The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 3Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 8 September 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Time War - Series 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Matt Fitton, Lisa McMullin, Roland Moore, & John Dorney
 
 Director: Ken Bentley
 
Featuring: Paul McGannRakhee Thakrar, Adele Anderson, Michael Jayston

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: August 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

The latest Big Finish boxset starring Paul McGann is the third entry in the Time War series.  This time, The Eighth Doctor and his companion Bliss face off against Multiverses, Planets ravaged by the Time War, A Survivor of an Alien Race meant to be entirely erased from history, and the unexpected return of the Valeyard! 

The story begins with a strong vehicle for Rakhee Thakrar's character Bliss (State of Bliss).  This is good because this is the third boxset, and I still feel like I hardly know the character.  Too often she feels like someone for the Doctor to talk to.  No more, no less.  This episode gives her a lot to do, and she carries the whole thing.  Unfortunately, this episode is not a sign of things to come, because for  the rest of the set she feels sidelined into the "generic companion" role.  It's a shame, because it feels like if the writers had any real character with Bliss, Thakrar is clearly capable of pulling it off. But the opener is the only story in this set that gives her any depth.  It's one thing McGann's other ongoing boxset has over the Time War series, Liv and Helen have personalities. They aren't my favorite companions, not even for the Eighth Doctor, but they seem to have some depth written into the characters that Bliss mostly lacks.  Still, this is a fine episode to open the set because like anything Time War related should, it really explores the consequences of the War.

So to does the second entry, The Famished Lands, which dives into a planet which has been turned upside down as a side effect of the Time War.  It's a planet that has limited resources of it's own, and relied on trade to thrive...but the Time War has cut off their supplies, and society has broken down.  A story like this, where the Eighth Doctor has to try and help a troubled world effected by the actions of his own people...well that is exactly what I want from this particular series.

The third entry is Fugitive in Time, and in order to help the people of that planet, the Doctor does a favor for Major Tamasan of the Time Lords...if he helps her, she will help out the little planet he wants to save.  But of course her mission isn't so easy.  They are meant to track down an alien whose race was meant to be entirely erased from History by the Time Lords, find out why she survived and make sure she joins the rest of her race.  This doesn't really gel with the Doctor's usual modus operandi, so it gives him some moral quandary to deal with. 

The set closes out with The War Valeyard which sees the return of Michael Jayston to the role, but this time he believes himself to be the Doctor, fighting the Time War on the front lines...though he seems to be battling himself, caught in a time loop.  The Eighth Doctor is of course concerned by his very existence, as he believed he had wiped him out when his Sixth Incarnation had regenerated.  This is a very entertaining end to the set, and it is always fun to hear Jayston's voice. 

On the whole, I'd say this is a pretty stellar set. It has good stories, good acting, and fun Time War concepts.  If I had a complaint, it is that beyond the opener, Bliss doesn't have nearly anything to do.  Maybe that is why she carries so much of the opener, they knew they were going to waste her in every story that followed. But even with that complaint, there is a lot to like in this set. 

 

 

 






Torchwood - Sargasso (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 September 2019 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Sargasso (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Christopher Cooper
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Kai Owen (Rhys Williams), Chloe Ewart (Captain Anika Banaczik), Sydney Feder (Kaitlin Russell), Robert Jezek (Yonich), Wilf Scolding (Sailor)

Released by Big Finish Productions - June 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“We all had a hand in this – every damn human on Earth since the Industrial Revolution. We’ve poisoned the planet and opened the door to God knows what else…”

There’s one key rule to which the writers of practically any big-screen action blockbuster will tell aspiring newcomers to adhere, regardless of their chosen medium – end the adventure with a bang. Indeed, even having already mined classic Doctor Who villains such as the Fendahl, carnivorous maggots and the Slitheen to splendid effect in the past three instalments of their themed Torchwood monthly run, Big Finish undoubtedly saved their most ambitious such production for last. Not only does Christopher Cooper’s freshman Main Range contribution deliver a gripping return for another beloved Who adversary with deeply unsettling imagery – the audio drama furthermore plays powerfully into real-world environmental issues which tragically only grow in prominence with each passing day.

To see this month’s playwright tackling such weighty territory might justifiably come as a shock to anyone who’s heard his Torchwood: Aliens Among Us Part 2 effort “Love Rat”, a markedly more light-hearted affair embracing the show’s deliciously raucous side. Yet the premise with which he’s bestowed here is nothing short of a goldmine: trapped aboard a stranded freighter at sea, Rhys Williams must band together with a despondent environmental activist to overthrow a brewing Auton invasion, one incited by humanity’s daily tendency to discard countless plastic fragments in Earth’s waters. Cooper – if this review’s opening quotation didn’t make it clear – certainly pulls no punches when it comes to laying the blame for his narrative’s events (and naturally our planet’s non-fictional turmoil) solely at our Ugg-clad feet. From an early stage, his script forces Rhys to reckon with his own ignorance in prioritising extraterrestrial over all-too-human threats, delivering an impactful analogy for our own culpability in the process. This existentially troubling extended metaphor predictably only serves to worsen as events progress and the stakes mount too, building towards a genuinely shocking resolution whose open-ended ambiguity feels all too apt – particularly given how today’s headlines depict us being at such an existential crossroads.

That said, as with any accomplished Torchwood production at Big Finish or elsewhere, Sargasso has just as much in the way to offer of gloriously pulpy sci-fi chills as it does pointed socio-political commentary. Children of Earth threw in Hub explosions and Torchwood casualties amidst its haunting interrogation of our moral limits, God Among Us Part 2 segued from tales of homelessness to hilarious body-swapping and so Cooper’s high-seas one-off follows suit by regularly ramping up the fear factor at every turn. For every reference to the contaminated horrors glimpsed on David Attenborough’s documentaries, there’s a fantastical sighting like an armada of rubber ducks besieging the ship; for every fourth wall-targeted piece of dialogue surrounding our ethical callousness, an equally memorable visual concept like a Nestene creature with engulfing tentacles crafted wholly from discarded plastic bags. The task of presenting such inherently ridiculous imagery without disserving the vital subject matter might’ve easily overwhelmed a lesser writer, but fortunately Cooper’s shrewd command of the aural medium – coupled with the soundtrack’s eerie infusion of waves and pitch-perfect sound effects for said antagonists – means that we’re afforded enough linguistic detail to tremor, yet with enough restraint to afford our imaginations ample license for vivid interpretation.

And what of the lead star tasked with bringing this 28th Main Range episode to life in the Big Finish studios (after consuming one of their infamously delectable lunches, of course)? Seeing as Kai Owen did such a tremendous job holding the fort in 2017’s likewise horror-tinted hospital jaunt Visiting Hours, that he’s able to afford further depth to Rhys as a no-longer-side-lined Torchwood Three recruit here should hardly come as a surprise. His take on Mr. Williams, far from recycling the greatest hits of his fleeting TV appearances, evolves impressively over the course of the hour, the character’s ever-endearing earnestness and begrudging courageousness giving way to a newfound, all-too-pertinent despondency regarding our species’ future prospects. More inspiring still, though, is how Owen (at the behest of Cooper’s script) passionately pitches this not so much as a gateway to emotional hollowness but a trigger for his world-wearied father figure’s determination to win out, adapting his worldviews and tactics in the hope of enacting greater change – ideally starting with his survival!

He’s not alone in this metatextual quest either: Kaitlin Russell, the aforementioned young environmental campaigner who finds herself in a sudden life-or-death struggle, lies in truly capable hands thanks to Sydney Feder’s righteous performance alongside Owen. Whether she’s angrily relating her efforts to depart from her father’s nature-wrecking commercial exploits, brazenly rebuffing Rhys’ initial assumptions surrounding her generation’s social media obsessions or taking on other roles entirely which we shan’t spoil here, Feder brings a constant ferocious energy to the role which results in a tempestuous yet consistently captivating dynamic between the pair. It’s perhaps a grand testament to the Main Range team’s stellar track record in casting terms that this reviewer would gladly see just about any of the couplings devised so far (or triplets in the case of The Dollhouse), but the extent to which Cooper leaves the door open for Sargasso entries down the line should really prompt range producer James Goss and company to consider the prospect this time around as they set about planning future runs for 2020 and beyond.

Regardless of whether our advice gets heeded, however, for now Sargasso offers more than enough in the way of philosophical substance, shiver-inducing old-school scares from classic Who foes – making only their second Big Finish appearance here but hopefully not their last – and superb performing to bear numerous repeat listens while Goss makes up his mind. By melding Night of the Fendahl’s atmospheric tension with The Green Life’s politically-charged tone and Sync’s sizzling humour (in Rhys and Kaitlin’s dynamic), Cooper rounds out what’s been anything but a quartet of Doctor Who-tied cash-in releases in sensational style, once again raising the bar for his successors to match in future Torchwood instalments. The only question now, both for the Main Range and humanity as a whole – where the hell do we go next?






Torchwood - Serenity (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 2 September 2019 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton
Torchwood: Serenity (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: James Moran
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness); Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto Jones); Ellie Darvill (Vanessa); Deidre Mullins (Kelly); Joe Shire (Bob)

Released by Big Finish Productions - July 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“Maybe we’re so used to doing this that we don’t even want a normal life anymore.”
“Maybe. Kinda sad, isn’t it?”

For never was a story of more woe than this of Captain Jack and his Ianto. Through the ages we’ve seen our fair share of romantic tragedies, both on stage and screen – you-know-which doomed Shakespeare couple, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, Titanic’s Jack and Rose, Smallville’s Clark and Lana (no Twitter DM replies necessary, thanks), the list goes on. Despite the menagerie of choices on offer, though, ask Torchwood devotees which dramatic parting of the ways hit them hardest in the history of fiction and their response will doubtless prove instantaneous – the heartbreaking ballad of the eternal Time Agent and the butler-turned-hero whose time ran out in 2009. One only need take a stroll along Cardiff Bay to encounter the shrine in Ianto Jones’ memory still standing tall a whole decade later, or – if they dare – search the couple’s names on any fan fiction site for an enlightening glimpse at the insatiable fervour which this once-rare same-sex sci-fi relationship continually inspires.

So when Big Finish announced their intention to dedicate a whole Torchwood Main Range release, Broken, to Jack and Ianto way back in July 2016, naturally their ‘shippers’ lost their collective minds in anticipation and seemingly turned out in their droves to support the play come release day. This reviewer can’t even begin to imagine, then, just how rabid the reaction must’ve been in some circles to the subsequent news that Serenity, the Range’s 29th-and-counting chapter, would take this focus a step further, envisioning the pair as an official couple living in domestic bliss. Surely such a premise must inevitably yield audio perfection, especially when the lucky scribe injected some hysterical sci-fi setpieces a la “Something Borrowed” or Aliens Among Us’ “Aliens & Sex & Chips & Gravy” for good measure? Well, the answer to that seemingly obvious enquiry – and thus your overall mileage – will depend on your expectations surrounding the franchise’s tone, specifically in regards to the prominence (or lack thereof) of its science-fiction trappings.

A word of warning before we progress any further, though: whilst most of the time Big Finish’s marketing team will proudly trumpet their upcoming releases’ respective USPs from atop the Shard, featuring returning villains on their cover art or hinting at the outrageous sci-fi concepts in store via their tantalising synopses, that’s not quite the case here. Returning TV Torchwood writer James Moran clearly discussed with the promotional department which elements of Serenity to shout about from the rooftops and which to keep hidden if possible, meaning that our description of what this entry has to offer will be necessarily limited so as to preserve the surprises for first-time listeners. What we’re able to say without hesitation is that events centre on Jack and Ianto’s induction into Serenity Plaza, a supposedly idyllic gated community where residents banter harmlessly over who’ll win the Best Kept Lawn competition, bake each other delightful sweet treats and occasionally, just occasionally, go astray for reasons unknown; so begins our tag-team’s covert investigation amidst their lovesick façade.

If all of this initially sounds like a fun recipe for entertaining social satire, rom-com-riffing chaos and the odd action-packed bout of alien intervention, then you’d largely be correct in that assumption; hilarity frequently ensues courtesy of Ianto’s growing infuriation at his neighbours’ constant sexual innuendos, an all-manner of saucy mischief occurs courtesy of Jack’s irrepressible charisma and ultimately Torchwood’s trademark extraterrestrial carnage brings proceedings to an explosive head come Act 3. Yet that last point illustrates the issue which may arise for listeners (as it did yours truly) who seldom came to the show in search of its take on domestic comedies with a limited number of sets and ample romantic tension like Gavin & Stacey, Friends or Benidorm; much as the premise brings its own inevitable call-backs to classic horrors like Stepford Wives or Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, virtually two-thirds of the running time here becomes dedicated to the aforementioned mistaken identity humour rather than building up any of those hit films’ supreme underlying tension. Such a trade-off feels all the more ironic in this case too given that Moran picks up the threads of a past Torchwood tale from its TV run, one which was wrought with the intense suspense and escalating mortal challenges from which Serenity – while naturally a different beast given its setting – could’ve sorely benefitted at times.

Let’s revert back into examining the brighter side of Serenity Plaza anyway for now, since it’s downright impossible to miss how much of a madcap joy the recording sessions for this month’s Main Range play must’ve been in May 2018. As if either of them needed to prove their astounding versatility at this point, both John Barrowman and Gareth David-Lloyd effortlessly run the full gamut here between strained household flirtations (with CCTV capturing their constructs’ exchanges at every moment); poignant, dramatic irony-steeped reflections on their love-life’s prospects in this deadly line of work; vulnerable envy on Ianto’s part at Jack’s constant bedroom dalliances and steeled determination as their chances of survival once again start diminishing. Equal credit should nonetheless go to their co-stars Ellie Darvill, Deidre Mullins and Joe Shire, whose residents’ frequently chuckleworthy one-liners and near-constant efforts to court Mr. Harkness must have tested their capacity to stifle unscripted laughs, yet instead add a huge degree of risqué charm throughout the play.

But arguably the most promising aspect of Serenity’s framework within the wider Torchwood Main Range comes with the content which we’ve sworn not to discuss in any spoiler-provoking detail. What with Big Finish’s remarkable focus on breadthening the franchise’s considerable lore via new recurring threats like the malevolent Committee, or plot strands like the God Among Us’ benevolent efforts wreaking havoc in Cardiff, you could easily forget – despite the continual presence of the old guard like our lead stars here – that the show ran for five full seasons on our televisual airwaves between 2007-2010, each crammed with similarly potent foes and concepts from the 456 to Captain John Hart, who’s now excitingly due a full-fledged comeback in his own boxset next January. Indeed, if they’re to take away one key lesson from Serenity, then we’d wager that future Main Range contributors could do worse than to see the value of mining the show’s TV mythology more-so than before, since at their best, the results of resurrecting said lore with new twists are genuinely thrilling.

Perhaps Torchwood: Serenity will consequently mark one of the few missteps from Big Finish’s Torchwood output for you, as was the case for this reviewer, or perhaps not. Therein lies the infinite subjectivity which makes consuming culture so enriching…when we’re not busy tearing each other’s hair out over which studio should own a fictional superhero character’s film rights, that is. Even so, the assembly of hilarious talent gathered here for a riotous laugh and the increasingly tantalising forays into the show’s past for loose plot threads still serve to demonstrate just how ideally suited the studio was to take this once-deceased franchise’s reins a few short years ago – a romantic entanglement that seems anything but doomed in hindsight.






Doctor Who - The Third Doctor Adventures - Vol 5Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 31 August 2019 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
Doctor Who - The Third Doctor Adventures - Vol 5

Stars: Tim Treloar, Katy Manning, Jon Culshaw,
Daisy Ashford, John Levene, Michael Troughton,
Bethan Dixon Bate, Joe Jameson, Andrew Wincott,
Rosalyn Landor, David Dobson, Dominic Wood, Guy Adams
Written by John Dorney and Guy Adams
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Big Finish Productions, 2019

“Run free, my children, run free! Spread out! Soon everyone in England will be a Primord!”

With the recent centenary of Jon Pertwee’s birth, it would probably amaze the actor that his work is still celebrated today. The Season 10 classic series Blu-Ray boxset of Doctor Who has recently been launched, highlighting both Pertwee’s Third Doctor and the “UNIT family”: Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and John Levene (Sergeant Benton). It’s the third season in what was a hugely successful Doctor/support team for the program (1971-73) – and would also signal the beginning of the end of the Pertwee era.

Big Finish has complemented the timing of the Blu-Ray release with Volume 5 of The Third Doctor Adventures, featuring two further additions to the “Pertwee canon”. As a regular listener and reviewer of the Big Finish Doctor Who range, until now I’ve largely avoided the “further adventures” of the first three Doctors, preferring to focus on later incarnations and modern series content. There has probably been an element of snootiness involved there – as much as I’m a child of the Seventies (the Pertwee era of Doctor Who is the earliest I can remember), I was sceptical of serials with other actors recreating the roles of late, iconic performers like Pertwee and Courtney.

For example, I’ve enjoyed Jon Culshaw’s impressions for more than a decade but could he really do Courtney justice and recreate the Brigadier? I mean, Kamelion, yes, but the Brig? And who was this Tim Treloar bloke that he qualified to succeed the great Pertwee as the Third Doctor? Never mind that a rudimentary search of the Big Finish website reveals Treloar has done quite a lot of work for the company’s output and that on IMDB he’s been a long-time thesp in TV and film, clocking up appearances on The Bill, Foyle’s War, Silent Witness, Father Brown and Call the Midwife, as well as a cameo in Disney blockbuster Maleficent! Strangely, I’ve never before had any issue with the recasting of the First Doctor on television (both Richard Hurndall and David Bradley) but clearly when it came to BF’s recasting of earlier Doctors, I had more of a bugbear than I realised!

I’m therefore pleased to report that my doubts and scepticism were horribly misplaced. Not only do Treloar and Culshaw deliver outstanding portrayals of the Third Doctor and the Brigadier but the two stories that make up this set – Primord and The Scream of Ghosts – are very faithful to the tone of the writing of the period and wonderfully evocative of the Pertwee era, particularly in their use of sound effects and incidental music. The inclusion of Manning (in both tales) and Levene (in The Scream of Ghosts), both portraying their parts in a youthful manner that’s in spite of their true age, further cements the impression that these two tales could very plausibly (with some minor exceptions) have neatly slotted into the Pertwee era.

John Dorney’s Primord is an indirect sequel to the early Pertwee classic Inferno. As Dorney points out in the CD extras, the Primords in the original TV serial were largely surplus to the greater parallel universe/apocalyse scenario. They served as the generic “monster of the week”, memorable for their faux hairy make-up and canines, but with little development whatsoever. In this tale, Dorney seeks to make the creatures more three-dimensional and empathetic – the Primords are all pawns in a greater scheme by quarters of the British political and military brass and at least two of them are originally people that mean something to companions Jo and Liz Shaw (Daisy Ashford, recreating her mother Caroline John’s character).

There is also an implied intelligence and cunning to the Primords that only becomes evident as the broader story takes shape – and is exhibited by the most unexpected of antagonists. It’s a great twist that propels the plot further along in the third and fourth episodes after a gradual build-up in the first two instalments.

The performances of the supporting cast in Primord all contribute to an outstanding script and production. Michael Troughton (the other son of Second Doctor Patrick) relishes the opportunity to play the villainous General Sharp, while Bethan Dixon Bate is the amoral defence secretary Lady Madeleine Rose whose political ambitions clearly override any consideration for the welfare of the Primords or the victims of their weaponisation.

But again, in a story where all but one of the four major characters has been recast, it is Ashford’s turn as Liz that is particularly impressive. Ashford’s voice is almost indistinguishable from her mother’s, in a way that Treloar’s is not from Pertwee’s nor Culshaw’s from Courtney’s; Treloar and Culshaw at times sound very much like the Doctor and the Brigadier but there are other times when their natural inflections inevitably creep in. That’s not as noticeable with Ashford – perhaps that’s the advantage of being related – but Liz’s role in the story also benefits from the twist in her regular characterisation. This no doubt gives Ashford some more freedom with her interpretation, whereas Treloar’s and Culshaw’s portrayals have to be largely consistent with type.

Another highlight of Primord is the pairing of the Brigadier and Jo Grant – which, to the best of my knowledge, never happened on TV! – as they investigate Sharp’s operation while the Doctor works with Liz on a cure to the Primord virus. Culshaw and Manning make this combination work so well that they literally become the heroes of the story in the Doctor’s absence, particularly as events escalate and they stand as the only true levels of resistance to Sharp and the broader Primord threat. You never truly doubt that it is the Brigadier and Jo that you are listening in on.

“Harmonise the signal …”

The Brigadier and Jo are briefly paired together during the proceedings of Guy Adams’ The Scream of Ghosts but rather than split off, the regulars in the Doctor/UNIT family are switched and swapped numerous times throughout the plot. Sergeant Benton, for example, has a nice moment of introspection with the Doctor as he relates how his absence of a social life outside of UNIT prompted him to join a group of CB radio enthusiasts from around the world to broaden his horizons. It’s a wonderful moment of rare sincerity glimpsed in Benton and it is deftly delivered by John Levene, performing the part for the first time in these Third Doctor dramatisations.

Big Finish, being the specialist that it is, has throughout its 20 years of delivering Doctor Who for audio done some wonderfully inventive things with sound, dating back to early instalments like Justin Richards’ Whispers of Terror (1999). The Scream of Ghosts also imaginatively utilises sound as a core plot point. Guy Adams explains in the CD extras that his script is evocative of sound in a great many forms – it embraces the concept of hauntology (ie of structures capturing and evoking atmosphere and sound), explores early developments in mobile telephony through arrogant and capricious scientist Professor Caldicott (Rosalyn Landor) and her assistant Armitage (David Dobson), and, in aspiring musician Warren Deckland (Dominic Wood), portrays the general fascination of instrumentalists since the Sixties and Seventies with experimental music and sound, including musique concrète.

In many ways, the story is quite self-referential, given Doctor Who’s iconic theme tune and experimental, electronic sound effects were themselves products of some outstanding young minds (eg Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgkinson). Warren even closes out the story by mixing the theme tune when the Doctor leaves him with recordings of the story’s very own extra-terrestrial menace – a “cheat” that was effectively used by the TV program occasionally in the Pertwee era to bridge its own cliffhangers!

As a tale, The Scream of Ghosts is entertaining “Pertwee fare”, with an old TV foe (familiar to us as listeners, not necessarily the Doctor) rearing its ugly head. This particular alien race was pretty underwhelming on TV, and indeed has remarkably enjoyed more of a charmed life in Doctor Who spin-off fiction than they’ve probably deserved (I must admit to being staggered by their multiple appearances in other Big Finish stories). Adams’ own renditions of the enemy are unsurprisingly full of their trademark volume and pomposity but unfortunately the prior baggage of their lone TV appearance (for this listener, at least) continues to undermine whatever menace and authority they have. Even the Primords, by comparison, don’t suffer in the same way, even though they arguably were the weakest link in Inferno too.

It’s a pity because were the antagonist more convincing and sinister, The Scream of Ghosts would probably be a great – rather than just a good – serial. Certainly, it’s spooky and atmospheric in parts, playing on many of the insecurities in viewers/listeners that the Pertwee era was very good at exploiting, eg electronic poltergeists that beg for help, static-filled TV sets that seemingly swallow up their owners and unnerving voices that talk through inactive earpieces. As it is, it is just edged out by Primord as the better of the two tales.

Given the writers of both serials have kindly story doctored the other’s work, another intriguing and enjoyable aspect of this boxset is the loose continuity between them. Gender politics and diversity are very strongly felt in both tales, with Jo remarking that between meeting Liz in Primord and Caldicott in Ghosts, she is getting used to suddenly meeting more women with scientific credentials!

Given both stories are0 set in the Seventies, there is an acknowledgement that women were only beginning to be trailblazers (Daisy Ashford remarks in the extras that even her own mother Caroline John did not realise that as Liz she paved the way for more positive female role models). Liz complains that despite her prior knowledge of the Primord virus, she was approached second for expert advice. Similarly, Caldicott has spent a decade proving that her work in mobile telephony is valid, to the scepticism of a male-dominated telecommunications establishment; she therefore doesn’t take kindly to being lectured by a “patriarch in a cape” when the Doctor admits that he was not aware of her work largely because he knows (from future knowledge) that the real advances in mobile phone technology will occur in America, not England.

The difference between Liz and Caldicott, though, is that the former does not take either chauvinism or a lack of appreciation for her scientific prowess too personally; she continues to work at her best, in spite of the glass ceiling. Caldicott, on the other hand, is clearly bitter and frustrated with her lack of progress over a significant period of time and is consequentially hostile to both men and women alike.

It’s also great to see Jo herself, despite her unsuccessful O-levels in elementary school science, proving that you don’t need a super IQ to save the world. In Primord, Jo is a little intimidated by Liz’s scientific prowess but in Ghosts there is no one the Doctor trusts more to save the day – and the planet. Indeed, in a nod to Doctor Who serials of the modern era, Jo becomes literally and figuratively the most important person on Earth, even giving the antagonist the Doctor’s usual ultimatum of a last chance to stand down or suffer total defeat. To reinforce that she doesn’t have the Doctor’s near omnipotence, there’s a nice scene where she turns to UNIT’s original Osgood (from The Daemons) for advice.

There are other nice little touches of continuity between the serials as well. Jo’s affection for dogs is referenced in both tales – the characters of Private Callahan (Joe Jameson) and Warren have four-legged friends. There’s even a joke in Ghosts about (to quote Culshaw’s Brigadier) “damn fool fire extinguishers” when UNIT’s finest are assaulted by one – they are also the “weapon of choice” in fighting the Primords. While Primord and The Scream of Ghosts can be enjoyed independently of the other, they feature “Easter eggs” that enhance the listening experience.

The Third Doctor Adventures Vol 5 is a highly pleasurable listening experience, and a good introduction for listeners (like me) that have until now eschewed this “continuation” of the Pertwee era. In all, this set of serials not only successfully recaptures the nostalgia of the Third Doctor’s tenure extremely well – both through the music and sound effects, and the exceptional performances of Pertwee’s, Courtney’s and John’s surrogates – it also highlights just how unforgiving, sexist and regressive the Seventies could be on matters of gender equality and diversity. To the BF production team’s credit, it tackles these issues without putting on the “rose-tinted spectacles” while maintaining the “feel” and atmosphere of the Pertwee era.






The Eighth Doctor: The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 17 August 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Eighth Doctor: The Further Adventures of Lucie Miller (Credit: Big Finish)
Starring Paul McGann & Sheridan Smith
Written by Nicholas Briggs, Alice Cavender, Eddie Robson, & Alan Barnes
Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Released by Big Finish - July 2019

Once upon a time, it was not as accepted to be a nerd in the mainstream.  In college, I was slowly rediscovering my love for such nerdy things as Star Trek, when I discovered Doctor Who. Tennant was still the Doctor, just about to start his second series in the role, and I watched and rewatched his debut series and then the preceding one with Eccleston over and over again.  But because being a nerd was still not something that people proudly declared to the world, I would tell myself that I only liked the new series, I wasn't someone who would get sucked into that old show. Of course, I got sucked in and went back and watched the entire classic run as well. But I'd never be such a nerd that I'd listen to those audio stories.  

But Big Finish released the first adventures with Lucie Miller, and for whatever reason, I gave them a listen.  They were easily digestible, made in the style of the new series, and they had a Doctor that hadn't much of a TV run, so why not listen to these stories to see if maybe beyond his rather bad movie he could actually be good.  And McGann was great...and Lucie Miller was a fun companion to have along for the ride.  Eventually, I gave up trying to convince myself I wasn't "that big of a nerd" and just listened to the whole back catalogue of Eighth Doctor adventures, starting with Storm Warning on, and I became a massive fan of anything Eighth Doctor.  But every time a new series with Lucie Miller came out, I was always ready and excited.  As good as some of the early Charley stuff was, as good as epic boxsets that have come out since can be...nothing comes close to the Lucie Miller run in terms of consistent quality for me.  

Sheridan Smith has returned for this boxset, set in between her first and second series, and it sees her reunion with the McGann, eight years since Lucie departed in To the Death. In the set the get trapped in a black hole with some confused Daleks, take down an evil mega-corporation with Roller Derby, help some people trapped in a warped Downton Abbey nightmare planet, and finally take on the return of the evil Fendahl.  It's a fun set, and while all the stories are fun and well written, it is the return of Smith and McGann's rapport that is the star of the show.  They play off each other well, and they don't feel like they have missed much of a beat.

If you were a fan of the Lucie Miller era of the Eighth Doctor audio adventures, you no doubt want to get this already.  As a sampler for new fans looking to dip their toe in with the duo, it is decent.  I think it probably more fun for fans who already loved this team.  If you really want to see if you like them together, I suggest just starting with their first series.  Obviously, it is more cost-effective to buy this, and if you want a taste of this dynamic I can tell you that it does not rely heavily on continuity, and you won't be lost. 






9.5. Doctor Who - Short Trips: Under ODIN's EyeBookmark and Share

Friday, 2 August 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Under ODIN's Eye (Credit: Big Finish)
Narrated by: Nocola Bryant;
Written by: Alice Cavender
Directed by: Helen Goldwyn  

 

Sad about your local market shutting down? Don’t worry about it! Come on down to ODIN Megastore, where we have everything you’ll ever need. Enjoy our Hygge atmosphere. Browse stylish new ODIN wardrobes. Relax with friends on our new ODIN sofas. Friends gone missing? Meet new ones at our food-hall, where you can chill out and live happily ever after.

Welcome to ODIN Megastore, where everything is for sale. Even your planet.

For me, at some point during the sixth Doctor's tenure, the show started to feel a bit embarrassing to watch. I would have been in my mid teens, and moving away from more 'childish' things. However revisiting the series years later, I have a fondness for Colin Baker's Doctor. 

In Alice Cavender's latest Big Finish entry, he is about as loud and abrasive as he got. Full of puffed up self importance and ego. Prime sixth Doctor then!

The Doctor takes Peri to what he remembers as a quiet, unspoilt little planet. Full of old fashioned markets, and friendly locals. When they arrive he sees that all of this has changed, thanks to the giant ODIN Megastore, somewhere that sells anything you could possibly want. As always things aren't quite what they seem, and there is of course an alien threat behind the new retail conglomerate.

Under ODIN's Eye is a thinly veiled swipe at consumer giants such as IKEA and Amazon. It's an enjoyable enough story, played out perfectly by the wonderful Nicola Bryant, who captures Peri and the blustering sixth Doctor perfectly.....however I did prefer Kablam!

Under ODIN's Eye is available from Big Finish HERE.