The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring David Tennant, Alex Kingston, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Mina Anwar, Sam Benjamin, Timothy Bentinck, Joe Jameson, Barnaby Kay, Glen McCready, Anjli Mohindra, Joe Sims, Emma Swan

Written by James Goss, Lizzie Hopley, and Jonathan Morris

Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Released by Big Finish - November 2020

River Song made her debut on TV alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, but the two-parter in which he first meets her (but as we all know is not when she first met him) would be their only adventure together.  Tennant left the role not long after, and the bulk of her adventures under showrunner Steven Moffat would be with the Eleventh Doctor (and a single adventure with the Twelfth as well).  Of course, her whirlwind timey-wimey adventures with the Doctor have now extended beyond TV and even without the Doctor, as she leads her own series on Big Finish.  But the stars have finally aligned, and now we get a boxset exploring the Tenth Doctor and River together.  This is basically the early days of the two having any sort of adventures together.  She is very familiar with him, but he still has no idea who she is, or how he should feel about this alleged friend from his future. 

This dynamic is perfectly explored in the opening adventure Expiry Date, in which the Doctor is basically trying like hell to avoid getting sucked into any of River’s misadventures.  The bulk of this story is told via letters between the two, as she tries to coax him into some shady sound scheme, and he writes back continually declining.  Unfortunately, some of her letters end up mixed up, and her plan to get the Doctor to be more interested backfires when the Fifth Doctor ends up slightly obsessed with her.  This is a fun and light comedy to launch the set with, with both Kingston and Tennant chewing it up. They have few moments actually together here, but the idea that the Doctor is trying to avoid the friendship developing makes so much sense from his point of view.  Hell even the first time she appeared alongside the Eleventh Doctor he initially tried to avoid falling into her plans.  

The second story, Precious Annihilation, feels like the weak link of the set.  It isn’t a total waste of time, but I did find myself less interested in the overall story.  That said, Tennant and Kingston play well off each other, and I would happily listen to more adventures exploring this dynamic because even in this mediocre story, they are a fun pair together.  

The set closes out with Ghosts.  The Doctor is summoned by River to a planet full of ghosts, or are they just holograms...and there is a mist that is somehow killing everyone and turning them into ghosts.  Although I don’t want to get too deep into it, as to not spoil the fun, I rather enjoyed the concepts in this one.  I felt it built up nicely and had a satisfying end, with a lot of neat ideas scattered throughout.  

I must say this is a part of River’s story I have long wanted to explore just a little bit. It is very clear that while her Doctor is very much the Eleventh when she saw the Tenth Doctor she had clearly spent time with him.  Had Tennant stayed on for even a single year when Moffat took over and the River storyline could really unfold, we may have had a chance to see that.  But as it was, we only had that one adventure between the two, and only seeing her ending with the Tenth Doctor feels like we are missing a crucial part of the story, his earliest encounters with her, her final encounters with him, and knowing that when she is saying goodbye to him, she knew that face well.  I like getting a taste of it...here is hoping for more. 





The War Master: Hearts of Darkness (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Hearts of Darkness (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: David Llewellyn & Lisa McMullin

 

Director: Scott Handcock

 

Featuring: Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Seán Carlsen, George Fletcher, Sam Hallion, Sandra Huggett, Alex Jordan, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, Colin McFarlane, Tanya Moodie, Henry Nott, Julia Sandiford, Amanda Shodeko

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

I have found that when it comes to Big Finish, and maybe just anything Doctor Who related, the things I am looking forward to most are the next instalments for the Eighth Doctor and the War Master.  I have long enjoyed McGann’s interpretation of the Doctor...but the evil machinations of Derek Jacobi’s War Master have been really great to listen to.  Luckily, we get the two brought together again here in this latest War Master set. I can say I recommend the set, but if you want some more details I will have some SPOILERS AHEAD:

The set begins with the Master being tasked by the Celestial Intervention Agency with tracking down and capturing the Doctor, who is allegedly up to something the Time Lords are frowning upon.  In the opener The Edge of Redemption, the Master begins his search by putting together a ragtag team to get to a remote planet and find the Doctor, but in order for the pilot to take the Master there, they must steal back his ship.  This is essentially a simple heist story, but it is a great way to launch the story and introduce the new characters.  

The Master and his pilot are on the way to the Doctor but are boarded by Space Pirates.  The leader of the Pirates wants to kill the Master as he played a heavy role in her downfall.  This episode, titled The Scaramancer after the lead pirate, ends in a great big twist.  I had been thinking that usually in the War Master sets, he plays the good guy for a good chunk until it no longer serves his purpose, but even then you can usually tell he is scheming. I had this weird sense that he was seemingly being too good this time around and that maybe Big Finish was starting to make him seem too much like the Doctor, they were lacking that underlying sense of evil that usually comes with the character.  And then they drop the bombshell...he isn’t the Master at all...but the Doctor. 

The third episode, The Castle of Kurnos 5, goes back and explains how the Doctor ended up looking like the Master.  In essence, the Master is planning to get some sort of grand weapon created by a long-dead crazy Time Lord scientist, so the Master resurrects his mind on a planet where the Time Lord once set up shop, but the Doctor is on his tail trying to figure out what he is up to. But the Doctor snooping around was all a part of the Master’s plan.  He intended for the Doctor to find him, swap bodies with him, which while the Time Lords wouldn’t be fooled for long, would at least give the Master enough time to get away and make his way to the weapon.  

The set closes with The Cognition Shift which has the Doctor (in the Master’s body) finally catching up to the Master (in the Doctor’s body) and finding a way to put a stop to the Master’s evil plan...which is one of his bigger and more mad ideas.  The true joy of this finale is McGann having a go at playing the Master, while Jacobi gets a chance at the Doctor.  Both are always so good in their usual roles, it is no real surprise that they can also nail swapping them for an episode.  

Honestly, I don’t think a Big Finish series has been more consistently good than the War Master.  I love McGann as the Doctor but even I can admit that his sets and ongoing stories aren’t always top-notch.  I usually end up liking them for nothing more than his portrayal as the Doctor.  But the stories in the War Master sets have been so fantastic.  The evil of the Master showcases the horrors of the Time War far better than the Time War sets focused on the Doctor can.  Even the John Hurt sets had to keep the Doctor firmly in the role of hero, but having an utterly evil bastard at the heart of the Time War makes the stories far more engaging than any other foray Big Finish has had into that era of the Doctor Who lore. I can’t recommend this enough. 






Masterful (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Masterful  (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: James Goss, Geoffrey Beevers, Simon Guerrier, Trevor Baxendale

 

Director: Lisa Bowerman, Nicholas Briggs, Ken Bentley

 

Featuring: Geoffrey Beevers, Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez, Derek Jacobi, Eric Roberts, John Simm, Alex Macqueen, Milo Parker, Jon Culshaw

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: January 2021

Running Time: 4 Hours (Standard Edition)

8 Hours (Limited Edition)

It has been 50 years since the Master made his first appearance in Terror of the Autons, and as such, the character is being celebrated by Big Finish in a big way. Almost every incarnation of the Master still alive comes together in the story “Masterful.”

Before we begin, can we just discuss how difficult it can be to discuss multiple versions of the Master? With the Doctor, we have definitive numbers, but the Master never really got that. This issue is only complicated by the multiple Masters from spin-off media where their placement in the timeline is not always clear. Sure there is the “War Master” and “Missy” but do we call Simm “Saxon”? I will likely just use the actor’s name to help clarify which incarnation is being discussed, with the War Master and Missy being possible exceptions.  

At any rate, this story involves the Simm Master bringing several of his past incarnations together, as he claims he has finally won and is the ruler of the universe. Missy shows up and is bent on exposing him to be just as big a failure as the rest of them, and scatters the Masters in time. But they all seem to land somewhere connected to the same planet and event.  

All of the Masters together is really what this is all about.  Almost all the TV Masters (up to Missy) are represented with Beevers, Simm, Jacobi, Gomez, and Roberts reprising their roles.  The Ainley Master is brought to life (sort of) by Jon Culshaw.  Delgado’s Master does not appear, as the Time Scoop meant for him has accidentally taken Jo Grant instead (well...he did PUSH her into it).  In addition to those incarnations, we also get two Big Finish originals: the Alex Macqueen Master who appeared alongside McGann a few years ago and the Mark Gatiss Master from an Alternate Universe (from the Unbound series from even longer ago).  Milo Parker also appears as the first incarnation of the Master, who is still a teen and hasn’t quite gone completely evil yet.  

Having all these Masters bounce off of each other is the real joy. I must say I find the meta-humour that comes with Missy doesn’t always work for me. Too often the joke seems to be “boy I sure am an evil mustache twirler, huh?” and it feels like it is always undercutting the character’s impact.  At least they tried to do something more with her in Series 10, but in general, this was her characterization.  Too self-aware for my tastes. I could’ve used more Simm in the story, as I think he is a great incarnation.  Give me a boxset with him battling Tennant or even a later incarnation!  For my money, the best story for any Master once they are separated is the Beevers version.  His tortured and decaying body, constantly in pain but somehow finding some form of possible happiness?  That is interesting stuff. 

As a standalone story celebrating the Master?  This is good stuff.  It showcases what a varied character he has been throughout his many portrayals over the years.  It is a shame that Delgado and Ainley are both gone, it would be so nice if they could be better represented...but having Katy Manning there is a nice way to nod to Delgado, and Culshaw’s impression is pretty dead on.  But I think this is a good story to celebrate 50 Years of Obeying the Master.  

If you are considering opting for the Limited Edition version of this story, you get three bonus stories - two previously released Short Trips, and a new three-part enhanced audiobook that takes place in the UNIT years and features the Delgado Master. 

The First Short Trip, titled I Am the Master and is written and read by Geoffrey Beevers, as he details a bit about himself and one of his many schemes. Beevers is really good in the role, and it makes me wish we got a bit more of him on TV.  I like Ainley and all...but Beevers could have been great with more time in the role.  The Second Short Trip, The Switching is about the Delgado Master, still imprisoned by UNIT after the Daemons, managing to perform a body swap with the Doctor, hoping to escape Earth and leave the Doctor trapped in a prison cell to pay for the Master’s crimes.  It’s a fun little story. The boxset comes to an end with the three-part Terror of the Master read by Jon Culshaw.  It’s a solid adventure that feels very much in tone with the era in which the Master originated.  I could easily picture this story as a TV story in that era.  And as a tribute to Delgado and the era that invented the Master...I think it is fitting.  

This is a big boxset with a lot of content to enjoy.  If you enjoy the Master, Big Finish has given the character quite the tribute.  I think if you are curious which version to get, I would say most fans would get plenty out of the standard edition version.  The Masterful story is more than enough to satisfy the craving for a Master tribute.  Terror of the Master is enjoyable enough, but if you want a fitting tribute to the original Master?  It may honestly be just as well to just watch a classic serial featuring Delgado.  His debut season is soon to be released on blu-ray, pick that up instead.  The two Short Trips are both older releases and you can pick them both up now for about $5.  But I do recommend fans of the Master give Masterful a shot...it is a nice way to celebrate the Master’s big milestone. 





Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Jonathan Morris

Director: Jamie Anderson

Featuring: Tom Baker, Nicholas Briggs, Pippa Haywood, Joseph Kloska, Clive Mantle, Andrew James Spooner, & Nina Toussaint-White

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released December 2020

Running Time: 1 hour

The Fourth Doctor gets in on the Time Lord Victorious action, sort of. This story does feature Daleks but in terms of the TLV business, that is mostly used as a warning of what the Doctor can become. This is not really an adventure where time is askew or involves some ancient creature from the Dark Times...but it does feature a Dalek telling the Fourth Doctor of what kind of person he may potentially come...the Time Lord Victorious. 

Tom Baker is quite good here. I remember when he was first returning to the role on audio, I felt he still had it but you could tell he was so much older than when he was the Doctor on screen. I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to all of his output since he began reprising, but based on this? He has really settled back into the role perfectly...and sounds as if we were back in 1976.

In the end, there isn’t much to say about this one.  It is yet another slick production from Big Finish, with a great performance from an all-time classic Doctor, and (of course) the Daleks.  It feels very disconnected from the Time Lord Victorious series (despite actually name dropping Time Lord Victorious), and can easily be enjoyed as just another fun Tom Baker/Dalek adventure. 





Time Lord Victorious: Mutually Assured Destruction (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time Lord Victorious: Mutually Assured Destruction (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Lizzie Hopley

Director: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Paul McGann, Nicholas Briggs, Samantha Béart, and Wilf Scolding

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released December 2020

Running Time: 1 hour

Big Finish closes out their “Eighth Doctor Trilogy” for the Time Lord Victorious event (though he will make one more audio appearance in “Echoes of Extinction” which will also feature the Tenth Doctor), and it is a decent story. The Eighth Doctor is still stuck with the Daleks, though they don’t initially seem aware he is on their ship. They are trying to connect the TARDIS to their time ship. 

It is basically the Doctor trying to get the best of the Daleks in their own ship, trying to save a couple survivors of a planet they wiped out as well (who also allude to a “Dark One”)...and the Strategist is still trying to make deals with the Doctor while increasingly butting heads with the Time Commander. 

I enjoyed this story. Not so much for being a part of a larger “event” but because it was a fun adventure with the Eighth Doctor and the Daleks. McGann is, as always, a fun Doctor to listen to. And while the Daleks have certainly had more than their fair share of stories with him in recent years (from the end of his Lucie Miller adventures through Dark Eyes, and more recently in the Time War series), Big Finish still knows how to execute a good Dalek story. 

Granted it still feels like we are teetering on the edge of whatever the Time Lord Victorious story is all about...the bigger picture feels sort of lost on me at this point, with all stories I have thus far taken in feeling like they are hinting at or building to something else. It is now beginning to feel like everyone contributing is trying so hard to keep the audience from being alienated, trying to make it clear enough as to not need other material, that in the end, it is feeling less like a big interconnected story, and more like random adventures that may share some story elements. 

Maybe at some point, I will be able to dive deep enough into all the TLV stuff that it will all make sense and feel very exciting. I look forward to that moment. 





Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Sophie Iles & Simon Guerrier 

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Narrated by Jon Culshaw

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 80 Minutes

The Master, two incarnations actually, gets in on the Time Lord Victorious action via this Big Finish release featuring two Short Trips, both read by Jon Culshaw. The first features the Delgado version of the Master, while the second follows the Ainley version. 

In the first tale, “Master Thief,” the Master has stolen the de-evolution weapon featured prominently in the second Eighth Doctor TLV story, “Enemy of My Enemy,” and now is inflicting it on several people on a planet, but as he does so he begins to lose his edge. Disintegrating his enemies into a pile of primitive ooze has somehow softened him, and it ultimately leads to his downfall. 

The second story, “Lesser Evils” has less focus on action and the Master ripping through anyone in his way, and is a far smaller character piece. The Master is quietly defending a race from the Koturrah...but why? 

I enjoyed both of these short little entries, though I am unsure how important they are to the overall Time Lord Victorious story. Then again with every entry trying hard to not rely too much on other media in the story, who is to say what is very important to the whole thing? Culshaw is a solid narrator, his versions of each Master is good (his Ainley is very good, and while his Delgado doesn’t sound perfect, he captures something of the essence). For quick bite-sized adventures in this big arc, they are worth your time.