Doctor Who: Horror Of Fang Rock - BBC AudioBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 March 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Doctor Who and The Horror of Fang Rock (Credit: BBC Audio)
Based on the novelisation by Terrance Dicks
Read by Louise Jameson
Running Time - 180 Minutes
Available now

I was barely seven years old in September 1977 when Horror of Fang Rock first aired, and I can remember that, like most Doctor Who of that era - it terrified me. Since first watching the story I have never been able to look at a lighthouse without thinking of the occupants being electrified by a terrifying, angry green blob with tentacles. A visit to Portland the following year was a particularly traumatic experience.

Of course, when you are seven everything can seem terrifying. Back in the 1970's 'special' effects weren't anything like we have now, but they still captured the imagination well enough. I've bought the story twice since, once on VHS which was of course later replaced by a nice shiny DVD, with lots of extras. Yes, when viewed as an adult, you can easily see that the effects now look shoddy - but the story still thrills, and Horror Of Fang Rock still remains one of my all time favorite episodes of Who, and is one that I am always happy to revisit.

Horror Of Fang Rock is the quintessential base under siege story that Who has always done so well. The base is of course the lighthouse, with the men in charge of it, and a small assortment of disposable characters from a wrecked ship being menaced by an alien threat. Of course, this is no ordinary alien. This is our first real glimpse of a Rutan, the sworn enemy of the Sontarans the two races having been at war for longer than either species can remember. Rutans are shape shifting aliens who here demonstrate a skill for killing humans by electrocution. In their natural form they resemble a glowing green ball with tentacles, but through the power of shape shifting, they could resemble anyone. Or in this case, maybe just old Reuben, the curmudgeonly lighthouse keeper.

Like most young Who fans of the time, I feverishly collected the Target novelisations, and I can remember reading Horror of Fang Rock until the print was almost worn off of it's pages. The joys of the novelisations were of course that you could revisit your favorite stories whenever you wanted to. There was no video then, and hardly any repeats, so you read the book, and somewhere between what you remembered, and your imagination, you were able to relive every detail. Rather wonderfully though, with the help of the author's  own realisation of the tale based on what was broadcast, you often got a lot more material to fuel the imagination, and Terrance Dicks was particularly skilled at adding his own flair.

Listening to this audio transported me back to a version of the tale, and this version was visually so much more stunning that the original broadcast. Dicks always laid out a scene perfectly. A good example here is the Rutan itself. There is a moment in the show when old Reuben the Rutan reverts to it's original form - a lump of green plastic, with tentacles that was lit from the inside, which shuddered with anger and made some scary crackling noises. Which was good enough to ensure that the seven year old me plonked himself behind the sofa, awaiting Mum letting me know that the monster had gone. But just have a read of the description that Dicksput in the novelisation:

"In place of Reuben's form there was a huge, dimly glowing gelatenous mass, internal organs pulsing gently inside the semi-transparent body. Somewhere near the center were huge many faceted eyes, and a shapeless orifice that could have been a mouth."

Now seeing THAT on the telly in 1977 would have given cause for my seven year old self to need some serious therapy. With a tiny bit of prompting, the imagination can be a wonderful thing.

Louise Jameson here reads the novelisation, and she does a fantastic job. She steps back into the role of Leela of that time with ease, and it's because of this that the reading is really brought to life. Jameson also manages to differentiate between the various characters dialogue perfectly. I was also very impressed by the sound effects used throughout, and found myself sometimes looking around to see where a noise was coming from, only to rather sheepishly realise it was coming from my headphones.

Spread across three discs (the story is also available to download), and coming in at 180 minutes, you really do get great value for money on this telling of an absolute gem of a story. This audio is a must listen for fans of the era.





The New CounterMeasures - Series OneBookmark and Share

Thursday, 23 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
New Counter-Measures: Series One (Credit: Big Finish)

STARRING: Simon Williams, Pamela Salem,
Karen Gledhill, Hugh Ross

WITH: 
Carolyn Seymour, Tam Williams, Joanna Bending, 
George Asprey, Robin Weaver, Gunnar Cauthery, 
Christian Edwards, Vincent Carmichael, David Rintoul, 
Claire Calbraith, Andrew Wincott 



Written By: Guy Adams, Ian Potter, 
Christopher Hatherall, and John Dorney

Director:Ken Bentley

Sound Design:Rob Harvey

Music:Nicholas Briggs

Cover Art:Simon Holub

Script Editor: John Dorney

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

 

Duration: 5 hours approx

Product Format:5-disc CD (slipcover box set)/ Digital Release

Producer: David Richardson
 



Initial Release: December 2016

General Release: 31 Jan 2017

After the Who Killed Toby Kinsella standalone release, another eagerly awaited full series of adventures for the Counter Measures team is available – being now set in the Seventies time zone. For the most part it continues the fine work of its predecessors.


The box set’s opening story is entitled Nothing to See HereStarting off with the shock of Gilmore being involved in violent armed robbery, it soon is made clear that the rest of the Group were fully aware of his choice to risk his safety by going undercover. The main story concerns invisibility and the threat of long-term use of this ‘special ability’ that causes loss to one’s mental equilibrium, and overall identity. The themes and plot mostly concern just how vulnerable a seemingly rock-solid soldier like Ian can be, when under the influence of an unprecedented invention, with unknown powers.

Guy Adams has provided a serviceable enough script and storyline, although it never quite goes beyond third gear in terms of tension and jeopardy. The majority of the antagonists are not quite imposing enough, and the deranged main adversary evokes more pity and concern for his safety than anything else.

 

The second story of the four is the work of Ian Potter - who has particular experience in the Companion Chronicles range - and is evocatively called Troubled WatersWith a relatively limited cast, the story makes good use of a submarine location (with latent nuclear capabilities), and explores aspects of distrust, claustrophobia and distorted views of the 'best possible' future for mankind. 

Coupled with a strong central mystery over why the submarine has gone ‘off grid’ and what caused its crew to mysteriously vanish, the listener is fully engaged with this play’s unveiling of various answers. It builds well on the core theme of identity from the prior story, and sees all of the main quartet of regulars having their integrity and defining characteristics assaulted.

 

The penultimate story of the set sees another sharp change in setting and story inspiration. Christopher Hatherall’s The Phoenix Strain has both a connection to The Birds – one of the seminal Hitchcock movies – and feature films from the time the story is set in, concerning animals running amok. Whilst involving vicious birds, there is also a theme of chemical engineering, designed against a very specific ‘enemy of the state’.

Operating on a much larger scale of action than the first two stories, this involves several antagonists. They have rather dubious principles, but are not directly connected to one another, and their agendas and methods are very dissimilar. The play does well in keeping followers uncertain over just which of these troublemakers actually has the more troublesome moral code.

This story really works well on initial listen, and has enough meat on its bones to stand up to repeated exposure. It perhaps is the most seamless of the four adventures, in terms of reflecting popular culture of the decade in question. There were many 'disaster movies' working their influence on the general public, and somehow they proved to have a winning mixture of paranoia and thrills, that kept justifying more being made in double-quick time.

 

The concluding story for this collection shares its title with the prototype of what ending up becoming the immortally beloved City of Death. However, A Gamble With Time is markedly different in overall story beats, and how the time travel trope is used. Allowing our four regulars to all go undercover as they investigate dealings between Gus Kalworowsky and Lady Suzanne Clare, twists and turns are unleashed with each successive track. Despite appearing to be harmless to most onlookers, Clare is actually a ruthless arms dealer who is intrigued by Gus’ supposedly alien time travel technology. One aspect that is kept from David Fisher’s markedly altered proposal, is the setting of a casino.

John Dorney's story just pips its predecessor to the post of being the standout, and features well-drawn characters played with full gusto by the supporting cast. Clare is one of the best Big Finish villains to originate, from a line that is divergent from the main Doctor Who releases.  She seems always one step ahead of even the smartest of people, and the ending is left open for her to wreak havoc in future.

 

This set of mysteries is notable for having a very loose structure in terms of inter-story continuity. Whilst presumably listeners are meant to approach the quartet in chronological order, in practice there is little to no difference rendered by selecting an arbitrary sequence instead. 

The main cast continue to provide excellent portrayals, and clearly enjoy the different situations and character moments that they each receive. This is a particularly good collection in terms of advancing the Gilmore/Jensen relationship. Williams and Salem clearly know how best to convey chemistry and connection, through this particular form of audio adventure.

Sir Toby is notably more benign following the events of the Who Killed.. two-part release, from earlier in 2016. Ross still plays the role with depth, and in an intriguing manner, but his darker edges are less conspicuous. His challenging of Lord Balfour is particularly riveting. Yet we also see this calculating political being take a moral high ground, rather than being more pragmatic, as so often was the case in his earlier stories.

Perhaps Gledhill's Allison has the least notable material, apart from her undercover work in Gamble, and the brainwashing/’romance’ she is subjugated to in Troubled Waters is just a bit too similar to previous stories, in the original Counter Measures range. Also, I continue to find much of the music a little too harsh, and the main theme is something I personally choose to skip.

However, other fans of both Doctor Who and of these characters that first showed up in a top-drawer 1988 TV serial, may enjoy the compiled music that features as one of the bonus tracks. The behind the scenes material continues to be enjoyable, with a particularly nicely done ‘as live’ insight into how happy the regulars were to hear they would be recording further original stories, after this current run.


This set does a fine job of building on the foundations of the first story, which brought the Counter Measures team into the markedly different decade of the Seventies. It demonstrates with some flair just how much there is still to be uncovered, by this group of smart and enterprising talents – whether political, scientific or military.

 




The Contingency Club (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 20 March 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Contingency Club (Credit: Big Finish)Written by Phil Mulryne
 
Directed by Barnaby Edwards
 
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Matthew Waterhouse (Adric), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Janet Fielding (Tegan), Clive Merrison (George Augustus), Philip Jackson (Mr Peabody), Lorelei King (The Red Queen), Tim Bentinck (Wakefield/ Cabby/ Stonegood), Alison Thea-Skot (Marjorie Stonegood/ Computer), Olly McCauley (Edward/The Knave)
 
Big Finish Productions - Released February 2017

The second of this trilogy of plays opens with the season 19 TARDIS crew very much in their fractious time-travelling youth hostel mode forcing the Doctor to take on the role of headmaster as he intervenes in yet another row between Adric and Tegan. The Doctor manages to get the TARDIS to London but not Heathrow and over 100 years too early for Tegan as they four travellers soon realise that they have arrived at a gentleman’s club in Pall Mall. The Contingency Club seems at first much like most of its neighbours, but the unusual initiation ceremony and the fact that it’s inhabitants don’t seem bothered by the strange appearance of the new arrivals or indeed the fact that two of them are women soon indicates that something is amiss. And then there are the waiters, all called Edward and all identical.

The TARDIS crew quickly split into pairs as Nyssa and Adric team up with a resourceful young woman called Marjorie (played by Alison Thea-Skot) who is looking for her engineer father after he recently disappeared shortly after being admitted as a member of the club. The Doctor and Tegan meanwhile end up in the company of George Augustus, a journalist who has been rejected from club membership. Augustus is played by Clive Merrison whose radio performances as Sherlock Holmes make him perfect casting for this role, especially when the full extent of his agenda becomes clear. They are also joined by another radio veteran who has become something a regular fixture with the Big Finish rep in recent years, Tim Bentinck, the familiar voice of Radio 4’s David Archer, plays a trio of key roles, most notably a cab driver.

At the heart of the story is the mysterious Red Queen, voiced by Lorelei King, who provided the voice over for 2012 TV episode A Town Called Mercy. She is the central character to this story and provides a worthy adversary for Peter Davison’s Doctor, with able assistance from Philip Jackson as the sinister Peabody. Phil Mulryne’s tale evokes the stuffy drawing room atmosphere of the clubs of St James with just enough sci-fi thrown in for good measure. It might’ve been nice to have the traumatic events of TheStarMen referenced in some way but this is a minor criticism. Overall, another enjoyable outing for the crowded TARDIS which once again gives all four leads the chance to shine. We can only look forward to their next trip to the planet Zaltys.

TheContingencyClub is available now from Big Finish and on general release from March 31st 2017.






Supremacy Of The Cybermen - Complete CollectionBookmark and Share

Friday, 17 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
SUPREMACY OF THE CYBERMEN (Credit: Titan)
Writers: George Mann + Cavan Scott

Art: Ivan Rodriguez, Walter Geovanni, with Alessandro Vitti


Colorist: Nicola Righi With Enrica Eren Angiolini

Letterer: Richard Starkings
And Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

Senior Designer: Andrew Leung 

Senior Editor: Andrew James

Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton
& Amoona Saohin

Designer: Rob Farmer

Published :7th March 2017

The most recent incarnations of the Doctor must combat the might of the Cyberiad - an overwhelming force that links the minds of Cybermen through all of time. The Tenth Doctor is forced to use a super-powered, and truly gigantic machine, as part of a combat alliance with Sontarans (who are normally his sworn enemies). The Ninth Doctor is on the back foot as he seemingly loses Rose forever, and his faithful time ship into the bargain. The London of 2006 that was established as relatively safe is now totally overcome by the silver giants. And as for the Eleventh Doctor, both he and Alice face a change of evolution back in the ancient time zone of ‘Prehistoric’ Earth. A change that contradicts established knowledge concerning the fate of the Silurian race.

But it is the Twelfth Doctor who is facing the eye of the storm and discovering what his Cybermen nemeses are intending to do, not only with the wider cosmos, but with the  temporal flow of causality itself. It soon becomes clear that this Doctor’s apparent triumph over Rassilon (in Hell Bent) was only short-lived. The alternately legendary and reviled keystone figure in Gallifrey’s history (depending on when in his elongated lifespan) is now truly betraying his own kind, by allowing the Cybermen to have access to the higher technology of his race. In return for this 'sharing' of superior knowledge, the former Lord President is accepting some Cyber ‘enhancements’ to his own person.


The initial two issues of this arc were separately reviewed on this site last year, and the consensus was that the initial foundations were promising.

So the logical question is: does the conclusion deliver?

In a nutshell - this is a satisfying romp  for the general time required to read through it. And as a collected edition it also perhaps reads in the best way, for one to enjoy such a large scale and ambitious type of story. When this story was first being released every month (or every other month) in the second half of 2016, sometimes the wait between issues highlighted how sparse was the material that most of the starring Doctors were given. 

The key premise of the Cybermen looking to master both space and time is perhaps not new when one is to consider the likes of Attack of the Cybermen and Silver Nemesis, but with all due respect to those 1980s stories, the ideas at work here are that much stronger. Also, the limitless 'budget' of comics is also put to better use than was ever the case with those TV outings’ resources. The Doctor rarely is put under such immediate pressure as in this tale, and it is refreshing to have his other selves being so helpless and threatening to drag down the ‘present’ (Capaldi) incumbent. There are plenty of moments of high drama, with full-on ‘shock effect’ as various associates, or close friends of the Doctor(s) are seemingly slain, or coldly assimilated by the impassive forces of the Cybermen.

The biggest stumbling block for this distinctly ambitious story is that the jeopardy is raised to such intense levels that the final method of bringing things to a close verges on deus ex machina. Yet it does see some welcome character development for one of the main antagonists, that arguably was not the most easy to anticipate based on much of the previous storyline. If one were to look for how strong the conclusion is overall, such as by comparing it with the prior year’s Titan comic event, then it is clear that the ending Paul Cornell devised for his Four Doctors story was just that margin more satisfying and neat.  

Also, whilst it was brave to force the Twelfth Doctor to be the one regeneration to have the key to the puzzle, it is a little frustrating that the Doctor’s various companions are so passive here – again Cornell’s story was mindful of keeping the considerable precedent of the assistant role being crucial to the Doctor’s fortunes. As an introduction to those not so familiar with Doctors of past times – even in the recent decades – this adventure does fine work in maintaining key defining traits. The Eleventh Doctor is as light hearted and unflappable in the face of danger, as the most striking turns Matt Smith contributed on-screen. The Tenth Doctor has those hints of darkness and fury, such is the relatively short period that has occurred since the Time War. The Ninth Doctor’s relatively macho and assertive nature is well captured, and despite the human casualties that assault his senses, he still has that firm core belief in his ability to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat. Titan had also done a fine job in their ongoing regular comic lines to introduce teasers for this saga by having Doctors from the classic era of 1963-1989 pop up , and this is executed well in the main story by having further glimpses of the TV Time Lords of yesteryear..There are also some other pleasing references that operate in relieving the often relentlessly grim vibe – such as the mention of the 'Kessel Run' by the Ecclestone version of the Doctor.

The visuals are mostly effective from the artwork team that contributed to this mini-arc, and the wealth of time and space is no doubt a cause for excitement for both casual reader and loyal monthly purchaser alike.  The main artists – Ivan Rodriguez and Walter Geovanni – are able to put their personal stamp on a wealth of familiar faces, along with those newly introduced for this particular story. There is good further art support from Alessandro Vitti, and the main colouring work from Nicola Righi is typically lively and effective in conveying the mood intended by co-writers Scott and Mann.


Overall, readers can do far worse than give this graphic novel some time and careful attention as they uncover the myriad threads concerning Doctors past and present, as well as the turbulence that is Gallifrey in the future. It perhaps is not up there with some of the very best stories from Titan, but as an adventure featuring the second most recognised monster of the show, and one that makes some interesting use of the different Doctors from television screens in the last 12 or so years, it is definitely worth a look. It remains to be seen if Series 10's concluding episodes make equal or better use of the (potentially infinite) Cybermen concept; one that is now more than Fifty Years of age.





Short Tips - Forever Fallen (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 March 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Forever Fallen (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins, Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Joshua Wanisko, Directed By: Neil Gardner

Cast

Nicholas Briggs (Narrator)

So, here we have Forever Fallen – an audio story that is published for free by Big Finish as part of a competition held in the memory of Paul Spragg, who was a very popular employee at Big Finish, and of course a massive Who Fan. The competition encouraged writers to submit a story to Big Finish, Joshua Wanisko’s Forever Fallen (here read by Nicholas Briggs himself) was the winner.

 

The story fits perfectly into the latter year of the Seventh Doctor, who as we know has become a master at manipulating others. Here we find his attention turning onto the usual power crazed megalomaniac, just before he gives the order to destroy a planet and unleash the power of his android army. So far, so Doctor Who........however, what happens next is quite a charming surprise as the Doctor and Ace nurture  their new charge over a series of yearly meetings, sensitively showing him the error of his ways.

 

I was never a really a massive fan of McCoy’s portrayal of the seventh Doctor. Like a sizeable portion of fandom, I thought that the stories were getting a bit ridiculous, and it was being purposefully made a laughing stock by the BBC at that time, forcing it down a route that could only end in it's inevitable cancelation. For me this was made more evident when the writing did try to take a serious turn towards the mysterious However, Forever Fallen comes off as a nice little morality tale set bang in the middle of this (for me) troubled era of the program. Briggs narrates well, but does come off a little serious at times. I did though wonder whether this was more to do with the reasoning behind why the story was released and to give it a more somber and serious air, rather than let loose with a series of possibly over the top characterisations.

 

If you are a fan of the era, you will love Forever Fallen. I look forward to seeing further work from the author.

 

Forever Fallen is available to download now, for free, from Big Finish, and is a perfect opportunity for those new to this great range to give them a try.

 





The Third Doctor - #3 - The Heralds Of Destruction Part ThreeBookmark and Share

Saturday, 11 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
THIRD DOCTOR #3 (Credit: Titan)
Writer - Paul Cornell
Artist - Christopher Jones
Colorist - Hi-Fi

Letters  - Richard Starkings + Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt

(Alastair Lethbidge Stewart -Created By Mervyn Haisman +
Henry Lincoln,appearing courtesy of Candy Jar Books --
with thanks to Hannah Haisman,
Henry Lincoln,and Andy Frankham-Allen) 

Editor - John Freeman
Assistant Editors - Jessica Burton + Amoona Saohin
Senior Designer - Andrew Leung

Published November 30th 2016, TITAN COMICS

Jo Grant’s mind is a fascinating place. But the Third Doctor needs to work hard to achieve some kind of progress in the fight against the metallic aliens that are threatening both Great Britain, and planet Earth itself. If he fails, he and his best friend remain trapped on the metaphysical plane of existence for all of eternity. Meanwhile the Master remains free, and a mystery emerges over just what the Second Doctor's plan involves.


This middle issue of the miniseries effectively acts as wrapping up what seemed to be the main story, and proceeding to establish what the true narrative actually is. It perhaps lacks the overt excitement and startling visual work of issues one and two, but the closing revelation – featuring the return of a long-forgotten foe - more than makes up for it.

The Third Doctor makes a partial breakthrough in managing to convince a faction of the Micro Machines to be on his side. This action that relied on tact and emotional smarts helps the UNIT forces that had been scratching their heads as they faced a standoff with these metallic creatures over in Fairford. The actual story behind what the Second Doctor is doing on Earth during the Third Doctor/UNIT years is revealed to a small extent, but with two further instalments to go, readers are left kept waiting for full answers.

Once again the original Master, complete with beard and a mixture of dark and greying hair, manages to be the most arrestingly compelling character. He this time manages to impersonate the Brigadier, but the manner in which this is kept a surprise is somewhat more subtle than some other such attempts. Also, the writer has done some fine work in this ongoing story to suggest just how versatile this most dangerous of renegade Time Lords can be, when it comes to creating gadgets and managing to infiltrate supposedly top-secret organisations

Humour continues to be very good here too. Cornell has proven time again with his TV scripts, novels and comic book stories how he can find the appropriate tone to make a story and its characters’ actions properly flow. I liked the way Jo triumphantly displayed a tome entitled ‘Everything I’ve Learned in the last Three Years’, which is a knowing acknowledgement of her good character development under the control of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. It also manages to poke a little fun at the UNIT dating confusion that close followers of the show sometimes find so controversial.

There also is a well-done fight between the Master and his ‘most worthy of opponents’, as they trade off barbed witticisms and talk of the virtues of their respective “Martian Kendo” and “Mercurian Kung Fu” martial art skills. This manages to show that the Third Doctor’s love of “Venusian Aikido” has served him well in certain situations, but as a man of action he sometimes needs to up the ante.

On a slightly more negative note, the art is just a touch less effective this time round. A good portion of the action is set indoors, and without the use of some creative backgrounds or alternate perspective, this leads to a few too many panels looking a little stilted. Even the sections in Jo’s mind are a little too low-key after being so striking in the previous issue, but a couple of passage at least show good use of the crystalline cave, where the Doctor negotiates with the Micro Machines' ‘hive mind’. I also cannot fathom why Mike has been made to look the way he does; being more evocative of the one-off UNIT captains that featured, until he made his debut at the start of Season 8.

However this does not seriously prevent the story from working its charms, and the Third Doctor continues to be as authoritative and engaging as Jon Pertwee so consistently portrayed him on-screen. The twist that so stunningly closes the issues also manages to make sense, in terms of linking with the clues that had been carefully placed thus far. The final two ‘episodes’ look to be upping the pace, and the stakes, in truly epic fashion..


 

BONUS:


Variant covers are featured for this issue, as well as previews of Issue Four's cover and its variants. There are 'behind-the-scenes' examples of Jones' pencil and ink work for two different pages of the story.