The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 23 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Tenth Doctor and River Song (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring David Tennant, Alex Kingston, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Mina Anwar, Sam Benjamin, Timothy Bentinck, Joe Jameson, Barnaby Kay, Glen McCready, Anjli Mohindra, Joe Sims, Emma Swan

Written by James Goss, Lizzie Hopley, and Jonathan Morris

Directed by Nicholas Briggs

Released by Big Finish - November 2020

River Song made her debut on TV alongside David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, but the two-parter in which he first meets her (but as we all know is not when she first met him) would be their only adventure together.  Tennant left the role not long after, and the bulk of her adventures under showrunner Steven Moffat would be with the Eleventh Doctor (and a single adventure with the Twelfth as well).  Of course, her whirlwind timey-wimey adventures with the Doctor have now extended beyond TV and even without the Doctor, as she leads her own series on Big Finish.  But the stars have finally aligned, and now we get a boxset exploring the Tenth Doctor and River together.  This is basically the early days of the two having any sort of adventures together.  She is very familiar with him, but he still has no idea who she is, or how he should feel about this alleged friend from his future. 

This dynamic is perfectly explored in the opening adventure Expiry Date, in which the Doctor is basically trying like hell to avoid getting sucked into any of River’s misadventures.  The bulk of this story is told via letters between the two, as she tries to coax him into some shady sound scheme, and he writes back continually declining.  Unfortunately, some of her letters end up mixed up, and her plan to get the Doctor to be more interested backfires when the Fifth Doctor ends up slightly obsessed with her.  This is a fun and light comedy to launch the set with, with both Kingston and Tennant chewing it up. They have few moments actually together here, but the idea that the Doctor is trying to avoid the friendship developing makes so much sense from his point of view.  Hell even the first time she appeared alongside the Eleventh Doctor he initially tried to avoid falling into her plans.  

The second story, Precious Annihilation, feels like the weak link of the set.  It isn’t a total waste of time, but I did find myself less interested in the overall story.  That said, Tennant and Kingston play well off each other, and I would happily listen to more adventures exploring this dynamic because even in this mediocre story, they are a fun pair together.  

The set closes out with Ghosts.  The Doctor is summoned by River to a planet full of ghosts, or are they just holograms...and there is a mist that is somehow killing everyone and turning them into ghosts.  Although I don’t want to get too deep into it, as to not spoil the fun, I rather enjoyed the concepts in this one.  I felt it built up nicely and had a satisfying end, with a lot of neat ideas scattered throughout.  

I must say this is a part of River’s story I have long wanted to explore just a little bit. It is very clear that while her Doctor is very much the Eleventh when she saw the Tenth Doctor she had clearly spent time with him.  Had Tennant stayed on for even a single year when Moffat took over and the River storyline could really unfold, we may have had a chance to see that.  But as it was, we only had that one adventure between the two, and only seeing her ending with the Tenth Doctor feels like we are missing a crucial part of the story, his earliest encounters with her, her final encounters with him, and knowing that when she is saying goodbye to him, she knew that face well.  I like getting a taste of it...here is hoping for more. 





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




The First Doctor Adventures - Volume 4 (Big FInish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 8 May 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
First Doctor Adventures volume four (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Andrew Smith, Jonathan Barnes
Directed By: Ken Bentley

Cast

David Bradley (The Doctor), Claudia Grant (Susan), Jemma Powell (Barbara Wright), & Jamie Glover (Ian Chesterton)

There is something so lovely about the David Bradley-led First Doctor Adventures.  Big Finish has perfectly captured that era.  The pacing is perfect, the tone of the episodes, the music, down to David Bradley’s cadence as the Doctor…it all just oozes the earliest days of the series.  In this latest installment we get two four part tales. The first is a direct sequel to the first Dalek story called Return to Skaro.  The second, The Last of the Romanovs, lands the TARDIS in another pure historical, this time in Russia in the lead up to the Bolsheviks killing the Royal Family and taking over.  

It is an odd thing when Big Finish only has two stories in a set, as is the norm for the Bradley First Doctor series, because they have to choose between leading with their big draw episode, or leading with the more low key historical episode.  They seem to continually choose to start off with the big episode, this time featuring the Daleks, and then ending with the Russian adventure.  As much as it may be harder to draw in listeners with a slower paced historical story, it seems like ending with the big Dalek tale might make more sense. But then again, with only two stories, you can’t have much filler and building a set is a different beast entirely.  I suppose I am just used to the slow build-ups of longer sets.  

That all said the draw of the set is, of course, the Daleks.  And it is a solid adventure that feels like it could definitely be an adventure with the villains set in between the first and second television stories. It is definitely the better of the two adventures in this set.  The second story is decent, and I have a certain fascination with the beginning of the Soviet Union, but it is a classic historical in every sense: it is somewhat slow and forgettable.  It does end on a cliffhanger, with the TARDIS seemingly dead and unable to move on.  

David Bradley’s performance is something I can barely wrap my head around. He doesn’t actually sound anything like William Hatnell.  He also isn’t trying to do an outright impression, but his own interpretation of the role. Yet he nails it.  He just captures the essence of  Hartnell.  He isn’t like The Five Doctor’s Richard Hurndall, who while not awful mostly captured the cantankerous side of the First Doctor.  But Bradley has that spark that made Hartnell so beloved by the children of the 60s. The actors playing the companions also do a fairly good job recapturing their 1960s counterparts (though something always feels slightly off about Susan for me).  

Bottom line: if you love the earliest era of the show, and you have enjoyed the recasted adventures thus far, then you will no doubt enjoy this one too.  





The Paternoster Gang - Heritage 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 4 December 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Paternoster Gang: Heritage 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Guy Adams, Gemma Arrowsmith, & Dan Starkey
Director: Ken Bentley
 
Featuring: Neve McIntosh, Catrin Stewart, & Dan Starkey

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released October 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

The Paternoster Gang returns for their second boxset, titled Heritage 2. So far I’ve not really latched onto any real theme or links between the boxsets or even any episodes, so why they’ve subtitled it Heritage, and even gone so far as act as if this is a sequel to the first set, I have no idea. They don’t need to be linked, just release a boxset of random adventures, who really cares?

This set I overall found less interesting than the first. The opening story (Dining with Death) was especially drab. It felt so bog standard. A couple of warring alien races who despise each other trying to find some sort of diplomatic solution, and somehow Madame Vastra becomes their mediator. The two races feel vastly different about everything! What one finds mormal the other finds appalling...how will they find common ground. I’ve forgotten most of the details already.

The second story, The Screaming Ceiling, I found to be the best of the set. It has a creepy old house that may be alive and eating people. Not too far from feeling like fairly standard Who fare, but it was well executed at the very least.

The set concluded with a story about the legend of the titular Spring-Heeled Jack. A man or creature from British lore that had batwings, spit blue fire, red glowing eyes, and could leap higher than most men. It’s exactly the sort of legend you expect Who to explore. In fact it has in and Eighth Doctor comic from Doctor Who Magazine. I’m surprised the show proper has yet to dive in to it. That said I have been indifferent to both takes on it so far, so maybe it is better left alone.

Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with this set. When the first set came around, I worried I’d find it uninteresting, but the characters were so charming it earned my recommendation. This second set has done the opposite. I went in expecting charming characters that would hold my interest, and came away completely indifferent. Also, why they are pretending there is some arc with the boxset’s subtitle is beyond me.



Associated Products




Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 11 October 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Dimension Cannon (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: Jonathan Morris, Lisa McMullin, AK Benedict, Matt Fitton

Director: Helen Goldwyn

Starring: Billie Piper, Camille Coduri,Shaun Dingwall, Mark Benton

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: June 2018

Running Time: 5 hours

Billie Piper was a key ingredient in the success of the Doctor Who revival.  Her portrayal as Rose was the audience's way into a world that had been closed up for many years.  Through Rose, the audience was discovering the many layers of this universe...the Doctor, the TARDIS, Daleks, Cybermen, and so many new corners of the universe.  Despite only appearing on the show for 2 series, each with a different Doctor, Rose made a lasting impression. Even after she left Rose's absence was felt until the end of the Tenth Doctor's run.

Despite all that...I'm not the biggest Rose Tyler fan.  Don't get me wrong, she was the companion when I discovered my love for the show, and I was really sad to see her go.  She was so integral to my love of the show, that at the time I didn't know how the show could go on without her.  Obviously it did, and as I then went back and discovered more companions, my love, slowly faded for Rose.  These days, I find her adventures with the Ninth Doctor to be top-notch, but I don't really dig the rapport she developed with the Tenth Doctor. Her return in Series 4 marked the moment I began to sour on the character.  They first re-introduced her as a more mature version of the character. The moment she finally reunites with the Tenth Doctor, however, she reverts back to a whiny teenager with a super crush.  And then rewatching the Second series only reinforced how clingy she was. 

At any rate, Big Finish's latest spin-off series focuses in on Rose and her adventures leading up to her return in Series 4.  Using a device called the "Dimension Cannon" she is jumping to various different realities, trying to find her original home and find the Doctor before the universe ends. It's a decent premise, but some details were majorly flawed which hurt my enjoyment of the set. 

In the opening episode (The Endless Night), Rose arrives in a version of Earth and meets a new version of Clive (a character only seen in her debut appearance, who first tells her about the Doctor), and versions of her parents who only dated a year, never married and never had Rose.  But when their sun goes out, Rose is left with the decision of having to save herself but leave them all behind to die. At least in this episode, she has this moral dilemma and then is taken hostage when this version of Pete discovers her way out.  Unfortunately, the reason for getting caught up in events falls apart in subsequent episodes.

For some reason that I genuinely couldn't wrap my head around, when Rose lands in a new reality, her first order of business is to find her parents and figure out how they are different.  For some reason knowing how they are different will tell her how this version of universe diverged.  This is pretty narcissistic. I suppose she is looking for clues to the Doctor in each reality, but she seems to just always focus in on her parents.  In the second episode (The Flood) she lands in a version of Earth that has been raining for 30 years and instead of Pete and Jackie having Rose, they had a boy named Rob.  Why Rose gets so hyper-focused on her parents when her mission is to find the Doctor doesn't really gel for me. Clive has joined her this time and he seems to be actually trying to look for clues to the Doctor, but he falls in love with someone instead.  Eventually, they leave with no headway truly made.

On her third outing, Ghost Machines, Rose is joined by Pete and they immediately recognize this as not Rose's original Earth and likely not to have a Doctor.  They then don't immediately leave. Rose claims that if they can figure out how the reality changed they can use it as a "signpost" to her reality.  How?  That part is skimmed over as if it doesn't matter...but it is the only reason they are apparently hanging around universes in which the Doctor doesn't exist.  Oh but also they are on a major time crunch...they need the Doctor now...but why not look around a place he clearly is not?  This simple flaw really disrupted my enjoyment of the set.  It could have been as simple as a line about how they can only use the Cannon once a day, so they are trapped in each reality for at least a day.  But they can come and go whenever they like as far as they are concerned.  There is no reason to stay around a version of Earth which seems to be overflowing with graves.

The set closes out with Jackie joining Rose on an adventure...for some reason.  They end up in a world where another planet is going to crash into Earth, and everyone in Rose and Jackie's old stomping grounds is throwing The Last Party on Earth.  It's fine, but despite initially deciding to leave immediately because it is the wrong place, they stick around to get to know everyone they know's alternate versions anyhow.  I'm not sure I see the point in sticking around if they never help, they just feel worse about having to jump universes again. 

I was indifferent to this set. Huge fans of Rose may enjoy hearing some of the old gang (though Mickey is notably absent), but really I had trouble getting into the premise.  Rose gets caught up in the events of these different realities like the Doctor would, but she never really helps things or solves any problems.  She just gets emotionally attached to different versions of her family before leaving them to die on their world and start it all over again.  It felt repetitive, and maybe just one Big Finish Spin-off too far.






Lady Christina: Series One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 5 September 2018 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Lady Christina (Credit: Big Finish)
Director: Helen Goldwyn
 

Big Finish

First Released: August 2018
Running Time: 5 hours

I've always been indifferent about the character of Lady Christina De Souza, the one-off guest star from Planet of the Dead (the 2009 Easter Special) starring David Tennant.  I was never fond of that story, which to me always came off as a run of the mill average episode being touted as a big special in a year with a lot less Who.  I am often more forgiving of average Who stories when they are in the middle of a full year...but if you only get a few in a year, they all have to up their game.  The character of Lady Christina was definitely tied to this.  Michelle Ryan is charming, but the character always felt like someone overwritten to be the coolest person in town. Flawless and fun and witty and can do all sorts of cool things.  She is the thief with a heart of gold...but it always felt very forced. I failed to connect with the character.  But that didn't matter in the long run. It was just one episode.

But with Big Finish no having the rights to almost all things New Series, every one off character and their mother can get their own series! So Lady Christina gets her very on Audio Spin-off series.  It isn't a bad series, in fact, it has plenty of moments of fun, but it didn't really move the needle on this character for me.  The character only got one shot on TV, so if you are going to build a series around her, you need to flesh out her character.  Beyond the all too fleeting moments with her father in one episode, this set definitely failed to do that. 

So she ends up being written as a bargain bin version of River Song, a sassy witty adventurer with a bad girl side. That's the biggest flaw for me.  I didn't hear anything in this character that didn't end up sounding like it could've been just as well coming from River. The difference being River had a ton of on screen adventures that fleshed out her character, and the boxsets I've so far heard from her also added onto her character.  This is just some light adventures featuring a character that lacks much depth.  Again, Michelle Ryan is charming and she is playing the part with some gusto...but the lack of any real character development hurts this set immensely for me. 

The opening story is actually fun and showed promise.  It weaved a fun tale of adventure, robbery, and a hint of alien tech, and made me think that maybe this series could work, despite my utter indifference to the lead character.  A bit of light Doctor Who alien stuff mixed in with some crimes?  Sure!  But then the second story felt like it was a riff on the plot of Partners in Crime...right down to the involvement of Sylvia Noble (which ends up being a practically random guest star).  Other than the involvement of Christina's father, which is too underwritten, the story left me somewhat cold.  I would've enjoyed it as a Tenth Doctor tale, but I was feeling that this series had the potential to do something new...a thief as the lead.  It should be a show about a thief stealing alien artifacts...and that should be the focus of the stories!

Though the third episode returns to that premise, I have to say it was sadly a bit of a mess. There were good ideas floating around, but it was too unfocused. The finale of the set also felt unfocused, though not nearly as muddled as the third episode.  The set just limps to a conclusion, and it didn't leave me frothing at the mouth for more adventures with Lady Christina.

Ultimately, the set didn't grab me. It is mostly serviceable light fun, but nothing I will remember a week from now.  I went into this with a total neutral feelings on the character and the whole idea of her getting her own series.  Sadly, the set has me walking away feeling exactly the same.  I am no offended by it's existence, now do I care if it continues or dies right here.  There were nuggets of fun, and certainly, some will find it a good time. Give me River Song any day. 



Associated Products

£33.28
£35.00