Twelfth Doctor #5 - The Swords Of Kali (Part Three)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 February 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Twelfth Doctor, Swords of Kali

Writer: Robbie Morrison
Artist: Dave Taylor
Colorist: Luis Guerrero
 
Letterer: Richard Starkings + Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Editor: Andrew James
Designer: Rob Farmer
Assistant Editor: Kirsten Murray

"Give thanks. Rejoice. Your feeble little lives have just gained great significance. You are the chosen of Kali, goddess of destruction. Your deaths will give her life and power beyond your darkest nightmares."  - One of the Scindia demonstrating their power.

 

   Without doubt one of the more ambitious stories from Titan in scope and thematic depth, there is no let-up and no break in momentum from parts one and two. The Twelfth Doctor once again has plenty to do, and seems one step ahead of his fiendishly vicious opposition. He however needs a bit of help given that his dear Clara now hosts a 'Goddess' hell-bent on ripping up most of time and space. This leads to him having to trust two other women who have been caught up in this chaos; which arguably makes for a typical day in his endless working week.

            Rani, who is now at least the third character in the Doctor Who universe named thus (following Kate O'Mara 1980s villainess, and one of Sarah Jane Smith's teenage assistants), has really been a stand-out personality. She can be impulsive, but there seems to be a depth to her mission in life and her value system which would make her a fine incumbent for the TARDIS crew. She also pines for her murdered girlfriend, and the story does a fine job of paying off this emotional element.

            Priyanka is perhaps a little more generically a do-godder, but still engages us in her resolute efforts to avenge her father. One of the better one-liners is uttered when she faces danger. There is also another remark made by her of the Doctor's Scots accent which manages to come off quite well and not feel tired like it might in an all-round poorer story.

            But when it comes to any amendments to the TARDIS crew, it would appear that Titan have no immediate plans to muddy the waters of the Doctor/Clara relationship that played out on our screens last year.

            Clara is still important to proceeding however. After the wonderful closing 'hook' of Issue Four, she has become trapped in the truly imposing form of the many-armed goddess Kali. Some rather ripe puns concerning just what to call this hybrid entity make their way into the story, but are excusable given the gloom elsewhere. The outcome for the victims of Kali and the Scindia family would disturb may of the under-10s were this a fully-fledged Autumn TV effort.

            The story is effective also in how it balances certain developments which are essential for a story to have a Doctor Who formula, but also surprise us in when certain developments occur. I was definitely wrong-footed by how and when the Doctor showed his guilde in dispatching two of his foes, without barely making much of an effort. The final epilogue also may surprise some, but arguably develops organically from earlier characterisation and exposition.

Great storytelling merges with effective visuals, and suggests that Morrison and Taylor are not just on the same page, but the exact same panel too. And were this not enough, Luis Guerrero is present in making the pencils and inks look at their optimum potential. As regards the house style of Series Eight, incumbent writer Robbie Morrison achieves great dividends in keeping the spirit but also being assertive enough to make his own voice heard in the narrative. The next story once again looks promising from what little clues we have.

 

Bonus Humour Strips:

'COPY/PASTE' by AJ is a decent one character piece. The Doctor's horror in having his trusty sonic screwdriver destroyed by the Terileptil leader may be well and truly forgotten, as sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

 Bin Dilemma' (with Colin Bell and Neil Slorance teaming up again) is a much easier humour story to follow than previous ones in this slot. Yet it smartly reminds readers just how aloof Capaldi's Doctor can be, and just how much patience Clara Oswald can muster given her double duties as teacher and travelling companion. 

 

 





New Adventures With The Eleventh Doctor #8 - The Infinite AstronautBookmark and Share

Thursday, 26 February 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The Eleventh Doctor #8 (Credit: Titan) Writer Al Ewing Artist Warren Pleece
Designer Rob Farmer
Colorist Hi-fi
Letterer Richard Starkings And Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
Editor Andrew James
Assistant Editor Kirsten Murray

The threat to Earth shows no signs of abating as the skies above cities, towns and countryside continue to be swamped by outlandish space craft that defy comprehension by the average human being. The perennial war between the Amstrons and J'Arrodic Federation cannot be ignored much longer, and something must happen before an outcome - positive or negative - can emerge from the tension.

 

Arc and Jones are soon rendered powerless to assist the Doctor, and it falls to redoubtable Alice to accept an incredibly daunting offer of having the chance to end the war all by herself. Her time in the TARDIS will never be more beneficial, as she is forced to become greater than she ever thought she could be. The downside? The probable end of the entire human race...

 

If that premise was not enough, there are other questions that have already been set up and get their pay-off here:

 

*Is Alice's mother really back?

 

* And will this mean an end to the erstwhile Londoner's variable relationship with the man who posesses the mental resources of a 1000 libraries?

 

There has been more than a couple of hints that Alice could depart the TARDIS at the drop of a hat. This story manages to make the three person confrontation between the Doctor, Alice and her apparently resurrected mother the heart and soul of the narrative. The reasons for Alice not listening to her head over her heart will strike a chord with many readers, and furthermore even the Doctor must concede that rebirth is not easily dismissed, given his own recent experiences with a particular companion. Also, the twist involving the Amstrons is interesting and so very Doctor Who - perhaps most recognisably from the brief but memorable Douglas Adams sequence of stories that rounded off the Seventies.

Despite a strong writing effort, the art work is comparatively a slight disappointment, especially given the quality seen beforehand. It tells the story clearly and expressions and scale by and large cut the mustard.

 Panel backgrounds suffer from being bland and/or interchangeable, and the potential to slip some in-jokes and satire into the covers of various books is perhaps a waste, given how much this is about Alice and her acquired wisdom along with natural gifts.  There does feel something lacking when taking the visual experience in as a single cohesive piece of work, and perhaps more tinkering would have helped. However since this second part of the story really is about the character clashes more than the big space extravaganzas, it ultimately feels acceptable.

But having said that, this second and final instalment of the latest story is more than satisfactory. The Eleventh Doctor certainly is at his most assertive here and gets to demonstrate that while he may be lackadaical and take adventures as they come (much like former incarnations such as the Second and Fourth Doctors), he can also put his foot down. Serve You Inc have stopped being an irritation and need to be dealt with head-on, and plenty of speculation can be made before issue 9 rolls along into the consumer sphere.

 Bonus Humour Section:

'Experimental Taste-Buds' by AJ is a fun little piece which aims modestly but still enchants. The decision to mix 3d graphics with apparently real-life photographs is a welcome break from previous efforts.

'Short Change' is Marc Ellerby at his assured best. A phone call across millennia between the Doctor and Amy is made something rather special as the events of one time zone quickly impact upon the other.

 





StarbornBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

Starborn
Written by Jacqueline Rayner
Directed by Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions, released March 2014
After an uneventful trip to twentieth century Earth, Vicki finds herself locked out of the TARDIS and cornered by Violet, a self-proclaimed psychic. Agreeing to take part in a séance, Vicki is shocked to receive a message from a very familiar person: herself from the future. The message is very simple, if Vicki leaves this time, she will die. And future-Vicki should know, after all, she’s already dead...

Like many of the best Companion Chronicles, Starborn has an intriguingly clever and tricksy narrative, with an inventive twist to the way it is narrated. By having the main tale told from the perspective of future-Vicki the story keeps the listener guessing, and trying to work out the solution to the puzzle of her apparent demise. The solution to the mystery is hinted at in the dialogue throughout the play: eagle-eared listeners will pick up elements in future-Vicki’s story that seem out of place, which pay off later in the story.

The tale future-Vicki weaves is evocative and full of strong imagery. Like the early Hartnell stories, Starborn delights in world building and exploring strange settings and civilisations, in a way which is evocative of stories like The Keys of Marinus and The Web Planet.

Given that he central story is told by an apparently dead Vicki, themes of mortality and sacrifice are central. It is one of the few stories to address Vicki’s status as an orphan, with the séance evoking memories of her parents. If anything it feels like this side of Vicki’s character could have been explored further in the play, and it would certainly be worth returning to in any future iteration of The Companion Chronicles.

Overall Starborn is another strong Companion Chronicle, which makes use of clever narrative devices and ends with a satisfying solution to its central mystery. It is easily Jacqueline Rayner’s best contribution to the range, and shows a clear understanding and love of the era it recreates.




The Fifth Doctor Boxed SetBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 24 February 2015 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Fifth Doctor Boxed Set (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Jonathan Morris and John Dorney
Directed by Ken Bentley
Big Finish Productions, released August 2014
This box set sees the reunion on audio for the first time since 1982 of fifth Doctor Peter Davison’s original team of companions; Janet Fielding as Tegan, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa and the much anticipated return of Matthew Waterhouse as Adric. Consisting of two brand new four part stories both set during season 19 it is very much a box set of two halves. As this is no longer a brand new release I am considering this review fair game for any spoilers that follow.

Jonathan MorrisPsychodrome is set in the immediate aftermath of the TV story Castrovalva with the Doctor’s companions still coming to terms with having been brought together and witnessing the Doctor’s recent regeneration. Morris cleverly plays with the fact that the four characters don’t know each other very well yet as established by the opening scenes. The first obvious comment to make is that Waterhouse is still finding his voice in this play as he faces the challenge of recreating his juvenile persona. However, after the first few scenes it becomes easier to adjust to this slightly deeper voiced than usual version of Adric, especially in the context of three other regulars who all occasionally sound thirty years older. The script’s clever placing of this story very early in these characters’ established adventures makes it easier to overlook this and enjoy the references and hints of what is to come. On first listen, the plot of what befalls the TARDIS crew when they land becomes a little confusing. This is because they encounter several sets of four characters who are each played by the same four actors. Whilst the actors concerned give solid performances, this does leave the listener with occasional moments of vocal confusion until the explanation of what exactly is going on within the Psychodrome is revealed. A particular mention should go to Robert Whitelock for the triple role of Professor Whitelock, Denyx and King Magus, the last of whom comes to dominate the third and fourth episodes of this story. An exciting misdirection occurs at the end of part two when it is suggested that Magus might infact be a new iteration of The Master but whilst Whitelock does have elements of the Ainley incarnation to his performance the reality is that Magus is a composite of Nyssa’s imagined view of both the Doctor and the Master allows for a more satisfying resolution. The only slight disappointment is in Magus’ final scene where Morris gives him the rather too knowing final line “is this death?” The listener is left feeling that this story has been a little too clever for it’s own good and perhaps there should’ve been another way.

John Dorney’s Iterations of I is set later in the season, in the aftermath of Black Orchid, and picks up the season’s arc with Adric attempting to rectify the Doctor’s continuing failure to return Tegan to Heathrow in 1981. The travellers find themselves separated from the TARDIS after landing on a remote island where they are forced to take shelter in a seemingly abandoned old house. Featuring a small cast including Being Human star Sinead Keenan the stories setting of Autumn 1981 is cleverly and quickly established and becomes a virtue of the story as the Doctor, by this stage bereft of his sonic screwdriver and stuck in a world that is still years away from inventing mobile phones is forced to make use of the limited technologies available such as a pocket calculator.

The main enemy of the story, the I, are a unique invention in that they exist in a dimension of numerical information and thus when they start to kill it becomes quite frightening. The Doctor’s technologically minded companions Nyssa and Adric come into their own as they come to terms with the mystery contained within the old computers. This story also takes an opportunity to foreshadow Adric’s impending exit in Earthshock with an touching scene in which he and the Doctor discover some graves. Towards the end of the story Adric is injured but the revelation that Alzarians heal faster than Humans allows for some fun action scenes. Waterhouse’s recreation of Adric seems more comfortable in this story which leads this listener to hope that our favourite Alzarian may yet return for more audio adventures. Overall this second story is a much more satisfying listen than Psychodrome although both stories very strongly evoke the feeling of season 19. This feeling is reinforced by clever use of music and sound design which feels very much of the period. Whilst not always hitting the mark, the Fifth Doctor box set is a rewarding listen and fans of the early Davison era will certainly be left wanting more.




Doctor Who - The Trial of the ValeyardBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 11 February 2015 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

14972

Written by Alan Barnes & Mike Maddox
Directed by Barnaby Edwards
Big Finish Productions, 2013 (re-released 2014)

“Watch closely, Doctor! In witnessing my end, the seeds of my beginning are sown in you. That is all it takes for you too to be made corrupt! Farewell, Doctor, I die in the knowledge that my circle is complete! ”

The Valeyard, Trial of the Valeyard

The season-long storyline of 1986’s The Trial of a Time Lord is considered by most devotees of classic Doctor Who to be a narrative muddle, thanks largely to tensions behind the scenes (between producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Eric Saward) and the untimely death of a beloved writer and former script editor (Robert Holmes) who was originally commissioned to write the climax. Not only was it unclear which elements of the first 12 (of 14) episodes were true – with a large quantity of the evidence mounted against the Doctor being revealed as fabrication – but fans were bewildered by the fate of Peri Brown and the Sixth Doctor’s departure at the end of the saga with Melanie Bush, a companion that he hadn’t even met yet!

On top of that, there was the bombshell revelation that the enigmatic Valeyard, the prosecutor appointed by the High Council of the Time Lords to discredit the Doctor, was actually a future version of the Doctor himself – an “amalgamation of the darker side” of the Doctor’s nature, “somewhere” between his “12th and final incarnation”. It was a jaw-dropping moment in the life of the TV series that would truly not be equalled again until the unveiling of the War Doctor in the closing moments of The Name of the Doctor in 2013 (indeed, in the same episode, according to the Great Intelligence, one of the Doctor’s mythical aliases at Trenzalore included “Valeyard”). Just when we thought we all “knew” the Doctor, the Valeyard emerged from left field and left us absolutely staggered.

However, much like Peri Brown’s destiny and Mel’s “first” meeting with the Doctor, the Valeyard’s background and fate have remained sketchy for nearly three decades. The character was never seen again in the classic TV series and it has been left up to both unofficial and licensed spin-off fiction in that time to speculate on who or what the Valeyard is/was. Big Finish has, of course, satisfactorily wrapped up Peri and Mel’s story arcs from the Trial season but it is only recently that it has turned its attention back to resolving that season’s greatest riddle. Who or what was the Valeyard? What was his agenda, aside from seeking the Doctor’s remaining regenerations? What happened to the Valeyard after The Trial of a Time Lord, when it appeared he had deposed the Keeper of the Matrix and seemingly had all the secrets of the Matrix within his grasp? Indeed, given the Doctor in the modern TV series is now into his 14th incarnation, does the Valeyard even still exist? Could the Doctor still become the Valeyard if he ever gives into the darker side of his nature?

Sadly, Trial of the Valeyard doesn’t really answer any of these questions, certainly not in the way that The Widow’s Assassin wrapped up Peri’s story arc from the Trial season or The Wrong Doctors resolved the Mel paradox. Alan Barnes and Mike Maddox’s 60-minute script tantalisingly postulates about the Valeyard’s origins but leaves the listener to decide if there is any truth to the account or whether the antagonist is again resorting to the trickster role that he so deftly pulled off in his TV appearance.

Much like a Doctor Who Companion Chronicle, the serial successfully uses minimal characters with very few resources at its disposal while painting in the listener’s mind an expansive, galactic backdrop – a lavish courtroom aboard an oversized space station orbiting a gas giant designated as Eta Rho, the hints of a Time Lord Castellan and his squads of Chancellery Guards with their military TARDISes, and an obscure mudball planet hidden from plain sight which carries a dark secret. And all of this is carried by just three principal characters: the Doctor (the irrepressible Colin Baker), the Inquisitor and the Valeyard (effortlessly reprised by Lynda Bellingham and Michael Jayston).

If you are overly familiar with the courtroom setting of The Trial of a Time Lord (as well as some prior visits to Gallifrey in the classic series, including Arc of Infinity and The Five Doctors), then a good 90 per cent of your imagination is already well catered for. While some fans found many of the courtroom sequences in the original Trial lacklustre and tedious (especially in the opening 15 minutes of episode 13, when there was a lot of exposition), there is no doubt that this setting in Trial of the Valeyard is ideal for audio. The story feels as if it is happening in “real time”, as if you are one of the Time Lord jurors officiating over the proceedings and with a ringside seat to the squabbles, banter, pomp and ceremony of the three principal characters. Whatever the fans may have thought of the original courtroom sequences on TV, they were often convincing thanks to the earnest performances of Baker, Bellingham and Jayston – and this continues in Trial of the Valeyard. While the play may feel like an “episode 15” tacked onto the original TV serial, the three artists again carry the narrative in compelling fashion and still manage to pack the dialogue with moments of comedy, intrigue and malevolence.

Colin Baker, of course, continues to excel as the Sixth Doctor. In fact, the pre-credits track at the beginning of the story runs for over eight minutes – and nearly half of that time Baker is acting alone, as the Doctor petulantly rails against being brought back to the scene of his trial. Although there is a lot of wordy dialogue and some tongue-twisting vocabulary, he not only navigates through it skilfully but also injects a lot of humour into his performance as well. Indeed, Baker gets to demonstrate a range of emotions throughout the serial, from wit to sarcasm to outrage to revulsion, as the Doctor finds himself in the unenviable position of having to represent a defendant he loathes whilst also trying to ensure that the latter is treated as fairly as possible by the court. While the Sixth Doctor on television was often accused by fans of being heartless, Baker definitely shows the character’s compassion and innate sense of justice, especially when it becomes clear that the last thing the Time Lords have in mind is a fair trial.

Trial of the Valeyard is regrettably Lynda Bellingham’s Doctor Who swansong. She recorded this play only months before announcing a much publicised battle with cancer (she passed away last October). As a result, Bellingham’s performance in this serial is extra special because her Inquisitor once again plays an admirable mediator and paragon of patience to Baker’s Doctor and Jayston’s Valeyard. While the Inquisitor seemed “whiter than white” in the original Trial story arc, Bellingham relished the opportunity over the years to evolve the character into a more Machiavellian diva (the explicitly named Inquisitor Darkel) in Big Finish’s Gallifrey spin-off series. Barnes and Maddox do not ignore Gallifrey’s evolution of the character; not only is Bellingham’s Inquisitor and Darkel reinforced to be the one and the same in Trial of the Valeyard but there are strong hints that the Inquisitor isn’t as benevolent as she seems. As a result, Bellingham not only exudes authority as Darkel but at various times instils steel and underlying menace into her voice that makes you question her motives.

Michael Jayston naturally slides back into the robes of the Valeyard and again proves to be an excellent vocal foil for Baker’s Doctor. Like Baker, Jayston also has to contend with some very heavy dialogue, particularly in the second half of the play when the Valeyard’s origins are raised, and he passes the test with flying colours. While Jayston’s voice at times reveals his advanced years (he’s now 79), and will sound more weathered to listeners who (like this writer) grew up immersing themselves in the original Trial season, there is no doubt at all that we are listening to the persona “generally – but not exclusively – known as the Valeyard”. And while Bellingham has unfortunately bowed out long before her time, it is reassuring that Jayston has had another opportunity to reprise the Valeyard in The Last Adventure boxset that is slated for release in September.

Unsurprisingly, this play is, of course, steeped in Time Lord mythology, with much discussion about the secrets of regeneration (ironically Trial of the Valeyard was released in late 2013 when the modern TV series was poised to address the question of the Doctor’s survival post his 13th incarnation). However, what is even more interesting is the serial’s underlying theme of corruption. We are reminded that not only are characters like the Doctor and the Inquisitor capable of falling to the dark but also how deeply mired in the darkness the Time Lords themselves are. Whilst it came as a shock to many new series fans in David Tennant’s swansong The End of Time (2009-10) that the Time Lords in the Time War were as corrupt and villainous as the Daleks, fans well versed in the classic series had long known since 1976’s The Deadly Assassin (when the Doctor’s mentor Cardinal Borusa instigated a clever political cover-up) that the Time Lords were largely a corrupt society. Given Borusa later sought to become an immortal despot in The Five Doctors (1983) and that his successors on the High Council were later exposed for nearly destroying the planet “generally – but not exclusively – known as Ravalox” (aka Earth) in the original Trial, it comes as little surprise in this instalment that the Time Lords are again up to their high collars in corruption. Indeed, their tricks are so devious that the listener (much like the Doctor) has to concede that perhaps the defendant is a victim of their machinations and deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Trial of the Valeyard is a clever and engaging serial, and (even though it predates them by nearly 12 months) a marked improvement on the varied quality of recent Sixth Doctor audio adventures (eg The Widow’s Assassin, Masters of Earth, The Rani Elite). Much like the original Trial story arc, whose events hinted at truth amongst elaborate fabrication, so Barnes’ and Maddox’s script also drops enough hints about the Valeyard and the Time Lords to be plausible without being definitive. As a result, the antagonist doesn’t lose any of his mystique and listeners are left with even more questions about this enigma shrouded in paradox and in turn, about the virtue of the Time Lords.





The English Way of DeathBookmark and Share

Monday, 9 February 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

The English Way of Death (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring Tom BakerLalla WardJohn Leeson,
Written by Gareth Roberts
Adapted by John Dorney
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Productions, January 2015

Following on in every respect from their marvellous version of The Romance of Crime, (with which it shares a box) Big Finish knock it out of the park once again with a superb adaptation of The English Way of Death, the second of Gareth Roberts’ classic trilogy of Missing Adventures novels, ably adapted again by John Dorney.

Whereas Romance was almost a Season Seventeen story with the picture turned down, this one is a slightly stranger and more freewheeling brew, pitting the Fourth Doctor, Romana II, and K9 against zombies, a hired assassin, a body-snatching sentient gas, mind-boggling science, and British Edwardian Manners. It kicks off with the Doctor breezily bypassing the Randomiser to return some library books in 1930, and unravels into a twisty-turny plot of mistaken identity and brain-eating - expertly combining P.G. Wodehouse, space opera, and zombie movie. It makes perhaps better use of its audio format than Romance - it has more of the feel of a radio play, but also conjures up tall visual orders like time corridors and sentient mist with ease. The only time it feels a little unwieldy is when the approach of an undead Policeman through said mist is described by one character to another. Happily though, this is just a blip, the rest of the story skips along beautifully.

The dialogue is packed with zingers, the characters are gloriously bonkers (and often very polite) - and Tom BakerLalla Ward, and John Leeson all excel. Tom sounds like he's enjoying himself hugely, and delivers lines about the average daily amount of attempts on his life with laid-back aplomb. Meanwhile, Lalla Ward is as charmingly indignant as ever, and John Leeson gets a creepy stand-out moment when K9 is possessed by the gaseous Zodaal.

Just as Romance echoed Eldrad from The Hand of FearZodaal has split himself into components like Scaroth in City of Death, but with the added twist that he had his sense of humour removed - a nice riff on those humourless, grandiloquent 'possessed' villains of the seventies.

A strong supporting cast is led by Terrence Hardiman (of The Beast Below fame, and also known to a generation of British children for his performance as the Demon Headmaster), as the undead Hepworth Stackhouse and Annabel Mullion as sultry assassin Julia. Nick Briggs does an excellent job of directing as usual, and Jamie Robertson's score is a neat halfway house of Dudley Simpson's sound of '79 and the electronic approach of the Radiophonic Workshop's music from 1980.

Most of all, though, it's the joyous invention of Roberts' story - brought to life so well by Dorney's script that makes this such a winner. Big Finish continues to go from strength to strength, and has managed with this box set to reunite a TARDIS team we never thought we'd hear together again, and give them some of their finest material. Here's hoping that The Well-Mannered War (coming later this year) isn't the last we hear from them.







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