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. 






9.2. Doctor Who - Short Trips: The Astrea ConspiracyBookmark and Share

Monday, 1 April 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

The conspirators sit in Antwerp, plotting to kill King Charles the Second. Aphra Behn's mission is simple: get former lover William Scot to turn against his treasonous comrades. But her money is running out and the complications don’t stop there. A strange Scottish man arrives at her inn with troubling news.

William Scot is out and the Doctor is in.

Rather excitingly, The Astrea Conspiracy marks the twelfth Doctor's first entry into the Big Finish range.....or at least that is what I thought.

Lizbeth Myles has written a historic story with a twist (there always is, isn't there?) Neve McIntosh narrates, and she does very well - until she tries to voice the twelfth Doctor, which just isn't convincing and doesn't hit home. This is the story's main problem, as it quickly becomes very distracting. I would rather McIntosh just read the story, something that I am sure must have been evident to the director, Nicholas Briggs.

The other problem with the story is that it just didn't appeal to me. There was no 'grab'. I found myself losing interest and then concentration, having to go skip back and re-listen to segments, which eventually made this Short Trip a Not Quite-So-Short Trip. It's a shame as I was quite enjoying a long run, but that is the nature of the Short Trips series, they can be quite divisive.

The Astrea Conspiracy is avail from Big Finish HERE.

 





Torchwood: God Among Us Part 1Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 March 2019 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
God Among Us Part 1 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: James Goss, Guy Adams, John Dorney, Tim Foley
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman), Paul Clayton (Mr Colchester), Alexandra Riley (Ng), Samantha Béart (Orr), Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Tom Price (Sergeant Andy Davidson), Rachel Atkins (Ro-Jedda)

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

When Big Finish chose “Changes Everything” as the title for the first instalment of Torchwood: Aliens Among Us, that might as well have served as the mission statement for their entire range’s future; after all, the three boxsets comprising the show’s audio-bound fifth season threw an all-manner of game-changing plot curveballs in fans’ directions, from the resurrections of Torchwood Cardiff and one Yvonne Hartman to the ill-timed departure of Gwen Cooper just as hell descended upon her city.

Yet what with full-team release Believe, various boxsets chronicling Torchwood One’s pre-Battle of Canary Wharf endeavours and numerous one-hour solo outings, the studio gleefully delivered so much content in the interim between Aliens and Season Six that the latter’s work seemed cut out for it in terms of recapping past events while pushing the franchise forward. Does this considerable workload prove a cumbersome burden for the ominously-dubbed God Among Us, then, or can its opening salvo overcome such trials to deliver dramatic excellence worthy of Zeus himself?

“Future Pain”

Alien mayors imprisoned beneath Cardiff Bay, makeshift deities interrupting local funerals and explosive shoot-outs set to the unlikely backdrop of a car park – so far, so Torchwood. As with many US TV season premieres, James Goss finds himself tasked with recapping and developing a host of ongoing plot elements from Season Five in God’s freshman instalment, between Mr. Colchester’s seemingly fatal wounds, Gwen impostor Ng sticking around after her source material’s departure and – lest we forget – the hardly trivial matter of God him- or herself running rampant across the city.

By now, though, we should already know better than to doubt the range producer’s remarkable ability to balance such plot/character arcs with satisfying standalone storylines; indeed, “Future Pain” delivers quite the emotional gut-punch at times for spoilerific reasons, delving into the fallout of “Herald of the Dawn” for certain characters whose losses extend far beyond the physical damage wrought on Cardiff by Orr’s destructive transformation. Seeing the human impact that the terrors faced by Earth’s least covert secret agents have always formed much of the core of Torchwood’s appeal compared to oft-soulless big-budget sci-fi blockbusters, an admirable trait which continues here thanks to Goss’ writing and the understated, grief-ridden performances from John Barrowman, Ramon Tikram as Colin Colchester-Price and particularly Paul Clayton throughout.

Oh, and in case you’d expected Goss to largely maintain the status quo of Aliens Among Us given its myriad hanging plot threads this time around, rest assured that nothing could be further from the truth…

“The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood”:

Another noteworthy aspect of Torchwood’s infrastructure (both on TV and now in audio form) which often sets it apart from the genre crowd lies in its willingness to investigate heavy socio-political topics such as humanity’s increasingly disturbing instincts for self-preservation, Government accountability (or lack thereof) and, in the case of the Main Range’s recent Toshiko-led outing Instant Karma, even the rise of far-right activism. That Guy Adams similarly refuses to pull its punches on its chosen topical subject matter should thus come as no surprise, although the extent to which “The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” interrogates the dangers of social media conspiracy theories might well split audiences more than they’d usually expect from a Big Finish production.

Who better to head up Adams’ politically turbulent script, then, than perhaps Aliens’ most controversial character, Torchwood candidate turned journalist turned alien conspirator Tyler Steele? Practically any actor would salivate at the prospect of deconstructing the YouTube v-log phenomenon, so it’s little wonder that Jonny Green completely embraces Tyler’s ruthless quest to investigate Brett Hayden’s video-streamed anti-Torchwood campaign, not to mention the disconcerting worldviews which he spouts to huge audiences every day. The search for answers predictably yields disturbing results at times which force listeners on all sides to consider how their seemingly trivial actions online can send unintentional ripples across society. Indeed, Green cunningly highlights this through Steele’s disgust at Hayden’s activities and also his paradoxical fervour at manipulating Hayden in much the same way as the blogger guides his audiences, with

Despite delving so far into the limitless rabbit hole of moral ambiguity that we commonly know as the World Wide Web, Adams inevitably has to draw the line somewhere – few Torchwood fans would likely share this reviewer’s rabid enthusiasm to see an entire season dedicated to Jack, Tyler et al finding their places in a digital age where covert military missions or terrorist attacks are regularly “leaked” for the sake of Likes and Follows. It’s for that reason “The Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” understandably stops short of truly contemplating Tyler’s culpability in the harrowing events that unfold or whether simply defaming ‘alternative’ political activists solves the problem, and for this reason that the play struggles to attain masterpiece status. Nevertheless, whereas certain thematically-shallow Torchwood romps can come and go with minimal impact, this one – along with another unsettling Tyler outing which we’ll discuss in our Part 2 review soon – will undoubtedly stay with listeners long after its final track wraps up.

“See No Evil” and “Night Watch”

In a break from our usual story-by-story review format for these Torchwood boxsets, God Among Us Part 1’s third and fourth episodes actually warrant a joint critique – namely since the two instalments bear such an uncanny resemblance to one another in terms of concepts, themes and character beats. In the case of “See No Evil”, John Dorney enshrouds Cardiff’s citizens in a chaos-inducing state of near-universal blindness, prompting the only (broadly) unaffected members of the team to hunt down the source of and cure for this rather inconvenient affliction. Meanwhile in the case of “Night Watch”, Tim Foley enshrouds almost all of Cardiff’s citizens in a state of near-universal slumber, prompting the only unaffected members of the team to hunt down…wait a minute. Was it just us or did that last sentence evoke some serious déjà vu?

Doctor Who fans who’ve followed the modern revival’s production may recall that Steven Moffat once juggled the ordering of Series Six (2011) to avoid its Spring-aired first half featuring too many horror-esque chamber pieces, hence Mark Gatiss“Night Terrors” airing as Episode 9 rather than in its original intended Episode 6 slot. Well, as much as Torchwood has barely put a foot wrong since coming under Big Finish’s confident stewardship, a similar level of structural consideration might’ve benefitted God Among Us’ opening boxset. Upon reaching the halfway point of “Night Watch” with its semi-philosophical exploration of humanity’s physical limits and how crises can lay our brutal nature bare for all to see, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether Foley was aware that his predecessor’s script covered much the same territory, or alternatively why the pair didn’t devise a more direct two-parter where either the citywide black-out or slumber party remained the solitary threat.

At least the boxset’s second half does its job of raising substantial intrigue for future instalments: both “Evil” and “Watch” continually subvert our expectations of twists delivered in the Aliens Among Us saga, call Jack in particular to task for some questionable – if spontaneous – romantic decisions made in recent weeks with hilarious reactions from Barrowman, and most importantly offer a fascinating insight into the warped benevolence of Season Six’s titular God ready for her schemes to play out in Part 2 and beyond. Sure, their uncanny tonal resemblance tragically robs much of the set’s momentum, but combine their potent revelations with the brilliant “Future Pain” and provocative “Man Who Destroyed Torchwood” and you’ve got a promising start to God Among Us which will certainly entice fans back for more.

Next Time on Torchwood – Familiar faces predict (or perhaps engineer) the end of the world, Tyler takes to the streets with heart-wrenching consequences and we see Yvonne Hartman like never before in God Among Us Part 2. What’s more, the Main Range kicks off its bombastic run of Doctor Who villain crossovers in style, namely by transporting aspiring thespian Gwen Cooper to a now-decrepit scientific institution called Fetch Priory – what could possibly go wrong…?