12th Doctor Short Trips - Dead MediaBookmark and Share

Friday, 18 October 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Dead Media (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrator: Jacob Dudman; Cover Artist: Mark Plastow
Director: Nicholas Briggs; Producer: Alfie Shaw
Writer: John Richards; Script Editor: Alfie Shaw
Executive Producers:Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs 
Sound Design: Richard Fox @ FoxYason Studios

Like everyone else in 2017, the Doctor is doing a podcast. Named the ‘People of St Lukes’, the podcast is about the everyday lives of students at the university. Only, with the Doctor involved, the everyday is dangerous and extraordinary.

Something’s lurking in the A/V department, something that is trapped in old equipment… as the Doctor quickly discovers, outdated technology does have a role in the modern world.

That role? Ending it.

 

The story kicks off with the Doctor doing a podcast (something I bet he would do!). The podcast is centred around St Lukes, which places this story somewhere in series 10, to where it is an absolute perfect fit.

An evil recording is a great idea, and here its creepily handled, with feedback repeating your words back to you, but with subtle changes. Nicholas Briggs direction and John Richards writing combine to make Dead Media a truly atmospheric thirty four minutes.

There is a  small 'but', and the but is Jacob Dudman's Capaldi impersonation. Don't get me wrong, it's good - very good, but is not quite there, and I found this quite distracting. There needs to be more gravitas, more richness. Jacob Dudman is a truly fantastic vocal impressionist, and an invaluable find for Big Finish, as he will help move the brand forward. His take on the tenth and eleventh Doctor are literally pitch perfect. I'm hoping that Dead Media is a 'soft' opening for him as Doctor number twelve, and I'm sure that practice will indeed make perfect.

Dead Media is available HERE, from Big Finish. 

 





Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 11 October 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Dimension Cannon (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Jonathan Morris, Lisa McMullin, AK Benedict, Matt Fitton

Director: Helen Goldwyn

Starring: Billie Piper, Camille Coduri,Shaun Dingwall, Mark Benton

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: June 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

Billie Piper was a key ingredient in the success of the Doctor Who revival.  Her portrayal as Rose was the audience's way into a world that had been closed up for many years.  Through Rose, the audience was discovering the many layers of this universe...the Doctor, the TARDIS, Daleks, Cybermen, and so many new corners of the universe.  Despite only appearing on the show for 2 series, each with a different Doctor, Rose made a lasting impression. Even after she left Rose's absence was felt until the end of the Tenth Doctor's run.

Despite all that...I'm not the biggest Rose Tyler fan.  Don't get me wrong, she was the companion when I discovered my love for the show, and I was really sad to see her go.  She was so integral to my love of the show, that at the time I didn't know how the show could go on without her.  Obviously it did, and as I then went back and discovered more companions, my love, slowly faded for Rose.  These days, I find her adventures with the Ninth Doctor to be top-notch, but I don't really dig the rapport she developed with the Tenth Doctor. Her return in Series 4 marked the moment I began to sour on the character.  They first re-introduced her as a more mature version of the character. The moment she finally reunites with the Tenth Doctor, however, she reverts back to a whiny teenager with a super crush.  And then rewatching the Second series only reinforced how clingy she was. 

At any rate, Big Finish's latest spin-off series focuses in on Rose and her adventures leading up to her return in Series 4.  Using a device called the "Dimension Cannon" she is jumping to various different realities, trying to find her original home and find the Doctor before the universe ends. It's a decent premise, but some details were majorly flawed which hurt my enjoyment of the set. 

In the opening episode (The Endless Night), Rose arrives in a version of Earth and meets a new version of Clive (a character only seen in her debut appearance, who first tells her about the Doctor), and versions of her parents who only dated a year, never married and never had Rose.  But when their sun goes out, Rose is left with the decision of having to save herself but leave them all behind to die. At least in this episode, she has this moral dilemma and then is taken hostage when this version of Pete discovers her way out.  Unfortunately, the reason for getting caught up in events falls apart in subsequent episodes.

For some reason that I genuinely couldn't wrap my head around, when Rose lands in a new reality, her first order of business is to find her parents and figure out how they are different.  For some reason knowing how they are different will tell her how this version of universe diverged.  This is pretty narcissistic. I suppose she is looking for clues to the Doctor in each reality, but she seems to just always focus in on her parents.  In the second episode (The Flood) she lands in a version of Earth that has been raining for 30 years and instead of Pete and Jackie having Rose, they had a boy named Rob.  Why Rose gets so hyper-focused on her parents when her mission is to find the Doctor doesn't really gel for me. Clive has joined her this time and he seems to be actually trying to look for clues to the Doctor, but he falls in love with someone instead.  Eventually, they leave with no headway truly made.

On her third outing, Ghost Machines, Rose is joined by Pete and they immediately recognize this as not Rose's original Earth and likely not to have a Doctor.  They then don't immediately leave. Rose claims that if they can figure out how the reality changed they can use it as a "signpost" to her reality.  How?  That part is skimmed over as if it doesn't matter...but it is the only reason they are apparently hanging around universes in which the Doctor doesn't exist.  Oh but also they are on a major time crunch...they need the Doctor now...but why not look around a place he clearly is not?  This simple flaw really disrupted my enjoyment of the set.  It could have been as simple as a line about how they can only use the Cannon once a day, so they are trapped in each reality for at least a day.  But they can come and go whenever they like as far as they are concerned.  There is no reason to stay around a version of Earth which seems to be overflowing with graves.

The set closes out with Jackie joining Rose on an adventure...for some reason.  They end up in a world where another planet is going to crash into Earth, and everyone in Rose and Jackie's old stomping grounds is throwing The Last Party on Earth.  It's fine, but despite initially deciding to leave immediately because it is the wrong place, they stick around to get to know everyone they know's alternate versions anyhow.  I'm not sure I see the point in sticking around if they never help, they just feel worse about having to jump universes again. 

I was indifferent to this set. Huge fans of Rose may enjoy hearing some of the old gang (though Mickey is notably absent), but really I had trouble getting into the premise.  Rose gets caught up in the events of these different realities like the Doctor would, but she never really helps things or solves any problems.  She just gets emotionally attached to different versions of her family before leaving them to die on their world and start it all over again.  It felt repetitive, and maybe just one Big Finish Spin-off too far.






Counter-Measures - The Hollow KingBookmark and Share

Friday, 20 September 2019 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
The New Counter-Measures: The Hollow King (Credit: Big Finish)
 
Writer: Ian Potter
Director: Ken Bentley
 

Big Finish 

:Released: January 2019

 

Running Time: 1 hour, 21 minutes

 

Odd events have been witnessed in the diminutive village known as Swammcombe. Unexpected lights in the sky. Insanity plaguing many a person. Even spaceships have been rumoured. Counter-Measures' Allison Williams is resolute to get some answers to the many questions that these events pose. She is not alone as her friends and associates Gilmore, Rachel and Sir Toby make their own efforts to look into the case. It becomes clear that the Elite Visualisation tests, and Open Band - the devoted followers of Lord Cavall -are at the core of the mystery needing to be unearthed. Cavell's acolytes insist his cause his just but that is open to question given how many require specialist psychiatric help. The biggest question to answer is how the King under the hill connects with all the odd events swirling around the village...

*

The story hits the ground running in that our regular team of investigators have already made some effort into uncovering more information about the somewhat absurd goings-on. One strand that Rachel is drawn to is the serious consequence that Open Band's mind expansion activities. She visits one of the victims who can only but rant in a secure mental health ward – whilst very vocal there are previous few overt answers to the mystery. Undeterred she sets up a laboratory and monitor base in order to tease out further hard nuggets of evidence.

Meanwhile, Allison puts her own sanity at risk but she is a dab hand by now at such enterprises and manages to play a key role in the resolution of the crisis. The male contingent of Counter-Measures get involved by impersonating a documentary producer (in Gilmore's case), and playing the sycophantic autograph hunter (as per the chameleon that is Sir Toby). All these goings-on feel by now familiar but in the best possible sense of a well-oiled machine and the fast pace (leading to a scant running time of 81 minutes) is a definite asset. As the denouement unfolds it becomes clear that the main antagonist is not one most listeners would have assumed, and something very disturbing indeed has been happening underneath the seeming reality...

*

The acting from the regulars is as nuanced and spontaneous-sounding as we have come to expect. This month sees The Legacy Of Time released with Counter-Measures 'reunited' with the Seventh Doctor and Ace. Initial interest in this range back in 2012 was certainly generated in some part due to this Doctor and Companion team encountering Gilmore, Alison and Rachel in the sublime Remembrance of the Daleks. However The Hollow King works just as well as a brand new introduction to the range, as a continuation, such is the focus on showing both individually and collectivity how the team function and perceive their world around them.

Ian Potter has constructed a strong story that works well on its own but also will now serve as the official first stanza in the Third Season of the New Counter-Measures (with Dalek and Movellan stories on offer in early 2020). Based on this evidence there is plenty of fuel for a long-running range to reach it's tenth anniversary.


EXTRAS

 

The first set of interviews gives plenty of focus to Timothy Bentinck and Simon Williams' joint work on the iconic BBC radio show The Archers, and how it is to play a markedly different character in this particular Big Finish Range. Bentinck also played Allison's father in the Forgotten Village story in 2014 despite being a handful of real-life years older than Karen Gledhil.

The second and concluding group of interviewee material is notable for comparing radio acting to dancing in that the body will follow a certain number of movements despite (obviously) not being needed for this particular medium. Also of interest is how both Jessica Regan and Kate Russell-Smith elaborate on what it is like to play several roles in the same play. They bring enthusiasm and dry wit to their craft of breathing distinct individual life into those parts.

 

 






Doctor Who - Short Trips 9.8 - #HarrySullivan - Big FinishBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 17 September 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
#HarrySullivan (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrated by: Louise Jameson
Written by: Eddie Robson
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Cover Artist: Mark Plastow

En route to answer the Brigadier’s summons, the TARDIS is dragged off course. The Doctor, Sarah Jane and Harry find themselves trapped on The Zephyr, a spaceship that is going at full speed and yet is unable to move. With fuel running dangerously low, their only hope lies on Deraxas, a nearby world exclusively for the famous and celebrated.

However, Alderasea has never heard of them and has no intention of letting them land…

 

Filling a nice little gap between series (not season!) twelve and thirteen #HarrySullivan is a by the numbers little story that explores what it is like to suddenly have celebrity thrust upon you, and the perks that it can gain. Finding themselves on a ship that is caught in a trap with fuel and oxygen running out, the Doctor, Sarah and Harry must pull together with the passengers (all journalists) and create a celebrity out of a certain Mr Harry Sullivan.

Written by Eddie Robson, the story captures the characters perfectly. I always felt that Harry made a wonderful companion, but was criminally underused, so it is great to witness the return of the character as the main protagonist in this story.

Louise Jameson narrates, who I suppose IS the obvious choice after Tom Baker, and her gentle tones help the story romp along.

#HarrySullivan is an enjoyable bit of fluff, that thankfully gives the fourth Doctor’s companion, who was so wonderfully brought to the screen by the great Ian Marter, a little more airtime.

I feel that it is rather necessary to give a very positive shout out to Mark Plastow, who is behind the design of the cover art of this range since it was re-vamped back in December last year - they really do look superb, far better than a rather dour looking Doctor staring out from the cover. Nicely done sir!

#HarrySullivan is available from Big Finish HERE.


 





The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 3Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 8 September 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Time War - Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Matt Fitton, Lisa McMullin, Roland Moore, & John Dorney
 
 Director: Ken Bentley
 
Featuring: Paul McGannRakhee Thakrar, Adele Anderson, Michael Jayston

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: August 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

The latest Big Finish boxset starring Paul McGann is the third entry in the Time War series.  This time, The Eighth Doctor and his companion Bliss face off against Multiverses, Planets ravaged by the Time War, A Survivor of an Alien Race meant to be entirely erased from history, and the unexpected return of the Valeyard! 

The story begins with a strong vehicle for Rakhee Thakrar's character Bliss (State of Bliss).  This is good because this is the third boxset, and I still feel like I hardly know the character.  Too often she feels like someone for the Doctor to talk to.  No more, no less.  This episode gives her a lot to do, and she carries the whole thing.  Unfortunately, this episode is not a sign of things to come, because for  the rest of the set she feels sidelined into the "generic companion" role.  It's a shame, because it feels like if the writers had any real character with Bliss, Thakrar is clearly capable of pulling it off. But the opener is the only story in this set that gives her any depth.  It's one thing McGann's other ongoing boxset has over the Time War series, Liv and Helen have personalities. They aren't my favorite companions, not even for the Eighth Doctor, but they seem to have some depth written into the characters that Bliss mostly lacks.  Still, this is a fine episode to open the set because like anything Time War related should, it really explores the consequences of the War.

So to does the second entry, The Famished Lands, which dives into a planet which has been turned upside down as a side effect of the Time War.  It's a planet that has limited resources of it's own, and relied on trade to thrive...but the Time War has cut off their supplies, and society has broken down.  A story like this, where the Eighth Doctor has to try and help a troubled world effected by the actions of his own people...well that is exactly what I want from this particular series.

The third entry is Fugitive in Time, and in order to help the people of that planet, the Doctor does a favor for Major Tamasan of the Time Lords...if he helps her, she will help out the little planet he wants to save.  But of course her mission isn't so easy.  They are meant to track down an alien whose race was meant to be entirely erased from History by the Time Lords, find out why she survived and make sure she joins the rest of her race.  This doesn't really gel with the Doctor's usual modus operandi, so it gives him some moral quandary to deal with. 

The set closes out with The War Valeyard which sees the return of Michael Jayston to the role, but this time he believes himself to be the Doctor, fighting the Time War on the front lines...though he seems to be battling himself, caught in a time loop.  The Eighth Doctor is of course concerned by his very existence, as he believed he had wiped him out when his Sixth Incarnation had regenerated.  This is a very entertaining end to the set, and it is always fun to hear Jayston's voice. 

On the whole, I'd say this is a pretty stellar set. It has good stories, good acting, and fun Time War concepts.  If I had a complaint, it is that beyond the opener, Bliss doesn't have nearly anything to do.  Maybe that is why she carries so much of the opener, they knew they were going to waste her in every story that followed. But even with that complaint, there is a lot to like in this set. 

 

 

 






Torchwood - Sargasso (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 September 2019 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Sargasso (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Christopher Cooper
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Chloe Ewart (Captain Anika Banaczik), Sydney Feder (Kaitlin Russell), Robert Jezek (Yonich), Wilf Scolding (Sailor)

Released by Big Finish Productions - June 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“We all had a hand in this – every damn human on Earth since the Industrial Revolution. We’ve poisoned the planet and opened the door to God knows what else…”

There’s one key rule to which the writers of practically any big-screen action blockbuster will tell aspiring newcomers to adhere, regardless of their chosen medium – end the adventure with a bang. Indeed, even having already mined classic Doctor Who villains such as the Fendahl, carnivorous maggots and the Slitheen to splendid effect in the past three instalments of their themed Torchwood monthly run, Big Finish undoubtedly saved their most ambitious such production for last. Not only does Christopher Cooper’s freshman Main Range contribution deliver a gripping return for another beloved Who adversary with deeply unsettling imagery – the audio drama furthermore plays powerfully into real-world environmental issues which tragically only grow in prominence with each passing day.

To see this month’s playwright tackling such weighty territory might justifiably come as a shock to anyone who’s heard his Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Part 2 effort “Love Rat”, a markedly more light-hearted affair embracing the show’s deliciously raucous side. Yet the premise with which he’s bestowed here is nothing short of a goldmine: trapped aboard a stranded freighter at sea, Rhys Williams must band together with a despondent environmental activist to overthrow a brewing Auton invasion, one incited by humanity’s daily tendency to discard countless plastic fragments in Earth’s waters. Cooper – if this review’s opening quotation didn’t make it clear – certainly pulls no punches when it comes to laying the blame for his narrative’s events (and naturally our planet’s non-fictional turmoil) solely at our Ugg-clad feet. From an early stage, his script forces Rhys to reckon with his own ignorance in prioritising extraterrestrial over all-too-human threats, delivering an impactful analogy for our own culpability in the process. This existentially troubling extended metaphor predictably only serves to worsen as events progress and the stakes mount too, building towards a genuinely shocking resolution whose open-ended ambiguity feels all too apt – particularly given how today’s headlines depict us being at such an existential crossroads.

That said, as with any accomplished Torchwood production at Big Finish or elsewhere, Sargasso has just as much in the way to offer of gloriously pulpy sci-fi chills as it does pointed socio-political commentary. Children of Earth threw in Hub explosions and Torchwood casualties amidst its haunting interrogation of our moral limits, God Among Us Part 2 segued from tales of homelessness to hilarious body-swapping and so Cooper’s high-seas one-off follows suit by regularly ramping up the fear factor at every turn. For every reference to the contaminated horrors glimpsed on David Attenborough’s documentaries, there’s a fantastical sighting like an armada of rubber ducks besieging the ship; for every fourth wall-targeted piece of dialogue surrounding our ethical callousness, an equally memorable visual concept like a Nestene creature with engulfing tentacles crafted wholly from discarded plastic bags. The task of presenting such inherently ridiculous imagery without disserving the vital subject matter might’ve easily overwhelmed a lesser writer, but fortunately Cooper’s shrewd command of the aural medium – coupled with the soundtrack’s eerie infusion of waves and pitch-perfect sound effects for said antagonists – means that we’re afforded enough linguistic detail to tremor, yet with enough restraint to afford our imaginations ample license for vivid interpretation.

And what of the lead star tasked with bringing this 28th Main Range episode to life in the Big Finish studios (after consuming one of their infamously delectable lunches, of course)? Seeing as Kai Owen did such a tremendous job holding the fort in 2017’s likewise horror-tinted hospital jaunt Visiting Hours, that he’s able to afford further depth to Rhys as a no-longer-side-lined Torchwood Three recruit here should hardly come as a surprise. His take on Mr. Williams, far from recycling the greatest hits of his fleeting TV appearances, evolves impressively over the course of the hour, the character’s ever-endearing earnestness and begrudging courageousness giving way to a newfound, all-too-pertinent despondency regarding our species’ future prospects. More inspiring still, though, is how Owen (at the behest of Cooper’s script) passionately pitches this not so much as a gateway to emotional hollowness but a trigger for his world-wearied father figure’s determination to win out, adapting his worldviews and tactics in the hope of enacting greater change – ideally starting with his survival!

He’s not alone in this metatextual quest either: Kaitlin Russell, the aforementioned young environmental campaigner who finds herself in a sudden life-or-death struggle, lies in truly capable hands thanks to Sydney Feder’s righteous performance alongside Owen. Whether she’s angrily relating her efforts to depart from her father’s nature-wrecking commercial exploits, brazenly rebuffing Rhys’ initial assumptions surrounding her generation’s social media obsessions or taking on other roles entirely which we shan’t spoil here, Feder brings a constant ferocious energy to the role which results in a tempestuous yet consistently captivating dynamic between the pair. It’s perhaps a grand testament to the Main Range team’s stellar track record in casting terms that this reviewer would gladly see just about any of the couplings devised so far (or triplets in the case of The Dollhouse), but the extent to which Cooper leaves the door open for Sargasso entries down the line should really prompt range producer James Goss and company to consider the prospect this time around as they set about planning future runs for 2020 and beyond.

Regardless of whether our advice gets heeded, however, for now Sargasso offers more than enough in the way of philosophical substance, shiver-inducing old-school scares from classic Who foes – making only their second Big Finish appearance here but hopefully not their last – and superb performing to bear numerous repeat listens while Goss makes up his mind. By melding Night of the Fendahl’s atmospheric tension with The Green Life’s politically-charged tone and Sync’s sizzling humour (in Rhys and Kaitlin’s dynamic), Cooper rounds out what’s been anything but a quartet of Doctor Who-tied cash-in releases in sensational style, once again raising the bar for his successors to match in future Torchwood instalments. The only question now, both for the Main Range and humanity as a whole – where the hell do we go next?