The Mark of the Rani (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 30 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who: The Mark Of The Rani (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Pip & Jane Baker
Read By Nicola Bryant

Released by BBC Worldwide - April 2018
Available from Amazon UK

I was never a big fan of Pip and Jane Baker's writing on the series.  They only wrote three stories, but none of them thrilled me. "The Mark of the Rani" was probably the best of the three...but even then it was a little too campy. I didn't think the Rani was an interesting new villain, as she just seemed to be a pale imitation of Anthony Ainley's version of the Master, and her scientist goals seemed very anti-science in their depiction.  

Little did I know I'd need to write a review of the audiobook someday.  

This is the kind of sentence that seems to end a lot of sequences and chapters in this novelization.  "Little did they know..." and variations upon that permeate the book. The Bakers aren't particularly good writers in my opinion, not for the screen, not for the page.  While Nicola Bryant proves to be a great narrator, the story is only so-so.  

I don't remember disliking the original episodes, though I went back and read my review of when I last watched it many years ago, and my review is pretty critical of it.  I'd have to rewatch to see where I stand on the televised version.  But the novel is mediocre.  Not awful, but just somewhere in the middle...and there is little that is less interesting to talk about than something that is middle of the road in terms of quality.  

If you happen to be fan of this story, Nicola Bryant is giving her all to the audiobook. I would say her reading made up for the lack of story and interesting characters.  If you don't really care about this particular Sixth Doctor story, I wouldn't waste my time. 





Torchwood: The Last BeaconBookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Torchwood: The Last Beacon (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Gareth David-Lloyd
Director: Scott Handcock
Featuring: Burn Gorman, Gareth David-Lloyd, Laura Dalgleish, Daniel Hawksford, Rick Yale, Marilyn Le Conte
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running Time: 1 hour

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

“I can’t go in there – it’s got a hygiene rating of 1!”
“Could be worse.”
“How?”
“Could be 0!”

Since Big Finish acquired their prized license to continue the missions of Torchwood Three beyond their 2010 televised expiry date, we’ve seen their resultant monthly range deliver myriad unlikely character groupings: Captain Jack and Queen Victoria, Sergeant Andy and an enigmatic long-dead secret agent, Yvonne Hartman and Wales’ nightclubbing community, the list goes on. That trend of subversive matchmaking continues this month with The Last Beacon, wherein Cardiff’s famed coffee brewing extraordinaire Ianto Jones and its infamous soon-to-be eternal antihero Owen Harper must embark on the road trip to end all road trips. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we’re glad that you asked.

Such circumstances could’ve never come about without sufficient incentive for both participants, of course, and indeed the pair has their work cut out locating the source of the elusive signal which endows Beacon with its name. Containing the language of an alien species long thought extinct, the sudden transmission brings Ianto and Owen out to the Welsh countryside for a makeshift bonding exercise-turned-trial by fire – the former equipped with his trusty coffee kit, mittens and years of camping experience, the latter only his wits and trademark bitter sense of humour. By now any Torchwood devotee should already have sensed the rife potential for fraught inter-team dynamics and rural satire just waiting for the play’s writer to exploit, and the scribe’s name? Gareth David-Lloyd.

If the gamble of allowing one of the show’s lead stars to try his hand at penning their latest script, particularly with no prior writing credits to his name, seems a step too far even for a company as prone to risk-taking as Big Finish, then worry not; the studio couldn’t possibly have selected a more suitable custodian for this utterly spectacular buddy comedy. Whether he’s sending our heroes into pubs for spontaneous – if inevitable – brawls, eerie forests containing sinister visions of the past or abandoned clubhouses which Owen wryly brands as being “frozen in the ‘80s”, David-Lloyd evidently recalls transparently how the original series thrived on juggling humorous and horrific elements throughout its four-season run, straddling those contrasting tones with the same enviable ease as any of his fellow range wrights.

Less surprising, however, is the man’s ability to brilliantly capture Ianto’s complex personality – on the printed page and in the recording studio – as if TV’s second most iconic butler after Jeeves had never departed from our screens or airwaves. It’s easy to forget at times how impressively multi-faceted a character Mr. Jones became over the course of 30 episodes, his quiet sense of humour belying intense romantic passion, psychological vulnerability and strained familial ties which then came to the fore in Children of Earth. Fair play to David-Lloyd, then, for placing this emotionally versatile character’s internal struggles front-and-centre in Beacon, with his struggle to reconcile the innocent tyke who adored visiting the Welsh mountains to see his gran with the oft-isolated man that we see today a core thematic and narrative element that lends vital gravitas to the mission and to his dynamic with Owen.

Enter Burn Gorman, the return of whom to Torchwood marked by far one of the audio range’s biggest breakthroughs in 2017’s deeply unsettling masterpiece Corpse Day. Unsurprisingly Gorman – who successfully sent shivers down this viewer’s spine in the role of Oliver’s Bill Sykes on the West End a few years back – carries the performing mettle to simultaneously evolve Owen’s intricate relationship with Ianto, as the former discovers how the latter’s childhood experiences still inform his modern-day decisions, while also providing much of the tale’s pitch-perfect comic relief as Owen finds himself totally out of his element. Indeed, David-Lloyd confirms in Beacon's interview tracks that he and Goss conspired to bring Owen aboard what the former calls a spiritual successor to "Countrycide", knowing that he'd truly seem a fish out of water when met with the prospect of conversing with amicable bus drivers and alien badgers or indulging Ianto's newfound passopn for geocaching treasure hunts. That Gorman shares such obvious chemistry with David-Lloyd, particularly thanks to their hilarious good cop / bad cop approach, couldn’t have been predicted before recording, though; let’s hope that this month’s long-awaited team-up boxset Torchwood: Believe offers plenty more of this superb dynamic.

Beyond the fine tonal balancing and gripping character drama, there’s even time for some provocative thematic exploration of communities and species straying from their traditional roots along the way. Guest star Ellie Darvill does an utterly tremendous job conveying her character’s underlying yearning for our species return to simpler times before our gothic pursuit of technology at all costs, a return to the rare community spirit which anyone who’s ever camped near rural villages will attest pervades that refreshing escapist experience. Once again, though, that David-Lloyd effortlessly integrates this increasingly topical talking point into the context of a sci-fi narrative – and indeed Ianto’s personal arc over the course of hour – speaks wonders for his previously untapped literary talents, to the remarkable extent that even Big Finish’s veteran scribes could learn a thing or three for future reference.

Regular readers of our Torchwood audio verdicts might recall this reviewer previously calling out the range’s inconsistent approach to arc-building, but ultimately, if its – seemingly – standalone recent entries such as this one and last month’s brilliantly off-the-wall The Death of Captain Jack are even marginally indicative of what’s to come in future releases, then consider those qualms completely laid to rest. In The Last Beacon, Gareth David-Lloyd has delivered not only the definitive take on his still beloved character of Ianto Jones, but more importantly an incredible distillation of everything which made the show so successful on-air and which continues to ensure its hallowed place in fans’ hearts today.

Next Time on Torchwood – We’re off for another road trip, this time of the psychological horror variety, as the Cooper family test their longstanding theory that We Always Get Out Alive to its nerve-wracking limits. First, though, who fancies attending Torchwood Three’s much-vaunted reunion party, the guest list for which includes immortal Time Agents, space pig-hunting medics and a certain renowned butler? Apparently securing an invitation to this prestigious three-hour event doesn’t take much effort for those in the know – all one has to do is Believe





The Helliax Rift (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Helliax Rift (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Scott Handcock
Director: Jamie Anderson

Featuring: Peter Davison :Blake Harrison :
Russ Bain :Genevieve Gaunt

Big Finish Productions - First Released April 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours Approx
Available on General Release from 31st May 2018

Big Finish are ringing the changes with the main range as it nears its twentieth anniversary next year. To start this off their fourth release for 2018 see them break with the tradition of trilogies of consecutive releases featuring the same Doctor and companion team. Instead, Peter Davison returns as the Fifth Doctor, this time travelling alone for what at first glance appears to be a standalone adventure. The Helliax Rift, from the pen of writer and sometime producer/director Scott Handcock introduces a new 1980s UNIT team headed by Russ Bain as Lieutenant Colonel Price, assisted byGenevieve Gaunt as Corporal Maxwell and Acting medical officer Lieutenant Daniel Hopkins, played by former Inbetweeners star Blake Harrison, a genuine casting coup for Big Finish.

The story opens with the Doctor already in situ tracking an alien signal which in transpires has also come to UNIT’s attention. This sets up a humorous encounter which references Peter Davison’s other famous role as Tristan Farnon in All Creatures Great and Small. Before long UNIT have captured their errant scientific advisor who quickly falls foul of Colonel Price’s impatience. He does however form an easier relationship with Harrison’s Daniel Hopkins, a likeable character very much in the mould of Harry Sullivan (who naturally is name-dropped) who slips very quickly into the companion role for this story. The other new UNIT characters Price and his comms officer Linda Maxwell are also well written characters and will hopefully have more interaction in their next appearance. Russ Bain’s Colonel Price is certainly far from being the new Brigadier in terms of likeability, especially during the play’s conclusion. Time will tell as to whether his relationship with the Doctor improves in future encounters, although one imagines the Doctor’s next incarnation will be even less likely to relate him.

The new UNIT team are joined for this story by an interesting pair of alien researchers played by Deborah Thomas and Anna Louise Plowman. There is additional support from Big Finish regulars Robbie Stevens and Jacob Dudman, the latter portraying a key role in the concluding act of the play. One does occasionally wish they would get someone less instantly recognisable than the play’s author to provide the voice of a lift.

As ever, there is evocative sound design from Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian, with some great 80s style music cues from Kraemer. After a rather mixed start to the year featuring the season 19 TARDIS team, this enjoyable story sees the main range very much back on track. This reviewer will be very much anticipating the return of the new 80s UNIT team for July’s Hour of the Cybermen, featuring some other very special guests.

As for the Fifth Doctor, “…now it’s time to take a bow like all your other selves…” but he will no doubt return at an as-yet to be confirmed date either later this year or early in 2019. In the meantime, our next few monthly adventures will see the welcome return of the Sixth Doctor for three seemingly unconnected adventures, beginning in May with the arrival of a possible new companion in The Lure of the Nomad.





Serpent in the Silver Mask (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen

Serpent In The Silver Mask (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: David Llewellyn
Director:Barnaby Edwards

 Featuring: Peter DavisonMatthew Waterhouse:
 Sarah SuttonJanet FieldingSamuel West:
 Phil CornwellSophie Winkleman:

Big Finish Productions - First Released March 2018
Running Time: 2 Hours Approx
Available on General Release from 30th April 2018

 

The latest trilogy of adventures for the Season 19 TARDIS crew concludes with a whodunnit from David Llewellyn which brings the four travellers to space tax haven called Argentia. The story borrows its main gimmick from the 1949 classic comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets with the excellent Samuel West playing a number of members of the Mazzini Family, one of whom appears to be prepared to kill to obtain a significant inheritance. Unlike its Ealing Comedy predecessor, Serpent in the Silver Mask keeps the identity of the murderer behind the silver mask a secret until the play’s closing act. This gives the story much more the feeling of an Agatha Christie style mystery as the number of victims grow and the pool of suspects dwindles.

Peter Davison’s Doctor fits naturally into the role of detective, even to the point where he delights in keeping everyone in the dark until the killer’s identity is finally revealed. As ever they are ably assisted by Matthew Waterhouse's Adric and Sarah Sutton's Nyssa. Janet Fielding as Tegan has an enjoyable arc through this story as she develops a friendship with Joe Mazzini. Samuel West clearly has a ball playing the various Mazzini family members, with his flirting with the Doctor being a particular highlight. The cast are also ably supported by Sophie Winkleman as Sofia alongside Phil Cornwell as Superintendent Galgo and the robot Zaleb 5.

Unlike the average whodunnit the conclusion has an enjoyable twist. As ever there is excellent music and sound design, this time from Andy Hardwick.

After a couple of rather standard entries, this is a definite return to form for the main range. However, from the next release onwards, it seems Big Finish are about to mix things up a bit and move away from trilogies of consecutive releases featuring the same TARDIS teams which has been a regular pattern for the last ten years or so. After nearly twenty years it will good to see some new ideas coming into the main range which has been in danger of growing predictable. To start this off, the Fifth Doctor returns for a fourth consecutive release, but this time without any of his regular companions in The Helliax Rift.





Doctor Who - Series 9: Original Television SoundtrackBookmark and Share

Friday, 27 April 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Doctor Who - Series 9 (Credit: BBC / Silva Screen)
Music By Murray Gold

Released by Silva Screen Records Ltd - April 27, 2018

Available from Amazon UK

It has been a while since I picked up a Doctor Who Soundtrack.  Not really for any reason in particular, I just stopped keeping up with them after the Series 5 Soundtrack.  I had really loved Murray Gold's work in the RTD Era, but while still shined through in the Series 5 set, I just found there were less tracks I needed to listen to over and over.  I mainly liked the big themes, and I was less enthused by the run of the mill incidental music of a standard episode. I even started to go back and delete tracks of previous soundtracks as well. There is just too much music of a television series to keep up with.  I like certain pieces of music quite a bit, but I don't need every single piece of background music from a decade's worth of TV. 

And so, we come to the soundtrack for Series 9...and there is 63 tracks spread over four discs.  For comparison, the first Murray Gold soundtrack, which was for Series 1 and 2, was just 31 tracks. And that was covering two whole series!  This is just overkill in my opinion. If you are a completist, I can understand the appeal of having every single piece of incidental music the show has ever had on screen...but that has got to be a niche audience I would think.

In listening to this set, my initial plan was to listen to it all through, to not skip around and find what I liked as I have in the past. This time I was reviewing it, I couldn't just find the bits I liked and deleted everything else. And yet, there are so many bits of music that, while not awful, just didn't grab my attention that I just started to skip and skim, find bits that jumped out at me and forget the rest. I couldn't help myself. There are too many bits of music on this that so clearly feel as if they were in the show purely as atmosphere for the episode...but lacking the accompanying visuals, and the music isn't nearly as interesting. 

That said, there are some great pieces of music in here, and I don't want this to be a knock on Gold, because I really have loved the music he has provided the show over the last decade plus. As a guy whose task it is to write a ton of different music for wildly different episodes week in and week out, the guy is just tremendous. The problem is less in the quality of some of the music, and more in the selection process for what ended up on the disc.  There are bound to be pieces of music that were placed behind the Doctor and Clara walking down a hallway.  And the music maybe added that layer the show needed in that moment, but it isn't terribly interesting on it's own.  So why include that here?  As I've said, probably for the completists. 

The highlights on this big set include "Clara's Diner" (which is an electric guitar version of "Clara's Theme"), "The Bootstrap Paradox," and my personal favorite track from the set, "The Shepherd's Boy" which also accompanied the fantastic climax of my favorite episode of this particular season, Heaven Sent.  In fact most of the music that connects to that episode is pretty good, but "The Shepherd's Boy" is the lone track in all 63 tracks that I can't stop listening to. I didn't realize it until now, but as much as that episode was Capaldi's tour de force, Gold was putting in some excellent work as well.

But again...this soundtrack is too big for me. I will probably delete several tracks off of my computer, keeping some highlights.  I will definitely listen to "The Shepherd's Boy" many more times.  If you are a big time collector of the music and really do want every little piece of music from the show, you will not be disappointed in how comprehensive this set it. But the more casual fans of the show's music may find it overwhelming, and will just want to sift through for the highlights.





The Tenth Doctor ChroniclesBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 25 April 2018 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Tenth Doctor Chronicles (Credit: Big Finish)
Writers: Matthew J Elliot, James Goss, Helen Goldwyn, Guy Adams
Director: Helen Goldwyn
Featuring: Jacob Dudman, Jacqueline King, Michelle Ryan, Jon CulshawArinzé Kene
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Running time - 4 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2018
Order from Amazon UK

A decade on from his third televised season of interplanetary, inter-temporal and inter-dimensional exploits, David Tennant's Tenth Doctor continues to enjoy one hell of an afterlife between his Titan Comics adventures alongside Gabby and Cindy as well as his mandatory Big Finish tenure. While the latter studio hasn't managed to book Tennant in for another appearance in his role since last year's The Tenth Doctor Adventures Series 2, his iconic wise-cracking incarnation lives on in aural form this month thanks to a familiar voice to Doctor Who fans the universe over - one Jacob Dudman.

Just as Nicholas Briggs bore the mighty responsibility of paying homage to Christopher Eccleston in The Ninth Doctor Chronicles, so too is Dudman faced with the unenviable task not only of following in Tennant's footsteps here, but additionally narrating a quartet of hour-long storylines with the help of only a single guest star in each instance. But, as anyone who's remotely aware of this remarkably accomplished voice artist's work mimicking the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors will attest, the task couldn't find itself placed in more capable hands; Dudman positively exudes Tennant's instantaneous, infectious charisma, boundless energy and sizzlingly rapid repartee with just about any human, alien or Cyberman whom he encountered between 2005-2010. Indeed, anyone new to the man's work could easily mistake him for the genuine article, barring those oh-so-fleeting moments when his voice hits a slightly higher pitch than that of his inspiration.

What of the four episodes themselves, though? The play's the thing, after all, so let's dive straight into The Tenth Doctor Chronicles and discover whether Big Finish's latest foray into the voyages of perhaps the TARDIS' most beloved modern captain warrants a victorious "allons-y" cheer, or whether it's best left to the clutches to the Abzorbaloff...

"The Taste of Death":

"Not only is MXQ1 one of the most luxurious alien-made environments, it also houses - wait for it - the best restaurant in the galaxy. There was you saying I never take you anywhere posh..."

If only the latest series of Eighth Doctor Adventures hadn't stolen this epithet already, then 'Ravenous' could've served as an ideal alternative title for Helen Goldwyn's rambunctiously entertaining opener. "The Taste of Death" more than suffices in the meantime, though, the story in question following the Doctor and Rose as their respite on the intergalactic resort of MXQ1 gets swiftly interrupted by a sinister cullianry scheme to overfeed its - hilariously willing - guests for nefarious purposes. It's essentially a frothy blend of "School Reunion" - an inspiration which Goldwyn thankfully sees fit to reference directly at one point rather than courting repetition - with an early Ninth Doctor two-parter, the title of which just might become apparent if you gaze at the boxset's cover art above.

That's right: the Slitheen, everyone's favourite - or least favourite, depending where your "Aliens in London / World War Three" stance lies - gaseous monstrosities, are back for their first proper dust-off with the Tenth Doctor after only garnering the briefest of cameos at the last moment in "The End of Time". At first re-introducing one of Russell T Davies' more divisive contributions to Doctor Who's Hall of Foes might justifiably sound like a recipe for disaster, but the script's rollercoaster pace barely affords them any time to let out so much as a gurgle from their sizable stomachs, let alone any of the full-blown gusts of bodily wind for which they attracted such notoriety on both Who and its CBBC spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. That approach allows the mystery of MXQ1 patrons disappearing by the dozen to take centre-stage - probably a wise move on Goldwyn's part in hindsight, even if our familiarity with the aforementioned Raxacoricofallapatorian family's illicit commercial dealings at this point means that most listeners will ascertain the truth of the matter long before our heroes crack the case.

Joining Dudman for the sumptuous ride - and making his Big Finish debut in the process - is Arinzé Kene, the role of inquisitive chef Orentino affording him no shortage of opportunities to showcase his performing talents as he joins the TARDIS crew in discovering what's become of his abruptly absent brother since the hotel's enigmatic owners recruited him onto their dining team. Holding your own opposite someone with Dudman's seemingly effortless abilitiies, not to mention in an episode as packed with extraterrestrial sci-fi technobable as this one, takes some doing, so it's to Kene's full credit that he pulls off the job with flying colours. He not only endows Oriento with the personal angst that you'd expect amidst a family crisis, but also striking a refreshing note of levity, such as when regailing the Doctor with darkly comedic stories of how rapidly mealtimes at the MXQ1 buffet transform from all-you-can-eat experiences into explosive free-for-alls thanks to their dangerously addictive offerings.

"Backtrack":

"What is that? Sort of a TARDIS car alarm?"
"Bit like that, yeah, only a billion times worse."

Whether knowingly or otherwise, violent vacations of this ilk form something of a connective narrative strand across the latest Chronicles collection, with the Doctor's next such jaunt coming unexpectedly as he and Martha find the Time Vortex in disarray, largely thanks to a pesky era-hopping tour guide transporting holiday-makers to their chosen historical destinations via some decidedly tempermental temporal technology. If that seems somewhat akin to the Earth-bound scenes in "Voyage of the Damned" as loose premises go, then rest assured that scribe Matthew J Elliot avoids any risks of retreading well-worn ground here, instead almost gifting the Tenth Doctor with his first 'pure' historical outing.

Admittedly "Backtrack" does distance itself from the likes of "An Unearthly Child" or "The Romans" by including a minor sci-fi threat and of course the "Time Meddler"-esque inciting incident which kicks off its action, but much of the entertainment - and indeed dramatic - value here comes from the crews of the TARDIS and its malfunctioning counterpart The Outcome interacting with the time zones that they visit, not least as the stakes are raised monumentally by a last-minute detour to one of the most horrific events in recent human history. This reviewer will steer clear of spoilers for now, but suffice to say that whereas TV Who only tends to dip its feet in atrocities such as Pompeii or the First World War without fully exploring the devastating pain suffered by their victims, Elliot goes one step further come Act 3, raising the harrowing possibility of the Time Lord and his unrequited courter's respective existences reaching their premature denouements in a provocative way that's sure to unsettle even the most apathetic of listeners.

Better yet, portraying the foolhardy entrepeneur responsible for tearing holes in the Web of Time is none other than Jon Culshaw, the Dead Ringers impressionist perhaps best known for his uncanny renditions of both the Third and Fourth Doctors. Fans of Dudman's work will no doubt recall Culshaw's appearance in the former's "The Day of the Doctor" tribute sketch "The Great Curator" last year; clearly the past 12 months have done little to distill their exuberant chemistry either, since Culshaw's unapologetically self-righteous Nathan Hobb's verbal sparring matches with Dudman's soon-to-be self-proclaimed Time Lord Victorious make for the highlights of the hour by far, constantly ensuring that we're never certain as to where their conflicting efforts to preserve or exploit the past, present and future will leave anyone in the vicinity - or indeed the final state of the universe full stop.

"Wild Pastures":

"I'm just offering my sensible opinion; I'm used to having that ignored. You should meet my daughter, Donna - she's never listened to me and look how she turned out!"

Most fans would probably assume that Goldwyn's ambition to resurrect the Slitheen while retaining her credibility as a Big Finish veteran would represent the biggest challenge for anyone involved with Chronicles, yet that's far from the case; enter James Goss, taking time out from his doubtless intense stewardship of the studio's Torchwood range to attempt the Herculean feat of giving Jacqueline King's Sylvia Noble an entire hour in the spotlight. It's probably safe to say that few fans would've begged Russell T. Davies or his Season Four peers to centre their next Doctor-lite story around a comic relief character such as Sylvia, especially given the rich esteem in which her father Wilf was instaneously held by fans in comparison. By now, though, it's a truth similarly universally acknowledged that Big Finish can utilise just about any divisive player from the show's past to their advantage - after all, who else could've transformed the Kandyman into the stuff of genuine nightmares earlier this month?

Judging by her revelatory interview with Goss and producer Scott Handcock shortly after the credits roll here, King harbours little doubt as to her character's Marmite personality, so it speaks volumes for her talents that she's able to carry much of proceedings. "Wild Pastures" centres on the Doctor's investigation into a seemingly innocuous care homes where residents aren't going quite so gentle into that good night, leading him to sign Sylvia up for a room while he chases answers behind the scenes. With the Doctor consequently sidelined for much of the hour, Sylvia wastes no time in living up her newfound domestic bliss, gossiping to no end with staff and residents alike while eventually taking on a surprisingly pivotal role in deciphering the secret at the titular rest home's heart. It's hardly difficult to imagine King lapping her character's constantly argumentative dialogue and razor-sharp cynical wit up as she initially read Goss' script, at least based on how much she embraces transporting Sylvia through such delightfully absurd events as these, and indeed that same zestful enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on this reviewer in spite of his qualms when hitting Play on this instalment.

"Pastures" does, however, raise the question of whether each instalment in this boxset fully warranted between 50-60 minutes of airtime. Naturally the Chronicles range aims to ape the Ninth-Eleventh Doctors' 45-minute on-screen escapades, but after Eddie Robson's inspired The Thick of It pastiche Time in Office showcased the benefits of the anthology format for Doctor Who's future flirtations with the sitcom genre, the slow-burn nature of this instalment's first half as Sylvia mainly gets to grip with life in care suggests Goss might've been better served without having to match his peers' word counts. Perhaps it's worth Big Finish dabbling further with lighter fare along these lines in their Short Trips range; indeed, their upcoming Jackie Tyler-centred Trips outings could serve as the perfect testing ground on this front come their eventual TBA release dates.

"Last Chance":

"It was an ending."

Au contraire, Lady Christina - for you it's just the beginning. As well as wrapping up The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, Guy Adams' quasi-season finale simultaneously acts as a backdoor pilot of sorts for Big Finish's upcoming spin-off saga focused on the feisty jewel thief first glimpsed in "Planet of the Dead", reuniting her with the Tenth Doctor for one final mission before her solo adventures kick off this September. Once again, few would envy Adams' efforts to resurrect the one-off companion from arguably Tennant's most maligned 2008-2010 Special and prove the need for her own dedicated series to boot, but if you're still under the delusion that such fears would daunt any of the studio's writing team in the slightest, then you've not been reading this review anywhere near closely enough. Quite to the contrary, Adams knows all too well how to wrap up an audio boxset of this ilk in style, as demonstrated by his incredible "The Heavenly Paradigm" in The War Master: Only the Good just four months ago, and he remains totally true to Christina's line of work with an action-packed hour that tests her Mission Impossible-style criminal skillset of cliff-scaling, vent-crawling and treasure-stealing to the nth degree across hostile environments galore.

Indeed, Adams zips us from African deserts to snow-swept mountains to alien spaceships with the speed of a rampaging rhino, his whirlwind script gleefully taking advantage of the TARDIS' rich potential as a boundless sci-fi plot device capable of transporting its occupants - and viewers / listeners - anywhere in time and space, all without any of the budgetary constraints imposed on his televised counterparts. One could easily imagine TV Who spending one or more full episodes in any of these fascinating worlds, but the script's reluctance to remain in one place for any longer than the plot - an unashamedly family-friendly caper which would go down a riot on long car journeys - dictates actually works in its favour, perfectly embodying the Tenth Doctor's desire to flee his impending demise by any route available to him and at the same time providing us with promising insight into the wild variety that Christina's solo jaunts across the globe will offer us later in the year.

That would all mean little if Michelle Ryan didn't enough enthusiasm back to her role in order to inspire confidence in what's next for Lady de Souza, of course. Even the most vocal "Planet of the Dead" detractors will struggle to find much to complain about in that area, though - in fact, Ryan and Dudman make for arguably an even better pairing than Culshaw's return did in "Backtrack", recapturing much of the refreshing tension that sprang from the Doctor and Christina heralding from such different professions back in 2009, not to mention the oft-cynical latter's bemused wonder at her unlikely companion's ability to hope against all the odds. Credit also must go to Dudman in particular for narrating Christina's internal thought process with such nuance, his voice at times delicately betraying an increasing vulnerability to her musings on how the Doctor's rejection influenced her post-"Planet" worldview, before reverting back to her amazement at the Time Lords antics, then ultimately demonstrating powerfully her fear at the uncertain prospect of her old friend's ambiguous fate.

The Verdict:

Whereas some of Big Finish's boxsets veer dramatically in quality from instalment to instalment, The Tenth Doctor Chronicles without question stands as one of their most consistently engrossing multi-part productions to date. Any fan of Tennant's tenure on Doctor Who who's keen to sink their teeth into the Tenth Doctor's audio adventures can't therefore go wrong with this collection, its incredibly faithful lead performance - and accomplished narration - from Dudman, consistently passionate supporting turns from his co-stars and eclectic array of storylines combining to provide four hours packed with the same thrills, emotional beats and well-timed comedy for which this era of the show is still held in such reverence today. Oh, and the best part? If you ultimately "don't want to go" come the closing credits, then you've only got to wait seven months until another Chronicles boxset arrives this November. Next up: geronimo...