Warlord Games - The SilenceBookmark and Share

Monday, 20 November 2017 - Reviewed by Simon Moore
Warlord Games: The Silence (cover) (Credit: Warlord Games)
Warlord Games
Released November 2016

Described by Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, as "…the best monsters since the Weeping Angels” and “certainly some of the scariest" in the television show’s history, the Silence have surely terrified many a ten-year-old since their first appearance in Steven Moffat’s 2011 serial “The Impossible Astronaut”. Indeed, the gaunt, gangly ghoulish species who have manipulated mankind “since the Wheel and the Fire”, probably had many a petrified parent joining their nipper behind their living room sofa.

As a result, it should be no great surprise that “Warlord Games” have released a boxed pack of three 38mm scale metal models based upon the mouthless extra-terrestrials as one of their first expansions for their “Doctor Who: Exterminate!” miniatures game. Nor that they seem to have gone to quite extraordinary lengths using BBC material to precisely duplicate the “genetically engineered” confessional priests’ most memorable poses; with the Silent “absorbing electrical energy from the air” and then “discharging it from their hands” genuinely capturing all the sinister power of the alien as its about to obliterate its prey.

From a painting perspective this trio of figures really should prove a straightforward project on account of their television counter-parts being predominantly black and “Warlord Games” providing a simple palette guide for the Silence on their “Into The Time Vortex” website. In addition, the miniatures have been so well sculpted that a quick dry-brush of charcoal or dark grey should very easily highlight all their suits’ crinkles, creases and folds without any real effort whatsoever. Admittedly, I personally had a bit of a struggle to pick out each monster’s stained collar and shirt as they peek out beneath the creatures’ bulbous heads, but such difficulties are undoubtedly down to my own lack of skill with a fine-tipped paintbrush as opposed to any flaw with these models’ excellent detail.

Spookily though, there will be those who buy this product that will become a little disappointed that its delightful box doesn’t also contain the official Silence Recruitment and Adventure cards for the “Doctor Who: Exterminate!” rule-set. As with the Judoon, such rather crucial cards currently can only be found within the miniature game’s starter set, and is something which the more vocal followers of the tabletop game have repeatedly voiced their displeasure over. Impressively, “Warlord Games” have responded to this feedback by slowly publishing such essential statistical data as PDFs for their most recent products yet presently, the Silence cards “Hypnosis”, “Electrical Discharge”, “Enhanced Strength”, “Adapted Tech” and “Distraction” still aren’t available digitally.

Those wargamers wishing to use the Silence to their full potential will also need to buy a couple of extra boxes of miniatures, depending on whether they want to utilise the faction’s “Silent Reinforcements” Adventure card; which under certain conditions allows a player to bring on a further three Silents. For those happy to simply deploy a basic force however, just six models should suffice and, coupled with the ability to ‘bend/re-adjust’ the odd figure’s arm here and there with nothing more than a little gentle pressure, will allow enough pose diversity for a Silent Leader, two Silent Veterans and three Silents.

FILTER: - Games

The Early Adventures: The Night Witches (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 November 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Night Witches (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Roland Moore
Directed By: Helen Goldwyn

Anneke Wills (Polly Wright/Narrator), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon/The Doctor), Elliot Chapman (Ben Jackson), Anjella Mackintosh(Tatiana Kregki), Wanda Opalinska (Nadia Vasney), Kristina Buikaite (Lilya Grankin).
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Cover: Tom Webster
Originally Released: September 2017

Review can be a funny business. If you’re a reviewer working across a large canvas it’s likely you’ll regularly come across things you can’t stand. A newspaper cinema critic who hates horror films still has to review them; a book reviewer may still need to struggle through three volumes of Fifty Shades Made a Lot of Money Didn’t It So Why Not Me? even though they’d rather set fire to their eyelids. But the smaller and more specific your turf the more likely you are to, well, be predisposed to like the material. If you’re working on a Science Fiction magazine it would be odd if your every review began “As someone who loathes SF on principle…” If you’re looking at something even more singular, like a particular TV show, it’s pretty likely it’s a TV show you like. And if reviews of audio plays based on that TV show are being handed out, it’s to be expected if they’re given to people who don’t hate audio as a medium.

The Early Adventures, though, exist in a niche within a niche within a niche. And it’s one, I confess, I’m not predisposed towards. When Big Finish decided to evolve their Companion Chronicles range by recasting crucial roles, I was instinctively not a fan of the concept. For me “the Second Doctor”, for instance, was not shorthand for “the Doctor sometime between the events at Snowcap Base and his being put on trial by the Time Lords” but for “the Doctor as portrayed by Patrick Troughton,” actor and performance too bound up in each to be substituted for anything else.

I wish I could say that The Night Witches caused the scales to fall from my eyes and for me to be converted into a true believer but unfortunately I have to say doubts about the soundness of the concept still linger. The format of the Early Adventures leads to an odd mish-mash of voices that take a very long time to get used to. We’ve got original Polly Anneke Wills pulling double duty as Narrator and as Polly, Frazer Hines similarly playing both Jamie and the Doctor, while there’s a new Ben in the form of Elliot Chapman. Part of the essential suspension of disbelief with many Big Finish ranges is accepting that the actors sound older than they did at the time, but that’s made harder by pairing them with a Ben who’s genuinely forty years their junior. Hines’ double duty is a particularly strange listening experience as he actually now sounds more like the Doctor than Jamie, even when playing the Scotsman. And while his Doctor is a fair approximation of Troughton’s voice and accent it really misses the sense of the great man’s performance. Troughton was an actor who could seemingly effortlessly spin a line reading on its side half way through to do something unexpected and brilliant. It’s part of the reason why, in his hands, even the clunkiest of rushed scripts could sound compelling and witty when coming out of the Doctor’s mouth. And, as much of a legend as Frazer Hines is, there’s not much sense of that in his reading of the Doctor’s lines here.

To an extent, it actually feels like a complete break with the past and a full recast – perhaps even with Hines’ Doctor opposite a ‘new’ Jamie – would work better than this halfway house. By the same token, the format feels held back by being a full cast audio, but with narration. The narration is redundant throughout and doesn’t actually add anything to proceedings. Wills’ Narrator, for example, describes our trio looking down a hillside towards some panzer tanks in the snow below, before we move to the cast’s dialogue establishing how they’re on a hillside looking down at some panzer tanks below. Hopefully future releases will cut that Narrator role as its completely unneeded and simply slows down the drama.

Added on top of all this is a doppleganger for Polly, played by a different actor most of the time but sometimes by Wills – meaning that in some scenes Wills is giving voice to three different characters at once. And also that in some scenes the same character is played by two different actors from one line to the next. It’s to the credit of everyone involved that it’s not actually as hard to follow as that makes it sound. I have to admit though that by the end of the two hours, I did get used to the various voices, except possibly for the Doctor himself.

Set into this format is a story perhaps best described as ‘Pure Historical Under Siege.’ The TARDIS lands our heroes in the days of WWII and quickly they become tied to the fate of the isolated base of the ‘Night Witches,’ as the steady advance of the Nazis towards Stalingrad draws ever closer to the base. And, typically of a Base Under Siege story, the base commander is deeply sceptical of the new arrivals before beginning to crack under the pressure and becoming as much a threat to her own people as the enemy at the gates. Indeed, we see very little of the Germans themselves in The Night Witches and the Doctor and his companions spend most of the runtime victims of commander Vasney’s attempts to expose them as German spies and, later on, use their deaths to the advantage of a mad propaganda scheme to demoralize the enemy forces.

This leaves the play a little short of incident, and much of it is pretty predictable. Each cliffhanger focuses of a dramatic revelation clearly signposted as much as an episode and a half before. Everyone’s gasps of shock and disbelief when they see Polly in the first episode, for instance, makes it no surprise when her doppleganger shows up and the theme music kicks in. And with it established early on that not only is Tatiana a dead ringer for Polly, but a talented impressionist and mimic who was about to begin a stage career before the war who is sick of the fighting and desperate to find a way out, it’s easy to see where the plot will go an hour later.

That said, first time contributor to Big Finish Roland Moore delivers a script that has all the right elements in all the right places but, like a piece of Ikea flat pack furniture, there are stress marks where the screwdriver has been applied a little too brutally in the effort to make it all fit together. The real life heroism of the Night Witches, who ran dozens of bombing missions a night in obsolete bi-planes under horrendous conditions is a great period of history to explore and fits nicely with Who’s old fashioned educational remit with lots of detail on the tactics and deployment of the Night Witches. And while there are no genuine Russians among the cast, it’s still lovely to hear some skilled voice work from the Anglo-Polish Wanda Opalinska as Vasney and Lithuanian Kristina Buikaite as Lilya, a young Night Witch smitten with Ben. It lends a nice sense of location to the performances, and of our regular TARDIS team as strangers in a strange land. And it comes wrapped in a cover that, even by Tom Webster's high standards, is a strikingly beautiful composition.

A relatively slight story buoyed by sincere and convincing performances by the guest cast and a compellingly tense corner of history, The Night Witches highlights the unique challenges The Early Adventures present to listeners. It’s not to be forgotten, however, that when it comes to recapturing the brilliance of this era of Doctor Who, The Early Adventures are the only game in town.


Doctor Who - Short Trips - A Heart On Both SidesBookmark and Share

Sunday, 19 November 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
A Heart on Both Sides (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins;Script Editor Ian Atkins
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Rob Nisbet; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman


Sarah Sutton (Narrator)

In this, the latest installment in Big Finish's Short Trips series we catch up with Nyssa, who is now the controller of a hospital ship - the Traken (yes, there is even an Adric ward!). The Traken is assisting on the planet Reave, a planet close to Gallefrey, and a place where the shadow of the Time War is encroaching. The Time Lords have a bad name on Reave, and are seen as terrorists. When Nyssa's assistant, Doctor Foster is exposed as a Time Lord after being exposed to Praxis gas, things get a little heated.....

A Heart On Both Sides is a good old fashioned Who -dunnit, and at the same time quite a bit of a nostalgia-fest.The story is read by Sarah Sutton (Nyssa) who does a fantastic job - possibly the best that I have heard from this range, she really throws herself into the narration. The plot pairs her with an undercover eighth Doctor (something that is rather heart-breakingly only revealed to the audience, not to Nyssa) The Doctor here is only known to Nyssa as Doctor Foster, who originates from Gloster, an asteroid medical academy that suffers very heavy rainfall and lots of puddles (yes, I know....).

Of course, we know that Dr Foster is our Doctor a long time before the reveal. The Doctor has been following Nyssa's progress closely over the years and is obviously very fond of her. He is here because he has heard a rumour of the Traken's destruction, and wanted to try to make this less likely. Other characters of note in this story are Isherwood, a hardened Reaven with a bitter hatred of Time Lords, and the Sisters, who are logical, robot nurses. 

There is a nice twist at the end, when the Doctor works out who is really behind the attack, and yes, it does get a little predictable, and the villain a tad too moustache twirling - but it really doesn't matter as A Heart On Both Sides really is  joy to listen to, and is well worth thirty-odd minutes of your time. It probably helps this story immensely though that Nyssa hails from my favourite era.

Hugely enjoyable.





Third Doctor Vol. 1 - Heralds of DestructionBookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 November 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Third Doctor Collection Cover.png
Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Chritopher Jones
Colourist: Hi-Fi
Letterer: Richard Starkings & Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Designer: Andrew Leung
Senior Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton, Amoona Saohin, Lauren McPhee, & Lauren Bowes
Published: 16th June 2017

Titan Comic's Five Issue mini-series starring the Third Doctor is collected together as Heralds of Destruction.  Whereas Titan's limited run of the Eighth Doctor had a different setting and story in each issue (with a running storyline throughout), the Third Doctor's run is entirely one story told over five issues. In that sense, it feels very tight and cohesive, and manages to capture the mood of the Third Doctor's wholly unique era quite nicely.

The story takes place somewhere during the Tenth Season, taking place after the Third Doctor's exile was ended by the Time Lords, but before Jo left, Sarah Jane arrived, and Mike Yates had his fall from grace. All of these little details play a role in this story, which arguably gave more real motivations and developments to these beloved characters than the actual show truly did at the time.  Yet that is not to say that this story doesn't feel like it could easily fit into that era.  In fact, it perfectly captures the tone of the UNIT days of Doctor Who. The voices of the characters are perfectly captured, and the art is great. The character likenesses are mostly spot on, though I personally felt Jo didn't always look just right.  But it is always going to be easier to draw the distinctive look of Jon Pertwee over the young and pretty face of Katy Manning.

The plot itself is rather fannish, with lots deep cut references to characters from this era (and before), but the execution feels so right, so very much of this timeframe in the show's history, that it almost doesn't matter what the story is. You've got alien invasions, UNIT shooting at it, the Third Doctor pontificating, the Master in his glorious Roger Delgado form, and even a few surprises along the way. What's not to enjoy?

I loved how this story takes little character bits, like the sometimes hinted at but never fully realized relationship between Jo and Mike, and brings it to fruition. Unfortunately, the constant interuptions of their work with UNIT become the reason they never truly made it work...and this also begins planting the seed for Mike to make the choices he made in Invasion of the Dinosaurs. I also rather liked the simple but effective motivation for the Third Doctor still sticking around on Earth and with UNIT despite his despised Exile finally coming to an end. 

If you, like me, have a soft spot for the Third Doctor's era of Doctor Who, there is little doubt in my mind you will find enjoyment in this book.  It's a story that feels like it was plucked straight from that era, and gives the Doctor and his supporting cast some lovely character moments to shine. 

FILTER: - Third Doctor - Titan Comics

The Marian Conspiracy (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 November 2017 - Reviewed by Peter Nolan
The Marian Conspiracy (Credit: Big Finish / Clayton Hickman)

Written By: Jacqueline RaynerDirected By: Gary Russell


Colin Baker (The Doctor); Maggie Stables (Evelyn Smythe); Sean Jackson (George Crow); Gary Russell (John Wilson); Jez Fielder (William Leaf); Jo Castleton (Lady Sarah); Anah Ruddin (The Queen); Nicholas Pegg (Reverend Thomas); Barnaby Edwards (Francois De Noailles); Alistair Lock (Royal Guard)

Originally Released: March 2000

A recurring issue for brave new explorers launching assaults on the vast continent that is Big Finish’s contribution to Doctor Who is that there’s just so MUCH of it. Certainly, as a relative newcomer to their work, who only started dipping into the ranges in 2013, I’m still balancing more current ranges with sifting through the early golden age of the first 50 releases. So maybe it’s worthwhile to look back at some of those formative stories and see which ones are seeking out, and also to see how almost twenty years of the development of Doctor Who (lest we forget, BACK ON TV) casts them in a different light than back in the day.

The Marian Conspiracy itself is a great jumping on point. More than that, it’s practically a soft reboot of the Sixth Doctor. While the Lost Stories range did wonders in improving his problematic TV persona simply by expressing his arrogant, egotistical, hotheaded tendencies through markedly better writing than back in 1985, here it’s like the entire characterization has been scrapped and Colin Baker’s Doctor rebuilt from scratch. The oft mention “Oul’ Sixey” is born here and, even if this story was lacking, it would be worth checking out as a vital bit of Big Finish history.

As it is, the story is anything but lacking. It’s an all time classic.

A rare “pure" historical, it features no aliens or mad scientists whatsoever, but simply concerns itself with the skulduggery and betrayals of Queen Mary’s court in 16th century England. And while contemporary Big Finish historicals like The Church and the Crown simply used history and its dramatis personae as a backdrop to rollicking adventure, this is more akin to early Hartnells – with an apparent mandate to educate the audience on the basics of the period (with added assassination attempts, naturally). This does raise the same question as most of the latter day revivals of the subgenre – how is that the Doctor seems to know he’s in a pure historical? It never even occurs to the Doctor that aliens could be behind events even though, across the whole of his lives, it should be his default assumption. I mean it’s always aliens in his experience. Except, as here, when it isn’t.

The lack of an outside influence does make the entire thing a paradox, of course. The Doctor’s pulled into events when he detects a history professor from the (very) early 21st century, Dr. Evelyn Smythe, is being erased from history from some anomaly in the 16th. But it turns out that she actually shouldn’t exist in the first place and only comes about because the Doctor incidentally saves her ancestor while trying to find the anomaly that only exists because he creates it by saving the ancestor while… you get the idea. From a modern perspective, it feels like this sort of thing would be made a central feature of the story but here it’s sort of tucked in like a slightly untidy bedsheet, in the hopes that nobody notices.

But that’s a quibble, and one beside the point of the story writer Jacqueline Rayner is telling. As an introduction to new companion Evelyn, it ticks all the boxes such debuts need to have. She’s got an immediately strong sense of whom she is as a character – strong willed, and borderline argumentative, but in the charming way that sees people sigh deeply as they give in to the inevitable and let her have her way; yet also deeply maternal and caring and acutely intelligent and insightful.  She’s quickly established as a woman you want to spend more time with as a listener. It’s all the more remarkable considering she’s so atypical a companion for the Doctor to invite about the TARDIS. A middle aged academic, she’s less about screaming and swooning over the nearest Thal, and more about an excitement to learn more about the world while maintaining a certain minimum standard of comfort. She’s a cocoa swilling, cardigan cocooned, handbag swinging breath of fresh air. And, sure, the Sixth Doctor seems a completely different man before they’re even introduced properly (her chiding of his interruption of her lecture would have seen TV Six stoked into a petulant rage, surely, followed by a prolonged sulk) but it does feel like Evelyn smooths the transition by credibly bringing out the best in him. He quickly seems to see her as an equal in all but her inexperience of the dangers of time travel, and the easy relationship between them is just nicer to see than his habitual bickering with Peri or Mel.

The exploration of Marian England is well sketched too. Having Evelyn blunder into a bar, believing Elizabeth is already on the throne is a very deft way of illustrating the real depth of passion tearing at the country’s fabric at every level of society. The eponymous conspiracy, joining together Protestant insurgents and agents of Catholic Spain in an unlikely alliance to put a more friendly face on the throne, is likewise a clever illustration of the issues involved. The debates between the Doctor and Queen Mary about the rights and wrongs of religious persecution shouldn’t work, as an epic case of telling, not showing, but the performances and script are so strong they absolutely work. It does push the Doctor into a strangely uncharacteristic tolerance of intolerance though. Really, Mary’s strident belief that all Protestants are marked by God Himself for damnation and that burning them alive and torturing them into converting is actually for their own good, isn’t that far from the stuff a Davros or a Cyberleader would come out with. But the Doctor never musters more than a bittersweet disappointment that he can’t reach her.

Of course, it’s not all talking and there’s a good deal of attempted assassination, framing people as deadly assassins, people threatening to blink out of existence as all of space and time warps around them, and the possibility of an ocassional stabbing. It all feels slightly tacked on but never less than fun and it all moves along at high enough a pace that it never outstays its welcome.

The Marian Conspiracy is an apparently effortless mixture of a very old fashioned view of what Doctor Who can, or should, be with a fresh and innovative companion and a complete rebirth for a classic Doctor. Even for those who think they don’t like pure historicals, this is well worth a listen or even, if it’s been a long time since you’ve heard it, a re-listen.

GUIDE: The Marian Conspiracy - FILTER: - Doctor Who - Audios - Big Finish - Sixth Doctor

Time in OfficeBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 15 November 2017 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time In Office (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: Saturday 30th September 2017
Running Time: 2 hours
“Time in Office” is a rather fun anthology audio from Big Finish, which explores the idea of how the Doctor would deal with actually having to take on the Presidency of the High Council of Time Lords, of which he was appointed at the end of “The Five Doctors” (before he ran away again).  Each of the four episodes is a separate little story, all taking place during the Fifth Doctor’s reign in office.  Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, and Louise Jameson star, all of whom give a fun performance within.  
The Doctor and Tegan are heading back to Frontios to pick up Turlough, when they are taken out of their time stream and returned to Gallifrey, as the Time Lords have decided to force the Doctor to take his place as the President.  As you'd expect, the Doctor is wholly unwilling to accept this position.When he is confronted with the chaos that could ensue due to the mess Borusa left behind, he reluctantly accepts in order to prevent anyone else abusing the powers that Borusa had put in place before his disappearance.  So the Doctor gets inaugurated and must battle his way through a variety of tedious problems and bureaucracy before he can reach Tegan and stop them wiping her memory of him and sending her back to Earth.  The anthology starts off well, with lots of humour and a breezy pace, which is surprising considering how little is actually happening in this opening episode. Eventually, he manages to keep Tegan on Gallifrey by appointing her Ambassador to Earth (which despite not having any formal relationship with Earth, works out much better for the Doctor than accepting Leela's plan of marrying her). The episode’s main focus is just to put the pieces and characters in place for the following tales of the Doctor’s reign as leader of the Time Lords. 
The second episode opens up with The Doctor's first real task as President. is to deal with is to clean up a mess he didn't really make.  Two warring factions on a planet both believe themselves to be truly righteous in the eyes of their God, but their God is an alien being that feeds off the worship.  The Doctor and his presidential company travel to speak with the God in a Military TARDIS (or WARDIS) and hope to attempt to clean up this mess...but when the god realizes that Leela and the Doctor killed his Brother years ago, he vows revenge.  So diplomacy isn't an easy sell.  I enjoyed the concept of the second story...godlike beings that feed off worship, the idea of diplomatic relations falling apart because of one of the many adventures the Doctor and Leela taking down a despot backfires on them.  I also liked Tegan's solution to the problem. 
The third episode has the Doctor visiting the Academy and dealing with protestors as well as imitators disappointed in his selling out and joining the establishment.  I found this to be the funniest instalment, some great social commentary on the Social Media Protestors that exist today, as well as the fun references and in-jokes provided by the imitator fan of the Doctor.  Davison is in fine form throughout the set but I felt he was particularly on his game here. His presence as the Doctor is always there, but with an air of frustration at his current status.  You get the sense, particularly in this instalment, that his Doctor may seem like he is settling into his role as President, but he’d rather be anywhere else.  
The fourth and final story has the Doctor touring the new Capitol building, fully dressed to the nines in his robes and sashes…seemingly fully committed to his role as the President. But a plot to end his reign is afoot…luckily, that seems to be just what the Doctor ordered.  Again, it is a fine addition to the anthology…a set of stories that truly entertain the longtime fans. In general, I loved the tone of the whole set of episodes, it doesn’t take itself or the threats too seriously, and feels small in scale, even the big climax of this episode doesn’t feel too grandiose.  Maybe it’s because I have been listening more and more to the big boxsets with epic storylines, and less and less to the monthly range, but the lighter tone and story felt like a good release after listening to such dark and sweeping stories in the Eighth Doctor’s Doomsday Coalition and the War Doctor boxsets.  As much as I enjoyed those storylines, I think I needed the palette cleanser, and this fun set of short stories did the trick nicely.  Mixing social satire, allegory, sci-fi concepts, and just a good old fashioned Doctor Who fan “what if?” premise…”Time in Office” is a great listen for longtime fans.  

GUIDE: Time In Office - FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Fifth Doctor