Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s. This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics. While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book. I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
First Released: SMarch 2019
Big Finish’s year of anniversary celebrations has many surprises in store, not least of which was the reveal of a special release for Doctors 4-8. For myself, the most anticipated of these releases was the Fourth Doctors ‘Comic Strip Adaptations’ which had been teased on and off for some time now. The two stories chosen, The Iron Legion and The Star Beast are both from early in the DWM strip and were written by British comics legends Pat Mills and John Wagner. As such, they introduced some of their trademark ‘zaniness’, into the strips which whilst still traditionally ‘doctor who-ish’ had a unique whimsical flare and ambitious scope that set them apart from the admittedly cheap looking Season 17 (which was on air when Doctor Who Weekly debuted). So what of these adaptations then? Coming from such a visual medium, are they able to capture the spirit of their trend-setting originals?
The Iron Legion is the first story in the set and I think it’s fair for me to confess that alongside End of the Line, Voyager, Oblivion and Children of the Revolution it’s my favourite DWM strip. Admittedly then, I was quite nervous about how this would translate to the audio medium. The strip itself is arguably one of the most visual in DWM’s entire run and the scale is beyond vast. Alan Barnes adapts both these stories and given his history with both DWM and British comics, in general, is well placed to do so. With The Iron Legion, in particular, he keeps the main structure and set pieces of the original strip, whilst adding several new but not intrusive elements (which I wont spoil here). The result is this adaptation feels very much like a retelling of the comic original, but introduces enough to make it interesting enough to anyone who is familiar with that story. Toby Longworth and Brian Protheroe excel in their roles as Vesuvias and Ironicus respectively, the latter in particular capturing the character exactly as I imagined he sounded when I fist read the strip.
Of course, any adaptations of the Fourth Doctors DWM strip would have to include a version of The Star Beast which introduced Beep the Meep to the world of Doctor Who. Again Alan Barnes script sticks close to the original story but differs enough to keep it interesting. One particularly pleasing element kept from the strip version is the quirky natures of the humour given to the Doctor, with dialogue being taken directly from the strip itself. Tom Baker in particular, seems to enjoy this quirky and more off-the-wall version of his character (which is saying something) and he gives two intoxicating performances across the set. Rhianne Starbuck is equally wonderful as Sharon and the pair have great chemistry throughout this story. Of course, the real ‘star’ of Star Beast is of course Beep the Meep, played wonderfully by Bethan Dixon Bate. It’s a wonderfully funny and genuinely creepy performance, one that does great justice to such a well-established character.
The Comic Strip Adapations has proven to be a great success and they deserve all the recognition they can get, as the task of adapting two popular and incredibly visual stories for the audio medium must have been incredibly vast. One thing that really comes through with these two audio dramas is just how fun they are. Everybody, from Alan Barnes to Tom Baker to the sound designers, seems to be having incredible fun bringing these two wild and wacky stories to life. They may not be to everyone’s taste, given just how off the wall they are! But I for one look forward to a possible Comic Strip Adaptations Two and of course the four series of Beep the Meep box sets that must surely be around the corner…
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
First Released: February 2019
Running Time: 4 hours
Time's Assassin – GUY ADAMS
"Please! Don't explain you're nefarious plot - I don't think I can bear it!"
The true identity of the Director has been revealed and he wants vengeance upon the Doctor for past crimes….
But the Director is not the only danger to the crew of the TARDIS. Deadly experiments are coming to a head, and everyone’s life is at risk.
However, the greatest threat is yet to come. The Syndicate’s plans are in motion….and no one is safe from them.
When we left the Doctor and Ann at the end of the last episode (and volume) they were still stranded and in peril. Jon Culshaw was chewing scenery, and monsters were about to be unleashed. Part two is much the same, and provides some major hints and themes of the coming episodes, further developing this series story arc as all really is not what it seems.
Writer Guy Adams ensures that events in this second part of the story proceed at breakneck speed. He has a real feel for the characters.
The story is a lot of fun, with major call-backs to this classic era of the show. There are lots of growling monsters, moustache twirling villainy. There is also a rather dashing rescue from a very special ‘Old Girl’ that made this listener grin like a ten-year-old.
Fever Island – BY JONATHAN BARNES
"Not at all, Mr Vain....what I expect of both of you, is to die....horribly!"
Jason Vane is England’s suavest secret agent, and today he is on his deadliest mission yet. Tracking down the evil Okulov….before he destroys the world.
The Doctor, Ann and K9 are, in contrast finding their own mission a little hard to complete. A strange storm in the vortex has swept them back in time, back to Earth in 1978, and to a strange place called ‘Fever Island’.
A place where their worst nightmares are about to come true….
From the above, you can deduce that Fever Island is a James Bond spoof….of sorts anyway. But it is actually quite a bit more than that, and a great deal of fun. The story twists reality in such a way that Tom Baker and John Leeson get to play an evil megalomaniac and his fierce sidekick, Severous. I thought the writing by Jonathan Barnes was excellent, a great balance pastiche, tension and humour.
The cast is perfect – with the stand out being Gethin Anthony as Jason Vane, who plays the role with oodles of very ironic smarm.
I wasn’t really looking forward to Fever Island from its story summary, but it turned out to be a real gem.
The Perfect Prisoners Part 1 – JOHN DORNEY
“You know what they say K9? If it aint broke, don’t adjust the polarity.”
The Doctor, Ann and K9 are hot on the trail of The Syndicate, and straight into trouble.
After contending with killer robots and dangerous aliens, the clues lead straight to a machine that can literally make you dreams come true. A device that in the wrong hands could lead to misery for millions.
But who’s the real villain here? And what exactly is their masterplan?
The Perfect Prisoners stats at a breakneck pace, with the Doctor and Ann already well into an adventure, in fact we catch up with them as danger draws in and hope seems lost. The Perfect Prisoner could almost be a direct sequel to The Daleks' Master Plan. If you thought that The Syndicate Masterplan was cannon heavy, wait a while.
I’m probably going to disappoint you now Reader, I was never a plan of The Daleks' Masterplan. To me, it felt that the Daleks had already been heavily overused, and I found the plot just….dull. So it was with some trepidation that I started listening to this story, especially when I realised it was four episodes. I couldn’t have been more wrong. All four parts positively romp along. The characters are all integrated perfectly, and there isn’t a lot of presumption that you know The Daleks Masterplan inside out. The twists come thick and fast, as do the clever sleight of hand that seems around every corner.
The Perfect Prisoners Part 2 – JOHN DORNEY
Secrets have been revealed, and the Doctor and his friends at least know who they’re fighting.
An epic journey across space leads them to the true mastermind of The Syndicate conspiracy.
Alliances will shift. Friends will die. Can even the Doctor come out of this alive?
As we emerge surprisingly quickly from the last cliff-hanger and catch our breath from a very dramatic rescue, courtesy of K9, we barely get time to take stock of events before we are being whisked off to a climax that looks hopeless for the Doctor.
Throughout these two volumes, there have been double-crosses and twists galore, and this final episode delivers even more, alongside a rather splendid dose of sleight of hand, which I do not want to spoil.
17011 ties these volumes up perfectly, picking up all the loose threads, and tying them neatly together. I’ve really enjoyed the character of Ann, and I love the way that Big Finish, Jane Slavin, and the writers involved have treated her, and let the character evolve over these two volumes, all coming pretty much full circle here, and leaving the Doctor (literally) a very different character than when she joined him. Well done Big Finish.
Written by Tom Baker with James Goss
Read By Tom Baker
Released by BBC Worldwide - January 2019
Available from Amazon UK
As a franchise pushing 60, it goes without saying that Doctor Who has had a multitude of stories presented in a variety of media over the years. And in much the same vein, it also goes without saying that there is a multitude of stories that were pitched and never got produced. There are a bunch of stories that would get pitched for each season and for one reason or another, didn't get made. Some of these stories are more legendary than others. There was a whole alternate Season 23 before they scrapped a bunch of stories that were in the works and shifted into the Trial of the Time Lord Storyline. There is the season that was in pre-production before the cancellation in 1989...there was, of course, Shada, and the Douglas Adams pitch of Krikkit-Men which was at one point reworked as a feature film before he decided to rework it further into his excellent third Hitchhiker's Guide novel Life, the Universe, and Everything. But another potential film project that never got off the ground that has always interested me was Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, a film that could have been, but never was...and now it has been reworked as a novel, the title simplified into Scratchman.
Tom Baker conceived of the story with his debut season co-star Ian Marter during their downtime on the set. The plotted out the whole story, about the Doctor and his friends meeting the Devil and fighting off Scarecrows and Cybermen and Daleks. At one point Vincent Price was attached to play Scratch, and at another, after both Marter and Elizabeth Sladen had moved on from the show, a new companion was created to fill the role in the film, and was meant to be played by the model Twiggy. They even had a director lined up! They struggled to ever find funding for the project, at one point some fans gave Baker some money, but for legal reasons, he returned the donation. I've always thought the concepts were neat, and since I have a love for 70s era sci-fi and horror, I always thought it would've been great to see. I can imagine a movie starring Baker, Sladen and Marter, shot like a Hammer film, and seeing Baker square off against Vincent Price? How wonderful could that have been? This is a movie I would have probably loved.
This book has been written by Tom Baker (Ian Marter passed on many years ago), with the assistance of James Goss, who also adapted Douglas Adams' original Doctor Who Krikkit-Men story as a novel (which I should really get around to sometime, as I'd love to compare it to what is actually my favourite Douglas Adams novel). I don't know what has been changed for this particular version, or what would've probably been condensed or scrapped or reworked had it actually become a film, but as the only way to truly experience this full story? I think we missed out on a fine little movie. I am sure that had it been made into a movie, budget restrictions and technological limitations of the day would've have changed some major elements. How would they have made Scratch's ball of flame head work in 1977?
But despite some things that may have been difficult to really capture at the time, I can kind of picture this film. In fact, I spent a good chunk of the book thinking how it would have actually looked as a film made in that era. I could picture how some things may have looked if made in the late 70s, in that pre-Star Wars era. I also could pick out what elements probably would've ended up on the cutting room floor.
The framing device with the Time Lords feels like something that would've probably been diminished if not outright lost. Don't get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is good, but it stops the action, which can work in the novel format (and help reinforce the theming), but in a movie, it would've hurt the pacing. It also feels like the story doesn't necessarily need it to still work. I'm not even knocking the book for having it, because I enjoyed it, I am only saying it is possible this kind of thing may have ended up not making it to the final cut. There were sequences and scenes I could see being truncated, but overall, I like this story, and it feels like a shame it didn't get produced in some form or another as a feature film.
The audiobook is lovingly read by Tom Baker himself, and no one will deny that it is just a blast to listen to him talk. His voice is still incredible even as he is in his mid 80s, and he puts some gusto into his reading of this novel. I mean how many audiobooks say a chapter number then follow it up with "oh you're going to love this one!" This is a passion project for Baker. It was a story he helped create, a movie he really tried to get produced but just couldn't get money for it, and his passionate read of the story shows how much he still loves it.
I highly recommend checking this story out. I was really excited about it as I already had an interest in this footnote of the show's history, but beyond my own interest in the story from that perspective, I found myself really enjoying the novel...and the Tom Baker's audiobook reading is well worth every penny.
"Contact has been made......"
John Leeson reads this exciting novelisation of a classic adventure for the Fourth Doctor – and the introduction of K9.
A mysterious cloud drifts menacingly through space, and the Doctor becomes infected with the Nucleus of a malignant Virus that threatens to destroy his mind. Meanwhile, on Titan, human slaves prepare the Hive from which the Virus will swarm out and infect the universe. In search of a cure, Leela takes the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation, where they make an incredible journey into the Doctor’s brain in an attempt to destroy the Nucleus.
Can the Doctor free himself from the Nucleus in time to reach Titan and destroy the Hive? Luckily he has help ― in the strangely dog-like shape of a mobile computer called K9…
John Leeson, who was the Voice of K9 in the TV series, reads this unabridged novelisation of the 1977 television serial
The Invisible Enemy is probably most famous for three things – introducing K9, making the Doctor a threat (a surprisingly rare occurrence across the history of the show), and having a dodgy looking giant prawn as the main villain.
I was quite looking forward to listening to the Target Audio, as I fondly remembered the story on television, I have the DVD, which think I might have seen once.
With a running time of well over three hours, I have to admit I struggled a little. The story is narrated (of course) by John Leeson, and he does his best – but I, unfortunately, found things to be rather plodding when compared to other Target Audio readings that I have listened to. Perhaps this highlighted that the story wasn’t quite all that I remembered, or maybe that the additional material contained in the Target novelisation just didn’t do anything to make the story more dynamic.
So, to sum up, overall I was left quite disappointed – I’ll have to revisit the DVD at some point soon.
Written By: Andrew Smith, Phil Mulryne, Simon Barnard,
Paul Morris, Guy Adams. Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Neilson), Glynis Barber (Kathy Blake), Ewan Bailey (Hugo Blake), Nicholas Khan (Jimmy Lynch), Leon Williams (Tony Reynolds), Fenella Woolgar (Vanessa Seaborne), Jeremy Clyde (Lord Braye), Lizzie Roper (Trencher), Andrew Ryan (Titus Wayland), Finty Williams (Ada Lovelace), Andrew Havill (Colonel Wildman), Eve Webster (Hettie / Lady Cleverley), Barnaby Edwards (Mr Hobhouse), Glen McCready (Edvard Scheutz / Lord Byron / Harry), John Shrapnel (Nigel Colloon), Anna Acton (Brox), Blake Ritson (Elmore), Roger May(Mac Foley), Tracy Wiles (Drones).
Other parts played by members of the cast.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
The Sinestran Kill by Andrew Smith
"Oh...I see...you're THAT Doctor..."
When the Doctor decides to trace an anomalous energy signature on twentieth century Earth, he stumbles into an assassination attempt.
Gangland thugs are trying to murder a seemingly innocent shopkeeper, and it’s only the intervention of the Doctor and Ann Kelso – a WPC who happens to be on the scene – that prevents a tragedy.
But why do the gangsters want the shopkeeper dead? And what does this have to do with alien technology?
The first stages of a grand conspiracy are about to be revealed. And finding the answers will take Ann Kelso on a journey like no other.
This new box set could almost be described as Series 15A. We find the Doctor travelling alone after leaving Leela on Galifrey. K9 Mark II isn't (quite) unpacked yet, and we are introduced to a brand new companion, WPC Ann Kelso, played by Jane Slavin. An actress who is no stranger to Big Finish.
This first story is set in 1970's London, and written by Andrew Smith. After penning the classic episode Full Circle, Smith joined the police, and it is here that this knowledge is utilised well, as the Met feature heavily in what is essentially a plot about an interstellar, shapeshifting hit mob trying to kill a witness who has taken refuge on Earth. The action ends up as a wonderfully staged siege in New Scotland Yard.
Amongst the guest cast are Frank Skinner (DCI Scott Nelson), who is wary of the Doctor as in a previous role, the character had links with UNIT, and Glynis Barber who plays a classic East End gangsters moll.
The Sinestran Kill is a very strong opener, which ably introduces Ann Kelso as a new companion. The Alien threat is believable, and seemingly quite unstoppable. The mash up between classic East End villains and a professional alien hit squad is genius.
Andrew Smith has crafted a rather brilliant story, that positively romps along. Jane Slavin is great as the new companion, but the stand out performance for me was Frank Skinner as the world-weary DCI, who is surprised by nothing that might have the Doctor involved.
Planet of the Drashigs by Phil Mulryne
"Welcome's to Drashig World."
When the TARDIS lands on an alien planet, the Doctor’s intentions to show Ann Kelso an advanced future society are thrown into disarray. Because they have arrived on DrashigWorld - a park where every known species of the terrifying predators has been gathered together to entertain and thrill the public. The familiar wetland Drashigs, the albino burrowing Drashigs of the desert, and deadliest of all, the tiny Emerald Drashigs of the rain forests.
And it’s not the best day to have arrived. The park has been shut down due to a visitor fatality. A Galactic Attractions inspector is on site meaning everyone is extremely tense and under pressure.
It’s exactly the right circumstances in which someone might make a mistake. And on Drashigworld, mistakes are deadly.
Ah! The Drashigs! Those memorable chompers from 1973's Carnival of Monsters - who would have thought they would ever get a whole story dedicated to them?
Having just assembled the new K9, The Doctor and Liz land on a strange, marshy world. They soon find a Drashig on their tails and manage to escape via teleport to safety, only to find that they are in a theme park full of Drashigs, and the natives are getting VERY restless.
Planet of the Drashigs does fall in on itself a little by trying to be a bit too clever with its own theme. It is obviously a take on Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park (the Doctor even stumbles across a pile of goat bones). Different breeds of Drashigs are in various enclosures for the amusement of the paying public. Oh - and of course there is the Emerald Drashig (read Tyrannosaurus Rex) which is extra fierce and intelligent. When these escape and run riot across the compound all hell really does breaks loose.
The story should be so by the numbers, but it really is quite enjoyable. I loved it that the new K9 needs an overnight charge before proper use (his batteries kept failing because he only had a partial charge). There are some great set pieces, especially the Aliens homage where our heroes are trapped in a ventilation tunnels, being hunted down by ferocious Emerald Drashigs, all the while with K9 acting as a motion sensor in the dark.
The Enchantress of Numbers by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris
"We’ll just have to make-do with my unerring sense of direction!"
The TARDIS lands in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, in 1850. Mistaken for a medic and his maid, the Doctor and Ann are brought to meet Ada Lovelace - the mother of computing and daughter of Lord Byron - who has recently fallen ill.
But the travellers are not here by chance. Something odd is happening on Earth, and they’ve determined that this place is the centre of it.
Strange figures are walking the land. Strange figures wearing bird-like masks. What do they want with Ada? And how will it change the future of humanity?
I felt that The Enchantress of Numbers was the weakest story of this volume. It tries very hard, but I just didn’t find the story that involving. The whole idea of Bryon’s ghost, tied in with Block Transfer Computation, Ada Lovelace and mysterious figures shrouded in fog should really have been a perfect recipe for a Who story from this era. It just didn’t grab me, and felt rather run of the mill. I also felt that because of Lovelace’s larger than life characterisation (played with gusto by Finty Williams), it left Slavin’s Ann Kelso somewhat out in the cold.
The False Guardian by Guy Adams
"Maybe I left the HADS on!?"
Ann Kelso doesn’t like mysteries. Keen to investigate the trail of the Sinestrans, she sets the TARDIS on a new course... but flies into danger.
Arriving on a desolate world that the Doctor finds somehow familiar, the TARDIS crew discover that something is wrong with time. The inhabitants of an unusual complex are experimenting at the command of their enigmatic director... somebody who has quite a strong grudge against the Doctor.
Facing an old foe who was presumed dead, the travellers are soon trapped in a diabolical scheme. But is it just the tip of the iceberg?
Varga plants, HADS, Mavic Chen, Zephon, Kemble - The False Guardian is heavily steeped in Doctor Who history, and may at first seem like quite a daunting listen - but don’t worry - it isn’t. Guy Adams has crafted a fine story, dropping a few red herrings along the way that might just lead the listener to believe the story is heading one way, before it takes a sudden left turn in another direction. The cliff hanger at the end of part one of this story is brilliant, and so simply wrapped up at the start of part two…..and then there is the cliff hanger at the end of part two….
The False Guardian is of course essentially a means to set up parts three and four (which are coming in the next box set folks!), but is still an enjoyable ride, with a very rich guest cast, and brilliant sound design. Voice actors include John Shrapnel and Anna Acton.
I will never tire of Tom Baker in this role, and here we delve into a rather interesting, and so far unexplored time in the show’s history, that opens up new possibilities for this Big Finish range. I’m rather looking forward to volume two!
Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - Series 8 Volume 1 - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 1 is available from Big Finish HERE.