The Eleventh Doctor (Year Two) #10 - First RuleBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
ELEVENTH DOCTOR #2.10

 Writer - Rob Williams, Artist - Simon Fraser
Colorist - Gary Caldwell

[Abslom Daak created by Steve Moore + Steve Dillon, appearing courtesy of Panini Comics, with thanks to Doctor Who Magazine]

Letterer - Richard Starkings + Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt

Assistant Editors - Jessica Burton + 
Amoona Saohin
Senior Editor - Andrew James 
Designer - Rob Farme


COVER A - DAN BOULTWOOD
Released June 8th 2016

"Of course I knew! I'm not you, Daak! I actually think! I think a lot! I am very, very, very smart! Why else do you think I kept you around! Not for your witty repartee. I had something specific in mind for you. You had to be her bodyguard."

The Doctor chastising Daak for failing to protect Alice.


 

'The Then And The Now ' could not be stopped forever, and at some point in its pursuit was going to cause serious damage. The badly injured Squire lies prone in the clutches of the TARDIS Robo-med, with the Doctor desperate to save the aged warrior's life. And all Abslom Daak can do is speak up and find his Time Lord 'ally' in far from his usual convivial mood.

 

Meanwhile Alice is abroad the diseased TARDIS belonging to the Doctor's nemesis, the Master. She is aware of the importance of getting to a point in the Time War that will solve the current threat hanging over the Doctor. A mysterious amorphous entity may be the key to her accomplishing her mission.


 

This tenth issue in the intricate, broad Year 2 arc skilfully manages two parallel storylines, such that both grip in equal manner, but for different reasons.

The artwork, colours and panelling variety all operate well together, and the issue overall culminates triumphantly with a 'double whammy' cliff hanger.

Alice is being given supremely worthwhile character development, in a plot thread that shows that whilst the Doctor is key to any story, it is not always wrong if his assistant - or, in the case of this run of stories, team -  are vital in finding some kind of resolution to the problem at hand.

We also see a Doctor struggling to accept that Alice is having to fend for herself in some corner of the sprawling mess of chaos that is the Time War. And this was down to his own machinations, except that his plan involved Daak being there to help the rather benign and weapon less Alice. At one point the Doctor shows a dark fury which is welcome, given how sometimes - and certainly in my view - this particular incarnation is overtly clownish.

Further, the Squire's fate hangs in the balance this issue, and it is tribute to the fine work of Rob Williams, (with support from alternate writer Si Spurrier), that readers will be concerned over this potential tragedy. The character is decidedly offbeat and has not appeared in either TV show or legendary comic strips of yester year (as with Daak). Yet it still feels vital that the Doctor can 'pull a rabbit out of the hat'.

In sum then, the arc continues to astound and delight in equal measure, despite entering some rather grim settings and thematic backdrops.


The reviews for the Eleventh Doctor Titan comics will return with a look at the 'collected edition' of the next sequence of issues. So watch this space (!)





The Highest Science - Big Finish AudioDramaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 28 December 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

The Highest Science (Credit: Big Finish / Mark Plastow)

Written By: Gareth Roberts,
Adapted By: Jacqueline Rayner
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), 
Lisa Bowerman (BerniceSummerfield), 
Sinead Keenan (Rosheen), 
Daniel Brocklebank (Sheldukher), Sarah Ovens  
(The Cell), Rehanna McDonald (Hazel), 
James Baxter (Rodomonte), Tom Bell (Fakrid/Jinka)


Producer/ Script-Editor: Cavan Scott,

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Released December 2014 by Big Finish Productions

The planet Sakkrat is widely known across the cosmos for once being home to an ancient empire, which created the legendary technology known as 'The Highest Science'. But eventually this monumental asset ushered in doom, and the civilisation fell into oblivion.

The Seventh Doctor and his keenly intelligent assistant - Professor Bernice Summerfield - are in transit abroad the TARDIS. They are alerted to a remarkable fluctuation in time, which originates from Sakkrat. The Doctor announces to Bernice that this is a 'Fortean Flicker'. The Time Lord's curiosity demands that they both investigate proceedings on Sakkrat immediately.

Other parties are also drawn to the large green planet. The despicable and galaxy-wide infamous Sheldukher, is absolutely determined to obtain the aeons old technology, and will stop at killing no-one. He prepares his mission with the  help of several associates, one of those being the telepathic brain-entity, known as the 'Cell'.

Similarly lethal, if perhaps less malicious and instead more imperialistic and military are the Chelonians - a race of anthropomorphised turtles/tortoises. They are focused on conquest and the eradication of all human 'parasites' that get in their way. And a group of time-displaced humans from 20th century Earth are the latest such irritant.

Many lives will be endangered, and the safety of the wider cosmos could also be in peril. The Doctor's resourcefulness and wisdom will have to employed to full effect, if events are not to spiral out of control completely.


 

This particular adventure for the diminutive, chess master incarnation of the Doctor was one of the earlier ones to be published by Virgin back in the early 1990s. It is most notable for seeing the debut of Gareth Roberts in contributing an original, official story to the Doctor Who canon. In later years Roberts would complete other novels for both the New Adventures and Missing Adventures lines, and then be a semi-regular writer for the reborn TV series itself. Roberts is a lively and witty creative force, whose works under both main showrunners (Steven Moffat and Russell T Davies), helped add some contrast from more po-faced or worthy efforts. He also was vital to the success of the excellent Sarah Jane Adventures spinoff.

There is a lot of Douglas Adams-style humour in this tale, and many of the best one-liners are given to Big Finish stalwart Lisa Bowerman to deliver. It should be noted that Jacqueline Rayner is very familiar with writing for Bernice, and this adds to the rhythm of the adaptation.

Much like Love And War and Nightshade, this reworking has made an effort to reduce the number of players, as well as significantly simplifying one of the major subplots concerning humans that belong to a different time and place altogether. This is effective to an extent in giving the production some vital pace, but there is still the drawback of the plot meandering a little. The opening episodes have some interesting character moments, but also a rather stately set up. Benny's particular storyline - which is the staple one where the Doctor's assistant is separated from him - does fall somewhat flat. The cliffhanger to Episode Two concerning her safety is poor, as it heavily involves a secondary character that is alternately bland and irritating.

However, the concluding pair of episodes have plenty of incident and surprise. There is a two pronged ending, with one adversary comprehensively defeated, but the other crisis needing the Doctor's genius is merely granted a temporary 'solution', and is best described as a Pyrrhic Victory.

McCoy is reasonable enough here, but a little weaker than in Nightshade and some of his better original Big Finish stories. He is at his best facing down either the Chelonians or Sheldukher, and showing a range of outrage, playful disdain and intellectual smarts. His interplay with Bowerman is enjoyable, but clearly a touch less authentic and affecting than the much stronger bond with Sophie Aldred, which many a general Who fan may be more used to.

Some of the one-off characters do engage the heart and/or mind, such as a pair of small time criminals who somewhat deserve justice, but still are angels compared to Sheldukher. The more wholly innocent human characters that have suffered time displacement also are identifiable, if perhaps lacking sufficient audio time to truly be memorable. And the Cell arguably steals the show, with a wonderfully lively portrayal by Sarah Ovens.

However I am not too convinced that Sheldukher needs to say with such arch relish the play's title, and with such frequency. It is somewhat jarring and makes him seem just a bit more unbalanced than is credible. Otherwise, Daniel Brocklebank is serviceable enough in the key adversary role.

The Chelonians have become a staple of the wider Who universe, if surprisingly not yet realised on mainstream TV. They can be fooled on occasion but are still notable opponents. Even if they are as unrelenting in sweeping aside those unlike them, in a manner similar to Daleks or Cybermen, there is a sense of nobility and honour that prevents them being purely 'evil'.

 

The music is quite strong, for the most part, and does help with adding a sense of wonder, dread or urgency as when needed. The audio effects result in the Chelonian creatures having a distinctive voice. It is also commendable how Tom Bell portrays the different creatures so distinctly.

Later on during the days of Virgin Publishing, Roberts would contribute a loose trilogy:  'The Romance Of Crime'/ 'The English Way Of Death'/ 'The Well Mannered War'. All have been adapted by Big Finish, and were critiqued by a fellow reviewer on this site previously.

Overall, this initial story from the pen of Roberts (originally out in book form in 1993) stands up both in past and present as an artefact of what was to come. The author has left his mark in a number of very enjoyable television episodes (particularly The Unicorn And The Wasp and The Shakespeare Code). It is far from flawless, but is still a good read, and now thanks to Rayner's commendable attempts at adaptation, also a worthwhile listen. 






The Return of Doctor Mysterio - Additional ReviewBookmark and Share

Monday, 26 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Nardole (MATT LUCAS), Grant (JUSTIN CHATWIN) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas, Justin Chatwin,Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016
Again, Happy Christmas!!

The Doctor was back, briefly – and he was tripping across genre again and enjoying the dance. The decision to bring an American superhero into Doctor Who enabled the programme to reconnect with the contemporary and demonstrate that it still has that sense of humorous self-mockery British Book News remarked upon at the end of the 1970s, to the joy of Target Books and their blurb-writer. Much of the wit was extracted from the tension between the conventions of superherodom as presented by the story and the conventions which the Doctor seemed to think Doctor Who follows, while remaining aware that the two are not so different. It also – and far more successfully than The Husbands of River Song – extracted the twelfth Doctor from the shadow of the fiftieth anniversary year and from the intense presence (however appealing character or performer) of Clara. While the references to River Song and to UNIT and Osgood might have been designed to reassure committed viewers that the recent history of Doctor Who the programme was not being set aside after the Doctor’s twenty-four year night with River (neatly paralleled with his twelve month absence from television screens), they just kept to the right side of confusing entanglement for the Christmas Day viewer while looking to the wider television environment of streaming services and cyclical repeats where The Return of Doctor Mysterio will be watched minutes after The Husbands of River Song rather than a whole year.

I’d been cautious about the success of Doctor Who creating a televisual New York in Cardiff and Bulgaria, and the trailers and advance clips had somehow suggested a colder, grainier environment than I was used to from the gleaming adventure series, bright lights and sharp tonal contrast in so many American series. In the context of the whole, though, The Return of Doctor Mysterio did mount a credible New York, with its oddly warm green-white nighttime apartment set which could have been inhabited by characters from a realism-seeking police procedural, and most impressively of all the cityscape through which young Grant flew, the Doctor clinging to his heels, in the opening sequence. The Bulgaria-based New York streets compared favourably with locations in the superhero series with which The Return of Doctor Mysterio invited comparison, but Doctor Who’s sense of reality, at least here, was less dependent on the suggestion of a crowded Manhattan of people, businesses and criminals than on central pillars of emotional credibility.

Justin Chatwin’s Grant was a familiar Steven Moffat hero, a heterosexual man but uncertain in his relationships with the opposite sex and hiding behind masks literal and metaphorical in order to police desires he doesn’t know how to translate into reality. Moffat views the Doctor as part of this tribe, and his warnings that Grant shouldn’t repeat his mistakes recalled the Doctor’s advice to Young Kazran Sardick back in A Christmas Carol not to retreat to his bedroom and invent a new kind of screwdriver. Grant’s dogged professionalism in addressing Lucy by her married style when working as her nanny might seem odd given that he has known her since elementary school, but it’s another act of distancing and concealment. Charity Wakefield’s performance as Lucy complemented the worldview of Grant and the Doctor, combining a set of female attributes from male-viewpoint adventure stories – the reporter, motherhood, physical attractiveness, precise attention to dress sense, uncounterable authority – while still suggesting a believable person who could be represented differently by another narrative voice. Her deployment of torture by stress relief toy was played deadpan, admirably, and somehow represented Doctor Who's appeal across generations, So integrated was Wakefield's performance in the fiction that one of my family didn’t recognise her from Wolf Hall and assumed that she was an American guest star. Lucy was also a mask-wearer, of course, as Grant both recognised and did not recognise. Her shapeless grey dress, her date night red dress, as well as Grant's self-deprecating and self-deflecting casualwear and the Ghost's businesslike sculpted black costume made a starkly effective debut for new series costume designer Hayley Nebauer.

The Doctor was reintroduced as a man of action and legendary figure, both aspects in distress. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is perhaps the most difficult to pin down because his range is so broad; here he was at his warmest and most magical, someone whom a child would trust, lightly delivering brutal put-downs, at ease with the contradictions of being both someone passing through with no ties and a self-acknowledged saviour of humanity with contacts in a planetary defence agency. Depicting the Doctor as a swinging pendulum in a window was a great sight gag, pun on Time Lord, and witty introduction to a child’s worldview. Moffat has compared the Doctor to Father Christmas before, in The Curse of Fatal Death and The Doctor Dances, but here it was both a way of emphasising young Grant’s naivety and literalness and setting up the way the episode performs a series of commentaries. I enjoyed the irony of the Doctor offering sardonic comments on superhero lore when his own contains its fair share of pretend science and unlikely transformations. It’s possible to read the Doctor’s insistence that the moment the superhero’s love interest – Lois in Superman, Lucy here – discovers the superhero’s secret identity, the story is over, as a criticism of the ensemble superhero television series of the present day. There, the superhero’s activities depend on the presence of a substantial back-up team fully aware of who he or she is. The Doctor might agree with this, but Nardole’s presence and explanation of the Doctor’s recent backstory to Grant and Lucy indicate that the episode itself does not. The probability is that Grant will continue his adventuring in a new context, backed up by Lucy and baby Jennifer. I've largely avoided reading other reviews while writing this one, but know I wasn't the only person imagining what shape a Ghost spin-off might take. However, more immediately this rejection of the idea of the hero - whether the Doctor or the Ghost - as lone saviour indicates that the Doctor, having lost Clara and River, needs to assemble his own new family. Nardole has been reattached sensitively and gently by Matt Lucas, and (as the first pre-credits ‘Coming Soon’ for a new season for some years stressed) we are soon to meet Bill.

Although unheralded as such, The Return of Doctor Mysterio might be seen in future years as bearing a similar relationship to The Husbands of River Song as The Woman Who Lived does to The Girl Who Died given comparable links of theme and characters. The head-opening secret society of Husbands now become the brain-removing Harmony Shoal, and receive development, becoming scheming villains rather than containers. The Doctor is working through, and out, loss both times, and preaches the embrace of change. This is more foreshadowing, both of the new companion for the new series and the new directions beyond as Steven Moffat yields the showrunner’s chair to Chris Chibnall. These are simple points made clearly for the Christmas Day audience who might have just finished dinner; it will be intriguing to see how a full series builds on them.





The Return of Doctor MysterioBookmark and Share

Sunday, 25 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Doctor Who (PETER CAPALDI) (Credit: BBC)
Starring Peter Capaldi, Matt Lucas. Justin Chatwin
Charity Wakefield, Tomiwa Edun and Aleksandar Jovanovic
Written by Steven Moffat
Executive produced by Steven Moffat and Brian Minchin
Produced by Peter Bennett, Directed by Ed Bazalgette
Broadcast on BBC1, December 25th 2016... Happy Christmas!

This review contains spoilers

 

I'll admit that I went into this year's Christmas Special with somewhat lowered expectations. The Children in Need clip had seemed a touch too stylised when viewed out of context, and then there'd been a surprisingly low-key trailer. Fan expectation can be a tricky superpower to handle, capable of spoiling things that would otherwise be appreciated when it blasts too high, and equally capable of casting a rosy glow over new episodes when set far lower. In this case, by not expecting too much I found myself savouring a wonderful Christmas present of Who, and a gift of a return from Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas.

For once, this Christmas Special isn't excessively garnished with festive trimmings, and it's all the better for it. Once an obligatory (and amusing) Santa reference is out of the way, we settle down to a loving homage to Superman, Superman: The Movie, and superheroes more generally, replete with lovely moments like a Shuster and Siegel name-check. And although the Doctor may not initially get how superheroes work, Steven Moffat's script is perfectly at home in this world of romantic comedy and wish fulfillment, even if he can't resist an assortment of X-ray vision jokes. "Light to moderate" excremental humour -- always a winner with the Christmas Day family audience, I suspect -- also slips by several times, with the "passing" of Grant's condition being a somewhat incongruous moment, especially as it places our favourite Time Lord in the role of an anxious parent awaiting... well, you know, that.

The flying effects and the Ghost's appearance appeared vaguely questionable in advance publicity but viewed in situ they are part of a beautifully-produced confection. 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' looks consistently impressive, and there can be little doubt that its budget is all right there on the screen; Peter Bennett deserves our Christmas cheers for his production work on this, as does Brian Minchin for his sterling exec-production. New York has rarely looked so New York-y, particularly given that it's all a matter of media trickery here; iconography that's been replayed so many times in movies, reduced to its visual essence, that the unreality has become convincingly TV-real. Additionally, we get an array of directorial and design flourishes to remind us that this is a comic book-inspired version of Doctor Who. Entering events via a comics page is apposite, especially as one panel appears to prefigure the Doctor clinging to Grant's window sill, suggesting that this entire story is an imagined version of a graphic novel. And we are treated to some comic book-effect split-screen roughly halfway through, another nice touch from director Ed Bazalgette. Then there are the coloured rectangular window panels that linger in the background of Harmony Shoal's office, representing yet more bright evocations of the comic book form. 

This isn't all comics callbacks and romcom sparkle, however. There are echoes of Christmas Specials past: the plummeting spacecraft (and this episode's overall tone) put me in mind of the brash and movie-referencing 'Voyage of the Damned'. At times, this story could almost be channelling Russell T. Davies at his most crowd-pleasing (shots of crowds looking up into the sky: check) and it knows exacty what it's doing. We also get small moments of real human feeling, crackling like popping candy in a Christmassy Heston Blumenthal creation. The "24 years" sequence is especially outstanding, and Peter Capaldi's delivery of "Everything ends. And it's always sad" shows that he doesn't need a big old monologue to dazzle. Slightly akin to Rogue One making you think differently about Star Wars: A New Hope, this speech (plus the return of Harmony Shoal/The Shoal of the Winter Harmony and Nardole) made me see 'The Husbands of River Song' in a different light. What had seemed rather forced last Christmas, for me anyway, took on a much greater depth when reassembled through the lenses of 'Doctor Mysterio'. Even Nardole, who I had found a little frustrating last time round, was a far more welcome presence as the Doctor's glued together companion. Matt Lucas's performance is uniformly excellent here, and bodes well for next season, I would say. Hiding a key plot point within Doctor-Nardole banter was cleverly done, as was the rapidly sketched-in sense that Nardole sees his role as one of caring for the Doctor. The character still needs further thickening and deepening, but I've no doubt that future scripts and performances will be well up to delivering on that. 

The Return of Doctor Mysterio  - Lucy Fletcher (CHARITY WAKEFIELD) (Credit: BBC)

In fact, all the guest stars work really well in this outing: Justin Chatwin is effectively cast in the "mild-mannered" Clark Kent/Superman role, and Charity Wakefield makes the most of portraying Lucy Fletcher, who at times displays a sharp sideline is sub-Sherlockian deduction. Chatwin's switching between a "superhero" gravelly voice and "civilian" voice helps to sell his character's secret identity, even if, as the Doctor acidly notes, some situations "are too stupid to be allowed to continue". And Steven Moffat revels in the twists and turns of misunderstanding that a superhero narrative can afford (when is the Marvel Cinematic Universe hiring him?). The ultimate reveal of the Ghost-as-Grant is cleverly integrated into the Doctor's plan to save the world, with these plots dovetailing neatly in a masterclass moment of scripting.

Are there any pitfalls to this Christmas offering? Harmony Shoal are resolutely B-movie-style opponents, albeit good fun, but perhaps Lucy's deployment of Mr. Huffle as an interrogation device is a step too far. It's different, for sure, but would the Doctor really respond to this kind of thing? Presumably, he's indulging Lucy as he recognises her cleverness, but Mr. Huffle still gets to be quite annoying quite quickly. Even as a plot device this is remarkably twee stuff. But if, as a reviewer, I'm reduced to complaining about such minor things then I'll happily take that.

With mentions for Osgood and UNIT, and retoolings of favoured Moffatisms (especially the "in one bound they startlingly move from mediated presence to live presence" shtick) this will no doubt repay plenty of repeat viewings. It's an episode that suggests Moffat has endings on his mind, as well as the fact that endings can simultaneously be new beginnings (unsurprising for a showrunner entering his last season in the role). Nowhere is this fixation more apparent than in the outstanding "Coming Soon" trailer affixed to the end of this broadcast which really deserves its own screen capped review. "Can I use the toilet?" may well be one of the most refreshing lines of dialogue I've ever heard in Doctor Who, bringing an unexpected strata of basic reality to the Whoniverse. Just when fans might be expecting Moffat to wind things up towards a grand finale, Bill's introduction feels like a breath of fresh air, as if we've suddenly been thrown into series one of a brand new show called Professor Who. "See the universe anew": there can't be many better Christmas gifts than that.

To my mind, 'The Return of Doctor Mysterio' is one of the stronger Christmas Specials, successfully paying tribute to a genre that's long been an "anomaly" for the programme. Welcome back, Doctor, your unique superpowers have been missed.    





Doctor Who - The Early Adventures - 3.4 The SontaransBookmark and Share

Friday, 23 December 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Sontarans (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Peter Purves (Steven/The Doctor/Narrator)
                           Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom)
Dan Starkey (Corporal Ellis/Slite/Shrok/Stack/Commander)
Jemma Churchill (Captain Papas)
John Banks (Corporal Gage)
Rosanna Miles (Tinder/Human Soldier)
Written By: Simon GuerrierDirected By: Ken Bentley

Producer: David Richardson

Script Editor: John Dorney

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

So, here we are – the Doctor’s very first encounter with the formidable Sontarans, and for once he is at a disadvantage to his companions Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom, as they have both encountered the vertically challenged clone race before….

 

The story is (for obvious reasons) set at some point during The Dalek’s Masterplan. The TARDIS crew land on a large asteroid that has an atmosphere clinging to it’s surface. Here they encounter a fellow troop from Sara’s Space Security Service, who it turns out are on a deadly mission to disable a massive weapon. The group are soon attacked by a squad of Sontarans, after which a tense game of cat and mouse begins.

 

Steven is of course voiced by Peter Purves, who seems to effortlessly slip back into his role. Purves also voices the First Doctor, and on the whole makes a very good job of it. However, at first I did find that the vocal ticks of the Purves’ interprettion of Hartnell as the Doctor could be a tad irritating (nearly every sentence is started with a stuttering “Ah-ah-ah”, or “Eh-eh-eh”), but you soon get used to it….although I couldn't shake the thought that it was far more Hurndall than Hartnell.

 

Jean Marsh is great as Sara Kingdom, she continues to plays the role in a very calculating and precise manner, a character that you could never really trust, or guess what her thought process was. A nice twist to the story is that Kingdom has a massive dilemma to wrestle with as the SSS that she, the Doctor and Steven encounter are from her past, and Sarah knows how this mission ends, but also knows that she can’t tell them for fear of corrupting the time line.

 

There is of course only one person who could play the Sontarans, and that is of course Dan Starkey, and he truly does excel. The Sontarans here aren’t cuddly like Strax, but ruthless super soldiers, who find themselves with a number of new subjects to study and torture. I would go so far as to say that in this story they are the most menacing version we have seen so far in Who history.

 

The rest of the cast are all excellent, with the notable stand out of John Banks as Corporal Gage, a character that has a lot more to him than at first appears.

 

The story itself is very engaging, the format is very much that of the era it is trying to evoke. Lots of chases through caves, and the wonder of encountering new things, but with the action and scale of the storytelling ramped up to 11.

 

The Sontarans is a great listen, and a fantastic example of what Big Finish excel at, and that is expanding on a much missed period of Who, and utilising characters that might not have achieved the screen time that they deserved. We also get to see one of the Doctors greatest foes, taken seriously again, which is something that New Who hasn't handled quite so well.

 

THE SONTARANS IS AVAILABLE NOW AS A CD OR DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM BIG FINISH.

 






UNIT - Silenced (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 12 December 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
UNIT: Silenced (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Matt Fitton, John Dorney
 
Directed By: Ken Bentley
 
Cast: Jemma Redgrave (Kate Stewart), Ingrid Oliver (Petronella Osgood), Warren Brown (Lieutenant Sam Bishop), James Joyce (Captain Josh Carter), Ramon Tikaram (Colonel Shindi), Tracy Wiles (Jacqui McGee), Joanna Wake (Miss Faversham), Nicholas Day (Kenneth LeBlanc/Heston), Tom Alexander (Cecil/Derek), Aaron Neil (Homeless Man/News Reporter/David), Nimmy March (Baroness Vance/Telokni), John Banks (Mission Control/Captain/Soldier) and Nicholas Briggs as The Silence. 

 
Big Finish Productions - Released November 2016

When it was first announced that this third boxed set of UNIT – The New Series would feature the return of the Silence or rather the creatures known as Silents prior to the revelation of their original purpose in The Time of the Doctor, this reviewer had a few qualms about how the continuity would fit in with what we’ve already seen of them on television. However, as with the previous boxed-sets, it is worth remembering that these adventures are set prior to most of the new UNIT team’s televised adventures as Big Finish’s current license does not extend beyond the end of the Eleventh Doctor’s final television outing (notwithstanding an occasional cheeky reference to later adventures by River Song but that’s no concern of this series, at least for now). With no Doctor on the scene, this series of adventures focuses on a surviving remnant of the Silent creatures who are in hiding following the subliminal message given to kill them on site during the 1969 moon landing, referring back to their television debut in 2011’s The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon.

Writing and script editing duties have been shared between regular Big Finish scribes John Dorney and Matt Fitton giving the overarching storyline a cohesive feeling even though the events portrayed take place over an extended period of time with the potential for other adventures to take place at the same time. The opening instalment, House of Silents, sees the welcome return of Ramon Tikaram as Colonel Shindi following his recuperation after the events of last year’s UNIT – Extinction.

Shindi has been assigned a surveillance mission on a large house owned by wealthy blind recluse Miss Faversham (not the first time Big Finish have used a character inspired by the abandoned bride of Dickens’ Great Expectations). The concept of the Silents allying with someone who cannot see them and is thus immune from their usual memory loss is cleverly realised.  Joanna Wake gives a very believable performance as the well-meaning philanthropist with a touching humour in one of the climactic scenes of the episode when she is interviewed byIngrid Oliver’s Osgood. The Silence themselves are for the first time voiced by Nicholas Briggs, who contrary to popular misapprehension, has never given voice to their televised incarnation but nonetheless manages a perfect vocal recreation.

The second and third episodes, which take place a few weeks after the first episode and then some months later, are almost a mini arc in their own right as they depict the seemingly irresistible rise to power of the Silents’ other new ally, Kenneth Le Blanc, who is unmistakeably a cipher for a certain right wing minority party leader of recent times. Although it is supremely ironic that this story should have come to be released so soon after the shockwaves are still being felt from real life events which would have been completely unforeseen when this was being written last year. Nicholas Day gives a charismatic and yet at the same time carefully guarded performance as Le Blanc, and it is somewhat of a shame that the climax of his story has been so dramatically eclipsed by real life events and tempting to wonder if the Silence were influencing more than one recent election.

The final episode moves events on again, with the UNIT team struggling to keep hold of their fading memories of the Silence, who in a final throw of the dice seek to use a space station to set humanity at war with another alien race. The highlight of the finale is getting to hear Osgood setting foot on a space station for the first time in the able company of Warren Brown’s immensely likeable Lieutenant Sam Bishop.

Overall, this is another strong collection of episodes with the concept of the Silence used to chilling effect throughout but also allowing for some great comedy mileage when certain characters continually lose their memory as soon as they look away. The regular cast is now starting to feel even more established than its TV counterpart. As ever, Jemma Redgrave leads from the front as the redoubtable Kate Stewart and this reviewer is very much looking forward to her next audio adventures which will see her reunited with several of the Brigadier’s former comrades and sometime enemies for UNIT – Assembled.

 

 

UNIT - Silenced is available now from Big Finish and is on general release from January 31st 2017.