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)
$51.27



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