Four Doctors #5Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Four Doctors #5 (Credit: Titan)
WRITER - PAUL CORNELL
ARTIST - NEIL EDWARDS
COLORIST - IVAN NUNES
LETTERER - RICHARD STARKINGS AND JIMMY BETANCOURT
DESIGNER - ROB FARMER
EDITOR - ANDREW JAMES
ASSISTANT EDITOR - KIRSTEN MURRAY
RELEASED SEPTEMBER 23RD 2015, TITAN COMICS

“In a way, this was why I gave her to you in the first place, to make you see – the friend inside the enemy, the enemy inside the friend. Everyone’s a bit of both. Everyone’s a hybrid.”

Although he couldn’t have known this at the time of writing, in having Missy utter these pivotal words towards the climax of “The Witch’s Familiar” last Saturday, Doctor Who’s resident commander-in-chief Steven Moffat almost directly alluded to the discussion point which has arguably been at the heart of Paul Cornell’s grand Four Doctors crossover event: precisely what role do the travelling companions who join the TARDIS crew play in Theta Sigma(s)’ lives, and must we always assume that their impact upon the aforementioned mad man in a box is wholly beneficial? Certainly, there’ve been examples in the past of the Doctors’ allies failing to live up to his occasionally lofty expectations – few would likely contest the hypothesis that Adam Mitchell didn’t do himself any favours in 2005’s “The Long Game”, for instance – and one has to wonder, based on the events of 2009’s “The Waters of Mars” amongst other companionless tales, whether the increasingly fleeting nature of each assistant’s tenure takes its toll upon the series’ one constant protagonist from time to time, but not until now has this intellectually stimulating subject matter been considered any great detail, hence why – in spite of its various shortcomings, déjà vu-ridden sequences perhaps the most prominent bugbear – Titan Comics’ first Who-centric Summer event has made for such delightfully entertaining reading to date.

For those who’ve been struggling to stay abreast of what’s undoubtedly been one of the more convoluted entries in the Whoniverse’s ever-expanding array of time-bending yarns, at the heart of Cornell’s contemplation upon the relationship between the Doctor and his accomplices – better known as the character dynamic which continues to power the programme and its various spin-offs fifty-two years after the former’s inception – lies an alternate version of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor whose (admittedly already flimsy) moral compass had the misfortune of becoming completely warped at the moment that his Impossible Girl elected to betray him in Season Eight’s much-loved “Dark Water”. Not only that, but rather than live out his days as his previous selves did, namely by searching the universe in search of new recruits, this Valeyard-esque parallel echo opted to voyage across dimensions so as to join forces with the Time War-afflicted Voord and spread an indoctrinatory message of peace across the cosmos.

Keeping up? If not, then fret not, since rather than continually prioritising his narrative’s dense techno-jargon and complex mythology as was the case on occasion in previous issues, Cornell instead takes the approach which worked wonders for him in 2007 with “Human Nature / The Family of Blood”, bringing the relationship at the tale’s heart (in the aforementioned televised serial’s case John Smith and Joan Redfern, though here it’s undeniably the Doctor and Clara) back to the forefront just in time to allow for a real humdinger of an emotional denouement. Precisely how Four Doctors concludes we shan’t of course spoil here for fear of robbing anyone of the satisfaction of experiencing Issue 5 devoid of any foreknowledge, yet suffice to say that the manner in which the piece’s psychologically unhinged ‘villain’ rounds off his dialogue with Coal Hill School’s least reliable teacher since the 1960s will surely bring a tear to both eyes, especially given how neatly the moment complements the true Twelfth’s televised reaction to his friend’s ultimately insignificant backstabbing in the process.

Jenna Coleman’s soon-to-be deceased (unless she overcomes her addiction to adventuring, of course) construct isn’t the only companion involved in drawing Cornell’s meticulously plotted five-part saga to a close, however – Gabby Gonzalez and Alice Obiefune both factor into its resolution just as heavily as Clara and Missy did into “The Witch’s Familiar”, despite all four characters seemingly having met their demises in their respective tales’ previous instalments. Indeed, this reviewer couldn’t be more relieved to confirm that whereas Four Doctors’ penultimate chapter cruelly mishandled the former pair by only having them fulfil a somewhat meaningful role at the very last moment, Issue 5 in contrast affords both of them pivotal roles, with Gabby in particular heading on a trajectory which couldn’t be more vital in terms of how proceedings wrap up. Perhaps another entry in Gabby’s frequently marvellous series of diary writings would have sweetened the deal even further so far as boosting her and Alice’s enhanced contributions, but even so, it’s nothing short of fantastic to see the scribe take heed – at precisely the right moment, too – of the fact that successful Who serials pay just as much attention to the exploits of the Time Lord’s invaluable assistants as to the show’s namesake.

Speaking of the word “fantastic”, it’s high time that we addressed the singular, big-eared elephant still residing in the room a month on from this otherwise blemish-free (well, thereabouts) storyline – the absence of Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. Rest assured that whilst Cornell doesn’t suddenly shoehorn in the first of the character’s post-20th Century incarnations in a desperate effort to rival the five or so issues which Titan have already dedicated to him this year, by no means does he outright ignore the huge extent to which the Oncoming Storm and Rose Tyler developed upon the interactions between past Doctors and companions; quite to the contrary, he uses the fact that Eccleston’s war veteran seemingly spent virtually all of his life in Rose’s company to both justify their joint disappearance (of sorts) and progress the finale’s above-mentioned contemplation of the supplemental and detrimental ramifications (particularly the latter) alike of its central players’ dependence upon one another.

In just about any other isolated Who comic-book arc, such a fleeting sequence as that which we’ve vaguely (albeit with good reason) commented on here would doubtless come off as an indulgent digression intended to evoke little more than a sense of nostalgia in the mind of the hard-core Whovian reader, so it’s incredibly telling of Cornell’s near-unparalleled finesse as a spinner of yarns that he takes the moment in question and utilises it not only as a means by which to celebrate the highlights of Doctor Who’s modern revival ten years on from its debut, but moreover to immensely deepen our understanding of how the Doctor’s companions continue to keep his darker moral facets at bay. Matt Smith’s incarnation once speculated in the presence of Sarah-Jane and Jo that the universe might just shiver in the event of his demise, yet on the basis of Four Doctors’ captivating fifth part, it seems safer still to say that if the 2000-year-old Time Lord ever took permanent leave of his travelling assistants, the universe – not to mention the audience – would surely require therapy as a result.





The Witch's FamiliarBookmark and Share

Saturday, 26 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
The Witch's Familar: Michelle Gomez as Missy with the Daleks (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, and Julian Bleach
Transmitted BBC One 26th September 2015

Rule One: The Doctor Lies.

 

Previously on Doctor Who…..

Having met a child Davros on an ancient battlefield, the Doctor is running. His last confession is in the hands of Missy (Not Dead, Big Surprise). His confession may or may not be to do with Davros, he’s not letting on why, but he’s pretty sure he’s going to die. Clara and Missy come looking for him. A Snake Man made of Snakes kidnaps all of them and takes them to see the dying Davros, who wants a word. On Skaro. Cue Dalek Guns and dead friends. Doctor beside himself. Flashback/flashforward, the Doctor aiming a Dalek gun at young Davros. *Cliffhanger Sting*.

 

Rule Two: Steven Moffat loves a wind-up:

Ok, so there was no way that Clara, Missy, and the TARDIS were really toast, was there? Would have made for a very short series, wouldn’t it? Steven Moffat knows this, and really, so do we. We’ve seen the trailer. He also knows that we know. Thus, The Witch’s Familiar opens with a wry reference to those ‘How we did it’ montage scenes from Sherlock, as Missy offers a cheeky explanation of how they survived via a flashback of the Doctor (one of them, anyway) getting out of the same sort of jam. Consequently, Missy and Clara have escaped and are now outside the Dalek City, in Clara’s case - tied up and upside down while Missy contemplates lunch.

 

Meanwhile, the Doctor is still in the Dalek City, unwillingly continuing his fireside chat with Davros. This is broken up by a brief escape where the absolutely livid Twelfth Doctor manages what none of his predecessors did. He not only gets Davros out of his chair, but he does a bit of cosplay, and takes the Mark 1 Travel Machine for a spin. It’s a fun moment, but doesn’t last. The Daleks mobilise, in a cool moment they pass through their arches en masse like it’s 1966 - and the Special Weapons Dalek TALKS. 

 

This diversion over, interrupted by Colony Sarff, he’s soon back with Davros (in the only other chair on Skaro), and Davros resumes his spiel. Their conversations in The Magician’s Apprentice were highly reminiscent of their first meeting in Genesis of the Daleks. That story is echoed even more here, Moffat paraphrases Terry Nation, and cleverly turns famous lines on their head, as the Doctor, shamed by his role in the making of his arch-enemy, is on the back foot for a change. Davros plays the Doctor like a stradivarius here, the wily old goat. Yes, he is dying. We learn that his biological link to the Daleks is the reason he can’t die. He lays it on thick, and the Doctor obliges him. 

 

Capaldi continues to be a revelation. He rages and swaggers, yet shows sympathy for his ailing foe, trying to help him in his dying hours, even as confusion and disbelief loop around those eyebrows. Julian Bleach almost has us feeling sorry for Davros, turning Season Eight’s “Am I a good man?” question around on him. We even see his eyes, which we always assumed he didn’t have. They share a laugh together. But, even in an episode of Doctor Who that dares to show us Davros’s eyes, that reinvents the Daleks biology, that casually throws in a reference to a relative we never dreamed of - Moffat doesn’t go that far. Davros is still thoroughly rotten to the core and has been playing him. It’s a trap, Davros never intended to die, and the Doctor ends up giving away regeneration energy to him and his creations.

 

Rule Three: Missy is a compulsive liar.

Meanwhile, outside the walls, the two-hander going on between Clara and Missy is just as central as the one between the Doctor and Davros. The odd couple make their way to the Dalek City through the sewers, where we learn the icky truth of Dalek drainage, which will eventually prove the undoing of the Daleks on the surface. Their exchanges are electric, Clara is smart, but ever so straight-laced, while Missy is freewheeling and more dangerous than ever, as Michelle Gomez, preamble over, really gets going. She can’t be trusted in any way, shape, or form. One of the traits that Moffat has introduced is a tendency, like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight to casually reel off multiple explanations passed off as truth. She tries to kill Clara more than once, then, in an echo of Oswin’s fate in Asylum of the Daleks, locks her inside the casing of one. Here we learn more about what it’s like to be inside one, and this is no Ian Chesterton-hiding-inside-a casing deal. Missy puts her through her paces in the same way Davros puts his prototype through the motions in Genesis. The language of a Dalek is different to ours, it doesn’t translate, certain words will only come out as Exterminate. When Dalek-Clara finally comes face to eye-stalk with the Doctor, she can only, desperately try to say her name - which comes out as “I am a Dalek”. Missy tries to persuade the Doctor to kill her, in-between attempts at cosying up to the Daleks (“The bitch is back”). It’s only Clara’s desperate cry of “Mercy”, that alerts the Doctor to who’s under the hood, and that the word Mercy is even in the Dalek dictionary. And then the Doctor runs again, as Missy smiles sweetly at the Daleks and says that she’s got an idea.

 

This takes us back to that cliffhanger, where the Doctor returns to that battlefield encounter with the child Davros, tooled up. Needless to say, it’s the hand-mines that get it, and he leads the child that will one day grow up as his arch-enemy (don’t tell Missy, she’ll scratch his eye out) by the hand away from his doom, and the word Mercy finds its place in Dalek lore. 

 

Obviously Davros is still going to grow up to be that man. Something awful will happen to him, but something else, and another day. There are still questions to be answered that will probably be answered in about ten weeks time, and Missy will undoubtedly be back at some point, having not been ‘killed off’ for once. Speaking of which.....the Doctor seems pointedly more worried about Clara possibly dying than ever before. Is this the hidden arc of the series? Who knows. Surprises to come no doubt. In the meantime, let’s savour this, the best two part story Doctor Who’s had in years, riffs, silver Daleks, sewers, ray bans and all.

 

 






The Man Behind The MasterBookmark and Share

Thursday, 24 September 2015 - Reviewed by Chuck Foster
The Man Behind The Master (Credit: Fantom Publishing)
The Man Behind The Master - The biography of Anthony Ainley
Written by Karen Louise Hollis
Published by Fantom Publishing, September 2015
"I am usually referred to as the Master..."

In many ways we probably know more about the mysterious figure from the Doctor's past than we do of the man who played him throughout the 1980s, Anthony Ainley. A man who fiercely protected his privacy, we knew little of him other than the persona he chose to play at conventions and the like. In her biography of the actor, Karen Hollis attempts to bring us a better perspective of "The Man behind the Master".

With such a private man, this was always going to be quite a daunting task - for fandom, his own date of birth hadn't been confirmed for quite some time - other than it being the same day as his Doctor Who co-stars Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred - until it was realised that he had been registered under his mother's name and it wasn't until later in life that he adopted his famous father's surname. However, Hollis took on the challenge: "Using exhaustive interviews with friends and colleagues from every aspect of Anthony's life, including his best friend from school, fellow children from the Actor's Orphanage, cricketing friends, colleagues, and those who remained close to him until his death in 2004, this book aims to uncover the real Anthony Ainley."

As one might expect, his life is presented in broadly chronological order, forming some three phases: his childhood as Anthony Holmes in the Actor's Ophanage, evacuation to America in the Second World War and his own military service; into drama, and of course Doctor Who; and then his 'other' passion of sport and in particular, cricket.

However, what quickly becomes apparent is that even those who were close to him and might be called friends didn't seem to be able to pinpoint exactly what was going on inside the enigmatic Anthony, even as a child - in fact you'd be forgiven in thinking that the early part of the book was more about the likes of Granville Bantock and Judy Staber! What we really get here is context, the observations of those who were his contemporaries in the Orphanage of the life there, and on how Anthony would have fitted into those routines (or not!). This was par for the course for much of the book, as with the man himself keeping himself to himself we can only read anecdotal evidence of his life and ambitions.

That's not to say there isn't a lot to be said about Ainley. The book certainly serves to bring all the aspects of his life together in one volume, and whilst it might not be as in depth on the actor as I personally would have liked, it's testament to the reseach by Hollis that there is a lot I didn't know about his life to still discover, such as his pre-acting career, him knowing Tom Baker for a long time through his half-brother Richard, his relationships with Sarah Badel and Kate O'Mara, and the far-reaching influence of Noel Coward.

His acting career is also well-documented, though as one might expect Doctor Who dominates the book, and was his main passion thereafter - well, that and cricket! The book examines each of Ainley's stories and his interaction within them, and his later convention appearances and later return to the Master in the game Destiny Of the Doctors. In this area we are, of course, on firmer ground and so the chapters are far 'meatier' than the earlier ones. It's a shame in many ways that Hollis didn't draw more on his fan correspondence within the book - the author told me that she instead wanted to focus on friends, colleagues, and family, though she does reflect in the book that he did engage with a number of fans in this way, including herself! Fandom is of course covered in the book, and it was a nice surprise to find an unattributed quote of mine lurking within the text too!

As well as the prime "character" of the biography, his family are also covered, with his mother Clarice featuring quite prominently (he lived with her for much of his later life), plus a chapter devoted to his father, Henry (of which perhaps more is known than Anthony!).

The only real criticism of the book I have is that in many cases it seems like several pieces have been "cut'n'pasted" together rather than presenting a continuous narrative, for example where people's names can flick between full-, fore- or surname in consecutive paragraphs; there was also a case where the story over the Master/Tremas pseudonym becomes deja-vu as it is refered to again in consecutive paragraphs, an effect of the way quotes were presented. Having had to constantly re-assess, re-edit and reposition text in my literary efforts over time (including this review!), I know it is easy for things like these to get overlooked when ensuring that everything ends up where you want it to be, and it doesn't actually impact the facts being presented, only that I found it interrupted my own concentration when reading!

Overall, I think the book does a very reasonable job of patching together Ainley's life, and bringing the various facts and figures together. However, it does also hang a lot on the 'gossip' about him, which is the unfortunate effect of documenting somebody who took great pains not to be documented!





This Is Colin BakerBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 23 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
This is Colin Baker (Credit: Big Finish)
Colin Baker, Nicholas Briggs (Interviewer)
Released August 2015, Big Finish Productions

The Sixth Doctor is perhaps the greatest 'what if' incarnation out of all the Doctors to grace the small-screen in the program's history. .Born out of the explosive events on the planet Androzani Minor, the very first moments of this direct and superior individual made the perfect end to an all-time classic serial. But trouble soon followed for both this new version of the Doctor and the program itself, and Colin Baker's wish to be the longest Doctor to date was cut abruptly short by the higher powers at the BBC

Of course, a horde of Big Finish productions expanded the universe of the past Doctors, and the characters they encountered. The Sixth Doctor has had many more chances to show just why he is every bit as worthy a pilot of the TARDIS as those that came before him and since.

My earliest impression of Colin Baker the person was at a 1990s convention in Birmingham where he had just returned from a tour to Blist Hills with The Mark of The Rani's cast and writers. Somehow I managed to grab a seat on the front row with a friend. One great story after another was shared, and during all that time I noticed just how friendly Colin was with the thoroughly engaged group of fans. A man who could look you full in the eye and smile, and for it to feel like you had met him before.

This type of friendly figure should have been the final stages of the butterfly Sixth Doctor, after sufficient build up and hints along the way. But it was not to be in the 1980s. I am at least confident it will happen in a not too dissimilar fashion with our present Doctor played by the wonderful Peter Capaldi.

This release is both similar and markedly different to Tom Baker at 80. Colin is younger than his predecessor but is very reflective and shows a 'come what may' attitude to the remainder of his career. Unlike Tom, Colin has always been a receptive and fairly open person for an interview. Such is Nicholas Briggs' determination, we actually do get the occasional more negative feelings and critical side to him, without it feeling forced from him.

Another notable difference, is that with Colin, Briggs has clearly much knowledge and appreciation for his work, but also knows that they had a healthy functional relationship.  Baker could get many more opportunities to show his capabilities as the Doctor and Briggs could write, direct, produce or act to some degree depending on the particular story in question.

And I personally enjoy this more assertive model of the same interviewer; one who can clarify and muster views on the past, the present and the future as they transpire for the interviewee.

 

The structure here is successful as a chronology with the occasional reflection and discussion of a big topic or theme. And it is very engaging to get a sense of how Baker as an acting persona grew and developed, drawing upon the various formative experiences he had, and later influences from people that he respected or revered. Colin rarely speaks for more than a minute or two without making some amusing anecdote, or some very insightful point about various important topics, i.e. society, education, effort in accomplishing something, opportunity, status, basic respect, and being a public figure - that last one of course being of paramount interest to listeners. He was put into a very troublesome place when it appeared he might be turned on and blamed for things faltering in a massive institution which Doctor Who was (and now is more than ever before).

To my mind this release is just as engrossing, and more dependable as a record of the person behind the actor. There will always be a sense that Tom Baker wants to play to the audience and be an entertainer the majority of the time, and will keep a certain amount of his most private thoughts to himself and a few trusted confidantes. Colin Baker is private in the sense that he will hint how his children and wife are the biggest thing in his life, but he will talk properly about virtually everything else and show no worries as to what others think. He even says that whether he is smart or not is for other to "decide", which is wonderfully self-aware and grounded.

But one common trait with the Fourth Doctor actor release, is that this interview tries to avoid retreading much previous material from bonus interviews that followed the Big Finish dramas. Furthermore there is very little about the majority of Baker's tenure as the doctor. So if like myself, you were frustrated by a lack of commentary from him on the DVD of Revelation of the Daleks, (and again for episode 13 of The Trial of a Time Lord) then this just is not the place to find his views.

 

Baker's formative years are arguably the very best component of the interview. We see a remarkably distinctive boy who unapologetically demonstrated the mind and attitude of a middle class thinker, and that caused problems for him in a school that was part of a very northern working class town. Further problems came from his posh voice, and his bookworm tendencies.

Yet instead of bogging the young Colin down, the ability to adapt and to gain trust and companionship was demonstrated, and would become a great asset of his. Later  he went on to be a promising young lawyer but opted ultimately for acting, despite its far less certain dividends and prospects.

He also would always stand up for the underdog and not be a pushover, but still use tact and patience when required.. And for those of us who revelled in his Doctor's finest moments, those were the precise qualities that made us cheer him on as he batted aside Mentors, Androgums, Borads and Vervoids.

Colin talks of his proud use of sarcasm, and how he gets on better usually with those that likewise opt for ironic and deadpan humour. And the jokes certainly come through many a time, enabling his release further replay value which was already sizeable given the remarkable life story.

 

However some bittersweet or melancholic moments are also there, even when a  quip has only just registered with the listener.  One of these is Baker talking about his dignified efforts to secure one last full season, and how he would not just return for the opener; eventually Time and the Rani. This was certainly more than reasonable and such issues had dogged Blake's 7 lead Gareth Thomas (Incidentally Colin was fantastically memorable as Bayban in a Series 3 episode that didn't feature Blake).

Yet apparently more galling was the regret over his inability to go to university as his father did not see the value in it. Although grants were available, the financial status of Colin's father meant that he was not eligible, and so had no further higher education opportunity in the Britain of the mid-20th Century.

This lack of choice in being able to go to university is something he freely admits to being a 'chip on his shoulder', but really was it such a problem when he ended up with a happy family life and a very solid acting career? Perhaps a bit of ambivalence lies at the heart of this interview, but that is by no means a failing; rather a fair reflection of a sophisticated and thoughtful individual.

With name dropping of great British actors like David Suchet and Bernard Hill, one appreciates how Colin was learning his craft alongside men with even more natural skill than he had, and that he was more than happy to benefit.

At the same time he is/was a very outgoing, genial and co-operative working actor, who certainly could not have tried harder during the very troubled mid-Eighties period for Doctor Who. And thankfully he ended up working in much more favourable conditions with both co-stars old and new on the audio dramas.

 

Nicholas Briggs will hopefully keep making these types of special audio releases, and involve other major players in Doctor Who history, be they producers, directors, script editors, as well as companions and notable guest stars. For my part I especially would enjoy one with Julian Glover, who now is producing wonderful cameos on Game Of Thrones.

A final reflection on this release then. We have a charismatic man who grew up in Manchester who is very grateful for the continuing adventures of one of the Doctor's more complex and unpredictable incarnations, and of course bold new projects like A Dozen Summers.

So whether the listener has heard any quantity of adventures belonging to the vast Big Finish catalogue, or not, they can really appreciate just why and how Colin Baker is consistently regarded as the best of a worthy group of Time Lords on audio. And of course Uncle Tom is in that mix as well.

 
 
 




The Magician's ApprenticeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 19 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Michelle Gomez as The Doctor, Clara and Missy in The Magician's Apprentice (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Hettie MacDonald
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez, Julian Bleach, Jemma Redgrave, Clare Higgins
Transmitted BBC One 19th September 2015

This review contains plot spoilers.

 

And he’s back in the room. After nearly nine months off our screens, here he is, look what the cat dragged in - The Oncoming Storm, currently AWOL, at the end of a three week long, very silly party…

And how he’s changed. Missing in action, once he’s tracked down, the change is startling. He seems to have lightened up somewhat. The dress code has relaxed. The hair’s gone quite, quite mad, he hugs, he cracks bad puns, he’s developed a tendency to rock out, welcoming Clara with the riff from Pretty Woman, he’s taken to wearing ray-bans. The Doctor’s become a sort of funny uncle ……or has he?

The Magician’s Apprentice is startlingly different for a series opener, it’s not for part timers. It’s not a sequel to Deep Breath, to Death in Heaven…..it’s a belated sequel to Genesis of the Daleks. It knows its audience, and dares to open on war-torn Skaro, during that endless war of attrition, as the Doctor bouncily tries to save a child from a grisly end whilst giving a classic cocky-Doctor pep talk. Those hand-mines, reaching gruesomely from the earth are the stuff of nightmares, and the murky battlefield on Skaro is perfectly grim. And then, his world caves in as that child innocently says his name, and the spooked Doctor walks away, leaving young Davros to his terrible fate.

Cut to one Clara Oswald, making teaching look a bit too easy, dropping a saucy reference to Jane Austen, hopping on her motorbike, and breezily heading off to save the day. Planes are hanging, frozen in the sky, and UNIT, in the Doctor’s absence, are on the phone. 

Clara pluckily heads off to deal take care of business, but is soon cut down to size. She's good, but this time, she’s ever so slightly out of her depth - starting off confident but increasingly thrown off and wrong-footed by events that she can't control. Clara's good, but she's not the Doctor. She's learned a lot, but one thing that keeps coming back as that her shared history with the Doctor doesn't mean she can always predict his actions.

The theme of shared history doesn't stop there, or with those moody scenes of Colony Sarff stalking the Doctor through the alien cantina, the HQ of the Shadow Proclamation and the eerie wastes of Karn. It doesn't stop with UNIT and a slightly wasted Kate Stewart, or Missy's parlour trick with the planes where she reprises The Time Monster either.

Ah yes, Missy. Not dead, not sure why. Those planes frozen in the sky are but a calling card, a sample from the Master's Greatest Hits, but they're another layer of references the 'Not-We' are unlikely to clock as they leave the telly on after Strictly Come Dancing. 

Certain quarters of fandom unsure or unhappy about the Master's gender alignment are unlikely to be cheered up by Missy's return. Not this fan. Michelle Gomez takes ownership of this episode the second she arrives. She's brilliant fun, but even more shockingly, casually vicious than before, indiscriminately killing in that Mediterranean square with eight snipers trained on her, without a care in the world. This sets the tone, as she oscillates between sweetly smiling and snarling menace. She's utterly lined up as the other woman against Clara, even if, as Missy points out in one of many memorable barbs, it's nothing so crude as human relationships. No, this is all about friendship. 

Clara's rightly put out that the Confession Dial went to Missy and not her. Even if the Doctor and Missy are frenemies and go way back, it irks Clara that she's not the BFF the Doctor would have her believe she is, just as Missy senses this and milks it. Trying to kill each other is like texting to Missy and the Doctor, and it becomes apparent to Clara trying to save him throughout his entire history clearly doesn't hold a candle to centuries of trying to kill him using increasingly insane schemes. No-one knows the Doctor better, and Missy uses that to taunt Clara. (Just imagine the cut dialogue: "I was turning feral on a Cat Planet when you were potty-training, dear”). They head off to find him together, and it's a bumpy ride. But it's not long before this odd couple is reunited with their man.

Clara knows something is off, she brings up the changes in the Doctor as if she’s reviewing this for us. Just what exactly is he running from? What is the Doctor’s confession, if it’s not the revelation that he made Davros, and is therefore responsible for centuries of Dalek slaughter, what is it? It must be pretty awful, whatever he’s confessing. Mysteries for another day, no doubt. 

It’s all beautifully woven together in Steven Moffat’s best script in a long time, epic storytelling, intricately spun, both mythic and character-driven. Visually, it’s stunning, returning Director Hettie MacDonald gives us big, moody, and cinematic. (Where’s she been hiding since Blink?) 

Moffat also gives us his best new villain in some time. Colony Sarff's baleful, hissing presence is a strong hook, and he's a memorable supporting villain. The revelation of his true nature (He's a snake man, made of snakes!) is a masterstroke - but like the planes, UNIT, Kate, and the Doctor's rock-out in Medieval Essex ("Dude!"), he's so much window-dressing. Even the scenes between Clara and Missy are a sideshow to the main event, the reunion of the Doctor and Davros.

It's startling drama, as two men who've been waiting for forty years for a proper reason for a rematch finally get that reason. Julian Bleach, last seen ranting furiously in Journey's End is a quieter, more manipulative presence here - slumped and diminished-looking in his chair, dying, but perking up a little as his arch-enemy is delivered to him on Skaro. These men are most decidedly not friends, but their exchanges take on the air of old men discussing war stories in a private members club.

The squaring of the circle with Genesis is brought home spectacularly, by Davros playing the Doctor their ‘best bits’, unlimited rice pudding and all. The camera lingers on the clip of the Fourth Doctor holding those wires and asking “Have I the right?” just as Davros punctures the Doctor’s whole argument of the last forty years with one devastating bit of logic. Davros knows. And so does the Doctor. And he can’t run from that.

Peter Capaldi is a revelation, playing a Doctor who still hates this man, but now with that added shade of deep shame at actions recent for him, but centuries ago for Davros. He prowls the room and circles his enemy with the absolute conviction of a man who's been waiting for this meeting for decades. Moffat rewards him with the meeting his Doctor deserves. This is arguably the best material Capaldi's had so far, his full range from comic bravado to rage to fear is on show, and his Doctor is beside himself when he sees the full retro glory of Skaro. 

And beautifully done it is too, the faithful update of the Dalek City, those Ray Cusick arches, the array of Daleks of different vintage on show in the TV21-inspired control room - taking the idea of Asylum of the Daleks to its logical conclusion. Ok, the Daleks are relatively static, especially the Supreme, but they look amazing, and when that gleaming Dead Planet model swoops across the sand to capture Clara and Missy, it's joyous.

We leave on a cliffhanger where the Doctor's left trapped, alone, and defenseless, his friends apparently exterminated, and at the end of his rope. He reappears, somehow, on that ancient battlefield - apparently so desperate that he's training a Dalek gun at the child Davros. And with that, Doctor Who brings back two more old friends - the killer cliffhanger, accompanied by the return of the 'sting', leaving you with your heart in your mouth until next week.





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Friday, 18 September 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
16712/-

Starring: Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, John Leeson, 
Frazer Hines, Michael Cochrane, Bernard Holley, 
Veronica Roberts,  and Nicholas Briggs 

Written And Directed By: Nicholas Briggs

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

Released August 31st 2015, Big Finish Productions

Right on the heels of their last adventure, the Fourth Doctor and Leela are heading for the planet of Telos, but without the (often vital) support of the genius computer dog K9.

What new discoveries will feature when the Cybermen's base on Telos is distrubed, and how can the Doctor deal with a combined force of the imperious Cyber-Controller and crafty Cyber-Planner? What will happen when the Doctor is having to try and uncover the consequences of his actions when he first visited Telos with Jamie and Victoria in his Second incarnation? Will the spare parts obtained from Krelos be implemented into making a new Cyber-army?

The answers are immediately forthcoming, but not necessarily pleasing.

 

The big - and for many long-term fans huge - draw is the involvement of bothFrazer Hines andBernard Holley, who are part of a small group of people to still be with us from the main cast of the highly regarded The Tomb of the Cybermen. Hines reprises Jamie once again, and also provides the voice of the Second Doctor to a  very convincing level. Holley is certainly convincing as the young man he played in the opening episodes of Tomb, but I do find this script simply repeats one of the Troughton story's flaws in not giving a strong actor enough to do. Also we do not actually get a proper crossover of the two TARDIS crews, which admittedly is owing to the plot and to the Cybermen needing to observe timelines carefully for their agenda to work. Given how the cast in the making of documentary even point out this 'missed opportunity' I just wonder if Nicholas Briggs was at one point thinking of revising his story to allow this, or just wanted to make a coherent plot and finale story his priority.

Also there is some clever use of what on TV were vibrant and memorable clothing props in the form of the Doctor's endless scarf and his former companion Jamie's kilt, and how they drive the story forward. Just as in The Fate of Krelos the use of a malignant K9 is very welcome as this plot device was rare and only used to any notable effect by creators Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Even though the Cybermen are meant to be one collective race, the sheer personality of K9 means that there appears to be more of a dynamic than one would expect, so I must praise John Leeson for some fine work there.

 

If the main objective was for the listener to be entertained then this two parter certainly meets that in workmanlike fashion. It has decent pace, clear enough sound effects, and not overly intrusive music. Louise Jameson is as accomplished as ever, really making you appreciate Leela's many natural gifts and her devotion to the Doctor even when he appears to feel helpless. Tom Baker is always very engaging owing to his huge reserves of charisma, but perhaps were one to see a story from Season 15 and then listen to this, there are some definite signs of this being an older and less bombastic Fourth Doctor. Furthermore I say that when I personally feel Tom's weakest season and set of performances were overseen by Graham Williams when he first took charge and had much less budget to work with.

But what matters is having a duo of heroes to care about, and the Tom/Louise team have certainly produced many a fine outing together both onscreen and via audio.

Of course knowing how the actors have become much more on friendly terms with each other through doing commentaries, conventions, and so on may be something Classic Who followers may take subconsciously into these original plays.  But to my mind, one example of the brilliance of Tom Baker was that he was just as strong acting against those he agreed with as those he did not, and regardless could always convince as the main hero of the story - one who may have been unpredictable but always knew how to overcome opposition.

 

Nicholas Briggs of course is at hand to do the Cyber-voices and makes the silver giants as chillingly robotic and soulless as we have come to expect, over the years of Big Finish stories and obviously the revived TV series. The Cybermen are certainly not holding back and wish to leave their individuality-destroying-mark on a rather less malevolent civilisation. Without giving too much away, the legacy of their destructive ways was already shown in 'Krelos' and this story hinges on just how much the TARDIS crew can act to avert this - bearing in mind that K9 is still under Cyber control at the start of this season finale.

Other supporting cast is also more than up to the mark. Michael Cochrane has been a first-rate contributor to Doctor Who as evidenced in his two 1980s turns; one alongside Peter Davison, and one with Sylvester McCoy. Even when a script wobbles he is magnetic and memorable, and this again holds true for the 'multi-person' Geralk. Veronica Roberts' Relly is also more than serviceable, even if she is not given too many of the play's best lines of dialogue. We are invested in her fate and that makes the overall story work.

What  prevents this play from being a real winner is the slightly muddled ending. It plays out compellingly enough but just veers on the wrong side of deus ex machina and seems to nullify some of the actions of characters that we really thought would matter more. I do like how the method used to achieve a good result has a major impact on what the Doctor and Leela will ultimately take away from their escapades. They show their resourcefulness under pressure but perhaps it is left to others to somehow appreciate that effort. There just seemed more potential from the various enticing components of the play for a really explosive finish. While an interesting approach to have two plays with lots of 'timey wimey' I did end up feeling a little more impressed with The Fate of Krelos (if ultimately it aspired for less grandiose effect) than I did this finale.

 

Apart from what I said earlier on about the casts' muted misgivings, the making of documentary is certainly worth a listen and will especially interest those who either know and love Tomb, or who still are keen to see it either on a stream or on one of the increasingly scarce Revisitation DVD box sets. Briggs was certainly as good in direction as ever, and the enthusiasm of the cast for their work together is as bright as the unrelenting sun that makes Telos an arid environment. That is until curiosity draws would-be-pioneering travellers down to the underground...