Twelfth Doctor #1 - TerroformerBookmark and Share

Thursday, 30 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
COVER A: REGULAR COVERStory - Robbie Morrison,
Artist – Dave Taylor,
Colours – Hi-Fi (with Dave Taylor)
"ISEN VI is the start of a new era of peace and prosperity .. [what] we've pioneered make it possible to build worlds to any pacification" -
Kano Dollar being interviewed.

In-between their many adventures together both on and off the screen, the Twelfth Doctor and Clara face a new challenge to overcome in this hotly anticipated comic strip from Titan. The time-travelling duo are visiting a planet with great beauty and remarkable animal lifeforms - however almost all of it is not as nature originally intended; hence the title of this story. Some confusion and embarassment is immediately felt by Clara as she comes fully dressed for an alpine break away from her stressful teaching duties on the specialist snow planet of ISEN VI. Instead she and her alien companion have happened upon a totally transformed planet which is now very much tropical in its temperature setting. As investigations unfold and those at work on the terroforming become known to the captivated Doctor, it becomes clear that something rather more sinister is bubbling along under the lush exteriors of the planet.

The beginning 'pretitles' are a good mix of dark humour and a truly unnerving and mysterious monster presence. Although the victim is a bit up himself he still seems like a proper heroic type who is relatable. He not only is killed off heroicly, he also has his name misremembered (something a lot of us have had to accept in our Earthbound lives!). And the impact certainly registers more than with some 'red shirt' types which litter science-fiction/fantasy stories.

The art and colouring is overall terrific, and coupled with an engaging story this is as good an opening issue to a series as one could wish for. It is fully aware of the ongoing Moffatt/Capaldi run that so many of fans and general TV viewers are enjoying presently, with direct mentions of 'Into the Dalek' , 'Robin of Sherwood' and 'The Caretaker'. By having some distinguishable references, which need not trouble new readers who perhaps do not watch much TV 'Who' in the first place, there is a finely judged regard for Doctor Who as an ongoing franchise. Dialogue is very natural and strong and avoids some of the comic book indulgences which bother me every so often in other comic book lines from the likes of Marvel and DC that I also read.

Capaldi's lined and somewhat irregular face means that he translates well to the artistic licenses afforded in comic book format. As in most of the Tv episodes there is a bit of the aloof detective at work and he doesn't mince his words. Once the overall plot/situation presents itself to the Doctor he takes charge quickly and most convincingly if still lacking some charm. In that regard, the comic is consistent with the opening text intro. Once the situation presents itself to doctor he takes charge quickly and most convincingly - if lacking some measure of charm. As the text intro on the first page informs us, he wants people out of the way in order to just get on and save them.

Nonetheless for some reason he comes off a bit more likeable and carefree in general. The lack of Capaldi's domineering intonations may be a factor as readers have the option of bringing this comic medium to full life in their own way. Jenna Coleman's protagonist is perhaps a little too bland and lacks the sparkling brown eyes but still functions as a perky and decent-minded counterpoint to our inimitable Gallifreyan hero.

There is a generous helping of comedic altercations between these two, who now know each others quirks and foibles well enough. During one particular verbal tug of war, the latest version of the Doctor makes a pointed remark at his most immediate predecessor and his love for bow ties; perhaps echoing the doomed Tenth's Doctor's mutterings of a 'new man sauntering away'. Clara is not to be bulldozed of course, and gets in a good dig at the Doctors lifestyle of not needing money and not really being a part of Earth society. She could have a case that he lacks ties to identifiable society out there in the cosmos for that matter. But the Doctor's supreme confidence is all on show throughout this opening chapter. Along with the vanity of calling himself sophisticated and well dressed, he is quite keen to mention Scotland in passing for the most tenuous of reasons.

There is also a sense of competition once the two get on with the task of identifying their new surroundings. The Doctor gets to brandish a specialist magnifying glass, whilst Clara thinks she has coined a new word for a strange new species - but loses her skiing bobble hat in the process to the said 'skunkeys'.

Supporting characters are also commendable here. Natural allies appear in the form of Professor Spector (who has a hairdo similar to Gary Oldman's Zorg in 'The Fifth Element') and her team who work on various sectors of ISEN VI, of which the humanoid/ acquatic Dr Scrofolus is most notable. There is a real sense that we are witnessing a typical day in the lives of this scientific team - until things come to a head, all too typically dovetailing with the TARDIS crew's arrival.

More obstructive is the self-absorbed and greedy magnate Kano Dollar - who is not too impressed by the Doctor's assertiveness and gets to utter that much loved line "Doctor Who?" as a result of his skepticism . There is a media correspondent character who only pops up to deliver exposition on this fat cat/ corporate figure and how ISEN VI has changed but even such a minor character is quite well done by the creative team of Morrison and Taylor.

There seems to be a clear villain in the form of 'Hyperios' and secondary monsters in the form of quirky robots who are vulnerable to the thrall of this mysterious fiery entity. With the nuisance factor of deplorable businessman Kano potentially getting in the way in later chapters, the Doctor has his hands rather full indeed.

So the very early signs of this new comic are most promising. Whilst Titan's other new Doctor Who lines have demonstrated various strengths (particularly the Tenth Doctor line), this would appear to be the ace in the pack.

Extras are in the form of a large gallery of alternate covers, with the most notable variants being granted full page sizes.

Cover Variants


FILTER: - Comic - Twelfth Doctor

Destroy the infiniteBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 28 October 2014 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Destroy the infinite (Credit: Big Finish)
Destroy the infinite
Written By: Nicholas Briggs
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela), David Sibley (The Eminence), Michael Fenton-Stevens (Moorson), Clive Mantle (Tillegat/Lieutenant Treeves), Hywel Morgan (Larivan/Lieutenant Garrett), Christine Roberts (Sarla), Ian Hallard (Davent/Infinite Warrior)
Released June 2014

Infinite: Endless, continuing without termination. A noun that does seem to describe rather aptly the continuation of the Fourth Doctor’s resolve to go on a “holiday” with his companion Leela. However, that is not to say that the story is any less entertaining than those that have come before it in what could loosely be called a story arc.

This story in the Fourth Doctor Adventures range sees Leela and the Doctor land on the planet Delafoss, with the Time Lord stating that he recognises it by the trees. Nothing is quite as it seems, as demonstrated in a scene prior to their landing. We see a man identified as Larivan being transformed into a so-called “Infinite warrior” by an entity only known as “the Eminence”. When the Doctor and Leela eventually encounter him, he explains he was forced to take the “breath of forever”, which starts the transformation. However, he is unable to elaborate any further as he is wracked by pain. The Doctor and Leela seek help from a resistance group, engaged in a war with the Eminence and the forces it commands.

Leela’s father is again mentioned as seen in previous stories like The Evil One, in reference to supernatural forces being constructed around fear and misunderstanding. Just as Leela begins to speak, however, a patrol of Infinites discover the existence of the hideout. The Doctor, yet again being seen as a man with a very unclear plan as in previous stories, displays an air of almost new era glee as he makes the patrol believe they should turn back. Convincing the resistance group that they will be of use, the party resolves to go to “the construction pit” and provide photographic evidence of a new Eminence battleship, ironically named “The Infinite”.

After traversing a large and potentially deadly exhaust tunnel and coming out through a service exit, The Doctor, Leela, Sarla and Tillegat see vast lines of people entering the mammoth craft. As filming of the ship continues, it becomes clear through dialogue that the people are hostages. After being detected by Larivan, as well as beating a hasty retreat, the party split up to stand a better chance of escaping. When the Earth alliance ship arrives, a squad of Infinite warriors meet it with Tillegat sustaining a fatal wound. The scene then shifts to the commander of the Infinite warriors who, along with a comrade, witness the arrival of an Eminence casket. The episode resolves itself with a cliff-hanger implying that The Doctor must be captured, in a fashion not dissimilar to original Fourth Doctor TV offerings.

The second episode opens with Leela climbing reluctantly aboard the ship, but hijacking it using a Janus thorn whilst doing so. It turns out that both her and The Doctor both wish to return to the TARDIS, even though the evil that still enfolds the planet has not yet been vanquished. The Earth Alliance pilot and Sarla are both very confused, but this is all left unresolved as the ship is forced to flee from not only fire on the ground, but in the planet’s atmosphere as well.

A rather touching scene ensues with the Doctor attempting to reawaken the suppressed memories within their would be executioner, cut short by an outburst from the enraged man. A call from the commander of the Infinites, Zarith, halts the execution.

The Doctor and Leela then fight for separate goals – Leela to get back to the planet’s surface to be reunited with the Doctor, who ends up simply trying to stave off taking the “breath of forever”. Everything seems to go downhill from here in terms of an impending disaster, with both the Earth alliance and the Infinite warriors seeking to obliterate the opposition. Leela witnesses the stubborn controller of the Earth Alliance lose his nerve as he sees the annihilation of a large portion of his fleet, thus ordering them to turn tale and break off the attack.

The Doctor meets the Eminence for the first time, seemingly in an inescapable situation, whilst Leela convinces the controller of just how useful she can be in providing ideas for the war effort. This interesting overlap works well, as we see the Doctors potential peril coupled with Leela’s calm and cool tactical instincts. The stakes are raised even further when the Doctor, seemingly under the control of the Eminence, delivers a chilling message that, although unnerving the members of the Earth Alliance, only strengthens their resolve to continue the fight.

In an almost too obvious homage to Star Wars, A disguised Leela and the Earth Alliance forces engage in a last desperate attempt to attack the Infinite and rescue the Doctor, the outcomes and intricacies of which I will leave in ambiguity, open to interpretation.

The Doctor and Leela, as with the other stories this season, are played well by Baker and Jameson, accompanied by a well-fitting score appropriate to the military setting. However, the only criticism I feel worthy of note has to be the voices of the Infinite warriors, who do not, in my opinion live up to their cadaverous nature. However, in a sense their voices almost take on a retro quality, befitting of the era. The rest of the cast do a great job, with parallels almost present to the stereotypes of World War II RAF pilots, fighting for the right to freedom and even using humour just to get them through situations.

All in all, “Destroy the Infinite” leaves many interesting questions open, which gives rise to a Sixth Doctor audio sequel, The Seeds of War. With a cast, that for the most part, does a great job in spite of some slightly less impressive vocal manipulation, I think this story is one that’s definitely worth a listen and is interesting in the fact that it raises more questions than it solves. The score, acting and sound design are all to the usual high standard the majority of listeners will have come to expect, topping everything off with an adversary for the Time Lord who feels like something straight out of an original Tom Baker episode.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Fourth Doctor - 1781782954

In the Forest of the NightBookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 October 2014 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
This review contains plot spoilers.

A few weeks ago, 'Kill the Moon' sparked debates about whether Doctor Who needed to get its science right: was it science fiction or fantasy? This week there seems little room for debate: this is surely outright fantasy, from its fairytale roots through to its magical branches and leaves. Rather than gothic monsters there are glowing motes of sentience; in the place of technobabble there are “voices” that children can hear. Writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce is, of course, not only a Carnegie Medal winner for children’s fiction, he was also the writer of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, where a gigantic tree was uprooted in order to symbolize the industrial revolution’s onset. In short, Cottrell-Boyce is no stranger to the dense symbolism of trees, woods and forests, and here again he tackles nature versus technology, with the Doctor and his sonic screwdriver appearing powerless to turn back an invasion of the trees.

Almost lifting his title from a William Blake poem, Cottrell-Boyce is clearly committed to Doctor Who as an educational show. Indeed, writing in The Telegraph on Saturday August 23rd he also compared the many Doctors of the show’s history to Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’:
Perhaps part of the show’s deep appeal is that it offers this possibility of renewal, of starting again. The Doctors are like the trees in Philip Larkin’s poem, which “die too” but whose “yearly trick of looking new / Is written down in rings of grain”. “Last year is dead, they seem to say / Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."
And there’s certainly a freshness to this rather unusual Who. The episode fizzes with ideas, especially when Cottrell-Boyce comes up with his own explanation of “bigger on the inside”. It’s a moment that’s sold wonderfully by Sheree Folkson’s direction. Rarely has the TARDIS console room felt as awe-inspiring as when Folkson has the camera track Peter Capaldi’s walk up the stairs and around the outer wall, effectively seeing it all through the dazzled eyes of young Maebh (Abigail Eames).

There’s also more than a touch of Malcolm Hulke’s old-school storytelling to this adventure, with the Doctor and humankind confronting a power that’s always been there – though these ‘tree devils’ aren’t quite what they seem. Meanwhile, the beautifully unsettling image of a green earth hits home with an ecological message that’s far from subtle. This authorial vision of Doctor Who is probably the closest thing to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory that TV drama has ever sustained, even edging out the classic BBC thriller, Edge of Darkness.

In some ways, though, this is anti-Doctor Who: the Doctor and Clara are ultimately on-lookers, and Missy is similarly reduced to doing little more than watching the outcome of events, albeit with surprise. The Doctor’s role in the story is definitely trimmed back: although he works out what’s going on, and helps Maebh get word out to the authorities, he still ultimately watches the trees in action with a degree of uncertainty. In contrast, Danny Pink gets much more to do than usual, showing his mettle as a leader; Cottrell-Boyce perhaps wants to demonstrate ‘ordinary’ human powers at work, whilst minimizing or cutting back on the conventional fantasy-hero’s role. And what John Tulloch and Manuel Alvarado, writing in The Unfolding Text, call one “of the recurrent motifs of Doctor Who” (p.94) is also inverted. In place of “organic” nature threatened by bad or mad scientists, science is alternatively trumped by nature’s fantastical potency. These trees run rings around both Time Lord and humankind.

But Doctor Who reimagined with a type of fairytale ambience – far more so than ever before in the Moffat era, despite previous attempts to position the show in these terms – also has certain limits. The script is sometimes in danger of becoming a touch twee, and its ending is arguably slightly weak. The brief final scene feels forced and tacked-on – there simply because another moment of emotional closure is needed. For a screenplay that has otherwise refused to play by a number of Doctor Who’s ‘rules’, this final capitulation to yet another happy ending doesn’t quite ring true.

'In the Forest of the Night' wants to revalue fairytales at the same time as reinforcing its ecological thesis. At one point, it’s suggested that forests represent a primal symbol of fear (“the forest is mankind’s nightmare”, says the Doctor), and it would have been interesting if the episode had taken more time to tease out and develop this possibility. But psycho-drama is rapidly displaced by eco-lecture. And so instead forgetting is identified as “the human superpower” (did Moffat’s ‘Listen’ riff on Cottrell-Boyce’s ‘Forest’, or was this an arboreal coincidence?). Fairy stories are shown to be less strange than the episode’s 'real' events. In this reversal, fairytales are an echo of magical reality and not just a mode of childhood fiction. Despite appearances, 'In the Forest of the Night' doesn’t merely reference fairytale archetypes; it’s an argument for the uses of enchantment and the values of the fairytale, not just in terms of making readers and audiences feel safely thrilled, but in reminding us – children and adults – of the strangeness and wonders that can exist all around us, before us and after us.

Having a Carnegie-winning writer of children’s fiction contribute to series eight was undoubtedly a press release-worthy event. But following two impressive episodes from Jamie Mathieson, especially the visually stunning and tightly coherent 'Flatline', 'In the Forest of the Night' doesn’t stand out quite as much as may have been anticipated. It is very much ‘Frank Cottrell-Boyce does Doctor Who’, and as such has a far stronger authorial voice than the show sometimes permits guest writers. Yet by reducing Clara, the Doctor and Missy to spectators gazing with wonder at a global spectacle, this story felt more reminiscent of the London 2012 Opening Ceremony than I would ever have imagined.

FILTER: - Series 8/34 - Twelfth Doctor - Television

Philip Hinchcliffe Presents (The Ghosts of Gralstead and The Devil's Armada)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 25 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock
The Ghosts of Gralstead
The Devil's Armada
Written By: Philip Hinchcliffe, adapted by Marc Platt
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Tom Baker as The Doctor
Louise Jameson as Leela
Released September 2014
Tom Baker's Doctor has had something of a renaissance on audio since he belatedly signed up with Big Finish. The Fourth Doctor and Leela's relationship has flourished over a growing series of adventures designed to bridge Seasons Fourteen and Fifteen and evoke the spirit of '77.

Now, Philip Hinchcliffe, the producer that brought them together returns with a box set of two stories that recapture the feel of the tail-end of his era. Hinchcliffe's ideas are adapted here by Ghost Light and prolific BF scribe Marc Platt, stepping in to the shoes of Robert Holmes, evoking that era whilst bringing his own ideas to the party.

The first, The Ghosts of Gralstead is a triumph. It starts off in Victorian London, but not the familiar gaslit Ripper-in-the-fog setting that Doctor Who still does to this day - this has serious scope, and unfolds beautifully over six episodes. This goes off in different directions including Africa and back - a tale of the dead rising and dimensions opening, with faith healers, tribal warriors, grave-robbers, warring brothers, a ghost-whispering child-woman, and a grotesque 'elephant woman' with some very unsavoury appetites.

The cast is excellent. Baker is on fine, imperious form, and Jameson Leela gets not only a love interest in African hunter Abasi, but a villain she truly fears in Carolyn Seymour's deliciously evil Mordrega. Louise Jameson's performance is spot-on, the only criticism here is that her relationship with Abasi is too well-matched, considering we know she eventually chooses boring, wet Andred as a mate for no apparent reason!

The Devil's Armada is somehow less impressive. Putting the Doctor and Leela in Elizabethan times against the backdrop of the Spanish Armada, with a fanatical witchfinder, and a race of imp-like creatures stirring up the conflict.

It's a good idea, with some good dialog and performances, but it feels a little flat after Gralstead. Tom Baker is a bit more of a mixed bag here - his yokel impression in the first episode is a bit too glib and broad, but minutes later he's perhaps more furious than we ever saw him on TV and the effect is slightly jarring - Tom turned up to eleven. He's excellent when the Doctor realises he could lose the TARDIS though.

Overall, Philip Hinchcliffe Presents is a worthy experiment, here's hoping Mr Hinchcliffe has some more ideas up his sleeve.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Forth Doctor - 1781783632

FlatlineBookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 October 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Ruddock

Written by Jamie Mathieson
Directed by Paul Wilmshurst
Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Joivan Wade, Christopher Fairbank
Premiere 18 October, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

Nine weeks in, and it's time for a 'Doctor-lite' episode, as Clara Oswald's journey continues. Last week, in Mummy on the Orient Express, we saw her consider her role as the Doctor's companion post-wobble. This week, she's had a shock promotion - it's her turn to be the Doctor.

Arriving on present-day Earth, we're immediately in uncharted territory for Doctor Who - Bristol. They should have taken the time to look up Chris Parsons, and see if he moved back to the area after all that business with Skagra and that sphere in Cambridge. Hopefully he'd live in the nicer part of Bristol, which we don't see here. The TARDIS arrives on a wasteground, and the first place Clara visits after that is a dingy underpass. Other locations include a warehouse and a railway tunnel. It's not doing Bristol's tourism industry any favours.

After a brief, creepy teaser, the story quickly gets down to business - the TARDIS is rapidly shrinking with the Doctor trapped inside, and lunch with Danny Pink is off. Clara is left to investigate, with the trapped Doctor as backseat driver - giving her the sonic, an earpiece and hacking her optic nerve.

Clara soon happens upon a Community Service team led by nasty-piece-of-work Fenton (Christopher Fairbank), and teams up with one of the group - Rigsy (Joivan Wade), a likeable young man with a penchant for street art. From the start Rigsy is portrayed as a good sort, while Fenton is an unrepentant bigot and bully throughout, and nearly gets everyone killed. Even the Doctor's moved to say that not all the right people were saved at the end.

Fenton's crew are tasked with painting over murals that have appeared alongside tributes to recently disappeared locals. The murals are of people with their backs turned. It soon transpires that they're not murals. A sinister alien force is at work - one that exists only in two dimensions. It's dissecting and analysing us, a slow-dawning realisation that hits when the Doctor twigs that the strange decor on the walls of the flat of one of the missing people is actually a flattened out human nervous system.

The alien threat is unnamed, doesn't speak, and has unknowable, yet nasty motives. We never learn anything about it - even whether it's a single entity or a race - but its theft of our dimensions, and our image is a disturbing concept. The concept of people turning into drawings was of course done way back in Fear Her, but there's no upbeat reversal of the situation here. The Doctor is briefly given pause to ponder whether the aliens' (or alien's - we don't know for sure) M.O. isn't necessarily bad, but his mind is made up by the end, and his fury is something to behold. The stop-motion-styled flowing effect as people are absorbed into the walls and floors is creepy, as is the jerky, misshapen movement of the painted figures chasing down the railway tunnel. Once upon a time Doctor Who made kids afraid of shop window dummies, telephone flexes, and statues. It recently branched out to bedsheets. Now it's moved on to walls, and floors.

Douglas MacKinnon does an excellent job of directing as ever, all long shadows and atmosphere, with some excellent camera trickery and physical comedy - as the Doctor's hands and face portrude impossibly from the shrunken TARDIS. Clara even pulls a sledgehammer from her handbag. Jamie Mathieson delivers his second cracking episode in a row - more from him please.

Danny Pink appears again, in another cameo - the third in a row since his last full appearance in The Caretaker. It's hard to see where his character is going from this, and Samuel Anderson's a bit wasted here - hopefully his story will finally pay off in the next few weeks.

For a Doctor-lite episode, the Doctor is much more present than usual, albeit trapped in an ever-diminishing TARDIS. Capaldi and Coleman continue to impress. Both get some great lines, and the Doctor and Clara's relationship is now in a very interesting place. She's thoroughly pleased with herself about how well she handled standing in for the Doctor. She wants his approval. He eventually compliments her, but seems a little troubled at how well she did at 'being' him, and also at how easily she lies to Danny about still travelling with him. Perhaps his influence isn't healthy, and he seems to acknowledge this.

We end by cutting to Missy, watching Clara (somehow - how does she do that?) on her white iPad, remarking how glad she was to have chosen her. We'll find out what for in a fortnight, but it's unlikely to end well.

FILTER: - Series 8/34 - Twelfth Doctor - Television

The Worlds of Doctor WhoBookmark and Share

Monday, 13 October 2014 - Reviewed by Damian Christie
The Worlds of Doctor Who (Credit: Big Finish)
- The Worlds of Doctor Who
Written by Justin Richards, Jonathan Morris and Nick Wallace
Directed by Ken Bentley and Lisa Bowerman
Released September 2014

“What’s more, as these [phonographs] become more popular, there might be a market for selling copies of the best acts ... Ha ha! Obviously those more suited to an auditory experience, dramatic recitations or even full cast drama – all delivered through the medium of sound!”
Henry Gordon Jago, The Worlds of Doctor Who: Mind Games

A year after Doctor Who triumphantly celebrated its golden anniversary, Big Finish (BF) is celebrating a milestone of its own – 15 years of entertaining fans with Doctor Who audio dramas. When BF first acquired the rights to producing audio Who in 1999, the TV program was on ice and its revival still another six years away. In that time, the company’s Doctor Who output now numbers hundreds of titles (well above the 190-plus releases in the so-called “main” range, if you add the Fourth and Eighth Doctor adventures, Companion Chronicles, Lost Stories and other special releases). In addition to producing numerous Doctor Who spin-offs that have explored popular and even obscure parts of the Whoniverse – eg Gallifrey, Jago & Litefoot, Counter-Measures, Dalek Empire, I, Davros, Iris Wyldthyme, Professor Bernice Summerfield and Vienna – the company has had the confidence to also secure the rights to other cult franchises and maintain a high level of quality and consistency that comes out of the deep affection, passion and dedication that the writers, producers, directors and performers have for their material.

Like its 50th anniversary counterpart The Light at the End last year, The Worlds of Doctor Who anthology is effectively Big Finish’s self-congratulatory pat on the back – as well as a gesture to the fans for their support over 15 years. Unfortunately, like The Light at the End, Worlds isn’t the most original or audacious of Doctor Who releases. Certainly there is an ambition to tell a broad story that threads its way through the rich, diverse tapestry of the Whoniverse, it’s just a great pity that the threat/villain of Worlds is so underwhelming and that the stories are for the most part so bland.

The villainous Rees, a Victorian era magician and hypnotist who subsequently defies human nature, is one-dimensional, both as a linking concept and as an antagonist. Without giving away too many spoilers, it’s tempting to say the character is a carbon copy of Dr Walter Simeon in the Doctor Who episode The Snowmen, even down to having a remote and brooding childhood and developing paranormal powers that take on a life of their own. Rees’s motives, particularly in the initial Jago & Litefoot instalment Mind Games are over-simplistic and sadistic. Indeed, because you are aware that the villain appears in all four instalments of the anthology, it practically removes all mystery and intrigue in the later stories. The Reesinger Process, the second instalment featuring the Counter-Measures Intrusion Group characters, provides some conjecture and conundrums in the course of the plot but little surprise at the climax. The title of the third serial - The Screaming Skull - is itself virtually a dead giveaway (pun intended!), although it is the most action-packed, entertaining and well written of this lot of serials. The final instalment Second Sight provides us with some insights into Rees’s back story and why he has become so powerful but aside from being a malevolent presence, the character remains grossly underdeveloped and unsophisticated. That said, Jamie Glover (who portrayed William Russell/Ian Chesterton in last year’s An Adventure in Space and Time) gives Rees charisma and authority for such a sketchy adversary.

Given Big Finish has set out to market its wares through this special release, then it will take some solace that it may lure in some curious listeners. The Jago & Litefoot and Counter-Measures instalments are virtual advertisements for those respective series, although you thankfully do not have to be an avid listener of them to enjoy Mind Games and The Reesinger Process. Justin Richards, who pens both episodes, makes them generic enough from the boxsets that you won’t be raising your eyebrows at allusions to other episodes (although no doubt if there are any, they are a payoff for avid listeners). You only need, of course, to be familiar with the characters from classic Who serials The Talons of Weng-Chiang and Remembrance of the Daleks (and even for modern series fans who won’t have seen them, those serials are readily accessible on DVD). Certainly Christopher Benjamin (Henry Gordon Jago) and Trevor Baxter (Professor George Litefoot) bring the memories flooding back with flawless portrayals of their very popular characters, and some of their dialogue, banter and comic timing is extremely well written by Justin Richards (Litefoot to Ellie Higson: “Then I shall be delighted to chaperone such a charming and refined companion!” Jago: “Oh, thank you Professor ¬─ and we’ll let Ellie come along too!”) It is just a pity that the episode in its own right is so weak.

The Counter-Measures team also scrub up well, considering that their characters in Remembrance of the Daleks were even less developed than those of Jago and Litefoot. Pamela Salem (Rachel Jensen), Simon Williams (Group Captain Gilmore) and Karen Gledhill (Alison Williams) reprise their roles effortlessly and Richards does an admirable job of fleshing out their characters and in particular their civil servant supervisor Sir Toby Kinsella (superbly played by Hugh Ross ─ “Rachel Jensen, you know I don’t do smug!”). Again, though, The Reesinger Process is little more than a framing device for this anthology and the big guest star names in Sinead Keenan (familiar to fans from appearances in modern Doctor Who and Only Human) and her real life brother Rory Keenan are wasted in their roles as sister and brother team Stephanie and James Wilton, the heads of the “mysterious” Reesinger Institute. Even The Screaming Skull is probably designed to encourage listeners to try out BF’s Doctor Who Companion Chronicles range, given that Jonathan Morris’ tale is partly a sequel to his offerings Tales from the Vault and Mastermind with American UNIT officers Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato (the 1996 TV movie’s Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso respectively). Having been compromised by the Master in their previous appearance, the two UNIT officers are given the opportunity to redeem themselves by returning to the Vault that stores extraterrestrial and supernatural artifacts recovered by the paramilitary organisation. Ashbrook and Tso’s enthusiasm for Doctor Who, despite their brief association with the program, is apparent not only in their performances but also in the “Behind the Scenes” CD in which they discuss their encounters with fans at Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations last year and their gratitude for being able to bring Matheson and Sato’s characters to life. Indeed, while Sato’s fanboy character in Mastermind irked this writer, his cheek in the face of danger in The Screaming Skull is memorable. Sato’s dialogue with the disembodied Rees, in which he goads the villain into revealing his plans before realising he is to go under the knife, is priceless and Tso injects plenty of humour into this exchange.

The Screaming Skull also nicely references Mind Games and The Reesinger Process and while this episode is a marked improvement on those chapters, this is down more to Morris’ strong writing, characterisation and tongue-in-cheek humour. Even then, the story is not without at least one irritant – the Terravore which stalks Matheson and Sato in the corridors of the Vault is a cross between a Dalek and the Skovox Blitzer which recently appeared on television in The Caretaker! (The Terravores debuted in the 2011 Sixth Doctor adventure The Crimes of Thomas Brewster.)

In another twist, The Screaming Skull also prominently features a reinstated Captain Mike Yates (Richard Franklin) who subsequently fills the “Brigadier” role when he recalls the Doctor (“ol’ Sixie” Colin Baker) to Earth for the final chapter Second Sight, written again by Richards in conjunction with Nick Wallace. While this tale also features Gallifrey regulars President Romana and Leela (Lalla Ward and Louise Jameson), it is more of a Sixth Doctor adventure than a Gallifrey tale and therefore unlikely to motivate casual listeners to investigate BF’s Gallifrey range. While they are as solid as you would expect, Ward and Jameson are horribly underused and Franklin is also rather superfluous to this instalment as Yates (he fares much better in The Screaming Skull). You could even argue the role of “ol’ Sixie” in this tale is symbolic – BF, after all, is largely credited with restoring the fortunes of the much maligned, lamented Sixth Doctor and the popularity of Colin Baker himself in the eyes of long-time Who fans. Certainly, the Sixth Doctor that we meet in Second Sight is Baker’s mellower, more likeable portrayal over the past 15 years and not the abrupt, impolite persona who graced our TV screens in 1984-85.

Although Second Sight explores the villain’s origins and how a character that starts as a common garden Victorian serial killer becomes a powerful menace to the wider cosmos, the final chapter is very dialogue-heavy and expository. Considering events in this serial should be drawing to a dramatic conclusion, the resolution is, if anything, dull and underwhelming. By establishing such a potent threat, Richards and Wallace set themselves up for a fall – they’re not able to devise a climax that is dramatic and nail-biting. At no point in this story do you feel that the Earth and the human race are truly under threat from the Rees malevolence. Not even the prospect that the malevolence could potentially infiltrate every aspect of our daily lives is as unsettling as it ought to be. You come away from this boxset feeling as if the story still requires closure.

Indeed, given the ambiguous ending to Second Sight and the anthology as a whole, it’s disappointing that popular archaeologist companion Bernice Summerfield was not included in the boxset to confront Rees in the 26th century, perhaps alongside Miles Richardson’s brilliant Irving Braxiatel. After all, as Lisa Bowerman points out in the CD extras, her involvement with BF stretches back to the inception of Bernice’s audio adventures ─ a year before the company obtained the Doctor Who licence. Nevertheless, Bowerman makes a dual contribution to The Worlds of Doctor Who - she is a director of the plays alongside Ken Bentley and she also plays cockney barmaid Ellie Higson, Jago and Litefoot’s impulsive, loyal friend.

As a cross-media promotion, The Worlds of Doctor Who may appeal to listeners who would like to sample the greater Doctor Who audio range and its numerous spin-offs. In turn, it’s a nice gesture for the company to be able to celebrate its output and pay back fans for their long term dedication and emotional and financial investment in its products. However, if you’re looking for something original, exciting and innovative, with substance and intrigue to boot, The Worlds of Doctor Who sadly isn’t it. You will get better examples by delving deeper into BF’s back catalogue.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Sixth Doctor - Audio - 1781783411