The Diary of River Song - Series 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 30 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Diary of River Song: Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nev Fountain, Jacqueline Rayner, John Dorney, Matt Fitton
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

Alex Kingston (River Song), Frances Barber (Madame Kovarian), Peter Davison (The Doctor), Ian Conningham (Kevin / Rindle), Julia Hills (Sharon / Rindle), David Seddon (Mr Quisling / Tarn 2), Leighton Pugh (Lake 2 / Dave / Tarn), Sophia Carr-Gomm (Lily), Joanna Horton (Brooke), Issy Van Randwyck (Giulia), Rosanna Miles (Antoinette / Maid / Constanze), Teddy Kempner (Viktor / Mozart / Stefan / Apothecary), Jonathan Coote (Maitre D' / Chef / Assassin), Nina Toussaint-White (Brooke 2), Francesca Zoutewelle (H-One / H-Two / Mission Captain), Pippa Bennett-Warner (O / The Deterrent). Other parts played by members of the cast.

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

When Big Finish began their River Song series, I was initially quite excited. I had really warmed to the character, and so the idea of her living on for further adventures on audio, at a company that consistently releases entertaining stuff, thrilled me, to say the least.  But the first boxset actually left me quite indifferent to the idea of even listening to more. It wasn't bad, and it had Paul McGann in it...but it felt like it was missing something. In preparation for this review, I decided to give the second boxset a whirl, just in case it had some lingering plot thread I might need to fully understand this newest set...and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had the first set.  Maybe it was better plotting, a more engaging story, or if it was just the timey wimey Doctor crossings featuring both the Sixth and Seventh Doctors in the tales...but whatever it was I felt was missing from that first set, seemed rectified by Series 2.

Some SPOILERS may be ahead, as it would be somewhat impossible to talk about certain episodes without discussing plot revelations in earlier episodes.  Reader Beware!

So we come to this third box set of River Song adventures, and from the word go it is quite exciting.  The opening story, The Lady of the Lake is slightly intertwined with the Eleventh Doctor story A Good Man Goes To War, which was the episode that finally revealed just who River was. We find out here that River wasn't the only thing Madame Kovarian experimented on at Demon's Run, they also took River's DNA and created seven other Time Lord hybrid babies...basically River's own brothers and sisters...and she has to stop one of them that has gone a bit mad due to the mysteries of his regenerative nature.  It's an exciting opener, with lots of wonderful bits, character moments, and a tremendous pace.

The second story has the River playing companion to the Fifth Doctor, along with a previously unknown companion known as Brooke. They land in Vienna in the 18th Century and end up on the trail of murders and mystery...as things so often tend to go when you travel anywhere or anywhen with the Doctor.  It is basically a solid Fifth Doctor story, from the point of view of River Song.  The big reveal of this episode is that Brooke is not who she says she is when in the end she attempts to kill the Doctor. using the same means as the murders of the episode. River is able to save the Doctor, the question remains what to do with Brooke, and just who is she?. 

It is quite clear that the River Song series is taking it’s time travel shenanigans and story structures from the Eleventh Doctor era, and that is probably most evident in the third story in the set, My Dinner With Andrew which plays with time travel and hopping around more than most. it is a quite entertaining, though just like the Eleventh Doctor era it moves fast and sometimes needs a bit of relistening in order to get the full picture of what is going on. I rather liked this one, but I did find a few things hard to keep track of...such as which River is which, but ultimately it is a fun story with good performances from Kingston, Davison, and co. The story also brings back Madame Kovarian, and reveals that Brooke is, in fact, another DNA clone of River hoping to succeed in killing the Doctor...which she does, only his Fifth Incarnation.

The final episode of the set reveals that there are several other clones of River still alive, with Brooke being the favorite. Kovorian's plan seemingly succeeded, but killing the Doctor so early in his time stream has catastrophic results for her.  She begins to see ghosts and then becomes the target of a new radical faction that wants to destroy her, for just as her plan to kill the Doctor was meant to stop him from destroying the Universe, her killing of him ends up doing just that, so now she is seen as the cause of the Universe ending.  The episode is really, at its heart though, about River and her sisters.  Brooke has a taste for killing now, even killing one of her own sisters, and the sisters are all completely warped by Kovarian, can River somehow get them to come around against Kovarian and maybe undo the killing of the Doctor and thus save the universe? 

SPOILERS...the Doctor lives.  This should be surprising to no one that they haven't killed the Doctor off in his Fifth incarnation, the means about how he is saved is where the story is interesting though, and that I will not spoil.  This is a good box set, with a story and structure that heavily ties into the Eleventh Doctor's era of stories, any fan that enjoyed the time hopping and intricate plotting (and even major plot elements) that shaped that era of the series will probably find something to enjoy in this set. 






The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 28 January 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7: Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)

Cast

Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), 
John Leeson (K9), Martha Cope (Commander Lind),
Oliver Dimsdale (Rebben Tace), Toby Hadoke (V26),
John Dorney (Brin / SV9 / V12 / Gary), Cathy Tyson (Jennifer), Damian Lynch (Colin Marshall), Julian Wadham (Dr Holman), Dan Starkey (Linus Strang), Josette Simon (Taraneh),
Sarah Lark (Jacinta), Alex Wyndham (Raph),
Robert Duncan (Krayl / Sternwood / Eldren),
Andy Secombe (Cloten / Shift), Justin Avoth (Cain).
Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer David Richardson

Script Editor John Dorney

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Directed by: Nicholas Briggs

 

Available February 2018 via Amazon UK

The Sons Of Kaldor by Andrew Smith

 

"Please do not throw feet at me..."

That line is unfortunately……..not in this audio - but wouldn't it have been fun if it were?

Not that theThe Sons of Kaldor isn’t fun - in it, we find the Doctor and Leela are on a seemingly deserted craft, where, while having a quiet snoop around they discover a humanoid female and an angry looking creature, both in some sort medically induced suspended animation. As they journey deeper into the ship they meet some very familiar robotic faces in the form of the Voc robots from the planet Kaldor (previously seen in, of course, The Robots of Death). Concerned that there are no humans on the ship to lead a mission, the Doctor convinces the robots to revive the female, who is the ship's commander. Once revived she reveals that the ship and it's crew are in the middle of a vicious civil war, and that they are spying on the Sons of Kaldor, who are a group of alien mercenaries, looking to instigate a regime change on their home planet. However, things might not quite be when they seem...

The Sons of Kaldor is a great story for the fourth Doctor and Leela, and a perfect way to start this new volume of tales. It's great to hear the pair react to a for that is to both of them (are the robots REALLY a foe? Discuss). The sound design of this story is magnificent, especially in the way that the technology being used on the craft here, emulates that used on the Sandminer, from the classic television series perfectly. It really helps you to believe that you are in the same universe. This, along with the calm and friendly tones of the Vocs and Super Vocs, gives the story a very nostalgic feel.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson are excellent, once again recreating their characters as if they had never stepped away. I'm loving Baker in these stories, he seems to be getting better and better.

The supporting cast are also great - Martha Cope (the controller in Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways) as the human commander of the ship is a strong but sympathetic character, especially when she realises the situation that she has been thrown into, Oliver Dimsdale is an old school, suitably smug villain. The writer of the last two parts of this volume, John Dorney provides most of the other voices, including SV9 and V12 - we also get the wonderful Toby Hadoke as V26. 

The Sons Of Kaldor is a perfect two part opener to this new volume of fourth Doctor adventures, and provides some great questions about the humanity and possibility of sentient robot life.

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment by David Llewellyn

 

The Crowmarsh Experiment is in itself, quite an experiment for this format, as it almost immediately turns everything that we are used to, upside-down.

The Doctor and Leela are attacked on an alien world, Leela is knocked unconscious and when she wakes up, finds herself in a completely different time and place. She is at the Crowmarsh Institute, in London, 1978. To her surprise, she is Doctor Leela Marshall, someone who isis struggling to separate realty from fantasy. In Crowmarsh the Doctor that she is used to is a work colleague, Doctor Stewart, and  she is married, with children. But Leela can feel  that this place is wrong. The question is, can the Doctor break through from the reality that she is used to and help her?

There are so many great things to say about The Crowmarsh Experiment. Louise Jameson really does carry the story, and it is a wonderful opportunity for her usual  supporting role to come a lot more to the fore. Never quite believing that Crowmarsh is a real place,  her nod’s, and knowing winks to Doctor Stewart (of course played by Tom Baker) are great fun. The Doctor as we know him doesn’t really feature until quite a way into the story. In fact if this were a modern day tale, it could almost be described as a ‘Doctor-lite’ episode. The threat here is palpable, and the Doctor’s (our Doctor’s) final solution is deliciously fiendish.

David Llewelyn’s writing is compulsive, and sometimes claustrophobic stuff. The supporting cast, which includes Cathy Tyson, Damian Lynch, Julian Wadham, and Strax himself, Dan Starkey are all excellent.

I think that no matter how much of a nostalgia-fest The Sons of Kaldor is (and believe me, I LOVE a nostalgia-fest!), The Crowmarsh Experiment is the best of this trio of stories, with a lot of that due to it’s originality and ability to bend the narrative of Who into something quite different.

 

The Mind Runners & The Demon Rises by John Dorney

 

Mind Running is a technique through which one can enter the minds of total strangers, just to see and feel what they saw and felt. The Mind Runners, however are being wiped out, dying in an onslaught of suicides. No one on the planet Chaldra knows why.

Something quite horrific is happening, and it’s up to the Doctor and Leela to find out what.

Both of these stories final stories on this volume have a real feel of classic Who. We find the Doctor and Leela separated on an alien planet. K9 is front and centre, and there is a puzzling mystery to solve. Everything is here, but rather surprisingly my interest just wasn’t quite held as well as it had been with the previous two stories.

For me, I really think the strange, almost electronic treatment to the sound of the alien's voices didn’t help. I also found the stories villain Mr Shift to be very over the top, in a bad, TheHorns of Nimon kind of way (his maniacal cackle closes the episode - I promise, you will cringe).

Don’t get me wrong - there are great bits. The macabre rocket, and a planet-wide, man-eating city does conjure up some quite horrifying imagery, these ideas, along with the way that the afore mentioned Mr Shift despatches his victims are quite inventive. However, I couldn’t help thinking that some of the elements of this story just weren’t quite gelling as well as they should have, and I really couldn’t put my finger on what and why.

These final stories, when compared to the others in this volume, do have quite a large cast, with Josette Simon, Sarah Lark, Alex Wyndham, Robert Duncan, Justin Avoth and Andy Secombe as Mr Shift all doing a great job.

My feeling is that if The Mind Runners and The Demon Rises were released as one stand alone story - then I probably would have appreciated them more. Whereas here, on a volume where the first two stories are so exceptionally strong, these slightly weaker stories get somewhat lost.

 

The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 7, Volume 1 is available now as a CD or a digital download from Big Finish.





The Apocalypse Element (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 26 January 2018 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Apocalypse Element (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)

Written By: Stephen Cole
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Cast
Colin Baker
(The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Lalla Ward (Romana); Karen Henson (Monitor Trinkett); James Campbell (Assistant Monitor Ensac); Andrea Newland (Commander Vorna); Anthony Keetch (Coordinator Vansell); Toby Longworth (Monan Host); Michael Wade (The President); Alistair Lock  and Nicholas Briggs (Dalek voices); Andrew Fettes (Vrint / Captain Raldeth); Neil Corry (Alien Delegate)
Produced by: Justin Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell
Originally Released: August 2000

The Apocalypse Element, made in 2000, makes for remarkable listening eighteen years on. It’s not just that it features the Daleks and the Time Lords at loggerheads, either. After all, Genesis of the Daleks sees the Time Lords attempting to kill the Daleks in the cradle, while Resurrection of the Daleks sees Davros’ children return the favour by attempting to assassinate the High Council. The Seventh Doctor even makes sure to declare he’s acting in his capacity as Lord President before he blows up Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks.  All of these and more haver latterly being subject to attempts to pinpoint them as the start of the Time War.

No, the truly astonishing thing is the way in which it all feels so very like the modern series’ vision of what a Time War is like. The Daleks fit so perfectly with their recent appearances, it’s difficult not to picture their bronze, rivetted travel machines as they carve their way through Gallifrey’s Capitol, exterminating everything in sight. They have a relentless, unstoppability rarely seen on TV in the 20th century but very familiar to viewers in the 21st. A scene where they destroy the lights because, after all, they can see in infrared and their prey can’t could have come straight from Dalek or The Parting of the Ways, five years after this was released.

The counterpoint to this, though, is that the Time Lords are a far cry from the battle hardy cynics whose very name terrifies or enrages those caught up in the War unwillingly, but are much more like their predecessors as seen in the likes of Arc of Infinity – people who talk a good talk about their own power but go hopelessly to pieces when the pressure’s on. In fact, this may be the least flattering depictions of the Time Lords yet as here even their paranoia, distrust and disdain towards the rest of the universe goes to the wall and they actually let the Daleks in by accident, during a hair brained impulse to steal another species’ time machine and see if it’s better than theirs. Though even this depiction winds up feeding into the modern revival of Doctor Who via a conclusion that sees the Time Lords swear to toughen themselves up and prepare for the inevitable rematch.

The Daleks’ over-arching scheme, like all the best Dalek schemes, is utterly bonkers. They’ve found a way to destroy the entire universe (thanks to the ‘Apocalypse Element’ of the title) and are now approaching the problem of weaponizing it from an unusual angle  – finding a way to use this technological terror without wiping out themselves too.Near the end, there's a little "We totally meant to do that!" explanation for why the Daleks would pursue such an obvioyusly flawed plan, but it's about as convincing as a small child expounding on exactly how that crayon got up its nose, and how it was actually all a completely reasonable idea.

It’s possibly this type of melodrama which allows The Apocalypse Element to succeed where many other attempts to create a grim and gritty tale in the style of 1980s Eric Saward stories have failed. It never tips into true nastiness, even in the scenes revealing Romana has been a Dalek slave for twenty years, slowly being worked to death, and doesn’t revel in any kind of nihilism. While it pulls in just enough of the silliness present in all the best Doctor Who as an antidote to masses of death and destruction without letting it collapse into farce.

Now that Big Finish are increasingly playing in the sandpit of TV’s Last Great Time War, with the sadly ended War Doctor range being followed up by ranges featuring the Sir Derek Jacobi's Master, the Eighth Doctor and Romana herself, The Apocalypse Element seems more relevant than ever and a must for those wanting to see where it all began.

 



Associated Products

Audio
Released 27 Jul 2018
The Apocalypse Element (Dr Who Big Finish)



The Crimson Hand (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Crimson Hand (Credit: Panini)

Written by Dan McDaid & Jonathan Morris

Artwork by Dan McDaid, Rob Davis, Martin Geraghty, Michael Collins, Sean Longcroft, & Paul Grist

Paperback: 260 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Apparently, there was some weird legal issues surrounding The Crimson Hand, the third and final volume of Tenth Doctor comic strips, some kind of publishing legal nonsense about whether or not the graphic novels were technically books or not (I would guess it was all something to do with licenses and who had what), at any rate they finally managed to sort it all out, and so with new branding and cover designs, Panini resumed their plans to release all their strips in collected formats, and they began with this book, which is quite probably the best collection to feature the Tenth Doctor.

The book starts off with a strip that originally ran between the exit of Martha and the entrance of Donna in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. The main antagonist of that story, would later return as the Tenth Doctor's companion for his final year or so as the lead of the strip, which coincided with the 2009 "Gap Year" in which the Doctor was seen only a handful of times on TV leading up to his regeneration, and was without a companion for that period.  So there was a bit of freedom as to what the Doctor could get up to in the pages of the magazine again, so writer Dan McDaid decided to really go for it with a big arc and a new original companion. 

Magenta Pryce is a well-written character, starting off as a bit of a villain, then reunited with the Doctor in prison with her memories wiped. The Doctor discovers the nefarious going-ons at her prison, and once that is thwarted, she basically "hires" the Doctor to help recover her memories. Of course her hiring just makes her essentially a companion, as the Doctor carries on having adventures with Majenta in tow, but something dark from her past is following her, and eventually leads to the big finale,"The Crimson Hand," in which we discover that Majenta was at one point a member of the criminal organization which lends it's name to the story's (and book's) title.  It's a fine arc, wonderfully weaved throughout the various strips to lead to the big epic finale. 

Other highlights include the return of the Skith (first seen in "The First" which was featured in the previous Tenth Doctor collection) in the story "The Age of Ice," which also features UNIT, as well as a return to Stockbridge with special guest Max Edison, an adventure with ghosts in a train tunnel, and "Mortal Beloved" which explores some of Majenta's past with a former romantic partner of hers, as well as "The Deep Hereafter" which is a detective story drawn in the style of an old 1940s comics. 

It is probably the strongest entry in the Tenth Doctor's comic tenure, Dan McDaid did a great job writing the final year or so of the Tenth Doctor's tenure with this arc (the entire book was written by him, with the exception of a one-off from a storybook which was penned by Jonathan Morris), which in some ways did a more complete job of what Scott Gray had maybe hoped to do with the Eighth Doctor and Destrii before the new series cut all plans short. Obviously it isn't the same story or character, but with Majenta Pryce they were able to take an alien villain, and bring her back into the strip as a companion and develop that character from there.  This book also collects together the strip regained it's full identity again...once again they felt confident to pursue arcs and new characters and do something a bit more than just random (albeit good) adventures with our TV heroes.

This is a fine book, which sees the Tenth Doctor's tenure in the strip out nicely. I'm glad that whatever was holding up the release legally got resolved, and Panini was able to release this and continue their releases of other graphic novels, and here is hoping that once they complete all of their classic releases they continue on with their other rights and release classic TV Comic and TV Action strips as well...if they do as good a job as they have done with their own classic strips, it will be well worth it! 





The Widow's Curse (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Widow's Curse (Credit: Panini)

Written by Rob Davis, Dan McDaid, Jonathan Morris, & Ian Edgington

Artwork by Michael Collins, John Ross, Martin Geraghty, Roger Langridge, Adrian Salmon, & Rob Davis

Paperback: 212 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

In the Tenth Doctor's Second Volume of collected comic strips from Panini and Doctor Who Magazine, the folks behind the scenes continue their trend of regaining their confidence in what the strip should be in the era of the new series.  For the bulk of this collection, the Doctor is joined by Martha Jones, companion of the third series of the television show, though the last three stories in the book feature Donna Noble. This volume comprises the entire Doctor Who Magazine (and a few one-offs from Storybooks) runs for both of the TV companions. While Martha lasted in the strip for about a full year of monthly installments, Donna had a far briefer run, debuting in the strip right after her TV debut as a full-time companion, and only lasting about an issue or so following her dramatic exit in the fourth series finale, Journey's End.

The bulk of this book is actually quite good.  I enjoyed the weird opening epic, with its giant robots controlled by children being used by bankers to reclaim an entire planet...that's the kind of off the wall stuff that only Who can pull off and make it work.  "The First" is another solid epic, as is the titular "The Widow's Curse" which not only introduces Donna but acts as a sequel to Tennant's first story, The Christmas Invasion. There also solid shorter stories like "Sun Screen," the quite funny "Death to the Doctor" and the lovely and poignant "The Time of My Life."

While it is only a one-off, "The Time of My Life" is probably my favorite story of the collection, short, but funny, and beautiful, and dramatic, and just a sweet goodbye to Donna.  It shows the Doctor and Donna running through a series of adventures, each page another place they traveled to or monster they are running from or something else...and the dialogue cleverly bounces from one adventure to the next, all leading up to the final page, with the Doctor alone in the TARDIS, viewing a message Donna left for him in case any of these adventures with him ever went awry, and it is a beautiful little extra touch, particularly following on from her exit from the series, which had been so sad and painful for the Doctor. 

While the strip was still working without arcs, as it had since the new series began, at least it's more episodic nature is focused on good adventures, with great art and solid characterizations, and some tight plotting. This volume is another winner, with Panini really showcasing just how good they are at collecting together there strips into handy volumes. 





The Betrothal of Sontar (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 January 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Betrothal of Sontar (Credit: Panini)

Written by John Tomlinson, Nick Abadzis, Gareth Roberts, Tony Lee, Mike Collins, Jonathan Morris, Nev Fountain, & Alan Barnes

Artwork by Michael Collins, Martin Geraghty, & Roger Langridge

Paperback: 180 pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

From the looks of the first volume of Tenth Doctor strips, it seems some lessons may have been learned from the Ninth Doctor run. From the moment the Tenth Doctor walks out of the TARDIS he seems far more fully formed (which is incredible as the only episode to air before he debuted in the comic was the 2005 Christmas Special).  No longer feeling the shackles of the TV show as a hindrance, the strip almost immediately feels like just more adventures from the new show. They had a year of trying to figure out the tone and voice of the New Series, and just where exactly the strip fits into all of it. They spent well over a decade doing their own thing, quite successfully during the Eighth Doctor’s run I might add, that trying to fit in with the real show must have been quite the shock. 

It helped that they began to publish the more child-friendly "Doctor Who Adventures" comic separately, and that let them realize who the target audience for the main strip was, and had kind of always been. So the somewhat less mature and scattered tones of the Ninth Doctor strips was done away with, and they veered back into the tone and style they had during the Eighth Doctor days, at least closer to it. The Tenth Doctor's voice is fully captured, and the tone of his first year is there as well. But despite some bits that don’t work or gel for me, I found this Volume to be decidedly solid. The Tenth Doctor fees fully fleshed out from his first panel, and they capture the tone of the new show, and managing to recapture some of their own mojo that had been lost when the Ninth Doctor came in and threw them off their game.

The opening story featuring the Sontarans before their reintroduction on the new series is a cracker...with fantastic art, great characters, and even better atmosphere.  Both "F.A.Q." and "The Futurists" feel like the strip working back to some of it's former epics...but there are smaller fun stories as well, including Gareth Roberts' blueprint for the later Eleventh Doctor televised story The Lodger which features the same name and similar premise, but the Craig Owens role is instead played by Mickey Smith.  There's even a Brigadier story to close out the book, though it is kind of mediocre. But it does fill the gap between the departure of Rose and the entrance of Martha. 

While they still aren't really practicing in major arcs and epics again, the first Tenth Doctor volume brings back the confidence and spirit of the Doctor Who Magazine strip, which makes it a far more enjoyable read than the Ninth Doctor's run had been.   This book is a solid collection the first year or so of the Tenth Doctor's time in the strip, from his introduction to just before Martha joined up.  It's a fun read, with a good collection of stories within...it may be a tad hit or miss, but overall this is a definite uptick in quality from the short era of the Ninth Doctor in the pages of the magazine.