The Hunting Ground (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Hunting Ground (Credit: Big Finish)

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
 

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

The second release of December was The Hunting Ground and was easily my most anticipated of the two. Whilst I love McCoy, five releases is a lot for anyone and I’d enjoyed the previous sixth Doctor stories with Iron Bright, in particular, being a standout of last years main range. Not only that but we were constantly being reminded that this would be a riff on ‘Scandi-Noir’, utilising many of its tropes and merging them with a Doctor Who story. This seemed like it would be interesting after all scandi-noir are notoriously dark and usually it’s the darker main range adventures that get my attention. Unfortunately though, The Hunting Ground, whilst a noble attempt to try and do something a bit different, ultimately falls flat.

Landing in Iceland, the Doctor (Colin Baker) meets with Inspector Ysra (Amy Beth Hayes) who is currently investigating a rather unusual murder. As the two work together, they discover alien hunters and a slew of devilish twists and turns. Unfortunately, the Doctors part in the investigating is somewhat minimal. Sent off onto another planet around the halfway mark, the Doctor becomes involved in a The Most Dangerous Game (1932) type scenario whilst Ysra is left to uncover most of the plot. Now I’m not an obsesser who believes the Doctor should always be the one to uncover the grand plan, far from it! No, my problem with this part of the plot is that- well there isn’t one. The Doctors section involves a lot of getting captured/getting away. Certainly, information is weeded out, but the time it takes to get there involves a lot of running around and not a whole lot of threat.

Which brings me rather neatly to the next of The Hunting Grounds problems. The story is incredibly flippant. Towards the end, a number of moral issues are raised, primarily the question of loyalty. The problem is it’s incredibly difficult to take any of this seriously in a tale that features an incredible amount of absurdist comedy, including a talking Printer which becomes somewhat important later on. Most likely this is a matter of personal taste and I’m being incredibly unfair to author AK Benedict who has an incredible voice and a wonderful talent for dialogue. However, I can’t help but confess that The Hunting Ground left me feeling more than a little cold, partially due to the inconsistency of its town.

However, AK Benedict really has made quite a coup in the creation of Inspector Ysra who Amy Beth Hayes brings to life so exquisitely. Along with Brunel in the aforementioned Iron Bright, she’s one of the best standalone companions of the year and one who I hope won’t be ‘one-off’ for much longer. Colin Baker, despite not being given much to do, is wonderful as ever. I felt like he was given the short straw this year, not that his stories haven’t been some of the best of the entire year but his ‘trilogy’ was loose and undefined and some episodes Hour of the Cybermen for example, didn’t really give him much to do. However, he seems to have taken it all in his stride and certainly when given the chance to shine he’s grabbed the bull by the horns and delivered some truly wonderful moments. I can’t wait to see what 2019 brings us for ‘Old Sixie’.

I feel that in some way, I may have been too harsh on The Hunting Ground. It is a fun adventure and certainly has some intriguing twists and turns. Unfortunately, the tonal shifts I mentioned earlier proved to be just a little too much for me. However, with Shadow Planet AK Benedict proved herself to have an incredible talent for Doctor Who and I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.



Associated Products

Audio
Released 8 Nov 2018
Main Range #246 (Doctor Who Main Range)




Doctor Who: Scratchman (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Scratchman, by Tom Baker (BBC Books) (Credit: BBC Books)
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker

Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK

As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced.  There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made.  Some of these stories are more legendary than others.  There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline.  There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.  

Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set.  The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks.  At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up!  They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see.  I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.

This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story?  I think we missed out on a fine little movie.  I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements.  How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977? 

But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era.  I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.  

The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost.  Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing.  It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work.  I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut.  There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.  

The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk.  His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!"  This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it. 

I highly recommend checking this story out.  I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.  





Doctor Who - Target Audio - The Invisible EnemyBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 27 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Invisible Enemy (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks

Narrated by John Leeson

"Contact has been made......"

John Leeson reads this exciting novelisation of a classic adventure for the Fourth Doctor – and the introduction of K9.

A mysterious cloud drifts menacingly through space, and the Doctor becomes infected with the Nucleus of a malignant Virus that threatens to destroy his mind. Meanwhile, on Titan, human slaves prepare the Hive from which the Virus will swarm out and infect the universe. In search of a cure, Leela takes the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation, where they make an incredible journey into the Doctor’s brain in an attempt to destroy the Nucleus.

Can the Doctor free himself from the Nucleus in time to reach Titan and destroy the Hive? Luckily he has help ― in the strangely dog-like shape of a mobile computer called K9… 

John Leeson, who was the Voice of K9 in the TV series, reads this unabridged novelisation of the 1977 television serial

 

The Invisible Enemy is probably most famous for three things – introducing K9, making the Doctor a threat (a surprisingly rare occurrence across the history of the show), and having a dodgy looking giant prawn as the main villain.

I was quite looking forward to listening to the Target Audio, as I fondly remembered the story on television, I have the DVD, which think I might have seen once.

With a running time of well over three hours, I have to admit I struggled a little. The story is narrated (of course) by John Leeson, and he does his best – but I, unfortunately, found things to be rather plodding when compared to other Target Audio readings that I have listened to. Perhaps this highlighted that the story wasn’t quite all that I remembered, or maybe that the additional material contained in the Target novelisation just didn’t do anything to make the story more dynamic.

So, to sum up, overall I was left quite disappointed – I’ll have to revisit the DVD at some point soon.





Muse of Fire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 25 February 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
Muse Of Fire (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Paul Magrs
Director: Jamie Anderson
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: December 2018

Running Time: 2 hours

‘Muse of Fire’ is the first of two Big Finish releases that graced listeners in December of 2018. The fifth seventh doctor release in a row, it saw the return of the popular Ace/Hex companion team and plonked them down in 1920’s Paris at the height of an artistic boom. Not only that but it features the return of Iris Wildthyme and her long term companion and friend- Panda. I must confess to being something of a humbug when it comes to overtly silly Doctor Who stories. I must also confess to not having experienced much Irirs before (indeed I had only heard The Wormery) and so I wasn’t really too excited about this particular release. However, I can not only claim it to be the best main range release of the year thus far, but I must also thank it for starting my obsessive love affair with a certain 10-inch tall panda….

Written by one of the real shining stars of the Doctor Who world, Paul Magrs, Muse of Fire is a multi-layered incredibly rich piece of storytelling that weaves an eccentric comedy around themes of art and poetry. It pits the TARDIS team against Iris and Panda with ease and manages to further the Doctor and Iris’s relationship, not as easy as it may sound given that she was first introduced into the Whoniverse (or he was first introduced into the multiverse!) in 1998. Of course, Magrs has a certain advantage over some of the other writers who have written for Iris, being her creator. It effortlessly manages to include some moments of genuine tension, even if the situation is absurd, without giving us any jarring shifts in tone. The concept of the Doctor immediately mistrusting her, particularly in this incarnation, results in some wonderful moments- with Magrs getting in some great digs at this ‘era’ of Doctor Who.

Katy Manning and David Benson are of course two of the highlights of this release. In the previous series of Iris Wildthyme (which thanks to this release, I recently binged when travelling), their team of Iris and Panda proved to be one of the prime points of amusement and the fact that it took them this long to meet the Doctor together, is criminal frankly. Admittedly some of their…’vices’ are toned down a little, though this is to be expected, given that this is a Doctor Who and not a Wildthyme release. Benson takes a little longer than Manning to enter into the story, however when he does I had to stop the playback in order to wipe the tears from my eyes. Panda’s dynamic with Ace will surely reduce any hardened Doctor Who fan to sobs of laughter. Not only that but whenever I sit down to write another Doctor Who review, I won’t be able to not picture Panda ripping into Dali.

The regular Tardis team all get some great moments and it’s nice to see this particular trio in something a little more light, though still containing an incredible richness. Phillip Oliver shows a talent for comedy and he takes an immediate shine to Iris, indeed perhaps somewhere out there, there’s an Iris and Hex miniseries waiting to happen? Sophie Aldred has some wonderful moments, particularly with David Benson and McCoy manages to play the straight man beautifully, this darker Doctor seeming a little lost amidst all the madness. Yearning for the past is almost always a bad idea, however, I’d still indulge in any more one-off adventures featuring this team reunited.

All in all Muse of Fire is an incredible piece of work. The highlight of the year.






Doctor Who - Big Finish - Short Trips 9.09 - The RevisionistsBookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 February 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
 Short Trips 9.09 - The Revisionists (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andy Frankham-Allen

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Louise Jameson (Narrator)

Guests at the Hôtel des Rois are being haunted by ancestors that never existed. The Brigadier was only in Geneva to finalise his retirement, but how could he resist? Investigating, the Brigadier quickly finds something unusual. A warrior in leathers. A warrior called Leela…

History is about to catch up with both of them. History that neither of them thinks is real.

 

The Revisionist is a clever little story that asks the questions – What would happen if our memories were erased? How would we go about getting them back? The Brigadier, Leela and the Doctor meet in a haunted hotel. They are each visited by an ghostly ancestor – but when the apparition fades, their memories of that ancestor also disappears.

The most interesting twist on this story is that we find that the Doctor thinks he is only in his third incarnation, ‘off camera’ he had been visited by this third self, and had this incarnation wiped from his memory. Of course the Brigadier is the only one to remember the third Doctor – it makes for quite an interesting premise.

Louise Jameson is always first rate as a narrator, and doesn’t disappoint here. The Leela in this story hails from quite early in her and the Doctor’s timeline, so is quite unrefined. There is an absolute belter of a moment when the Brigadier first meets Leela that I’ll leave to you to discover. It had me laughing out loud.

Written by Andy Frankham-Allen, who is no stranger to the Brigadier, having previously created and penned the Lethbridge-Stewart series for Candy Jar ensures that The Revisionist is a great addition to the Short Trips range, and is available here.

 





The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 February 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 3 (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Marc Platt, Guy Adams
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton), Carole Ann Ford (The Woman), Ajjaz Awad (Princess Elissa of Tyre), Jo Ben Ayed (King Pygmalion of Tyre), Orion Ben (Aiyaruc / Hanna), Youssef Kerkour (Bitias), Raad Rawi (Tubal / Maygo / King Hiarbas of Tunis), Mina Anwar (Horl), Susie Emmett (Katta), Belinda Lang (Nocta)

Big Finish's enjoyable series of adventures following the original TARDIS team as played by the cast of An Adventure in Time and Space continues for a third boxset, one which also sees a major guest appearance of Carole Ann Ford, the original Susan Foreman, whose younger self is played by Claudia Grant in these sets.  And Ford is the major draw of this set in more ways than one, as it is the story involving her that is vastly more entertaining then the first story featured here. 

The first story in this one is The Phoenicians, which is a pure historical that plays on legends and myths, and explores their true origins.  As classic pure historical stories go, this story features no sci-fi element beyond our heroes travelling to the past via the TARDIS.  I am not a huge fan of many of these historcials, which pretty much fell out of style for the series not long after the Second Doctor took over.  They only made one last attempt at a return in the early 80s, when the Fifth Doctor had a brief mystery to solve in the 1920s, with no alien threat whatsoever. But despite my own feelings that the historicals tend not to be terribly interesting, it doesn't mean I don't think they can't work.  In fact I secretly hope they can return to the show someday.  Not all the time, but I think it would be great to see a story where the adventure our heroes get embroiled in has nothing to do with aliens or monsters, but just the scariness of our own past.  They nearly did it in this most recent season, though there was an alien presence, it was incidental to the more historical turmoil our heroes got caught up in.  Someday, maybe once, Earth's ugly past can be enough for a Doctor Who threat again. 

That all said, this story is about as middle of the road and bland as so many historicals of the past had been. I just couldn't get into it, no matter how charming and likable I find the new versions of the original TARDIS crew. 

Luckily, the other story in the set, Tick-Tock World, is top notch entertainment.  With the TARDIS caught up in a planet that messes with time ships, which leaves the gang stranded in a place where time moves in mysterious ways, and ghosts of the past and future can appear and screw with them.  This is where Ford comes into play, as a mysterious figure that they all see. I doubt I am spoiling it for anyone as to who Ford turns out to be.  If you don't know that from the word go then I don't know how you ended up listening to a story based entirely on the show as it was in 1963. I just found this to be a really engaging story, and it felt like the kind of story that could have fit in really well with Big Finish's ongoing Time War tales, yet with that 60s flair that they capture so well with this cast. 

David Bradley is really a top notch replacement for William Hartnell.  He doesn't sound anything like him really, but the way he pauses and hems and haws, and stutters through his lines, it is truly like he captured the essence of the First Doctor.  Hartnell did most of it due to aging, ailing health, a giant year round workload with little to no rehearsal time...but that is part of what I find charming about the First Doctor.  Bradley captures it so well, but does it in his own way.  I definitely prefer this way of creating new 60s style Who to someone just doing an impression. 

I find this set to be somewhat harder to recommend, at least at full price. The first story is by no means awful, but it isn't really worth much either. The second story is tremendous though, which is what makes up for the whole set.  I'd say it was worth it just for that, but maybe at a sale price. If Big Finish set has 4 stories and only one is kind of a clunker, I usually can justify the price.  But with only 2 stories, the cost is essentially $10 a story, and I don't think The Phoenicians is worth $10.  Is Tick-Tock World? Absolutely.  And that's from a guy who was never much of a fan of Susan or Carole An Ford's performance in the 60s shows.  If you've enjoyed these First Doctor set so far?  It is a safer bet for you, for newcomers, I think start with the earlier sets and see if you want to spend the extra money on half of a good boxset.