Short Trips - Series 7.3 & 7.4 - The Jago & Litefoot Revival (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 20 April 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Jago & Litefoot Revival - Act One (Credit: Big Finish)The Jago & Litefoot Revival - Act Two (Credit: Big Finish)

Producer Ian Atkins; Script Editor Ian Atkins

Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Jonathan Barnes; Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Trevor Baxter (Narrator), Christopher Benjamin (Narrator)

A two part Short Trip? Surely this is a Medium Meander then, but believe me - it's a joy to have these two parts as they are surely two of the best Short Trips to date.

 

Jonathan Barnes brings us an infectiously enjoyable tale of our two favourite Victorian gentlemen as they recount a recent adventure in a lecture to the Club For Curious Scientific Men. The tale follows them as they both fight the sinister Men of Dice, simultaneously, from two different countries. Professor George Litefoot (Trevor Baxter) finds himself being chased across a beach on the island of Minos by floating gunslingers. While back in London we find Henry Gordon Jago menaced by a terrifying, huge arachnid in the basement of his very own theatre. Both are helped in their fight by a certain enigmatic Time Lord that they are proud to call a friend, its just that the version of the Doctor that they encounter here has a very different face to what thy are used to.

 

I was lucky with this story. I had seen no promotional art, so fully expected it to be a tale in the same vein as most other Short Trips, a companion recounting an unseen tale which involves THEIR Doctor. The set up of these stories usually the same in that you would normally expect a narrated introduction to the story by the companion, followed by the Doctor Who theme tune of their Doctor. Being completely unspoiled, I listened to the opening narration from Baxter and Benjamin, there was a pause - and I waited for the fourth Doctor's theme. What I got instead was the tenth Doctor's theme in all of Murray Gold's loud strings and drums glory. I couldn't help but grin like a loon. 

 

The teaming of these two great characters with a modern Doctor is genius. There are one or two other surprises along the way that I refuse to spoil as their reveal is a pure joy to listen to, and discover as the story unfolds.

 

And unfold it does - the narration is very fast paced, switching from the straightforward storytelling of Litefoot to the bluster and pompous exaggeration of Jago. The story goes backwards and forward between the two characters, each time leaving a mini cliffhanger in it's wake, eventually bringing the pair together beautifully in the end where they must literally perform for their lives.

 

Trevor Baxter and Christopher Benjamin are simply exquisite. We need to bear in mind that these two have over 120 years of acting experience between them - and it shows in a very good way. Big Finish are lucky to have them, and we are equally as fortunate to be still listening to them.

 

The Jago & Litefoot Revival is essential listening to fans of the show, thank you Big Finish for allowing us to be able to listen to this brilliantly executed tale.

 

The Jago & Litefoot Revival Acts 1 & 2 are available to download separately from Big Finish now.





Torchwood: Visiting Hours (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Written by David Llewellyn
Directed by Scott Handcock

Cast: 
Kai Owen (Rhys), Nerys Hughes (Brenda Williams), Karl Theobald (Mr Tate), Ryan Sampson (Mr Nichols), Ruth Lloyd (Nurse Brown), Stephen Critchlow (Dr Fletcher)

Big Finish Productions - Released March 2017
 

Eighteen months since the first Torchwood audio was released by Big Finish, which started a continuous run of twelve monthly releases followed by three special releases which has seen this fledgling range go from strength to strength, the monthly series returns with the first of six new releases which promise to continue their successful expansion of the Torchwood universe.

Visiting Hours finds Rhys Williams (Kai Owen) visiting his mother Brenda in hospital where she is recovering from a routine hip operation. Brenda is once again played by the wonderful Nerys Hughes who previously appeared in the television episode Something Borrowed. There is a great chemistry between mother and son and when strange things start to occur, it is Rhys who is forced to take the lead without being able to ask for help from his wife Gwen. Both characters are a joy to listen to, especially when they find themselves in danger and Brenda starts swearing like a trooper!

The two main characters are ably supported by the small supporting cast including Stephen Critchlow as the mysterious Dr Fletcher, and Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson as henchmen Tate and Nichols. The story reaches a sinister conclusion with the appearance of the robotic cleaners who reminded this reviewer of being scared by Paradise Towers. The almost too neat ending suggests that we may not have heard the last of Fletcher and his cronies.

Overall, this is an enjoyable start to the new series of adventures from veteran Torchwood writer David Llewellyn. On this form, the series looks set to continue as one of the most consistently strong ranges produced by Big Finish. Next month the series heads stateside as we meet an all new cast of characters in The Dollhouse.

 

Visiting Hours is available now from Big Finish and on general release from 31st May 2017.





Doctor Who Series 10 - Episode 1 - The PilotBookmark and Share

Saturday, 15 April 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley

 

T - A - R - D - I - S.......it means - what the hell! The Pilot (publicity photo)

 

So here we are, the final season for both Moffatt and Capaldi, and the premier season for Pearl Mackie as Bill Potts. Season ten has been heralded as a bit of a reboot in what is essentially the 37th series of our beloved show.  This, the first episode cheekily entitled The Pilot, interestingly the story was originally called "A Star in Her Eye", a title that works just as well. The Pilot is not only an episode to introduce Bill Potts as the new companion, but also to dangle a few tantalising plot threads in front of us, plot threads that will obviously pay off as the series progresses.

 

Beware - There are spoilers ahead.

 

The story opens at St Luke's University in Bristol, where we find Bill Potts waiting for the Doctor in his office. On his cluttered desk we see a mug containing a multitude of colourful sonic screwdrivers, and two pictures - one of his granddaughter Susan, and the other of River Song. The TARDIS sits quietly in the corner with an out of order sign hanging tragically from it's doors.

 

Bill works in the University's canteen, where she serves chips to a girl that she has a crush on. She is fascinated by the Doctor, and quietly attends his lessons, the rumours are that the Doctor has been lecturing at the University for decades. Bill shouldn't be attending his lectures, so the Doctor takes pity on her and agrees to privately tutor Bill.

 

The Pilot - Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)

Time passes, and on a night out with friends, in a bar, Bill meets a young woman called Heather (played by Stephanie Hyam), there is an obvious, instant attraction between the two of them. Heather is a girl who has a defect in her eye that has manifested itself as a splash of gold and is shaped like a star. Heather later shows Bill a strange puddle, and from here is where things get very Doctor Who.The puddle is actually intelligent 'space engine oil' (which goes some way to explaining Pearl's mis-step on the One Show that outraged so many 'fans'). The oil needs a pilot and a passenger, it quickly absorbs Heather, and then starts a relentless pursuit of Bill across space and time, a journey that takes in the University's basement, Sydney, and the very far reaches of the Universe. The chase ends during a skirmish between the Daleks and a certain silver dreadlocked humanoid robot race. Of course, the Doctor, Nardole and Bill save the day, and Bill becomes a bona fide companion to the Doctor, joining him and Nardole in the TARDIS.

 

Right - let's address the reboot issue - this doesn't feel like a full on true reboot of series - BUT there are elements of the show that have certainly evolved. The very  first line of this review are those spoken by the Doctor at the close of this episode. The character has changed again slightly, softened once more from the lighter side of the Doctor that we saw in the last series. When you compare the character now to that of the Doctor in Capaldi's first series, there is quite a difference. Other changes include (of course) Bill, plus we seem to have Matt Lucas as Nardole full time. I also noticed that Murray Gold's score seemed a lot different, again, lighter than the past few seasons, but still with a hint of his classic themes.

 

The Pilot - The Doctor (Peter Capaldi) and Bill (Pearl Mackie) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)

And so onto Pearl Mackie's Bill, who really couldn't be any further removed from Clara. If I were to compare her to any other companion, it would be Donna Noble, but a very savvy, smart and inquisitive Donna Noble. Bill bucks trends from the off, "Doctor WHAT?" she asks when the Time Lord tells her that she can call him simply the Doctor. I honestly don't think that I can recall laughing as much at the show as I did when Bill is introduced to the TARDIS, the moment that the penny finally drops that it is bigger on the inside is perfect. If there is anything of a reboot to the new series it definately comes from Bill, who breezes in like a breath of fresh air.

 

The Doctors relationship with Bill is as a mentor, but he also obviously feels a lot for his new friend, at about fifteen minutes into the episode, he does something wonderful and quite moving for her that only he could do. Bill's family life seems quite tidy, she lives at home with her foster mother, Moira (Jennifer Hennessy) who fostered her sometime ago, Bill's own mother having passed away when Bill was very young. 

 

Let's quickly touch on the absolute non-issue of Bill's character being gay. It's exactly that. It isn't an issue - Bill's sexuality isn't even discussed, it's just simply accepted that Bill likes girls. In fact, the whole crux of this story is about one girls crush on another. Not one eyelid is batted. I think that it is fantastic that children can have a well rounded, strong, female gay character as a role model in one of the most popular shows on the BBC. Well done Mr Moffatt for writing Bill in the way that you have. 

 

The Pilot has obvious nods to the first episode of 'New' Who, Rose. We witness the mundanity of Bills everyday life - her alarm clock goes off, she gets up, cooks chips and serves them in the canteen and goes home, and then it all starts again with the alarm. Also like Rose, the episode is seen almost entirely from the new companions point of view. There is very little of the story without her in the scene, and watching Bill experience the Doctor and what he does is a true wonder. Bill also has a good knowledge of science fiction, so a lot of what she sees, she just accepts and takes in her stride, which again is something fresh. Everything is neatly and pacily directed by Lawrence Gough, who also directed our introduction to Bill, Friend From the Future which aired during half time of the last years FA Cup Final. A fair chunk of that introduction is in this episode, and its quite interesting to see the changes that have been made to that extended scene.

 

The Pilot - Nardole (Matt Lucas) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgway)

So - what wasn't so good? Well I think we could have done with an hour for the series premiere. It all feels a little rushed in the last quarter, when we start hopping through space and time in the TARDIS. Another ten minutes would have been a good addition. My other niggle would be the 'space engine oil' itself. I couldn't help but feel that some of the effects used during the oil's transformation into a very wet Heather could have been a bit better, they seemed very patchy  - admittedly though, this might have been the effects as seen in the preview copy that I had access to, the effects could well be tweaked by the time the show is actually aired. Some of the 'wet' effects reminded of The Waters of Mars, which I suppose isn't a bad thing at all really.

 

Overall, The Pilot is a strong opener to a series that will draw a line under both Moffat and Capaldi's time on the show. I think I have an idea where the story might be heading, and what might be stashed in a vault in the basement of the University. Something that the Doctor is so very keen to keep an eye on. 

 

Of course there is one massive mystery solved - at least we all know know where the TARDIS toilets are.....

 

 





Short Trips - Series 7.2 - Gardeners' Worlds (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 15 April 2017 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Gardeners' Worlds (Credit: Big Finish)

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

Written By: George Mann, Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast

Tim Treloar (Narrator)

Gardeners' Worlds is read by Tim Treloar, who has proved his considerable vocal skills at representing Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor in a number of earlier Big finish releases – and I must say his version of Pertwee is pretty much spot on.

 

The story itself takes place during the time when the third Doctor, Jo Grant, and UNIT are at the top of their game. The TARDIS is still incapacitated by the Time Lords, so this adventure is well and truly Earthbound, however the 'old girl' does get an outing......

 

For the most part the action takes place in the quiet, sleepy village of Colston Burghley, where strange things are appearing and disappearing, the oddest of all being some very odd looking silver flowers. The Doctor discovers what he believes to be some form of time distortion, and starts to investigate the 'root' of the problem in true blustering and bamboozling third Doctor style.

 

Of course the Doctor manages to get to the bottom of the mystery before any serious harm is done (apart from, at one point wiping out poor Mike Yates from their current reality), and things return quickly to reassuring normality.

 

Comparisons to The Dæmons are inevitable, and I couldn't help but picture that stories setting when imagining Colston Burghley, but the comparison is easy to put aside. My only complaint about Gardeners'Worlds is that the writer, George Mann seemed to want to embrace the era so much that he couldn't help but have the characters of Jo Grant and Mike Yates just repeating the Doctor lines back to him as a question in a way of coaxing a simplified explanation for the benefit of the viewers (or listeners, in this case). I found this to get a tad repetitive after a while, but also found myself chuckling at how accurate the story telling was for the time, of how we have moved on!

 

Gardeners' Worlds is an essential listen to fans of classic, third Doctor adventures, that is brought even more to life by Treloar's very accurate impression of Pertwee in the role, in fact, Trelor's characterisation of all the characters were uniformly excellent. I can't help but think that this extra layer to the storytelling might have raised this tale slightly above from being just a good, but enjoyable story.

Gardeners' Worlds is available to download now from Big Finish.





Original Sin - Big Finish AudioDramaBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Original Sin (Credit: Big Finish)
 

Written By: Andy Lane,

Adapted By: John Dorney

Directed By: Ken Bentley

STARRING:
Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), 
Lisa Bowerman (Bernice Summerfield), 
Yasmin Bannerman (Roz Forrester), 
Travis Oliver (Chris Cwej)

WITH: Andrew French (Beltempest), 
Philip Voss (Robot/ Under-Sergeant), 
Amrita Acharia (Rashid/ Computer/ Shythe Shahid), 
Robbie Stevens (Dantalion/ Homeless/ Securitybot), 
Jot Davies (Powerless/ Pryce/ Hater/ Evan Claple).

( Other parts played by members of the cast).
 


 


Written By: Andy Lane + Adapted by John Dorney

Director: Ken Bentley

Sound Design: Russell McGee

Music: Crispin Merrell & Gordon Young

Cover Art: Tom Newsom

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

****

Available on 2 CDS or Digital Download

Duration: 2 hours approx
 

Big Finish Release: December 2016

General Release: 31st January 2017

The future Earth Empire is truly a bustling and expanding phenomenon. But something very suspect and decadent lies at its core. Two of the law-keepers of the ‘United Kingdom’ – better denoted as Spaceport Five Overcity – start their day assuming ‘business as usual’. One is the experienced Roz, the other the relatively fresh-faced Cwej.

By the end of their run-in with a mysterious little man called ‘the Doctor’ and his unusually informal academic friend Bernice, they will have markedly different views of their identity and the wider cosmos around them. Unstable stasis fields, cybernetic technology, and travels across the stars will all come into play. And a slug-like race known as the Hith will have a chance to restore their reputation, in spite of the sizeable propaganda delivered on the ever-present public newscasts.


Original Sin was a novel that saw the New Adventures range re-calibrate for a different ‘era’. Following the milestone that was Human Nature – a book so remarkable it had a second telling as a Tenth Doctor story in 2007 - more ‘traditional’ adventures across the cosmos were back amongst the status quo. Sporting a very nice cover, the book is now unfortunately hard to track down, and thus for many this adaptation is even more welcome.

I had become a somewhat infrequent reader of the paperback adventures, at the time. Owing to having a multitude of other books to read as part of homework assignments, as well as those tomes given as presents, the net-result was that the Seventh Doctor’s literary incarnation had some serious competition for my escapist affections.

Damaged Goods had already showcased the wonderful duo of Cwej and Forrester, with Yasmin Bannerman and Travis Oliver established as committed and engaging performers. Credit once again to them for managing to convince of the same characters, but this time at an earlier point in their lives; before they had the chance to travel with the Doctor and Bernice.

What is important, and what Ken Bentley so handily delivers in this play, is a credible bonding process between the two markedly different Adjudicators. The listener swiftly cares for their friendship, and it is also important that they relate as well as they do to the Doctor’s present companion; Professor Summerfield.

Supporting characters are especially well done here, a by-product of Andy Lane’s sterling source material and enlivened with panache by the voice talent enlisted by Big Finish. Especially well-characterised is Provost-Major Beltempest, who goes from seemingly heartless military professional to someone more helpful and open- minded, and then a key twist is revealed which ties in with one of the core story strands. Also the psychotic criminal Zebulon Pryce is portrayed in more than broad brush strokes, and together with the Doctor – during a standard moment of captivity for our title hero - has a truly fascinating ethical debate, where some of the ‘Time’s Champion’ burden is fully explored. The only real drawback is the scale of the story, and thus some familiar sounding voices recur as some cast members  have two (or more) roles.

Sylvester McCoy and Lisa Bowerman typically work well together, and this story sees an even better partnership. Whilst their alter egos do split up several times, they have enough audio time together, which perhaps was not the case in a story such as The Highest Science. With plenty of knowing wit and teasing of one another, it is clear they match as personalities, and furthermore it is clear that each would take a bullet/ laser/arrow for the other.

Having a returning villain from the classic series is typical for the Virgin line of books that lasted for much of the Nineties. This antagonist hales from the black and white days of the TV series, and is well-done and authentically acted; thus justifying his/her inclusion. Furthermore, the theme of survival, but at the cost of identity, is nicely combined with this use of Who continuity.

The demented prisoner Pryce is in some ways a more interesting character in the context of the story proper, but I still enjoyed the nod to the past. However the inconsistency over the TARDIS’ internal dimension rules is only re-enforced in the final showdown, so perhaps this area of Doctor Who lore is best regarded as a convenient plot device (along with the likes of the Sonic Screwdriver).

Also I did find the Hith voices an acquired taste, and the timbre also for some reason reminded me of the rather forced third cliff-hanger from The Paradise of Death; a contemporary of the Virgin New Adventures, but rather more solitary compared to the Big Finish audios that followed.

However any quibbles with the production are negated by the truly superlative interludes featuring news broadcasts to the various citizens of the Earth Empire. Often showing just how little humanity has advanced in terms of emotional intelligence and diplomacy, they are a great way to prevent the story proper from ever stalling. Transitioning from one supremely confident anchor to a rather more ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ colleague further on, these ‘excerpts’ of daily life add much to the already competent world building conveyed by the dialogue from the supporting characters, in addition to the exposition the Seventh Doctor so eloquently provides to his dear friend Bernice (who certainly appreciates it in spite of her sizeable qualifications).

The previously released Seventh Doctor audios managed to deftly condense the source material of these often groundbreaking novels, and this latest release is particularly confident, thanks to the experienced and astute writing skills of John Dorney.

A whole-hearted recommendation is awarded to this two-parter. I hope more such adaptations will follow, in due course.


BONUS:

Full and candid interviews are again in supply here, along with some proper explanation of what the production team were aiming for with this re-telling. McCoy in particular has some interesting input, as well as evident enthusiasm that he has so many opportunities to deepen the character, that he first portrayed all those years ago in the final stanzas of the 20th Century.





Doom Coalition 4Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 9 April 2017 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition 4 (Credit: Big Finish)
Doom Coalition 4
Written by John Dorney and Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Mark Bonnar (The Eleven), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), Emma Cunniffe (The Sonomancer), Rufus Hound (The Meddling Monk), Beth Chalmers (Veklin), Carolyn Pickles (Cardinal Ollistra), Jacqueline Pearce (Ollistra), Olivia Poulet (Jerasta), Vince Leigh (Volstrom/ Matrix Keeper/ Computer), Sasha Behar (Presidential Aide/ Tessno/ Ladonne), Ronnie Ancona (Joanie Carrington), Alex Beckett (Alekall). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Released March 2017 by Big Finish Productions

Doom Coalition, the sequel series to the acclaimed Dark Eyes Saga, has come to its final instalment.  Having been able to review each individual box set as it was released, I was curious to see just what Big Finish might pull from the wealth of material they now have to play with, given their ability to use at least elements of “classic Who”.  Turns out that River isn’t the only thing transferring into the audio-only adventures this time, even just going from the trailer.  Let’s see what else the company manage to achieve and whether ultimately this works as well if not better than the conclusion to Dark Eyes.

 

4.1.  Ship in a Bottle

With the intro setting the tone for what is to come, the events pick up from the ending of Doom Coalition 3.  Feeling very much like a 12th Doctor introduction, there are even subtle nods to the cherished Tennant era and that’s just in the opening 5 or so minutes.  The initial scenario The Doctor, Liv and Helen find themselves in allows for significant demonstration of their personalities and their feelings as to the events of previous stories in the series.  Even as the story progresses, regardless of how dangerous the situation, the characters remain well-developed throughout.  This episode serves partly as a recap, but also as a method of seeing the entirety of Doom Coalition from a new perspective.  Given there’s no actual enemies, the slew of references to prior events and the theme of the acceptance of death featuring so prominently, it’s a very human opening to what I hope will be a fitting conclusion, even if there’s no complete closure to this story.

 

4.2. Songs of Love

With a title like that, it was almost certain what, or rather who, was going to show up and the character in question doesn’t disappoint.  Appearing as part of a flashback relative to the previous story, what we see is an interesting change of heart, though one that is sure to have a reason behind it.

This primarily Time Lord centric story features some moments that, whilst unexpected, are well-executed, in addition to sequences that really emphasise just how much danger the universe is really in at this point in the plot.  However, the references to Series 6 of the television show and events therein might confuse those who stopped watching after the 10th Doctor’s departure.

That does not mean this story suffers, though it does try to run two simultaneous plot threads as well as introducing several important points.  At least the political edges of this story fit with the rest of the puzzle in well thought out cinematic fashion.

 

4.3. The Side of the Angels

Finally this box set has a clear villain to work with, but blink and you might miss them.  If I say nothing else about them and if you haven’t heard the trailer, I will credit the sound designers on introducing one of The Doctor’s most well-known foes in recent memory with a fitting entrance.  Of course, The Eleven is now embroiled in the plot too, but that doesn’t mean other Time Lords from The Doctor’s history can’t join in either.

This story seems to take a far clearer line than the last, with sound design and musical scoring to match the setting and the enemies involved in what are only described as “insane” plans.  Such plans, with a fair number of references and memorable moments, speed this story forth to its dramatic conclusion.

 

4.4. Stop the Clock

Is it too much to make a half pun, half reference to Mummy On The Orient Express here, specifically that certain events we witness during this story have been Foretold?

Probably.  Then again, considering how many references the stories leading up to this have provided, it’s probably not the worst way to open discussion on this final piece in the Doom Coalition puzzle.  So as not to spoil what is a slightly disorienting conclusion, including an ending that appears to possibly have influences from a well-known Japanese film franchise, I’ll leave it at that.

 

With a seamless score, a confident cast and a plot that knows just where it’s going even if the audience doesn’t, Big Finish certainly deliver in what probably won’t be the final 8th Doctor adventures set in this overarching plotline.