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

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

9.3 The Planet of Witches by Alan Barnes

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

9.4 The Quest of the Engineer by Andrew Smith

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

9.1 Purgatory 12 by Marc Platt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

9.2 Chase the Night by Jonathan Morris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 





Image of the Fendahl (BBC Audiobook)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 April 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Image of the Fendahl (Credit: BBC Audio)
Written by Terrance Dicks
Read By Louise Jamesona

Released by BBC Worldwide - February 2020
Available from Amazon UK

To be totally honest, I barely remember the TV version of Image of the Fendahl.  I remembered the image of the golden priestess at the end of the story, but the bulk of it has faded completely from my memory.  So as I entered this Target Audiobook, I was very much like the fans who originally picked up these Target Novelizations.  Repeats were uncommon and chances are the book was going to be your main source for re-living a story.  As a book, I enjoyed it. I think I actually enjoyed it more now than the TV version, even though my memory is definitely vague.

Apparently, this is a story that involves a small village, witchcraft, and an ancient evil alien.  Yep, seems like a Tom Baker adventure. His era, particularly in the first half of his run, was filled with gothic horror elements...so a small village with a Witch and ancient evil seems just about right. 

As expected, Terrence Dicks' writing is easy and engaging.  Louise Jameson does a solid reading, and the production value for the audiobook (featuring some music and sound effects to add to the drama), are excellent.  If you, like so many of us, are now trapped at home looking for something to fill the air as you work from home,  why not pass some of the time with one of these Target Audiobooks?






Ground Zero (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 25 February 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Ground Zero (Credit: Panini)

Written by Scott Gray, Alan Barnes, Gareth Roberts, Gary Russell, Sean Longcroft

Artwork by Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon, Sean Longcroft

Paperback: 132 Pages

Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Much like 2018's Land of the Blind, Ground Zero is a collection of different Doctor-lead strips from the 90s, which were all released in the gap between the ending of the Seventh Doctor era, and the start of the Eighth Doctor era.  Unlike that previous collection, there is an actual arc hidden within these stories, which culminates in the big finale of the collection's namesake "Ground Zero." This arc also played a role in the early adventures of the Eighth Doctor, as the main villains, The Threshold, would go on to be the major antagonist for the Eighth Doctor's first group of adventures (collected together in Endgame). This book has adventures featuring the Fifth, First, Third, Fourth, and Seventh Doctors and the grand return of the Seventh Doctor to the strip also marks one of the long-running strips most controversial moves in it's entire history.  

The opening of the book stars the Fifth Doctor and Peri, as they take on an Osiron Robot, similar to the ones from Pyramids of Mars.  It involves a Hollywood director attempting to use a Hollywood studio to perform an Egyptian ceremony that will release an ancient God of Locusts and gain power himself (using a studio set as the commotion will likely be ignored as filming). The Doctor, of course, foils this plan. While I didn’t find Alan Barnes’ story to be that exciting or interesting, it was lovely to see Martin Geraghty’s (who was the lead artist for the bulk of the Eighth Doctor run) beautiful black and white again. That made it worthwhile to me.

We then find the First Doctor and Susan have an adventure in London that takes place before the discovery of the TARDIS by Ian and Barbara in the series first episode, An Unearhtly Child. While the TARDIS is hiding in a junkyard, Susan and the Doctor stumble into an adventure with an alien attempting to turn humans into his own kind in order to help work his ship and escape Earth. The Doctor thwarts his efforts, as you’d expect. I found this story didn’t really work for me in any way. It was just too bland to get drawn into.

Up next was a shorter story starring the Third Doctor, one of the only stories in the set that doesn't have a connection to the finale.  Unlike the bulk of the book, this story is only one part and was drawn by Adrian Salmon, as opposed to Geraghty.  Overall this one is short and light, but I enjoyed it.  When it comes to classic Doctor strips, I want them to feel like they could easily fit into the era they come from.  The First Doctor story in this book doesn’t get tht right at all, but this is a perfect Third Doctor mini-adventure.  

We then travel to 2086 with the Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry as they fight off Russian Zombies and a man who goes full-on nuclear.  It’s one of the stronger stories in the book. I liked the visuals Geraghty brought to this one, and Gary Russell’s story is pretty solid.  I don’t have a lot to say on this one, mostly because it is just a fairly good read, not too many critiques to expand upon that. The Fourth Doctor also reappears in the final story of the book, which is a goofy strip in which the writer put himself into the strip, and it's a fourth-wall-breaking joke about the strip itself...one that served as the final random Doctor tale before the Eighth Doctor took over in the next issue. 

Really, it all culminates in "Ground Zero," which saw the Seventh Doctor return to the pages of the strip for the first time in two years.  His time on the strip had always been a bit rocky.  It started off shaky with little stories that were often hit or miss, then finally found a voice when the show was cancelled and the TV writers began to continue the journey on the strip itself, but then lost its way again when the Virgin New Adventures novel series began and the strip was forced to play second fiddle to the books. Communication between the folks behind the Virgin series and the folks at Doctor Who Magazine wasn’t always in order, and their synergy didn’t always work.  A comic strip that relies on you having read two novels doesn’t work…and if you are reading both the strip and the novels, having two similar Silurian stories printed around the same time isn’t helpful either.  

So Gary Russell, who at the time was editor of the magazine, just decided to end the Seventh Doctor entirely.  When the TV Movie came out and they were going to get the rights to have the Eighth Doctor, who was essentially a clean slate and a chance to start fresh and with a bit of direction again, they decided that they ought to have one final adventure for the Seventh Doctor, to finally give him a proper send-off from the strip.  And they really went for it.  

The strip totally breaks continuity with the Virgin books, gives the comics their own conclusion for the Seventh Doctor and Ace, and the path it set up was the spark that fueled the DWM strip for years to come. Instead of the older, edgier, darker version of Ace that had developed in the novels, the strip returned her to a state closer to how she had been when the TV series ended.  And then the strip did something majorly bold.  If you don’t want SPOILERS, then beware, I am about to get into them.  

The story involves the Threshold (who also serve as the antagonists in the early days of hte Eighth Doctor), and how they work for some monsters who live in the collective unconscious of humans and want to escape to the physical plane and destroy mankind.  In the process, the Threshold take three companions from the Doctor’s past (Peri during her adventure in the opening story, Susan from the second, and Sarah from the preceding adventure), and use them to lure the Doctor in. Susan, it turns out, can’t actually head into this other dimension, as it would destroy her mind, just as it would the Doctor. But the human companions can handle it.  The Doctor finds a way in, which nearly destroys the TARDIS (setting up his remodel seen in the TV movie), and he manages to stop the monsters…but not without dire consequences: the death of Ace.  Killing Ace was controversial to say the least, particularly as it drew a clear line in the sand as to where the comics now stood in terms of continuity with the novels.  

Going forward, the Eighth Doctor strips were excellent, especially when it came to building up their arcs and expanding upon what came before…and a major seed for that excellent era of Doctor Who Magazine comics is right here.  Ground Zero is a pivotal moment in the history of Doctor Who comics.  It was a bold statement that set the strips apart from the Virgin novel line, and the plot was important to the early days of the Eighth Doctor (though you can easily read the Eighth Doctor strips without having read "Ground Zero," as I did when it was reprinted years ago, but it is nice to get that background finally).  

As a whole package, the stories are slightly uneven.  The Third Doctor entry “Target Practice” doesn’t play into the overall story (though it is fun), and the other three Doctor tales are only tangentially connected to the final epic conclusion (and the First Doctor adventure is decidedly bland)…but that conclusion is something else. Even if you don’t agree with what the strip did in that moment, you have to give it props for being interesting.  It’s a good story too, regardless of the controversial elements.  And that finale makes this whole book worth it.





The Clockwise War (Panini Graphic Novel)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Clockwise War  (Credit: Panini)
Written By: Scott Gray, Tim Quinn, Paul Cornell, Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes
Artist: John Ross, John Ridgeway, Charlie Adlard, Martin Geraghty, Adrian Salmon
Paperback: 156 Pages
Publisher: Panini UK LTD

Whatever the reason, Panini made the decision to hold back on the Twelfth Doctor's final Doctor Who Magazine story for it's own titular volume, and included with that story are some reprints of older 90s comic stories, specifically some stories that were originally printed in the Doctor Who Yearbooks in the mid 90s.  This marks the first time that a Doctor from the new series has been combined in a Panini collection with Classic Series comics.  While it was annoying that the Phantom Piper had ended on a cliffhanger and I had to wait months for the conclusion to get released, the volume is finally here and I can now just pick it up when I finish the previous book.  I guess if anything they used it as an excuse to have a modern Doctor to sell the books, especially when the titular story for the book is actually quite good, to reprint some lesser known stories that don't really have a home otherwise.  

Having finally read “The Clockwise War” story…I can only express how much I wish it had been included with the rest of the stories in The Phantom Piper.  Part of what I really love about the Panini Graphic Novels is that they always seem to collect together stories that make sense. The best example is the Eighth Doctor’s run.  The first volume featured his debut up to the climax with the Threshold, his second volume featured a running storyline that saw the return of the Master and a major battle between the two Time Lords in the finale…his third began with the debut of the strip in colour and lasted right up until the exit of longtime companion Izzy, and the fourth featured the final set of adventures for the Eighth Doctor.  But since the Eleventh Doctor, the sets don’t always make as much sense. Sometimes storylines have been split up between two volumes…and it is clunkier.  I would love to sit down with a volume of comics that begin with Bill debuting, and then right up until this finale…because it is truly great.  And so much of the storyline of “The Clockwise War” hinges on the running stories that began in the previous volume’s opening story “The Soul Garden” and continued right up to the cliffhanging ending of “The Phantom Piper.”  This story is the climax to a whole year’s worth of stories…and it wasn’t included in the same book.  It seems like it is all coming down to release schedules. Why make a proper “graphic novel” when you’ve got schedules to keep.  I’d much rather have waited for this whole volume to get released properly, then split them up. A graphic novel is meant to tell a whole story…these collections don’t always feel like that is the goal anymore. Which is a bit of a shame. They still do a great job putting these books out there, they are high quality in terms of their production value…it is just a shame that the story element isn’t being as properly looked after as it should be.  Part of what I loved about “Doorway to Hell” is it collected together the full storyline of the Doctor’s life trapped in 70s Earth in one volume.  It’d have been nice if the Bill/Dreamscape storyline could’ve got the same lovely treatment. 
Now....with that all out of the way, I really loved the main story in this volume. We see the grand return of Eighth Doctor comics companion Fey Truscott-Sade, who is actually the main antagonist of the piece, and it is a big thrill ride that sees the exit of the Twelfth Doctor.  Despite my complaints about the split of volumes, the story itself is fantastic.  I loved the glimpse into a really bad day in the Time War, and seeing what turned Fey to the dark side…and it is in many ways the Doctor’s hubris that screwed her up. The story ties up all the storylines that have lingered throughout the run since Bill debuted on the strip, and it does it in a big exciting fashion.  As a story, it is highly recommended!
From there, the volume beefs up its page count with some older strips, some back-up stories that focused on the Cybermen, and others that never actually landed on the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, but were actually strips that were initially published in “Doctor Who Yearbooks” from the mid-90s.  This was during the Wilderness Years, a time when the show was off the air but somehow extended media thrived, including the continued publishing of a monthly magazine and even some annuals. The comics included from this era came from Yearbooks published in 1994, 1995, and 1996.  These stories feature the First, Fourth, and Fifth Doctors, as well as a brief cameo of the Seventh.  The Yearbook strips aren't as deep or extensive as the DWM strips, as they are all just one part shorts, as opposed to serializing for several months on the pages of the magazine.  It is nice to have them reprinted and remastered, but they aren't the best comic adventures for the Doctor and co.  
“The Cybermen” was actually a series of short one page strips that appeared as a back-up comic in Doctor Who Magazine, and were written by Alan Barnes and drawn by Adrian Salmon, and was meant to evoke the 60s Dalek strips that appeared in TV Century 21. Unlike the forgettable Yearbook strips, these are actually pretty cool. Each story lasted about 5 or so pages, and the entire run is collected here. 
On the whole, it is hard to not recommend this volume.  Obviously, the decision to hold back the Twelfth Doctor's final story is more about marketing than anything.  It is easier to sell a book with a more current Doctor on the cover, than various old Doctors with no cohesive theme.  That said the Cybermen stories are neat, and it is nice that Panini, however they do it, is still remastering and collecting together all of these old comics into nice shiny volumes. The efforts of preservation should be applauded. With Ground Zero on the way, it would seem that the DWM era back catalogue will be wrapping up, and one can only hope that Panini continues their collections by going back and collecting together the pre-DWM strips from TV Comic, TV Century 21, and Countdown/TV Action. Perhaps rights issues could prevent that, but as they have reprinted some of those comics in the past, I have to believe they are considering it. 




The Comic Strip Adaptations: Vol 1Bookmark and Share

Monday, 29 April 2019 - Reviewed by Callum McKelvie
The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 01 (Credit: Big Finish)
Adapted By: Alan Barnes
Director: Nicholas Briggs

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

First Released: SMarch 2019

Big Finish’s year of anniversary celebrations has many surprises in store, not least of which was the reveal of a special release for Doctors 4-8. For myself, the most anticipated of these releases was the Fourth Doctors ‘Comic Strip Adaptations’ which had been teased on and off for some time now. The two stories chosen, The Iron Legion and The Star Beast are both from early in the DWM strip and were written by British comics legends Pat Mills and John Wagner. As such, they introduced some of their trademark ‘zaniness’, into the strips which whilst still traditionally ‘doctor who-ish’ had a unique whimsical flare and ambitious scope that set them apart from the admittedly cheap looking Season 17 (which was on air when Doctor Who Weekly debuted). So what of these adaptations then? Coming from such a visual medium, are they able to capture the spirit of their trend-setting originals?

The Iron Legion is the first story in the set and I think it’s fair for me to confess that alongside End of the Line, Voyager, Oblivion and Children of the Revolution it’s my favourite DWM strip. Admittedly then, I was quite nervous about how this would translate to the audio medium. The strip itself is arguably one of the most visual in DWM’s entire run and the scale is beyond vast. Alan Barnes adapts both these stories and given his history with both DWM and British comics, in general, is well placed to do so. With The Iron Legion, in particular, he keeps the main structure and set pieces of the original strip, whilst adding several new but not intrusive elements (which I wont spoil here). The result is this adaptation feels very much like a retelling of the comic original, but introduces enough to make it interesting enough to anyone who is familiar with that story. Toby Longworth and Brian Protheroe excel in their roles as Vesuvias and Ironicus respectively, the latter in particular capturing the character exactly as I imagined he sounded when I fist read the strip.

Of course, any adaptations of the Fourth Doctors DWM strip would have to include a version of The Star Beast which introduced Beep the Meep to the world of Doctor Who. Again Alan Barnes script sticks close to the original story but differs enough to keep it interesting. One particularly pleasing element kept from the strip version is the quirky natures of the humour given to the Doctor, with dialogue being taken directly from the strip itself. Tom Baker in particular, seems to enjoy this quirky and more off-the-wall version of his character (which is saying something) and he gives two intoxicating performances across the set. Rhianne Starbuck is equally wonderful as Sharon and the pair have great chemistry throughout this story. Of course, the real ‘star’ of Star Beast is of course Beep the Meep, played wonderfully by Bethan Dixon Bate. It’s a wonderfully funny and genuinely creepy performance, one that does great justice to such a well-established character.

The Comic Strip Adapations has proven to be a great success and they deserve all the recognition they can get, as the task of adapting two popular and incredibly visual stories for the audio medium must have been incredibly vast. One thing that really comes through with these two audio dramas is just how fun they are. Everybody, from Alan Barnes to Tom Baker to the sound designers, seems to be having incredible fun bringing these two wild and wacky stories to life. They may not be to everyone’s taste, given just how off the wall they are! But I for one look forward to a possible Comic Strip Adaptations Two and of course the four series of Beep the Meep box sets that must surely be around the corner…