The Bells of Saint JohnBookmark and Share

Sunday, 31 March 2013 - Reviewed by Matthew Kilburn

Doctor Who - The Bells of Saint John
Written by Steven Moffat
Directed by Colm McCarthy
Broadcast on BBC One - 30 March 2013
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK broadcast of the episode. 

‘A new series and a new companion,’ announced BBC One shortly before its stream of consciousness was interrupted by something outside the accepted norms of out-of-vision continuity. Doctor Who has on and off promoted itself as an interruption, an Adventure in Space and Time outside a schedule it implicitly paints as mundane and workaday. Forty-odd years ago, when it was ‘the children’s own programme which adults adore’, tucked away early on a Saturday evening amidst sport, light entertainment and imported series or TV movies, it was perhaps easier to indulge Doctor’s adventures. In the Doctor’s fiftieth year, television programmes compete in a much wider field and Doctor Who has to interrupt the evening of a much wider cross-section of the audience than its ancient niche to justify its continued appearance on our screens. Happily The Bells of Saint John did so with the sort of precision engineering which qualified the Doctor’s bike for the anti-grav Olympics, and which will hopefully have a similar effect in the television ratings.

The Bells of Saint John worked hard. While there was much for the seasoned viewer to recognise and enjoy because their foreknowledge was anticipated, the episode functioned more than perfectly well as an embarkation point for new viewers. Travel in time and space was presented in a series of short settings ranging from the domestic to different blends of action-adventure, with more than a twist of the surreal. The ordinary was turned inside out to become unsettling and events and characters depicted with a lightness which was deceptive. The paranoia of the individual in a connected world was ruthlessly exploited. It’s never been fashionable to embrace the Doctor as fundamentally an Everyman, as Christopher H Bidmead once argued he was, but the Doctor’s experience in the rooftop café by St Paul’s must have disturbed everyone who even for a few seconds has imagined that a roomful of strangers is talking to them. Like much of the best Doctor Who of recent years, such as Blink or Midnight, it develops a threat from memories of the nastier examples of childhood interaction. Even the broad strokes with which the villainy of Miss Kizlet is defined ultimately suggest a childhood interaction which went badly wrong, though this is an area in which her client has previous and (within the ongoing narrative of the programme) recent experience.

Each time Doctor Who has returned to television, the worldwide promotion of the series launch has increased. More than any episode since the 2005 series, The Bells of Saint John seemed self-consciously to advertise Doctor Who’s status as a standard bearer for a particular export variety of Britain. As in Rose eight years ago, London was presented as a series of familiar landmarks juxtaposed with a threat associated with a new addition to the skyline, in this case the Shard. Repetition worked, not just because Doctor Who’s worldwide audience has expanded since 2005, but because it reassures those familiar with the use of major new London buildings as headquarters of sinister forces in the series (a history stretching back to 1966 and The War Machines) while at the same time amplifying their anticipation of developments within the story. The programme’s identity is confirmed to those who know it. London is presented to newcomers as somewhere continually remade: exotic, dangerous, but ultimately made safe for time and space travellers, and inhabited by friendly (if occasionally possessed) folk liable to interpret the arrival of a time and space machine as a remarkable piece of busking.

In contrast, northern England (and by extension all parts of the United Kingdom which are not London) is remote and best experienced as a representation of the past, though the all-male monastic retreat where anachronistic ideas like telephones and communicative women are greeted with alarm is a dysfunctional extreme. For the Doctor, withdrawal into such a place is of limited use. His choice and his natural abode is the new. Both he and Clara are voices on the other end of a phone helpline: Clara has called for help but the Doctor is also seeking answers from her. Both collapse time zones as much as BBC Worldwide’s sales force seek to do with increasing success. For the first time a BBC One broadcast of a new Doctor Who episode ended with the BBC Worldwide animation familiar from DVD releases, confirming the placing of the programme as global BBC brand suggested by the narrative’s flirtation with tourist-video quirkiness.

The use of imagery is not alone in recalling Rose. Some of Clara’s exchanges with the Doctor echoed Rose’s initial questions word-for-word, though she has been more successful than Rose at putting an opinionated parent at a distance. There are several retroactive references which are rendered unobtrusive by having other functions in the plot, but which court speculation. Is it accidental that Clara has a book written by Amy? Recent precedent suggests not. Who was the woman in the shop who gave Clara the Doctor’s number? Given the casting announcement for the fiftieth anniversary episode made (by accident) earlier in the day, the comparisons possible between Miss Kizlet in The Bells of Saint John and Miss Foster in Partners in Crime must have led several fan viewers to expect another parallel between the two.

The Clara of The Bells of Saint John is a less preternaturally self-possessed character than either Oswin in Asylum of the Daleks or Clara in The Snowmen. Given that this Clara doesn’t have any computer expertise until she is uploaded to and then downloaded from the Cloud, it’s possible that this is the first Clara, from which the others are in some way spun off; this may be grasping at a straw. Her dialogue may echo Rose but her rapid-fire delivery and some turns of phrase recall the early David Tennant Doctor (‘That’s weird’): but this is another straw, over which half-formed red herrings leap in the fan mind.

The Bells of Saint John furthers the mission statement of series seven to provide a cinematic experience. Several scenes seemed made with HD and a large screen in mind, from the defiantly comedic but enthralling motorbike ride up the Shard, to the detail in the maps, the threading of this particular web of fear across the computer-simulated globe, and the patterns of light which danced and fluttered within the Spoonheads. Cinematic Doctor Who is less afraid of contrast on screen and where a few years ago townscapes were narrowly shot and underlit, the London of The Bells of Saint John rejoices both in the pinhead lights shining from the distant city at night, and the sunshine of early morning. It’s still a series which won’t linger on most effects shots. Doctor Who was never about effects shots, but in an entertainment world where CG is regarded by many as a performer in its own right it is probably the done thing to look bothered about them for a fraction of a second at a time before the episode is furiously driven onwards.

Matt Smith remains in great command of the Doctor, and increasingly so, his physicality seeming less intrusive this year than previously. The Doctor’s enjoyment of his anonymity, overstressed in the first segment of this season, seems to be reined in here, perhaps because of the less exuberant Doctor seen since the loss of the Ponds but also because the point for long-term viewers has been made. As a character, the Doctor is still too complacent about the question ‘Doctor Who?’ UNIT will not have forgotten, and the Great Intelligence certainly has not. If the Doctor is again the principal viewpoint character of Doctor Who, then the programme’s apparently implausible insistence on the effectiveness of the erasure of the Doctor from history might be an expression of the Doctor’s own insouciance. This situation will not last for ever.

The confusion of computer skills with knowledge of internet culture, and of the information transmitted through wi-fi with the technology itself, will have annoyed many fans of a technical bent, and were Sydney Newman here he would probably agree. The idea that human identity and personality can be rendered as easily digitised signals will raise eyebrows among psychologists, physiologists and philosophers to name but three, but it recognises that in the age of Facebook and Twitter more people are representing themselves more frequently and more widely as abbreviated biographical data than was ever possible before. The images of human faces on screens, asking for help, no longer sure of their location, were major narrative devices in The Idiot’s Lantern seven years ago, but they seem more effective in the age of Skype and personal mobile webcams than in the days of Alexandra Palace and 405-line broadcasting. The Bells of Saint John might appear as frothy as the top of Clara’s breakfast smoothie, but it’s a deft blend of bright colours and pan-generational anxieties which proved a seductively sinister reintroduction to Doctor Who.

FILTER: - Television - Series 7/33 - Eleventh Doctor

Return of the Rocket Men (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 24 March 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

Return of the Rocket Men
Big Finish Productions
Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Released November 2012
“When do you know it’s time to move on?”, that’s the question Steven Taylor asks himself when the TARDIS arrives in a time he’s all too familiar with. On a remote frontier planet colonists are being attacked by a sadistic band of outlaws known as the Rocket Men, and Steven might be their only hope for survival...

Steven’s abrupt departure from Doctor Who in The Savages is the starting point for Return of the Rocket Men. It takes this disappointing exit and attempts to give it context and emotional resonance, two things that companion exits were often lacking during this period of the show, when characters were frequently and unceremoniously dumped.

One of the most successful previous attempts at fleshing out the emotional side of 60s companions was John Dorney’s The Rocket Men, which this story is a sequel to. That story is one of the most structurally complex and emotionally rewarding plays in The Companion Chronicles range. In invoking that previous work, writer Matt Fitton has given himself a lot to live up to.

In The Rocket Men Dorney focused on Ian’s love for Barbara, something that was never really addressed in the series, but has been a long-favourite fan theory about the characters. In writing a sequel Matt Fitton not only takes on that play’s titular villains (more on them later), but also it’s commitment to strong, character-based drama, using Steven’s departure in the same way as Ian’s feelings for Barbara. The problem is that the emotional hook of Steven’s decision to leave is far less engaging than Ian’s love for Barbara. As the first companions Ian and Barbara have an iconic status that Steven does not. While it’s nice to have Steven’s departure given more context, it’s just not as interesting.

Despite having a weaker starting point than The Rocket Men, the play does manage to give a satisfying level of depth to Steven’s exit. No mean feat given that his departure was so vapid and perfunctory. In doing so Fitton returns to Steven’s origins as a pilot and the character development we have already seen in The Companion Chronicles (notably in the Oliver Trilogy). While this was probably intended to feel like a culmination of threads from previous plays it does feels a little repetitive. The Cold Equations also had Steven’s piloting experience as the crux of the story, and it (along with the stories either side of it) also had him reflecting on the deaths of Katarina, Sara and Oliver. This isn’t to say that it isn’t engaging and well written, it’s just that it doesn’t give the character or The Companion Chronicles anything new.

One of the things that made The Rocket Men work so well was the clever way it used narrative perspective, telling the story non-chronologically, with flashes in the past and future slowly revealing more about how the situation in the present would be resolved. While Return of the Rocket Men does have a certain ‘timey-wimeyness’ (as the new series would put it), the play’s structure is disappointingly straightforward. This isn’t to say that every play in the range needs to be wildly experimental, but it does beg the question of why you would chose to invoke one of the most complex and well received plays in something which shows such little ambition.

There is also the question of why Fitton decided to use the titular villains in this story at all. In their first story they were clearly intended as a pastiche, both of 1940s sci-fi serials and the kind of pulp-inspired villains which often appeared in the early years of Doctor Who. Here however, they are presented as violent, thuggish mercenaries, their roots all but forgotten. The main genre being played with here is the Western, with the ‘pioneer’ colonist staving off an attack by bandits, and the Rocket Men don’t really fit with this setting terribly well. One of them is even given a bizarre fondness for archaic hand-guns in a clumsy attempt to tie the Rocket Men better to the setting. An original creation might have worked better.

All this may make it sound like I didn’t like this play, but that isn’t true. It’s a very solid piece from a strong writer. It’s just that it pales in comparison to it’s predecessor, The Rocket Men, and would undoubtedly work better as a play in it’s own right, rather than being a sequel. The comparison just draws attention to its shortcomings and lack of originality. With the recent announcement that The Companion Chronicles will be coming to an end after Series 8, it would be nice if they could find ways to use the characters in new ways and push the actors in new directions, rather than going over old ground in solid, but underwhelming releases like this.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - First Doctor - 1844359506

The Spear of Destiny (Puffin Books)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 23 March 2013 - Reviewed by Matt Hills

Doctor Who - The Spear of Destiny
Written by Marcus Sedgwick
Puffin Books
UK release: 23 March 2013
This review contains plot spoilers and is based on the UK edition of the ebook.

Marcus Sedgwick’s ebook entry in this series of short stories from Puffin Books is a fluidly written and gripping page-turner (or should that be page-advancer?). It captures the third Doctor’s era pretty well in many ways, almost finding time to fit in a spot of ‘capture, escape and capture’, as well as pitting the Doctor and Jo Grant against one of their textbook enemies. There’s even a cameo from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, though otherwise UNIT has relatively little to do. Sedgwick has fun creating story possibilities out of the Doctor’s Time Lord constitution, and The Spear of Destiny develops an interesting take on what having two hearts might mean for body temperature and its regulation.

The titular Spear (which pierced the body of Christ at his crucifixion, had links back to the Viking God Odin, and was supposedly possessed by Adolf Hitler) makes for a great MacGuffin, the story being set in motion by its appearance in 1970s London. Sedgwick cleverly integrates bits of real-world myth, rumour and mysticism into his tale, though it never feels too overloaded by research. The Doctor sets off on a mission to capture the Spear, suspecting it to be a “PTN” (or Physical Temporal Nexus), an acronymic entity that the Time Lords want contained so as to prevent its infallible power interfering with the time-lines.

Sedgwick’s plotting creates a few difficulties, however, because he has the Doctor deciding to pop back in time and fix the Spear problem before he and Jo first encounter it in London. This creates a potential paradox at the heart of proceedings: if the Doctor and Jo succeed in their mission to neutralise the dangerous Spear, then surely the spearhead they initially tangle with shouldn’t pose any problems in the first place, having already been dealt with. To be fair, Sedgwick is alert to this issue, inserting a get-out line. But one implication of this story structure is that the third Doctor seems more than a little slapdash in his approach to a supposedly lethal artefact. Another victim of the compressed word count is that we get no backstory for the PTNs, and these remain wholly without context or explanation. Perhaps another of these anniversary stories will revisit the matter, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Doctor’s fondness for Josephine Grant is testified to on a number of occasions, and their relationship is nicely represented here. There’s no doubting the special degree of care and concern that this Doctor feels for his companion, nor Jo’s pride in accompanying him on his travels.

The Spear of Destiny is eventually resolved thanks to a Doctor Who continuity detail. We don’t quite veer off into fanwank territory, but Sedgwick’s closing gambit still feels a little bit pat as a way of tying up loose ends, and the adventure arrives at a rather comfortable, predictable end point; its cast of characters pretty much left in their default positions.

For me, these Puffin short stories are getting better with every installment. The sharpest thing about The Spear of Destiny is the way that it begins with the everyday, or at least with the ordinary – the Doctor and Jo visiting a museum exhibit – before whirling away into time-travel to explore the historical roots of the museum piece they’ve been investigating. As an educational detour this may well tutor younger readers. But more than that, Sedgwick playfully gestures at the wonders and mysteries of cultural treasures surrounding us in the here and now, piquing readers’ interest in history through its present-day traces. Some might say that Doctor Who’s raison d’etre is to make the ordinary fantastical and terrifying (mannequins or dolls or maggots), but this short story makes the ordinary fascinating, deploying its spearhead from time as a way into the value of museums, history, and knowledge. Unlike today’s televised Who there are no strikingly memorable monsters on show (presumed to be “what children want”). Instead, travelling into history – from glass cases to real places – is attraction enough, and Sedgwick’s writing energetically brings that appeal to life.

FILTER: - Third Doctor - Book - 50th Anniversary - B00B54TZD8

Destiny of the Doctor: Vengeance of the StonesBookmark and Share

Friday, 22 March 2013 - Reviewed by Tom Buxton

Destiny of the Doctor: Vengeance of the Stones
Released by AudioGo
Produced by Big Finish
Written by Andrew Smith
Directed by John Ainsworth
Released: March 2013
This review is based on the CD release from AudioGo and may contain minor spoilers.

"This is the serious bit - listen. Trust me on this . . . "

We're three months into AudioGo's Destiny Of The Doctor, and what with the monthly (or "Doctorly") schedule that brings us to the era of Jon Pertwee with Vengeance Of The Stones. What's perhaps most compelling about this third instalment is that it takes place in between Seasons Seven (1970) and Eight (1971) of the classic era, with the Doctor yet to meet Jo Grant, and Mike Yates yet to join UNIT as a captain. The latter plot strand of Yates's enlistment is an element of the character's arc never dealt with on-screen, so naturally fans will get a kick out of discovering how the tale of this beloved UNIT character began.

What's more, Vengeance does perhaps the best job yet of channelling its respective era of Doctor Who. Richard Franklin's Third Doctor impression is smashing, replicating Pertwee's aristocratic swagger and alien authority with the same alarming realism as Frazer Hines possessed in his portrayal of Patrick Troughton's incarnation last month. Franklin is joined by Trevor Littledale, who brings to life the mysterious aliens unearthed at a site of ancient stone circles in the north of Scotland. The premise of the story echoes recent adventures such as The Pandorica Opens and The Sarah Jane Adventures' Enemy Of The Bane, although strangely enough for a range seemingly intending to bridge the 50 years and various eras of Who references to those stone-themed tales are curiously absent here.

Typically enough, the audio's narrative is pretty representative of what fans would have come to expect from Pertwee's early years in the role as the Time Lord. At this point in his timeline, the Doctor is still trapped on Earth, so his adventures have a grounded feel to them in that he's using the technology of the human planet and his own wits, rather than creating a wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey solution as his eighth successor might currently do in these kinds of situations. Whether listeners will find that grounded sense of Earth-bound adventure works to the detriment of a purely science-fiction franchise in audio format will be a matter of personal preference, yet this reviewer has no doubt that Third Doctor fans will feel right at home.

Where there are perhaps more universal shortcomings with Vengeance, though, starts with the lack of ambition in its narrative. Whereas Hunters Of Earth and Shadow Of Death both did decent-to-great jobs of innovating on their respective eras of the show, Vengeance almost feels too much like a Pertwee tale, limited to much the same basic plot structure and chance-driven climax as we would see in many of the classic DVDs. Perhaps for some listeners who were there between 1970 and 1974, this will suit the bill perfectly, but even as someone who's tried to accustom themselves to the styles of each era of the show since joining the fanbase in 2005, this reviewer couldn't help but feel a lingering sense of boredom settling in during the latter half of this piece.

It doesn't help, either, that the Destiny story arc elements are at their absolute most basic and rudimentary here. Again, both of Vengeance's two predecessors at least featured references to the days that might come for the Eleventh Doctor in multiple scenes, yet here we have a third era-representative crossover with a future incarnation of the Time Lord that feels rather shoe-horned into proceedings. You'd have to hope that the various cameo appearances are going to lead to a substantial finale in November's The Time Machine, but particularly here it felt as if devoid of the extra scene at the beginning of the third act, Vengeance could have been just another rather average Big Finish classic Doctor release.

Ultimately, it's unlikely that those more significant detriments in this instalment are going to be of real hindrance to Pertwee fans here. Vengeance Of The Stones is still a fine addition to the Destiny Of The Doctor range, with Franklin's superb vocal work and the prominence of the era-representative storyline both doing wonders for the overall quality of the release. A word of caution and reassurance, then: those followers of the Destiny arc looking for concrete core developments will be left wanting, yet anyone who's been waiting for Vengeance to land and seal the 1970-1974 era of Who fully through Mike Yates's enlistment will at least find closure and excitement to be had throughout this fairly strong production.

FILTER: - Third Doctor - BBC Audio - Audio - 50th Anniversary - 1471311694

Doctor Who - The Gunfighters (AudioGo Novelisation)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 20 March 2013 - The Gunfighters, read by Shane Rimmer
Doctor Who - The Gunfighters
Originally starring William Hartnell
Written by Donald Cotton
Narrated by Shane Rimmer
Released by BBC AudioGo, February 2013
The Gunfighters, read by Shane Rimmer
Doctor Who - The Gunfighters
Originally starring William Hartnell
Written by Donald Cotton
Narrated by Shane Rimmer
Released by BBC AudioGo, February 2013

Doctor Who – The Gunfighters is one of the more successful products of an experimental period for the Doctor Who novelization range. The mid-1980s saw W H Allen/Target make increasing recourse to the adventures of the first and second Doctors to fill out their publishing schedule, and where possible sought the authors of the original serials to write the books. This had mixed results, with some titles demonstrating their authors’ unfamiliarity with prose writing and with Doctor Who. Donald Cotton was an exception. Despite the eighteen years between his last televised serial and his first novelization, Donald Cotton demonstrated a clear understanding of who the Doctor was and the conventions of his adventures. In both his books he reinvented for prose his preoccupation with competing interpretations of historical events, the varying motivations of narrators and the needs of audiences. The crises in The Gunfighters derive as much from the problems of storytelling as they do to the perils in which the Doctor, Steven and Dodo find themselves. The self-consciously convoluted narrative framework offers many opportunities for an imaginative reading. Instead, AudioGo’s edition of the story becomes its second performance to fall through not being sufficiently quick on the draw for Donald Cotton’s sharpshooting.

There's a rationale behind the casting of Shane Rimmer; an authentic North American voice, albeit Canadian and long resident in the United Kingdom as well as one of the few survivors from the cast. His reading at first makes a good impression, grinding out the tones of Cotton's narrator persona, the author's interpretation of the historical journalist and myth-maker of the Old West, Ned Buntline. The listener might wonder whether Rimmer's voice is going to change for the Buntline-as-Holliday main narration, but it doesn’t, despite the theatricality of the conceit. In much of the narration Rimmer sounds unintentionally perplexed and his tone at chapter breaks imply surprise at how long the book is. His handling of the book's raconteurish language is often indistinct, while at the same time too straight for Cotton's archly self-aware style. Buntline-as-Holliday is an unreliable authorial voice, whose pronouncements are full of implausible knowledge which draw attention to how contrived the situations are. Rimmer isn't light enough to present this effectively or consistently. His performance does gain pace and expression on the final disc, in the run-up to the gunfight at the O.K. Corral itself, but it takes a long time to get there.

Given Rimmer's unengaging narration, Simon Power's sound design has little to work with. The decision to punctuate the text with music cues in the spirit of Ennio Morricone are a hint of the playfulness which might have been. Instead, they jar with the prose and pull in a direction which does not run well over Rimmer's boulder-strewn delivery. Though the targets of Cotton's parody for the television version of The Gunfighters were of traditions older and more familiar to young audiences than the Sergio Leone westerns in vogue in cinemas in the mid-60s and which Power references, Leone's films and Morricone's music were at least of the same cultural generation as The Gunfighters and drew if not from the same well but from the same course of western legend.

There is still much to enjoy in the book if one can get past the flaws of the realisation. Johnny Ringo has a knack for apposite brutality but an addiction for Latin tags which lead him to claim the Doctor as his soulmate and to look down on the practical skills of the medically-qualified Holliday. At the mercy of events, Steven and Dodo move from elation at being in the 1960s playground realm of the Wild West, to revulsion at the realities of a society where kidnap and murder are commonplace. Donald Cotton is true to the Doctor as a character rather than a principle of intervention, a fallible traveller whose wisdom is balanced by innocence of the more mercenary details of human relationships. This is, after all, the Doctor Who book which included the term 'cat-house' and noted that Kate Elder knew 'which side her bed was bartered'. Appropriately, the assemblage of 'fancy dress desperados' is a 'finale' to a grand show, the last of its kind. Johnny Ringo is preoccupied by the death of the west, and just as this tale is supposedly related to and by Ned Buntline, the vaudevillean Eddie Foy is keeping the violence at a safe distance while his historical counterpart would later relate his acquaintance with Earp, Holliday and Bat Masterson. Even as bullets fly, some of the participants are already engaged in the process of distancing the Wild West into safe entertainment. The universe breeds the most terrible things, but we deal with them by turning them into monsters larger than life, whether they wield laser guns or Buntline specials. It's worth remembering that some of the historical originals of the characters in The Gunfighters were still alive within Donald Cotton's lifetime, removed from the figures of legend not just by age but by transformed context: Kate Elder died in Arizona in 1940, while Wyatt Earp died in California in 1929, spending his final years advising Hollywood filmmakers on western pictures. Challenging to realise it may be, but in its sideways reflections on how we deal with real-life horror and the passage of time, The Gunfighters shows a deep understanding of the potential and the effectiveness of Doctor Who.



FILTER: - First Doctor - BBC Audio - Audio - Series 3 - B00BCMH2E2

The Last Post (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 19 March 2013 - Reviewed by Andrew Batty

The Last Post
Big Finish Productions
Written by James Goss
Directed by: Lisa Bowerman
Released October 2012
Across England important people are dying in seemingly unconnected accidents. Yet prior to their demise each of them received a mysterious letter, predicting the exact time of their deaths. With the Doctor and UNIT occupied by marauding shop window dummies and reptile men, Liz Shaw turns to the one person who might be able to help. Her mother.

Listening to The Last Post is a somewhat bittersweet experience. The play was recorded shortly before Caroline John’s death last year, and is her final performance as Liz Shaw. Consequently there is a weight of expectation upon it which there which couldn’t have been anticipated at the time of production. Perhaps unfairly listeners will desire not only a strong story, but an appropriate tribute to John and the character she played on-and-off for the last 40 years. Thankfully, The Last Post succeeds on both counts and is one of the strongest Companion Chronicles that Big Finish has produced.

The success of the play is mainly down to the relationship between Liz and her mother, Emily Shaw, who is a brilliant counterpart to Liz. In stark contrast to her daughter, Emily is a scholar of mediaeval literature and is outspoken in her disappointment at Liz’s decision to study science, rather than pursuing something more ‘worthwhile’ in the arts. Their spiky, yet affectionate relationship is a joy to listen to and wonderfully played by John and Rowena Cooper, and by structuring the majority of the play as a series of letters between them, writer James Goss gives both characters a chance to shine. The addition of Emily gives us an insight into Liz’s past which is both refreshingly new and completely in line with what we already know about her.

The story hinges on Liz’s expertise and ingenuity, and her relationship with her mother, with the Doctor very much a secondary character, appearing at appropriate moments, but never usurping Liz’s place as protagonist. Stylistically it draws inspiration from the 60s adventure shows which were a huge influence on Season 7, and the slightly bonkers plot wouldn’t seem out of place in an episode of The Avengers. It is also a continuity heavy-story, with numerous references to Season 7 and beyond. However this never seems self indulgent or unnecessary, this is continuity done with a wry smile and a wink to the audience. As James Goss explains in the extras, the inspiration for this story came when he noticed how many bizarre deaths there are in Season 7 (death by dummy, reptile plague, isotope on a platter and exploding suitcase being prime examples), and thought ‘wouldn’t it be fun if they were all connected’? He cleverly joins the pieces and brings things to an enjoyable conclusion. The identity of the story’s villain will be satisfying to many listeners, especially if they manage to guess who it is from the hints that are dropped before the reveal.

With the previous Liz Companion Chronicles being something of a mixed bag, it’s a relief that in this release the character has been matched up with a writer who can do her justice. While stories featuring companions such as Sara, Zoe and Leela have found the right style, tone and co-performer to suit the actors and the characters, up until now John and Liz have been less well served. It’s gratifying, and poignant that in this final release things have fallen into place.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Companion - 1844359492