The Comic Strip Adaptations: Vol 1Bookmark and Share

Monday, 29 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 01 (Credit: Big Finish)
Adapted By: Alan Barnes
Director: Nicholas Briggs

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: SMarch 2019

Big Finish’s year of anniversary celebrations has many surprises in store, not least of which was the reveal of a special release for Doctors 4-8. For myself, the most anticipated of these releases was the Fourth Doctors ‘Comic Strip Adaptations’ which had been teased on and off for some time now. The two stories chosen, The Iron Legion and The Star Beast are both from early in the DWM strip and were written by British comics legends Pat Mills and John Wagner. As such, they introduced some of their trademark ‘zaniness’, into the strips which whilst still traditionally ‘doctor who-ish’ had a unique whimsical flare and ambitious scope that set them apart from the admittedly cheap looking Season 17 (which was on air when Doctor Who Weekly debuted). So what of these adaptations then? Coming from such a visual medium, are they able to capture the spirit of their trend-setting originals?

The Iron Legion is the first story in the set and I think it’s fair for me to confess that alongside End of the Line, Voyager, Oblivion and Children of the Revolution it’s my favourite DWM strip. Admittedly then, I was quite nervous about how this would translate to the audio medium. The strip itself is arguably one of the most visual in DWM’s entire run and the scale is beyond vast. Alan Barnes adapts both these stories and given his history with both DWM and British comics, in general, is well placed to do so. With The Iron Legion, in particular, he keeps the main structure and set pieces of the original strip, whilst adding several new but not intrusive elements (which I wont spoil here). The result is this adaptation feels very much like a retelling of the comic original, but introduces enough to make it interesting enough to anyone who is familiar with that story. Toby Longworth and Brian Protheroe excel in their roles as Vesuvias and Ironicus respectively, the latter in particular capturing the character exactly as I imagined he sounded when I fist read the strip.

Of course, any adaptations of the Fourth Doctors DWM strip would have to include a version of The Star Beast which introduced Beep the Meep to the world of Doctor Who. Again Alan Barnes script sticks close to the original story but differs enough to keep it interesting. One particularly pleasing element kept from the strip version is the quirky natures of the humour given to the Doctor, with dialogue being taken directly from the strip itself. Tom Baker in particular, seems to enjoy this quirky and more off-the-wall version of his character (which is saying something) and he gives two intoxicating performances across the set. Rhianne Starbuck is equally wonderful as Sharon and the pair have great chemistry throughout this story. Of course, the real ‘star’ of Star Beast is of course Beep the Meep, played wonderfully by Bethan Dixon Bate. It’s a wonderfully funny and genuinely creepy performance, one that does great justice to such a well-established character.

The Comic Strip Adapations has proven to be a great success and they deserve all the recognition they can get, as the task of adapting two popular and incredibly visual stories for the audio medium must have been incredibly vast. One thing that really comes through with these two audio dramas is just how fun they are. Everybody, from Alan Barnes to Tom Baker to the sound designers, seems to be having incredible fun bringing these two wild and wacky stories to life. They may not be to everyone’s taste, given just how off the wall they are! But I for one look forward to a possible Comic Strip Adaptations Two and of course the four series of Beep the Meep box sets that must surely be around the corner…






The Eighth Doctor - Ravenous 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 24 April 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ravenous 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Matt Fitton & John Dorney
Director: Ken Bentley
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released April 2019

Running Time: 5 hours

Ravenous 3 continues the Eighth Doctor storyline, seeing the Doctor and friends Liv and Helen trying to escape from the Ravenous, ancient monsters that love to eat Time Lords life energy.  Thinking back, it has been a long time since a Eighth Doctor lead boxset from Big Finish has let me down, and I am happy to say the rend continues!  Paul McGann has gotten some of the best stories from Big Finish since 2007 when he took Lucie Miller on board.  And that shouldn't even knock the good ol' Charley days of yesteryear, but 2007 is when I feel his Doctor truly took off...and he we are over a decade later and they are still knocking out really high quality boxsets with this Doctor. 

 

As always, I try to keep back the details of the stories as best I can, but Spoiler-phobic may wish to avoid may review...needless to say, I recommend it, those who want more details, carry on:

 

Our adventure begins with Deeptime Frontier, as the gang ending up on a Time Lord space station that is mining the Time Vortex...but the rift it has opened seems to be the very cause of the ancient Ravenous being unleashed upon the universe, and while the station seemingly only has one dead ravenous aboard, the Doctor knows more are on the trail.  I've felt that a lot of these boxsets have been staring slow, but I think this one comes out swinging.  As much as I have enjoyed the previous sets in the Ravenous series, it must be said that the actual Ravenous haven't played a large role so far.  They were only briefly mentioned at the end of the first set, and despite making their actual debut in the final story of Ravenous 2, they really played no role in the three stories that preceded.  They were good stories and fun to listen to, but they could've gone out in any set.  This set actually begins with the Ravenous heavily involved in the plot, and even as they take a backseat for an episode or two, at least the TARDIS team is technically still on the run from them.  

Episode two of the set (Companion Piece) has Liv and Helen captured by the Nine (a previous incarnation of the Eleven), and since he regenerated from the Eight back in Doom Coalition 3, he has been collecting all of the Doctor's companions and putting them in cells in chronological order.  Liv & Helen end up in a cell with a woman who keeps getting moved back in forth in her order, Charlotte Pollard.  Yay Charley!  I always liked Charley and the Eighth Doctor together.  While it is a shame there is no reunion between the Doctor and his old friend from his earliest Big Finish days, it was still nice to hear from her again.  The story also features River Song, who is being used by the Nine to help find all the old companions, though being River things are never so simple.  This was a fun episode, fun getting to hear so many companions make brief cameo, but just well executed fun beyond that.  

In L.E.G.E.N.D., The Doctor is reunited with Liv and Helen, having caught up with them at the end of the previous adventure, and with the Eleven in tow, they end up in an adventure in 19th Century Germany, where they meet the Brothers Grimm and have to fight off a super computer and some plasm that can create anything created by an alien researcher who is in over her head...the story may have little to do with the ongoing plot of the Ravenous, but I thought it was a fun story, and at least technically they are still on the run from the beasts. Likely not to be the most memorable story of the set, but still an entertaining hour. 

The set is closed out with The Odds Against, in which the TARDIS lands on a planet, they stumble upon a dead body, the authorities show up, and it seems like a regular day at the office...only the authorities don't believe they had anything to do with the death.  A nice change.  But it turns out the Abbot of the Brotherhood of Ix that seems so helpful may have something more sinister up his sleeve.  Of course, that is because he is more sinister. Meanwhile the Eleven has lost the voice in his head of his Ninth incarnation, apparently, he was eaten up by the Ravenous, or so he thinks.  It turns out that his particular regeneration condition makes him immune to the Ravenous wanting to eat him, and the Abbot is, in fact, The Nine (Ix, get it?).  Overall, a solid conclusion, and a nice cliffhanger, to this volume in the series.

The particular fact of the Eleven's immunity to the Ravenous trying to eat him will clearly play a major role in the fourth boxset, and if this series is to follow the suit of the previous Eighth Doctor boxset series, the fourth is likely to be the finale to this storyline.  If my reviews haven't made it clear, this set has been great, and it is so far the best set in the Ravenous line. 

 

 






Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #6 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 17 April 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #6 (Credit: Titan)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

31 Pages

Published by Titan Comic 10 April 2019

What I enjoyed about Issue 6 of the “Thirteenth Doctor” line from Titan Comics, is that it felt like it was going in one direction, but in the last few moments opened up to make this story bigger in an interesting way. Issue 5 had introduced us to a new setting, introduced a new guest character, and in the end the new monster of the week. It seemed like it was set up for a story in this setting.

Then this issue seemed to wrap it up. Sort of felt like a Doctor Who ending, monster defeated - onwards to the next adventure. But then our gang lands in another spot in history that the companions all know from the same podcast they learned about of the last era...and the same monsters are here...then some Time Agents show up.

When it was wrapping everything up, I initially thought "well this seems to be just a humdrum two-parter" and thought reviewing it might be hard, but that extra set up at the end gave me hope.  Our heroes are on a brand new adventure, one with more intriguing threads to follow than some monsters in the dark in a quiet wartorn village centuries ago.  Now there are the monsters, but also Time Agents, and a mysterious podcast which seems to be exploring the strange world s the TARDIS is now landing them in.

I thought the last issue was fine, but it had mostly been story set up, so it didn’t particularly grab me. This issue pushed it in a new direction, one that left me interested to see where it all leads.





The Kamelion Empire (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 15 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Kamelion Empire (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Johnathan Morris Directed By: Ken Bentley

Starring: Peter Davison, Mark Strictson, Janet Fielding, John Culshaw and Christopher Naylor)

The Kamelion Empire is the final story in this year’s first main range trilogy, the stories thus far having shed the light on the oft-forgotten android companion with a pathos rarely seen. This final adventure had a lot to live up to, with the opening story Devil in the Mist being an intriguing tale that utilised aspects of Kamelions character only briefly touched upon in his two television adventures. The next; Black Thursday/Power Game was a particularly bleak and gut-wrenching opening story followed by a fun and zany finale. The Kamelion Empire has, even more, to live up to than these previous adventures, taking us right back to Kamelion’s homeworld and detailing the origins of the android and a dark secret or two…

It’s impossible to talk about this story without first confessing that it is, phenomenal. Johnathan Morris’s script truly is a work of genius and after a rather slow and creepy opening, he takes you to numerous locations (utilising the audio medium to it’s fullest), paints fantastic vistas and all the while manages to fix a continuity gaff or two. What’s more, this all seems to flow naturally and the shifts in setting never come across as jarring but each time add a surprising and exciting angle to the story. He also manages to give Kamelion some of the best material yet (which really is saying something given the strength of the scripts by Jamie Anderson, Eddie Robson and Cavan Scott) and I defy anyone to argue that the metal man lacks character after listening to this. Indeed, despite having never been a fan of robots on the Tardis team (sorry K9 fans) I can happily state that due to the interesting material given to the character, Kamelion has shot up in my estimations and I would love to see him given more stories at Big Finish.

A huge aspect of this has been the phenomenal work done by John Culshaw in portraying Kamelion. In this tale, in particular, he has to portray a range of emotions in a single monotone, which he seems to be able to do effortlessly. Indeed the ‘scream’ emitted by Kamelion in moments of distress is a particularly harrowing piece of voice work and one which managed to make me squirm every time it was emitted. It’s great to see Culshaw managing to bring a succession of classic ‘who’ characters to the audio medium and I look forward to how he portrays the brigadier later in the year.

Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strictson all shine as usual. Throughout this trilogy, I’ve given particular attention to Janet Fielding, due to the heavy amount of attention paid by the writers to Tegan’s feelings about Kamelion. Here, she is once again phenomenal and manages to bring her and Kamelion’s story to an effective close- without leaving any emotional continuity gaps or having it seem out of place. Strictson also gets to play his more comic side in this story which I particularly enjoyed, as I often find it to be one of his strengths. Contrasting this, Davison is allowed to explore the darker side of the Doctor, particularly his disgust at some of the things discovered about the Kamelion empire, and it’s a side I always love seeing.

Christopher Naylor makes a chillingly effective villain and his rasping, evil laughter is particularly chilling. Admittedly, some of his dialogue does amount to typical ‘Doctor who villain’ lines which is a pity given the man’s many talents. However, the real horror of this villain comes from his background and relationship to Kamelion and so the character is still effective enough.

The Kamelion Empire and the trilogy as a whole, cannot be claimed to be anything else but a triumph and an excellent start to Big Finish’s anniversary year. Indeed, what makes it such a perfect start is it highlights Big Finish’s ability to take aspects of the whoniverse and explore them in thought-out and thought-provoking ways. The care and attention that has been put into these stories is evident from the first and I can’t wait to see what the main range brings us next.






Doctor Who - Short Trips 9.3 : Doctors and DragonsBookmark and Share

Friday, 12 April 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Doctors and Dragons (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrator - Sophie Aldred
Writer, Producer & Script Editor - Alfie Shaw
Director - Lisa Bowerman

Reya always knew she was different. Only she could see the numbers that govern the universe. When her sister is poisoned, Reya quests for the substance that can save her. The blood of the last dragon. The one thing that stands in her way is a strange little man called the Doctor. He’s refusing to let her kill the dragon, even though it will save her sister.

Defeat the Doctor, kill the dragon, save her sister. What could be simpler?

 

Doctors and Dragons is essentially Doctor Who has a go at Game Of Thrones. But. Heres the thing - I have never watched a single episode of Game Of Thrones. Why you scream? I just am not a fan of fantasy. There, I've said it. Run now.

This story is very heavy on fantasy and magic, which are two things that I personally don't think should be mixed with the Whoniverse. In my mind there should be a Christopher H Bidmead semi-scientific explanation for everything. Not potions and spells!

But - I quite enjoyed Doctors and Dragons. I thought the pace was good. Alfie Shaw's writing came out tops, and Sophie Aldred's narration was great (especially when Ace finally appeared - but the less said about that the better).

The story romped along in a fine manner, and the sacrifice for the mystical paid off in the end. 

Have I mentioned yet that I love the new Short Trip cover art? So much better than the Doctor of the story staring rather boringly off into the distance. Well done Mark Plastow for these great new creations.

Doctors and Dragons is available from Big Finish HERE.





Gallifrey: Time War 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 8 April 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Gallifrey: Time War Volume One (Credit: Big Finish)

 

Written By David Llewellyn, Una McCormack, Lisa McMullin, Matt Fitton

Directed By Scott Handcock
Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery Nicholas Briggs
 
Released by Big Finish - March 2019

The second volume of Gallifrey: Time War picks up not long after the previous set left off, with Romana grasping to keep some control of the Celestial Intervention Agency as the newly resurrected Rassilon consolidates his control of Gallifrey and the Time Lords as President Eternal, and with a war as an excuse, it is increasingly easy for him to take that control.

The opening episode (Havoc) is something of a slow start for the set. Not that it is bad, but it is all about set up rather than building up to a big climax.  It is mostly just setting the stage for this new era of Gallifrey, with a resurrected power hungry and angry Rassilon at the top of the pack.  Romana is acquitted for treason at the beginning of the story, but her troubles in this new environment are just beginning.  And really, if you go back years in the Big Finish canon, she only has herself to blame.  Back when the Eighth Doctor adventures with Charley were the closest thing the franchise had to new performed stories, Romana was involved with a plot by Rassilon attempting to resurrect himself and perform some evil deeds, and she tried to keep that under wraps.  Now she is stuck having to bow to this bitter old nut as he seizes control of the society he helped found.

In the second episode, Partisans, Romana discovers that there is a planet that will one day be of strategic importance to the war against the Daleks, but they need to go back centuries during that planet's own war, in order to make sure the outcome is one that benefits Gallifrey.  There are two possible outcomes, total destruction of all life if one faction wins, or let the other faction win with survivors.  But the War Council also gets involved, and their tact doesn't gel with Romana's plan...and is closer in style to a genocide.  Ultimately, Narvin finds another way, but even his way feels dire.  He freezes the planet, sealing them indefinitely before their own destruction.  The consequences of the Time War are already taking hold, and it is still early days.

Collateral, the third episode, picks up this thread with the time seal being broken, and someone calling through.  With the seal broken, their war rages on, and an alien race called the Sythes are feeding on the planet's resources, and that could potentially help the Daleks out.  A woman named Nyla contacts Gallifrey, but she also sends out a message warning the Universe to stop the Time Lords.  Rassilon decides to obliterate the planet from Time itself and keep the Daleks from gaining any benefit...but Romana is determined to keep that from happening. Rassillon achieves his end goal, but not before their warning about the Time Lords gets out there, and the Sicari are on their way.

The boxset wraps up with Assassins, which has this race called the Sicari attempting to infiltrate Gallifrey and take out Rassilon.  The Sicari seem to be a race created by the Time War itself, with weaponry that is Time Lord in origin, though quite modified.  The story culminates with Romana attempting to assist them in taking out Rassilon, as she can see he is on the road to totalitarianism and very likely the ruin of Gallifrey.  Ultimately, her attempt fails, and Rassilon not only survives the attack, but is then able to use this as the perfect way to get Romana out of his hair. She is set for execution, but is given the chance to escape from a Rassilon sycophant who doesn't want her becoming a martyr.  She and Narvin are put into an old TARDIS with it's course headed into the heart of the Time War...they may seem doomed, but Romana is determined to get out of this scrape and find Leela, who has been lost since the first boxset. 

Overall, I really liked this set.  Not really a bad episode in the bunch. The first Gallifrey: Time War set was more scattershot in focus really.  Now I liked that set, but it was all about the various things that lead to the war truly beginning and, ultimately, the resurrection of Rassilon. This set feels more focused, and instead of four distinct stories leading to the same end goal, this time it feels like one long story built episode by episode.  Both are quite good, but I think I give an edge to the second set in terms of overall quality.  If you, like me, have enjoyed Big Finish's foray into the Time War, then this set is another winner.