New Adventures With The Eleventh Doctor #11Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #11​ (Credit: Titan)Writer - Al Ewing
Artist - Boo Cook
Editor - Andrew James
Designer - Rob Farmer
Colorist - Hi-fi
Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Humor Strip - Marc Ellerby
Editor - Andrew James
Assistant Editor - Kirsten Murray
Released - April 15th 2015

It would seem that SERVEYOUinc have now been conclusively defeated, but as it turns out the consequences of the TARDIS crew's resistance to the corporate entity are still playing out.

This particular version of the Doctor has his hands full with temporal paradoxes more than most of his forebears and his companions likewise are no strangers to a bit of confusing chronology. The mystery of ARC begins to be less opaque as the Doctor surmises that his unusual companion is actually the mental component of the Entity being that SERVEYOUinc were exploiting to their own ends.

 

With ARC's help the Doctor travels to the time and place it was captured, but then must stop the creature from altering its own history. New complications come to the fore as the long-suffering TARDIS begins to fracture once again. Furthermore the three companions are confronted by a being that presents itself with some kind of personal connection to the travellers which masks the malicious entity within . But the Doctor himself is trapped in the astral plane and seemingly unable to help anyone. Meanwhile the disturbing capture of the Entity unfolds on a small moon, with one of the SERVEYOUinc party having a rather familiar face.

 

Following a similar vein to the previous story, the Doctor's companions get to have more direct impact on unfolding events than he himself does. The difference this time though is that the Doctor is in a position of complete safety, observing the important events that played a role in the appearance(s) of the Talent Scout over time periods. The others in the TARDIS crew must show their resolution, survival instinct and plain smarts in order to overcome the rather arrogant menace facing them, and as should be expected by now they all are up to it.

 

Once again with art by Boo Cook, and a story by series regular Al Ewing, there is a feeling of the creative team being confident and sure of what they are going to achieve with this adventure. The words/visuals are indeed so harmonious a match that there is virtually nothing to criticise this time round. I personally liked the deliberate panelling to show the separation of the four heroes and the 'pastels look' was a good innovation for the series .

 

This story almost could have been told after the fact in a conversation but is presented engagingly and never drags. Thus ultimately having a coda/prequel type of story after the cataclysms of issues nine and ten was a smart move by the creative team. It is also very pleasing to finally have a story where ARC is key to events and gets some further development after verging on being the 'Zeppo Marx' of the TARDIS quartet during most of his appearances.

 

Bonus Humour Strip:

Time Gentlemen Please by Marc Ellerby sees a first for this writer/artist in being granted two pages to tell his story. The quality remains high from Ellerby, and he uses the extra length to tell a galaxy-trotting pub crawl involving the Doctor, Rory and comical Sontaran Strax.

 

 

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures #406 - The Cloisters of TerrorBookmark and Share

Monday, 29 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
The Cloisters of Terror (Credit: Big Finish) Written by Jonathan Morris
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
with Rowena Cooper, Richendra Carey, and Claudia Grant
Released June 2015

Set in the former convent school of St Matilda’s College in 1977, The Cloisters of Terror deals with the centuries-old phenomenon of young girls disappearing shortly after they see an apparition of three ghostly Nuns. Young Megan (Claudia Grant, of An Adventure in Space and Time fame) witnesses her friend Lynn (Allison McKenzie) fall under the thrall of the ghostly sisters, and the college’s Dean, politely blocked at every turn by the venerable Sister Frances Beckett (Richendra Carey), she has no other option than to get the police involved.

 

That Dean is none other than Dame Emily Shaw, (Rowena Cooper) mother of Liz, previously introduced by Big Finish in The Last Post. And Dame Emily finds a police box in her office, as the Doctor and Leela have intercepted her call and elected to investigate.

 

Dame Shaw quickly gets to know this incarnation of the Doctor, having previously met his ‘very odd’ predecessor - and their repartee is a joy. There’s a gentle nod to absent friends, as the Doctor asks after both Liz and the Brigadier. (Also, UNIT-dating fans - this is set in 1977, and the Brig is apparently in South America, presumably just about to pack it all in for teaching. Can we just say that Sarah Jane bumped her head before she mentioned being from 1980, or was just rounding up?)

 

Rowena Cooper plays Emily as a formidable but fun old battle-axe, and Tom Baker thrives with this kind of character to bounce off, giving us a slightly less irreverent but clearly grinning Doctor, a man who relishes a good mystery to solve. He’s also excellent when faced with the layered character played by Carey. Clearly all-female casts agree with Tom Baker, who's having fun but is also on his best Doctorial behaviour. He does manage to get a terrible pun about a wimple through, though.

 

Leela, meanwhile goes ghost-hunting with Megan, and it doesn’t take her long to get headhunted by the ghostly sisters. Everyone very soon gets locked in the crypt with the sisters by the duplicitous Sister Beckett, and it’s all very atmospheric, with reverse-reverbed ghostly voices and echoey cloisters. Perhaps the only criticism of this story is slightly blowing the whole story pretty much wide open a little too early, but Jonathan Morris’s clever script makes it all work. Bits of what could be quite clunky description and exposition are neatly handled by making the sisters only visible to young women, therefore Leela and Megan do a lot of the talking for them.

 

Classic Doctor Who largely stayed away from the sticky subject of religion. The BBC already had Mary Whitehouse to worry about, let alone complaints from the church - who were remarkably understanding about an alien mass-murderer posing as a vicar, then apparently raising the devil, culminating in an exploding church and a bit of gentle tea-time pagan ritual. The Daemons is a bit of an exception, and can’t be seen as a dig against religion. Bloodthirsty priests do get around a bit in classic Who, but only really in alien cultures or a distant, barbaric past. Nothing too close to the knuckle. Best not to push your luck, when depicting people of the cloth as monsters or villains.

 

The Cloisters of Terror seems to do just that, but manages to neatly subvert the notion of a sinister sisterhood in what turns out to be a meditation on self-sacrifice for the greater good. To say too much would be too much of a spoiler, even if the eventual resolution is signposted right from the episode one cliffhanger. Let’s just say that the obviously alien threat isn’t actually evil, this is more of a ‘stuck switch’ kind of story. 

 

This is a thoughtful minor tale, creepy and atmospheric, but somehow fairly cosy, with a touch of the BBC drama Ghost Stories at Christmas series to it. It’s perfect late-seventies contemporary-England Who. It’s not as original as Suburban Hell, but it’s very good indeed.

 





Doctor Who: The early Adventures Domain of the VoordBookmark and Share

Thursday, 25 June 2015 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Domain of the Voord (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)

Written By: Andrew Smith
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast
William Russell (Ian Chesterton), Carole Ann Ford (Susan),
Daisy Ashford (Amyra), Andrew Dickens (Jonas Kaan/Tarlak), Andrew Bone (Pan Vexel/Nebrin)

!

Although I didn’t know much about Big Finish’s Early Adventures range when it was announced, I was curious to see how different it would be to the Companion Chronicle’s, as the two ranges are relatively similar.  I found this review took me far longer than most to write, simply due to the large emphasis on narrative rather than action, which for me somewhat diminishes the impact of a story in many situations.  However, as you will see from my impressions, I did enjoy the adventure in spite of its slight flaws.

 

The use of the original 1963 version of the opening theme tune, as heard in the Hartnell era of the show, is a nostalgic touch and a fitting opening, giving way to a serene view.  Russell’s hypnotic voiceover sets the scene of tranquillity which is shattered by the familiar wheezing groaning sound of the Tardis.  Here there is an interesting use of repeated sections of the take-off sequence to indicate that the time capsule is, at this point in the show’s history, a very erratic time machine, never truly under the control of its occupants.

 

The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbra discover that they have landed in the middle of a fleet of ships that, they realise later, are ready not to fight, but for flight from the alien race that has decimated so many of their number in a relatively short space of time.  At the flagship of the fleet, The Doctor and his companions meet Admiral Jonas Kaan after encountering his daughter, Amyra.  The two citizens of the planet Hydra, a world covered by a large expanse of ocean, are unconvinced that the Doctor and his companions are just travellers.  However, when the flotilla is attacked they are more than glad of the strangers’ services.  Ian dives down to help as part of a squad sent to identify a contact under water, with The Doctor taking over from a Sonar operator.

 

With the Voord submersible craft attacking with superior numbers and firepower and the Tardis lost when the ship it was on is sunk, things begin to look pretty dire.  However, that is not the end of the problems for the travellers as the flagship suffers the same fate.

 

The closure of the first episode comes in what might be considered a classic fashion, with the listener left wondering if The Doctor and his companions will escape from the situations they have become embroiled in.  The second episode opens with this in mind, keeping the emotional rollercoaster up for a good while with room for the gaps to be filled in by the imagination as the characters seem to go out of one scrape only to be thrust into another.

 

Episodes three and four see the travellers make their way to the main land mass of the planet, encountering the Voord army and resistance groups.  The climax to the story is a fitting one and similar to those in other stories of the era, thus making it feel more at home in that part of the show’s history.  The final lines, as spoken by Amyra, set up the story that follows to be another interesting excursion.

 

This particular adventure is mostly linear, but that doesn’t stop it from throwing in a few twists and turns along the way.  The scenes progress through a number of locations from on board ships, to an occupied city under militaristic rule, to the shores and crashing waves of the ocean to name a few, with all feeling fleshed out and well-structured.

 

In terms of presentation, the story works similarly to those of the companion chronicles, with the characters and a narrator, consisting of multiple voices, interweaving relatively seamlessly. This is not as frustrating as it might sound, as the lines that fill in the gaps between actual speech, along with the descriptions, are usually enough to solve any discrepancies.

 

The musical score that accompanies the various scenes is reminiscent of the show’s past, with little instrumentation.  What it lacks in this field, however, it makes up for in the fact that it is, at least until the final episode, far from an invasive score – it does not make its presence obvious to the listener, merely serving to underpin various events and emerge when necessary. 

 

The sound design is of good quality, mostly consisting of ambience and movement effects.  However, that does not detract from the presentation of the story, in fact having fewer sounds in a story styled like this is helpful – building an atmosphere whilst not being too intrusive. A prime example of this is during the diving sequences, where the effects used to signify the character is wearing a helmet are appropriately claustrophobic, achieving the goal of making the listener feel as if they are surrounded by the ocean’s depths.

 

While the pacing is a little slow at times, it is with good reason as tension is built gradually through a series of interlinked events.  With most of the first two episodes being set on board a ship, the lethargic feeling is offset by the nostalgia of the show’s classic tight corridors and cramped spaces given off by the closed setting.

 

The fact that this story references an earlier adventure (specifically The Keys of Marinus) is a good method of cementing it into the rest of the Doctor Who canon.  Far from limiting those who can make links, the in-story explanations make up for the fact that some may not have encountered the Serial or the titular villain before.  The Voord are portrayed as a formidable foe, with very little that can defeat them for the majority of the story.

 

Casting-wise, the aforementioned Voord are voiced well, with their cold warrior attitude coming through in what relative little they say as well as their actions.  The other characters fighting to rid the setting of the Voord occupation forces are also well cast.  Russell’s portrayals of Ian and The Doctor are noteworthy simply for the fact that the characters can be told apart.  This is also the case with others in the cast who take up more than one role, with it having little impact on intelligibility of the story.

 

Over all, this is a good adventure with a well-crafted script and atmospheric sound and vocal effects.  However, the repeated use of the same or similar musical cues as well as scenes sometimes not transitioning as smoothly as they ought to can be a bit of a drag at times.  I’d say for those who liked the Companion Chronicles and wanted more expanded stories, this might be a good way forward.  For those unfamiliar with the companion chronicles, it might be a good idea to visit those first to understand the narrative style.  The writing in this story captures the Hartnell era’s atmosphere well and even though it might feel a little long at times, it’s worth the wait to see how all the loose ends are tied up at the story’s conclusion.  Even though I’m more a fan of the full cast dramas with little or no narrator to speak of, I still found this to be a well thought out and enjoyable adventure.

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures #405 - Suburban HellBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Suburban Hell (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Nicholas Briggs 
Starring Tom Baker and Louise Jameson
with Annette Badland, Katy Wix, and Raymond Coulthard
Released May 2015

One of the joys of Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures is the licence to take familiar characters and throw them into new and interesting situations. Suburban Hell is one of those times, and it's a bit special. It's a Timey-Wimey tale that takes in a monstrous suburban housewife, a hen-pecked husband, a delightful old dear over the road that hunts witches, boorish party guests, eerie fog, and a coven of taloned blue creatures conducting a black mass - all of this set against a backdrop of horrid wallpaper, garish art, prawn cocktails, golf clubs, fondue forks, and Pong. 

 

At first glance, it's a riff on Abigail's Party, and writer Alan Barnes goes to town with a witty, clever script full of all the minuitae of the bad taste late 1970s, with the Doctor and Leela dropping in as unexpected dinner party guests when the TARDIS vanishes on them. The party is hosted by the quite ghastly Belinda (an excellent Katy Wix, clearly channelling Alison Steadman) and her luckless husband Ralph (Raymond Coulthard). It appears to be the late 1970s, decor, dress, and menu included - but all is not what it seems.

It's difficult to say too much more about this plot point without revealing all through spoilers, but the use of time travel here is some of the best in Doctor Who ever. Mundane elements (a prank phone call, Belinda asking Leela what she fancies to drink) become pivotal, penny-drop moments. The creepy reveal of the true nature of the 'prank' call is positively Moffatesque. This story may also finally explain all those strange, kitsch paintings of blue/green women from the 70s that crop up in charity shops.

 

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson have been on very good form this series, and continue to excel here. The Doctor is having a fine old time, with Baker clearly relishing Barnes' script. Leela gets plenty of good lines and jokes at the expense of just how ridiculous the 70s could be. Jameson is pitch-perfect as ever, and sells a small, hurt-sounding nod to her recent loss of Marshall in Death Match with quiet economy.

 

They're well matched against hostess-from-hell Belinda. Comic actress Katy Wix is inspired casting, delivering Belinda's acid-tongued dialogue with expert comic timing. The real highlight though, is Annette Badland as 'Thelma from over the road' - a fantastic character in the mould of Miss Hawthorne and Amelia Rumford, perfectly played by Badland as a terribly meek elderly lady who just happens to be a witchfinder with psionic powers. She's never quite fully explained, and Big Finish should bring her back for a rematch, her scenes with Baker are marvellous, and a lot of mileage could be had from Thelma and the Doctor meeting again.

 

Suburban Hell is another excellent entry in this very strong series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, it's very funny, very well-written, and full of memorable characters. Definitely a party worth attending. Just watch out for the fondue.

 





The Fourth Doctor Adventures #404 - Death MatchBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Death Match (Credit: Big Finish)
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Starring Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, & John Leeson
with Geoffrey Beevers and Susan Brown
Released April 2015

Picking up from the Master’s abduction of Leela at the end of Requiem for the Rocket Men, Matt Fitton’s Death Match is very much a sequel to that story. Once again it focuses very much on Leela, as she’s picked as the Master’s champion in the eponymous Death Match - a gladiatorial contest-slash-gameshow where champions duke it out to the death. There are bonuses, there’s fine catering, and it’s an expensive hobby for those with money to burn. It’s the Master’s own invention, and gives a nice insight into what he gets up to between his usual evil schemes.

 

Leela’s kidnap is news to the Doctor and K9, travelling alone together, unaware of the Master’s last-ditch skulduggery - and under the impression that she’s happily building a new life with her student/‘pair-bond’ Marshall (Damian Lynch). They intercept a distress call from Marshall, and all three quickly end up in the middle of the Death Match.

 

If Rocket Men was a sort of Ocean’s Eleven-styled caper movie, then Death Match owes a clear debt to The Hunger Games, with its sponsors, posh officials, and tactics of elimination. There’s a touch of Battle Royale here too, with exploding jewellery that goes off if anyone forfeits the games.

 

Leela carries a lot of the story and the action, most of which has her mid-fight and panting with exhaustion. Her relationship with Marshall is key, and he proves himself worthy of her love. Lynch again gives a strong, understated performance as Marshall, the noblest of the Rocket Men. They’re so well-matched that you know it’s going to end in tears, but the ending makes perhaps more sense of the fact that we know she’ll eventually end up with Andred, and not too far in the future considering the mid-season fifteen setting of this series. Louise Jameson is by turns brave and hard-as-nails, but the ending of the story shows her the bravest she’s ever been, as she stoically deals with her loss. 

 

The Doctor and K9 have a lot to do, and have a rollickingly sarky rapport, but rightly, take a back seat to the story of Leela and Marshall. Tom Baker is, as ever, Tom Baker - perhaps not quite on the belting form of Rocket Men, but he has some good moments, angrily facing off against the Master (who is gleeful about the brutality of the Death Match where the Doctor is scathing) and trading quips with the deadpan K9. His finest moment comes at the end, where he invites Leela to travel with him again - a quietly emotional moment between the two that shows how their relationship has been given new legs by Big Finish.

 

Meanwhile, the Master has something of a love-interest of his own, as the ambitious and ruthless Kastrella (an excellent Susan Brown) has designs on becoming his equal partner. Geoffrey Beevers plays another blinder here, his Master clearly respects just how nasty Kastrella is, and the lengths she’ll go to to get what she wants. That said, he’s clearly also not into her - this incarnation is charming, but isn’t flirty in the slightest, and he’s happy to sacrifice her when the moment comes. 

 

This is another strong effort from Big Finish, and this run of Fourth Doctor Adventures seems to go from strength to strength. Doing action like this on audio can’t be easy, and the only slightly weak part is the scenes with Kastrella’s champion, the Red Knight. He’s given a suitably grisly origin, and we’re told his armour is fused to his flesh - but he comes across as a little underwhelming, sounding like a cross between Brian Blessed at his most bellow-y and Rik Mayall in full Flashheart mode, but without the jokes.

 

Death Match is a worthy sequel to Requiem for the Rocket Men, it has plenty to offer, and is well-scripted and thought-through - considering that the ‘arena’ concept has been done to death in Sci-Fi. But at the heart of it, there’s Leela and Marshall -  one hell of a match. In a knowing nod to her future, the Doctor notes that she might have to lower her standards a little. That time will come soon, and somewhere on Gallifrey, a chancellery guard won’t know what’s hit him before too long -  but there’s a few more adventures to savour yet before that happens.

 





City of Death (Novelisation/AudioBook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 22 June 2015 -  
 
City of Death (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by James Goss
Based on the script by Douglas Adams
Based on a story by David Fisher
Released by BBC Books, 21 May 2015

City of Death (audio book) (Credit: BBC Audio)
Read by Lalla Ward
Released by BBC Audio, 21 May 2015
Paris, 1979.

For many Doctor Who fans there is only one thing that sentence can possibly mean. For that place and that time are (mostly) the setting for a story from Tom Baker’s penultimate season – and it happens to be a story which is often considered to be one of the all-time greats in the history of the show. Fast-forward (or fast return, it all depends on your point of view) to 2015 and an all-new novelisation of the serial has arrived on bookshelves under the authorship of James Goss. But to see exactly how this came about, we need to step back a little.

2012 saw the release of a novelisation of another Season 17 story, Shada. But there was one big difference: Shada was never finished and thus never transmitted. So that novel, written by Gareth Roberts, actually provides one of our only means of experiencing the story as a complete entity. It was considered a great success, and paved the way for a further book adaptation of another Douglas Adams script which, likewise, had never been novelised.

Enter City of Death.

While these books share a common heritage, then, this latest one has an issue all of its own to contend with. Unlike Shada, City of Death exists in its entirety as a TV serial produced three-and-a-half decades ago. Which raises the question: how far does the book stray from the established path that so many people know and love? Well, the finished novel achieves a brilliant balance.

Perhaps the most important thing to be aware of is that although a considerable amount of the dialogue is recognisable from the story as we know it, Goss has used the original rehearsal scripts as the basis for his novel. This means that while the story is fundamentally unchanged, much of the dialogue and action is either new (deleted from the finished TV show) or different to some extent from how it turned out on screen. The result is quite fascinating. In addition, of course, Goss has embellished and added even further to the story, and this is in evidence almost immediately. To cite an early example, the Doctor and Romana’s first visit to the Louvre is entirely familiar and yet radically different.

The book’s first chapter contains some of its most notable deviations from the televised original (and in this sense you could argue that the first chapter is the book’s most atypical), but this turns out to be a masterstroke. Before we see the Doctor and Romana in Paris (and no, this is no longer their first appearance in the novel) the book does what only a book can: it elaborates substantially on the backstory of almost any character you could care to mention, not just through dialogue but also by transporting the reader into the minds of the characters themselves. For readers familiar with the original material, this makes for a hugely eye-opening introduction to this new interpretation of the story. It has to be said that for those who aren’t as overly acquainted with City of Death, the first chapter could perhaps be a little less effective – not quite so much of a ‘hook’ into the novel, but taking on much more meaning by the time of its conclusion.

As the book progresses and catches up with the narrative of the original TV episodes, that’s where the benefits of the written medium become very clear. Goss’ writing is rich, witty and compelling, not only a superb homage to the late Douglas Adams (indeed, a number of phrases in the book originate from stage directions in the scripts themselves, but except for the examples given in the notes at the back of the book you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the Adams from the Goss – the language is incredibly consistent and harmonious throughout) but also a match made in heaven with the story itself. If there’s any TV serial which particularly suits being made into a novel, it must be this one; one of the most evocative Doctor Who stories becomes one of the most evocative Doctor Who books. It isn’t entirely hyperbolic to say that for a short while, when the pages of this book are open, it’s not too difficult to imagine that you might be in Paris (especially if you have the fortune to actually be in Paris).

Also available is an unabridged audiobook release of City of Death. Read by Lalla Ward (Romana) and running to around nine hours and forty-five minutes, the audiobook is an enjoyable way to experience the story and has a character all of its own. Ward’s reading is sharp, clear and well-performed, and the release also takes the opportunity to spruce up the soundscape via the careful use of sound effects. This definitely improves the overall listening experience while remaining restrained and respectful to the underlying material. But because the audiobook obviously runs at a pre-determined pace, there are a few moments which seem to pass by slightly too quickly – not major plot elements, but some of the subtleties of the writing which don’t have the chance to sink in as well, compared to reading the book at your own pace. Ultimately this comes down to personal preference, but having experienced both the hardback and the audiobook, the former did seem more satisfying overall, even though the audio release is still great fun in its own right.

For more than three decades, City of Death has been (no pun intended) a closed book. Four episodes of a television show which has been on our screens – on and off – for over fifty years. But serendipitously, the fact that the story is among those never to have been originally novelised has opened the door for this tremendous new book; at once a fresh reworking and a faithful retelling of a classic adventure. If there’s one reason to buy it, it’s that once you’ve read the book the story will never be the same again. Frankly, after finishing the book it feels like the TV episodes have lots of bits missing. Bits which, just for a moment, you would be forgiven for thinking you’d actually seen performed by the actors in 1979. Events in the original (some of which don’t really make a great deal of sense, with hindsight) are justified and explored, often without even being changed to any significant extent. City of Death is now an even richer and more satisfying story than ever before, and it’s a sheer delight that Season 16’s The Pirate Planet is set to receive the book treatment (once again from Goss) next year. Who says you can’t improve on perfection?