah Lark, Alex Wyndham, Robert Duncan, Justin Avoth and Andy Secombe as Mr Shift all doing a great job.

My feeling is that if The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises were released as one stand alone story - then I probably would have appreciated them more. Whereas here, on a volume where the first two stories are so exceptionally strong, these slightly weaker stories get somewhat lost.

 

The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7, Volume 1 is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.





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)
$51.01