The Monster of Peladon (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 24 July 2020 - Reviewed by Kenny Scheck
The Monster of Peladon (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By  Jon Culshaw
Released by BBC Audio - March 2020
Available from Amazon UK

Despite my love for the Third Doctor era of the show, I was never a big fan of the Peladon adventures.  I found the stories underwhelming and Alpha Centauri to be an annoying shrieking character in a lame alien costume.  Those were my main takeaways, and since I haven’t ever revisited since my initial viewing, it is really all I have to go on.  Something of a vague memory.  Someday, when the blu-ray collections get to the seasons that feature these adventures, I will give them another whirl and we will see how they hold up then.  Until then, I have the audiobook of the Terrence Dick-penned Target Novelization to refresh my memory.  

It is okay I guess. It isn’t as lame a story as I recall, but Alpha Centauri’s shrieking is definitely toned down by Jon Culshaw’s reading.  Culshaw really sells the whole thing.  He is a solid narrator, but it is his Pertwee that is just perfect.  

I do think this story has too much pad, even in this fairly short novelization I found parts of it were dragging.  But Culshaw’s reading elevates what I found to be mostly forgettable material.





Power of the Daleks (2020 Animated Release)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 20 July 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Power Of The Daleks - Special Edition (Credit: BBC Studios)

Power of the Daleks
Written By: David Whitaker
Starring Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
Released July 2020 - BBC Studios

In 2016, BBC Studios released an animated reconstruction of the first Second Doctor serial Power of the Daleks. This was not the first animated reconstruction of lost episodes, but it was the first time that an entirely lost story was animated. Previous stories had just been one or two lost episodes in an otherwise complete serial. It also marked the start of the project being overtaken by BBC Studios, as the earlier projects had been animated by various different studios. 

Power was animated on a limited budget and time constraints. As a result there were elements the creators wished they could improve. When they tackled The Macra Terror, they had more time and a slightly bigger budget. This made them want to go back and improve their first effort. And four years after the initial release, they have done just that. It is easy to wonder why they have decided to re-animate a story they’ve already done, especially when there are so many adventures left missing...but my guess is the cost to redo the animation here was minimal. I was struggling to see too many changes, so I went back to the first attempt to see where the changes were. 

In the end it seems that there are a few cosmetic improvements, but it does seem like a minor spruce up at best. I would guess that they reused 90% of the elements from the first one, it is just all around more polished. It is certainly a story that deserves to be given a more polished effort.  It is a very important story in the history of the show, so it doesn’t deserve a more shoddy animated reconstruction than, say, The Faceless Ones. I applaud the effort to improve this very important adventure, even if the end results aren’t shocking.  

In terms of Special Features, having some more of the newly discovered footage of the original is certainly a bonus.  It's nice that they use this release to add as much new content as they can. As a collector, I'd probably be just as inclined to wait until the inevitable Season 4 boxset for "The Collection" range that will no doubt contain everything on this release and more. 

If you bought the 2016 version, I find it hard to recommend upgrading. This is certainly an improvement...but is it really that much of an improvement? Not really. If you missed it the first time around and aren’t sure which to get...the 2020 version is the better looking presentation. Beyond that it is just a collector’s game. 

 

Power of the Daleks Special Edition can be ordered from Amazon





Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #2.3 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 July 2020 - Reviewed by Kenny Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #2.3  (Credit: Titan Comics)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Roberta Ingranata
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

32 Pages

Published by Titan Comics - March 2020

Titan Comics team-up of the Tenth and Thirteenth Doctor continues, and it adds another twist into the tale.  While the Tenth Doctor with Graham, Yaz, and Ryan are able to escape into the TARDIS to avoid the Angels touch...the Thirteenth Doctor and Marhta discover that somehow the Autons are also mixed up in all of this.  

In this issue the two Doctors also meet up for the first time.  It leads to the usual bickering banter that tends to happen when two incarnations meet, but they also compare notes on what they’ve discovered thus far.  Obviously it seems that the Angels are behind the disappearances, but just how does the appearance of the Autons fit into all of this? The mystery will have to wait to be solved until later, as the team find themselves surrounded by Angels...though they make it into the TARDIS, something is trying to break in!

This is another strong entry in this adventure, and one can only hope that writer Jody Houser can end this story on a high note. 





Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 9 - Volume 2Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 12 July 2020 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 9 - Volume 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
 Featuring: Tom Baker, lalla Ward, Matthew Waterhouse,
John Leeson, Samuel Blenkin, Samuel Clamens  
Abigail McKern and Nicholas Woodeson
 
Original release date: February - 2020
Distributed by Big Finish
 

9.3 The Planet of Witches by Alan Barnes

"My turn for the brain scan is it? Izzy Whizzy let's get busy!"​

Whilst attempting a detailed scan of E-Space, K9 detects the trail of a large spacecraft. Seeking a lead for their escape, the Doctor sets out on its trail towards a misty yellow planet.

Arriving just in time to witness a crash-landing in the planet’s swamps, the Doctor and his crew discover a number of escaping prisoners fleeing from someone claiming to be a Witch-finder... whilst terrifying ‘familiars’ float around them.

For this is the planet of the witches... and the witches may just know the way home.

 

The search for the CVE resumes in this third story of the fourth Doctor's 9th series with Big Finish. The Doctor, Romana Adric and K9 find themselves on a very damp planet where witches and witch-finders exist.

The fantastical elements of the plot are very well handled, and for a while the listener is almost fooled into believing that this is a world where magic actually exists, despite the Doctor's reasoning that it can't.

K9 has quite a key role, with John Leeson pretty much front and centre for the final quarter of the tale.

The supporting cast is excellent, with Abigail McKern's duplicitous Crone being the standout, her never ending cackling did grate a little though.

Of course, there is no magic, and everything is explained away nicely by the time the final credits kick in, but The Planet of Witches is a very enjoyable listen.

 

9.4 The Quest of the Engineer by Andrew Smith

"Beards!?!? Is that the only scientific qualification on this planet!?"​

The TARDIS crew’s attempts to escape E-Space lead them to a strange planet with a surface that shifts and changes constantly.

Losing their ship down a fissure, they venture into the depths of this world and encounter the man who rules this place – a man known only as ‘the Engineer’. He tells them that he’s on a quest for illumination, and to find a rumored portal in space that may lead to another reality, with knowledge unknown in this universe.

It seems he may be on the same quest as the Doctor and his friends. But can he be trusted? And who is he really?

 

The big finale to this series is The Quest of the Engineer, where we join the Doctor mid-adventure, rescuing Adric from a prison cell, that leads them to a shapeshifting planet, that can literally turn itself inside out.

Nicholas Woodeson plays the titular Engineer with great relish, he makes for a perfect villain. I couldn't help though to think that his cyborg army The Enforcers could have easily been turned into E-Space's version of the Cybermen, which I think was a sadly missed opportunity.

It's a shame though that this grand finale was (for me) the weakest story of the four in this series, it just didn't quite gel with me.

Our four leads are all brilliant, and I'm happy to report that Matthew Waterhouse's Adric is on top form after a bit of a wobbly start in the previous two episodes.

Series 9 on the whole though was very enjoyable, if somewhat frustratingly repetitive in some aspects of the plot. K9 is 'lost without hope' at least twice. The Doctor and companions seem to get split up when one of them 'suddenly' needs to go back to the TARDIS, but none of this detracted too much from my enjoyment of revisiting one of my favourite eras of the show's classic era.

Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 9 Volume 2 is available from Big Finish HERE.





Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 9 - Volume 1Bookmark and Share

Monday, 29 June 2020 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Fourth Doctor Adventures - Series 9 - Volume 1 (Credit: Big Finish)
CAST: Tom Baker (The Doctor) Lalla Ward (Romana)
Matthew Waterhouse (Adric); John Leeson (K9)
Jane Asher (Pilot Dena); Amy Downham (Scraya / Pips)
Liam Fox (Mang / Wunshooz)
William Gaminara (Engineer Terson); Lucy Heath (Moni)
Nimmy March (Colonel Aesillor Zyre)
Christopher Naylor (Bolan)
Tania Rodrigues (Laker); George Watkins (Crimsson)
CREW: Cover Artist - Anthony Lamb; Director Nicholas Briggs
Executive Producer - Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Music & Sound Design - Jamie Robertson
Producer David Richardson; Script Editor - John Dorney

9.1 Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt

"Well, it was nice knowing you Adric, bye-bye....good luck!"

Still searching for a way out of E-Space, the TARDIS crew land on an isolated space rock... and immediately find it drawn towards a nearby asteroid

The asteroid has air and gravity unequal to its size and is strewn with the wrecks of spaceships. Veins and pools of rust are everywhere.

Stuck on the asteroid away from his friends, Adric discovers that it's a penal colony housing a gang of alien convicts - but resources are low, and they’re starting to starve.

But escaping the prisoners is only the first part of the traveller’s troubles. Because there’s a sinister presence at the heart of the asteroid... and it won’t release them quite as easily.

Purgatory (and this whole of series 9) can only be set between State Of Decay and Warriors' Gate. Which is quite a small window of opportunity to spend some precious time with these characters? I always did feel that Adric got rather a short shrift from a lot of fandom, so a chance to revisit the character was for me, very welcome. 

A lot of the backstory in Purgatory 12 relies heavily on Adric, as he not only struggles to come to terms with the death of his brother Varsh but also having to acclimatise to travelling with the Doctor, Romana and K9. In fact, I felt the penal colony that the narration is centred around to be window dressing to explore the relationship between the three main leads. I was quite surprised at how maternal the character of Romana could become!

On the whole Purgatory 12 is a strong start to this new season.

 

9.2 Chase the Night by Jonathan Morris

"Thats plenty of time! Theres lots you can do in half an hour, paint a picture, cook a curry.....sort out your sock drawer...."

The TARDIS lands in an alien tropical rainforest at night where the Doctor, Adric and Romana discover a set of rails stretching through the undergrowth. These tracks carry a long-crashed spaceship that’s been converted to run along them like a train.

The ship has to keep moving because only the night-side of the world is habitable. The sun on the day-side burns so hot that everything on the surface is turned to ash.

But the stress and strain of the constant movement is beginning to take its toll on the ship. Parts are starting to break down, and the relentless heat gets ever closer - but the greatest danger may be on the inside...

Chase the Night is a story of such huge scale, that it would never have been seen on television in 1980. It has a jungle planet that burns and regrows every day, and a huge vessel mounted on tracks, continuously travelling so that it can stay in the planet's shadow.

Adric (again) gets himself into trouble, this time through his overactive appetite for filling his stomach. 

John Leeson as K9, has a lot more to do than in the previous story. I did chuckle when K9 asked for "Elevatory assistance". The supporting cast are all excellent, especially Jane Asher as the rather ruthless Pilot Dean.

 

Volume 1 of the Fourth Doctor's 9th dedicated series for Big Finish is a great addition to the adventures of what was originally a very short-lived TARDIS team but has always remained one of my favourites. The highs of these eight episodes would have to include Tom Baker, who once again sounds pretty much identical to how he did during the show's original run, expanding on the foreshadowing of his last series as the shows lead. It is also great to hear Lalla Ward back as Romana, the chemistry between the two characters still holds a lot of charm. 

If I were to criticise anything, it would be that Matthew Waterhouse's performance. I appreciate it being hard for a man in his mid-fifties to pull off playing a petulant teen, in Purgatory 12, he sounds exactly like a man in his mid-fifties, failing to pull off playing a petulant teen. His internal monologues in that first story really did start to grate quite quickly. Thankfully though, his characterisation does improve vastly throughout the rest of this series.

If like me, you were a fan of this era of the show, you'll love these two new stories. You can buy The Fourth Doctor Adventures, Series 9, Volume 1 is available from Big Finish HERE.

 

 

 





The Lives of Captain Jack Volume 3 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 21 June 2020 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
The Lives of Captain Jack: Volume 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Guy Adams, Tim Foley and James Goss
Directed By: Scott Handcock
Starring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness), Alex Kingston (River Song), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Jacob Dudman (Snorvlast), Paul Clayton (Pilot), Samantha Béart (Passenger), Jonny Green (Passenger)

Released by Big Finish Productions - March 2020
Order from Amazon UK

Try as they might to mine all of Captain Jack Harkness’ infinite timeline across their various Torchwood ranges, Big Finish have in reality barely scratched his impeccably chiselled surface over the past five years since 2015's The Conspiracy. Therein lies the thrill of their three-strong The Lives of Captain Jack range, though – shifting their focus away from his ongoing exploits (and surrounding cast ensemble) in Cardiff / Victorian London affords them ample opportunity to explore Jack’s other unseen life experience, be it during his early stint in the Time Agency, his centuries spent on Earth awaiting the Doctor’s return, or even his donning another Doctor’s rainbow coat instead. The possibilities for fresh stories are quite literally endless, albeit their frequency governed by John Barrowman’s ever-densifying work schedule.

This time around we’re privy to three delightfully eclectic adventures in the good Captain’s eternal lifespan, each of which showcases the fleeting but treasured friendships which he ignites with undervalued mothers, overexaggerated fiends of myth and an unlikely equal alike. True, there’s still plenty of ground for Big Finish to cover beyond what Volume 3 achieves in the space of three hours (and indeed what its two predecessors cumulatively managed in six); as will become apparent below, though, its riveting contents can surely offer copious escapist entertainment to while away some lockdown time – a welcome prospect indeed given how our global predicament has justifiably limited other means of escapism of late…

“Crush”:

“There are other people on the Estate, some of them call themselves friends. But you wanna know how to be really invisible? Be a widow, be single, be alone – people hate that.”

Amongst Big Finish’s greatest strengths as storytellers in the Doctor Who universe has always been their ability to transform lesser-seen characters from the TV shows into well-rounded protagonists (or antagonists) with every ounce as much psychological depth as the Doctor, his companions or most notorious rogues. Take Jackie Tyler: although Russell T. Davies wisely found time in Rose’s Earth-bound storylines to glimpse her mother’s loneliness sans Pete and growing fears over her daughter’s survival amongst the stars, the relatively fleeting nature of her screen-time meant that we as viewers only formed so much of a lasting attachment before zipping back into the TARDIS to other places and times.

Enter Volume 1’s more introspective entry “Wednesday for Beginners”, which simultaneously afforded us far greater insight into Jackie’s social isolation (now all the more topical for us as listeners, of course!) while revealing that she and Jack struck up something of an electric rapport in Rose’s absence from the Powell Estate. That storyline naturally opened the door for future NSFW romps between the pair, so it’s a wholly welcome development to see Guy Adams kicking off Volume 3 with one such reunion, albeit in a rather different setting. Whereas previously Jackie hosted Jack at her Estate, now she’s joined him for an intergalactic luxury cruise…only to instead find herself aboard a tightly-packed replacement bus, rife with murders and passengers who’ll glare down anyone making a single noise.

If this discomforting public transport experience sounds at all familiar, then the aptly-named “Crush” and its scathing (anti-)social satire should lie right up your metaphorical street. Presumably Adams himself must’ve stood in one too many claustrophobic, headphoneless-tablet-laden, kindness-devoid carriages prior to pitching his latest Big Finish script, since this often depressingly realistic outing perfectly captures the constrained huddling, torturous suspense as to who’ll emit the next sound and yearning for oft-absent human connection – all sensations felt by the passengers and drivers alike, in fact. Indeed, his script takes remarkable pains to ensure our empathy with each apathetic party aboard the vessel, forcing listeners to question their own assumptions regarding fellow travellers’ mindsets (e.g. their religious beliefs or mental welfare) in a way that many other less confident playwrights mightn’t dare broach.

Anyone who’s heard Paul Clayton’s work at Big Finish to date will already attest him as an ideal frontman for such a biting social commentary’s supporting cast. Better known to us as Mr. Colchester in the post-Miracle Day Torchwood audios, Clayton gets to put his trademark sardonic wit to altogether different use here as the bus’s altogether indifferent robot driver, pitching him as constantly a deadpan automaton to marvellous (or perhaps Marvin-lous for Hitchhiker’s Guide fans) effect whatever the character’s dialogue. Keep an eye (or ear in this case) out too for cameos from some other Torchwood audio regulars like Samantha Béart and Jonny Green, whose voices you might just hear among the passengers as they start to pipe up later on in the narrative.

But by far the most effective aspect of “Crush” – ironically for a Lives of Captain Jack yarn – is how effectively it validates Jackie’s return to the franchise. As ever, Camille Coduri effortlessly recaptures her character’s ludicrously inappropriate humour, brash ignorance of social etiquette and volatile temper 1.5 decades on from her TV debut. And more impressively still, she’s fully embracing of the more vulnerable direction in which Adams strives to take Jackie as the hour progresses – her charmingly bubby delivery seems in many ways a façade to mask the still-painful trauma wrought by losing Pete to death, her daughter to the Doctor and her friends to their inability to comprehend widowhood. By striking this extremely taut balance between her long-running construct’s brazen exterior and the all-too-familiar self-doubt lying just beneath the surface of his psyche, Coduri crafts a truly engrossing performance, one sure to impact the average socially-distancing commuter just as much as it does a listener struggling with their own personal challenges.

All of this isn’t to say that Adams’ instalment lacks any scope for improvement whatsoever; certain sound effects might’ve benefitted from more focus to ensure our full immersion – for instance, distinguishing a set of near-silent deadly projectiles regularly fired at passengers from the vessel’s general hubbub often proves easier said than done. Yet as is so often the case with Big Finish’s productions, those qualms seem borderline irrelevant when put into the wider context of a thoroughly compelling first instalment like “Crush”, hence it’s still earning our full endorsement.

“Mighty and Despair”:

“Okay Persis – if you’re not about to kill me…”

“Never, your majesty!”

“Then the stories better be true. Let’s find this hidden planet – let’s find this Captain Jack.”

A lot of our experiences with the aforementioned Captain to date have admittedly taken the form of 19th-21st century narratives – primarily since the Torchwood Institute only started life in Victorian times and its eponymous Doctor Who spin-off centred on his team’s present-day missions. But Tim Foley’s ambitious contribution to Volume 3, in stark contrast to its 2000s space bus-based predecessor and timeline-hopping successor, plunges headfirst into uncharted territory, instead jumping forward to confirm that Jack’s fears (as expressed in “Last of the Time Lords”) of someday exhibiting “the odd grey hair” were wholly warranted. There will come a moment when this aesthetic bastion’s age starts to show, his boisterously fun-loving lifestyle gives way to that of a reclusive hermit and his (literally) undying capacity for hope fades into bitter resentment after losing everyone dear to him. It’d take a miraculous series of events involving warring royal siblings, unrequited romance or festive hijinks to restore our hero to his former glory – and even then that mightn’t prove enough.

What better moment could there be, then, for a deposed vampiric queen and her faithful servant to crash-land near Jack’s extraterrestrial temple in the hope of finding salvation, not to mention for us to hit Play amidst our already-demoralising real-world challenges? Thankfully there’s much more in the way of inspiration and solace than moroseness here for lockdown listeners, Foley’s uplifting tale quickly demonstrating how our bonds with friends, family and strangers alike will ultimately give us the strength, compassion and determination to see out any challenge. This rather timely notion manifests with particular poignancy via a brilliantly-paced Christmas montage in Act 2; over the course of decades, we gradually see Jack (whose voice Barrowman imbues with touching self-pity, misplaced venom towards vampires and world-wearied wisdom), said monarch Carla (whose resounded defeat Jessica Hayles subtly transitions into long-forgotten warmth) and her aide-turned-admirer Persis (portrayed with earnest yet defiant aplomb by Joanna Van Kampen) ease their joint exile by rediscovering the joyful spirit, generosity and love inspired by December 25th. “Halfway out of the dark” indeed.

If anything, “Mighty and Despair” would’ve thus easily justified Volume 3 releasing around the festive season last year (rather than a mere two months ago), although its clear message of hope’s triumph over near-endless adversity equally couldn’t have come at a much better instance than the current global circumstances.

“R&J”:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in front of the Holy Modem to witness the union of Captain Jack Harkness and River Song.”

So it’s finally time. Time for the titanic crossover which fans have demanded ever since both iconic characters made their debut in modern Who. Fighting in the left corner: the Boeshane Peninsula’s most renowned Time Agent recruit. In the right corner, newly resurrected: Klom’s most renowned entity-consumer, the Abzorbaloff hims-

What’s that? Only this reviewer craved such an epic confrontation, whilst everyone else yearned for Jack to cross paths with the Doctor’s wife instead? Fair enough, then – fortunately Volume 3’s final chapter centres on precisely that collision course, with James Goss doing justice to the long-awaited event in a manner only possible for a scribe of his immense calibre. Most crossovers are usually content to simply provide a zany caper for their subjects to blaze through, all the while carrying no lasting effects for their respective character arcs; Goss’ stupendous “R&J”, however, takes quite the opposite approach, exploring events from throughout the two near-eternals’ Who timelines where we’d never have previously guessed the pair would clash. From Jack’s earliest encounters with the Ninth Doctor to River’s regular dates with his successors, from the Torchwood Three leader’s darkest hours to Melody Pond’s desperate stabs at happiness and agency in a chaotic pre-determined timeline, virtually no stone is left unturned over the course of the hour.

Of course, as satisfying as these call-backs might be and as vividly as the various worlds (from lively markets to hauntingly silent wastelands) are rendered by the sound design team, a mere greatest hits tour would likely start growing old fast. Yet our assured playwright abundantly recognises that risk from the outset, hence his remarkable endeavour to turn each chance encounter between our (anti)heroes into a key cog in their joint character study. For every madcap prehistoric race atop dinosaurs, there’s a personal discussion of immortality’s shortcomings (as Jack espoused in “Mighty and Despair” too); for every war over the Doctor’s affections (or his survival amidst River’s attempted assassinations), a more grounded debate over whether his reckless lifestyle of “never looking back” is a healthier match for River than the (comparative) normality offered by a romance with someone living day-to-day-to-century like Mr. Harkness. Such is the profound emotional resonance and relatability struck up between these oft-outrageous constructs here that you might genuinely find repeat viewings of the “R&J” coupling’s respective TV outings informed, nay enhanced by the extra context; that’s something which can rarely be said of the more high-octane crossover events in comics or any medium, regardless of whether or not they’re “the most ambitious of all-time”.

As for our esteemed leading performers, from the outset you can tell that John Barrowman and Alex Kingston - effectively gifted a two-hander to do with as they so please a la “Heaven Sent” - must have had an absolute riot with this one in their respective recording studios (though goodness knows how Jacob Dudman kept a straight face on supporting duties, since the behind-the-scenes tracks reveal that he read Alex’s lines whilst working alongside Barrowman!). Bringing their undisputed charisma to hilarious standoffs with scorned lovers and each other alike, the pair equally evoke pathos aplenty in their honest deliveries of grief amidst loss (striking a chord all too poignant in these times), yearning for true requited love and contemplation of roads not taken as millennia pass them by. Doubtless both will continue to appear in their own Big Finish ranges going forward, as well as making cameos elsewhere on occasion, but were this to mark their final collaboration, then these two rightly-adored thespians – not to mention Goss – could still rest assured that it’s among their finest work to date, as indeed is Volume 3 for everyone involved with this spectacular audio trilogy.