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

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

Writer: David Llewellyn & Lisa McMullin


Director: Scott Handcock


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

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

Associated Products

GUIDE: Hearts of Darkness - FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Time War - War Master - New Series

The Darkened EarthBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 8 August 2018 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Writer: John Pritchard
Director: Lisa Bowerman
Featuring: Miranda Raison

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Released August 2018
Running Time: 35 minutes

"Doctor.....are you saying you are not sure of something?"


Mrs Constance Clarke has faced perils on many planets, but now she finds herself in the most dangerous place on Earth. A place like home, yet terrifyingly different, where ordinary decent folk might hand her over to a dreadful fate. And as night falls, she and the Doctor realise that something is on the prowl outside, a creature darker than the dark. And hungry...


The Darkened Earth is my first encounter with Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison - also Tallulah in Daleks in Manhattan and Evolution of the Daleks), and I must say, what a wonderful companion she makes. Constance is clever, confident and a perfect foil for the sixth Doctor. Her plummy vowels and old-fashioned virtues are a breath of fresh air.


The story sees the Doctor and Constance arrive in what they think is a rural post-war Britain when in reality this couldn't be further from the truth. After a slight glitch with the TARDIS's translation circuits, they realise they are in Germany, at the very height of the war. Not only do they need to dodge British bombs, but also a terrifying creature that feasts on whatever light can be found.


John Pritchard's writing is tense and fast-paced. Constance is a serving WREN, and to put her behind enemy lines with a frightened family during a blackout is a very interesting plot twist. There would have been more than enough story farmed from this one idea, but add to this a creature that is stalking the darkened streets seeking light energy to feed upon, and you have a proper corker of a story that I can't recommend enough.


The Darkened Earth is available from Big Finish HERE.

GUIDE: The Darkened Earth - FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Sixth Doctor

Doctor Who: 100 Illustrated Adventures (BBC Books)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 - Reviewed by Stephen Blenkinsop
100 Illustrated Adventures (Credit: BBC Children's Books)
Publisher: BBC Children's Books
Published: November 2017
Hardcover: 208 pages

The hardcover large-format book, 100 Illustrated Adventures, published by Puffin highlights one hundred of the Doctor’s ‘most wonderful, jaw-dropping and eye-popping escapades’ and claims to bring these episodes to life like no other episode guide.

So does it live up to this billing?  The book is (almost) bang up to date, covering the show all the way up to the end of the 2017 series.  Most stories are given a double page spread which includes a brief episode guide on one page – the incarnation of the Doctor and his companions, first transmission dates, number of episodes and the writer, along with a very brief (around 200 words) story synopsis.  The other page is typically devoted to a related piece of artwork.  It is these, as the ‘illustrated’ in the title suggests, that are the selling point of the book.  These were gathered from the publisher’s Illustrated Adventures competition which has provided art in a variety of styles ranging from detailed pencil drawings (including some stunning portraits) to abstract representations, and from comic strip styles to children’s drawings.  These are therefore original pieces of art that you won’t have seen anywhere before, and whilst the breadth of styles means that not all the art will be to everyone’s taste they all display great talent, imagination, and creativity and show a love for the show.

The inevitable question with this sort of book – is my favourite story in?  Well probably -  If we take the DWM 2014 poll as a benchmark most of the top 100 from that list are in and you have to get to 38th in the poll to find a story not included in this book (The Daemons – sorry!) and all in all only 32 of the DWM top 100 are not included here.  The choice of stories to include may also, therefore, be an interesting point of discussion for fans.

Overall the book is clearly aimed at the younger reader and as an episode guide probably works better for the newer fan than for someone who has followed the show for a long time.  However, as a delightful, original collection of art that shows the passion and imagination of fellow fans, it works for all, young and old alike.

FILTER: - BBC Books - Art - Hardcover

Tales from New EarthBookmark and Share

Friday, 23 March 2018 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Tales From New Earth (Credit: Big Finish) Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):
Running Time: 5 hours

Released by Big Finish Productions - March 2018
Order from Amazon UK

Of all the worlds depicted in Doctor Who since its modern revival, New Earth mightn't initially seem the most obvious choice for a dedicated spin-off series. Sure, the Tenth Doctor made port at this futuristic colony for the human race on multiple occasions during his televised tenure, but ask most fans where 2006-07 serials "New Earth" and "Gridlock" place in their all-time rankings of every episode transmitted to date and they're unlikely to station the pair alongside "City of Death", "Blink" or "The Tomb of the Cybermen".

On the other hand, there's little denying the ripe narrative potential of further exploring a world whose corrupt hospitals and carnivorous underbelly - the only areas glimpsed on TV Who to date - are doubtless just the tip of the iceberg. Enter Tales of New Earth, Big Finish's latest addition to their ensemble of New Series sagas, which not only capitalizes upon that same potential by revealing new geographical facets of its titular setting aplenty, but goes one step further by following the continued journeys of recurring characters like Novice Hame, or in some cases their descendants.

Does this ambitious gambit of revitalizing the setting behind a divisive pair of televised serials pay off, though? Well, yes and no - as ever, there's not so much a black-and-white answer to that question as fifty shades of New New Gray. Let's begin...

"Escape from New New York":

"Hold on - isn't this my story too? Mine and Thorn's?" "Of course. I'm trying to set the scene..."

The old saying goes that you should write what you know, an authorial adage which holds true for Roy Gill as he transports listeners back to the setting of both aforementioned on-screen New Earth adventures: the sprawling cityscape of New New York. Where - with the Doctor's help, of course - the capital's elevators once sprayed chemicals capable of healing even the most deeply infected hospital patients, they're now seemingly causing innocent civilians to vanish out of thin air, with Gill's script depicting newfound Senator Hame (Anna Hope) and orphan-turned-lift maintenance worker Devon Pryce (Kieran Hodgson)'s efforts to untangle this disturbing mystery.

As premises go, it's a classic Doctor Who set-up for hidden alien machinations and some subtle allegorical strands surrounding societal outcasts, albeit without the Tenth Doctor's involvement in this case. Thankfully Hope and Hodgson are both more than capable of picking up the slack, their half-banterous, half-confrontational dynamic as two unlikely allies ensuring that no matter how much exposition we hear regarding New Earth's reformed political system and social strata, there's always a feisty wise-crack or compelling moral dilemma such as Devon's underlying prejudice towards Catkind waiting around the corner to keep proceedings entertaining.

Credit must also go to director Helen Goldwyn and her immensely talented sound design team, whose work in rendering New Earth sans visuals does a superb job of painting the realm in our heads through the grinds and whirrs of elevator shafts, unyielding hovercars whizzing overhead at all times or distant yet heartbreaking explosions as events spiral to their crescendo. It's easy to take such atmospheric nuances for granted these days that Big Finish has almost 20 years of aural storytelling experience under its belt, but without such technical flourishes on Goldwyn's part, the listening experience would surely prove far less immersive than is the case with "Escape".

In terms of twists and red herrings, there's not much to write home about beyond the intriguing introduction of a charitable benefactor-turned-self-proclaimed deity who comes to form the boxset's antagonist, an issue which becomes more problematic as the four stories progress. All the same, Gill - in tandem with Hope, Hodgson and Goldwyn - at least goes some way towards setting up a compelling status quo for the New Earth series here to justify its existence, imbuing Devon's journey in particular with hefty personal stakes and a driving motivation to undertake missions across the planet at Hame's bequest over the next three instalments.

"Death in the New Forest":

"Put the gun away! He didn't do this - his teeth are nowhere near big enough."

Sadly the title of Roland Moore's sophomore entry doesn't mean we're in for an adrenaline-pumping horror set in Wiltshire's treetops - maybe next time, Big Finish? What we're offered instead with "Death in the New Forest", as the story's title suggests, is Devon's quest to investigate further schemes concocted by the villainous, faceless Lux Corporation while exploring New Earth's equivalent of our famed woodland. Here residents aren't so much going missing within elevator shifts as dying outright on the streets for all to see. In case that sounds like a rather dangerous conspiracy for Mr. Pryce to unfold, rest assured that he's not alone - both the Tenth Doctor and Vale, a sapling descendant of the Ninth Doctor's would-be flame Jabe ("The End of the World"), are on hand to lend assistance.

Yet whereas "Escape" thrived thanks to its feisty lead stars' energetic interactions, "Death" suffers noticeably from the absence of that dynamic as Hodgson's left with carrying almost the full weight of proceedings alongside Yasmin Bannerman, who doesn't seem to know how to differentiate Vale from her ancestor without rendering her as a borderline dislikable rogue with whom the audience will struggle to fondly connect at any stage. Try as Hodgson might, then, he's inevitably unable to disguise the relatively predictable manner in which this second outing proceeds, from its warring alien societies to the Lux's attempts to utilize this conflict to its advantage to the inevitable last-minute counterplays which save the day. Naturally Doctor Who serials and their spin-offs can only throw so many science-fiction storylines our way without some degree of repetition eventually setting in - and indeed some academics argue that only 5-7 seven basic plots really exist in fiction - but that the well-worn wheels turning here become so plain to see makes for a rather deflating listen, since you're always longing for structural innovation which never comes.

One area in which Hodgson, in particular, doesn't disappoint, however, is with his rendition of the Tenth Doctor. David Tennant's iconic incarnation of Theta Sigma always sported a lust for life and adventure as well as a rapid-fire mode of address which most narrators have since struggled to capture, yet close your eyes here and you'd almost struggle to tell the difference between his and Hodgson's takes on the characters. Indeed, while Jake Dudman has rightly been afforded the opportunity to play both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors in Big Finish's dedicated Chronicles series given his marvellous impressions of both incarnations, this reviewer can only hope that if Tales performs strongly enough in sales terms to warrant a second season, then this beloved version of the eternal Time Lord - whose "song" is presumably close to ending at this point with not a companion in sight - will return for more New Earth-bound escapades, if only to give Hodgson further opportunities to showcase his utterly uncanny portrayal.

"The Skies of New Earth":

"Here, the Bird People live in Nest City."

If that tantalising quote alone isn't enough to get the listener's attention, then Big Finish might as well close up shop at this very second. Still here? Brilliant - in that case, prepare for a whirlwind tour of New Earth's highest recesses this time around as scribe Paul Morris unveils the vast aviaries and Solar Clouds populating New Earth's evidently chaotic skyline. Half of the appeal of a setting-focused boxset like Tales comes from each writer's opportunity to hone that most basic authorial skill of world-building, either crafting entirely new planets of their own or delving under the skin of those locales which their audience previously assumed that they knew all too well already. Whether we're meeting remarkably animate solar bears, learning how New Earth's upper atmosphere parallels that of our own global warming-ridden world or gaining further insight into how the planet's body Politik and fourth estate interacted, there's immense fun to be had here from diving headfirst into a setting which has only received 90 minutes of screentime in BBC One's flagship sci-fi drama to date.

What's more, Morris affords Toby Hadoke - whose central role in the boxset is as the aforementioned Lux - the chance to flex his performing muscles further this time around, taking on other roles such as that of a Birdman to help better flesh out the communities which we explore and, as with "Skies", to ensure that we're sufficiently invested enough in these groups to care and fret as they naturally come under attack towards the hour's end. Even if Morris' various plot strands such as faked journalistic investigations, energy-harnessing Solar Clouds, and familiar environmental debates don't coalesce into anything particularly noteworthy as the Lux's latest plan comes to light, that we're still concerned as to the fates of the animal players pepped through this largely enjoyable penultimate episode does prevent it from feeling as downright unmemorable as its immediate predecessor.

Again, though, with such a necessarily unsympathetic and emotionally devoid antagonist at the Lux at its core - one who lacks the chilling menace of, say, the similarly heartless Cybermen - comes a frustrating sense of deja vu, such that we're never caught much off-guard by its plans on account of knowing full well that the Corporation will manifest itself at some stage and try to cause a global calamity all the while. Every villainous entity has their respective tropes - hence why some fans such as this reviewer wouldn't mind seeing the back of frequent returnees like the Daleks from the TV show for a while right now - but perhaps the optimal approach here would've thus been to vary up the antagonists tasked with causing New Earth grief, rather than having most of Tales' relatively standalone storylines play out in near-identikit fashion.

"The Cats of New Cairo":

"In short, I am here to tell you how the Lux tried to destroy New Earth, and how it took my friend away from me."

It’s off to the current desert residence of Catkind for Tales’ Season One finale, wherein the reunited Hame and Devon must race against time to stop – yes, you guessed it – the Lux Corporation hatching yet another plan to conquer New Earth. As with each episode preceding “The Cats of New Cairo”, listeners can expect plenty more of the same unreliably ruthless comrades, sudden betrayals, bodily possessions and quasi-wartime political metaphors for which the series will now almost certainly have become famous or infamous depending on your mileage with the boxset’s first three hours.

Every Solar Cloud has a silver lining, however, and just as the Twelfth Doctor’s absence from all of Class Season One barring its premiere meant that he could no longer act as a last-minute deus ex machina to bail the Coal Hill School kids out of trouble, so too are the dynamic duo at this collection’s heart forced to resolve the present crisis alone without the Tenth Doctor's help, by any means – or indeed sacrifices – necessary. That decision on writer Matt Fitton’s part works to tremendous effect overall, thereby placing Hodgson and Hope’s electric dynamic centre-stage once more and putting both characters through the emotional ringer as the situation escalates and they’re both forced to contemplate how far they’ll go to protect their home.

Trouble is, if the above set-up sounded as familiar as it should have based on our description, then there’s a good reason for that – focusing so adamantly on a singular, uninspiring antagonist means that regardless of the fascinating interplay between Hame and her increasingly desperate feline rivals which the Lux’s threat introduces here, we’re still left in little doubt as to how events will play out. At least Adjoa Andoh – better known to most fans as Martha Jones’ mother Francine in Who Season Three – goes all out as rival Sister Jara, the insatiable ferocity of whom lends her a certain wildcard feel and ups the stakes for Devon’s potentially limited lifespan, yet hardly enough so to take proceedings in a truly unexpected direction.

Perhaps this reviewer doth protest too much at Tales from New Earth’s shortcomings, but given how innovative and tonally ambitious Big Finish’s recent productions like The War Master: Only the Good and their particularly audacious Torchwood range have been, to see this undeniably well-intentioned boxset take so few risks in terms of narrative structure, its range of monsters or rife potential for political commentary seems a major disappointment. Might the studio’s licensed New Series projects run the risk of oversaturation at this point, especially with so many spin-offs like The Churchill Years, The Time War, Jenny: The Doctor’s Daughter, UNIT, The Diary of River Song and Lady Christina planned for 2018?  Possibly, though it’s too early to make such bold assumptions or to write New Earth off entirely; if the team goes back to the drawing board for Season Two to devise stronger arcs and antagonists, then there’s every chance that they could capitalise on the abundant potential teased by Season One’s superb lead performances and nuanced world-building.


Shadow Planet / World Apart (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 July 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Shadow Planet / World Apart (Credit: Big Finish)
 Shadow Planet by AK Benedict

World Apart by Scott Handcock

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast:Sylvester McCoy(The Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Philip Olivier (Hex), Belinda Lang (Mrs Wheeler), Sarah Thom (Sandy/Captain Karren), Nickolas Grace(Professor Grove), Ben Mansfield (Loglan/Shadow Loglan)

Big Finish Productions - Released June 2017 


The final instalment of this unlinked trilogy of double bill releases sees the welcome return to Big Finish’s Doctor Who range of long-running audio companion Staff Nurse Thomas Hector Schofield otherwise known as Hex, played once again byPhilip Olivier. After a decade of regular appearances alongside Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor and Sophie Aldred as Ace, Hex was finally written out of the range in 2014’s Signs and Wonders. He returns alongside his two regular co-stars for two very enjoyable stories set during the early days of his travels before he started to become wise to the Seventh Doctor’s manipulative persona and the beginning of the story arc featuring the black and white TARDISes.

Shadow Planet by AK Benedict finds Ace and Hex ignore the Doctor’s warning about visiting a seemingly innocent planet called Unity which they soon discover has recently been opened to visitors by a group of colonists who have developed psychic technology to separate shadows into separate personas. The Unity corporation is headed by Mrs Wheeler, played a great sinister edge by Belinda Lang. The supporting cast also includes the always excellent Nickolas Grace as Professor Grove and a well-judged performance from Sarah Thom as Mrs Wheeler’s long suffering PA Sandy who is also a central character to the plot as the revelations as to how the planet Unity was colonised are revealed. Aldred and Olivier also get to have fun by playing twisted shadow versions of themselves. Overall a very enjoyable opening two-parter which, in a similar fashion to Alien Heart / Dalek Soul, ends on a neat cliff-hanger which segues directly into the second story.

World Apart by Scott Handcock continues directly from the end of the previous story with the TARDIS encountering a mysterious planet in the middle of the vortex. After landing and discovering that there is no else alive on the planet there is a nice two-hander scene between the Doctor and Ace which culminates in a shock for the Doctor when he learns that they are on a planet called Nirvana. It becomes apparent that they need to leave immediately, but having allowed Hex to go off on his own Ace refuses to leave him behind. Unfortunately, they are then too late getting back to the TARDIS which takes off with only the Doctor on board. Finding themselves stranded on this inhospitable planet provides some great two-handed scenes between Aldred and Olivier which shows just why they worked so well as a companion team and indicates that even now there is still potential to tell more stories featuring this pairing.

Both stories featured in this release are very enjoyable with the second being one of the best of the six two-part stories that have featured over this trilogy, largely due its only featuring the three main characters throughout aside from a brief cameo in one scene. It is a credit to both authors that these stories fit so seamlessly into the existing canon of previous audio adventures, given that neither has previously written for this particular TARDIS team.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace are back alongside Melanie Bush for the next trilogy of releases which resumes the main range’s traditional four-part story format beginning with The High Price of Parking.


Shadow Planet / World Apart  is available now from Big Finish and on general release from July 31st 2017


Alien Heart / Dalek Soul (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 12 June 2017 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
Alien Heart / Dalek Soul (Credit: Big Finish)
Alien Heart by Stephen Cole
Dalek Soul by Guy Adams

Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Sarah Sutton (Nyssa), Eve Webster (Sonderal), Geoffrey Newland (Elthar), 
Alex Tregear (Theebe), Vineeta Rishi (Falex),
and Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)

Big Finish Productions - Released April 2017

For this year’s trilogy featuring the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors in successive releases, Big Finish have abandoned the tradition of three linked stories featuring different Doctors and instead adopted for an experimental change to their regular release format of a four-part story. Alien Heart / Dalek Soul is the first of three releases each fearing two stories told over two episodes, each by different authors.

Alien Heart by Stephen Cole sees the Doctor and Nyssa arrive on the moon of the planet  Traxana, having discovered that ten nearby planets have been mysteriously destroyed by an unknown device. The story takes the fairly-standard approach of separating the Doctor and Nyssa early on so they can interact with other characters. Nyssa ends up on the planet Traxana itself with one of the natives whilst the Doctor remains at the moon’s outpost station with the two investigating crew members. Naturally, the two strands eventually combine to allow the two travellers to be reunited at the stories climax only for there to be a somewhat unexpected cliffhanger. Whilst it may on first listening seem that having promised a stand-alone two-part story Big Finish have cheated a little by setting the scene for what follows, this is by no means a four-part story in disguise.

Dalek Soul by Guy Adams picks up some time after the conclusion of the previous adventure. Nyssa is now on the planet Mojox, working as Chief Virologist to the Daleks and yet she can’t seem to quite recall how she and the Doctor ended up there. The Doctor, meanwhile appears to have undergone something of a personality transplant and is now working as a Dalek agent attempting to infiltrate a Mojoxalli resistance cell. This gives both Sarah Sutton and Peter Davison an excellent opportunity to play against their usual characters as both are given opportunities to show their more ruthless sides. As the clues to what has befallen both characters begin to assemble, this leads to one of the more memorable conclusions of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range and must certainly rank as one of Davison’s best performances on audio to date. Much credit to Adams, who has done great work on several of Big Finish’s other ranges including the Torchwood audios, for giving this well-established team such original material to work with.

Having given the main range a welcome sense of reinvigoration, the next release will offer two new stories for the Sixth Doctor and Flip.


Alien Heart / Dalek Soul is available now from