Countermeasures Series 1Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 November 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Threshold, Artificial Intelligence. The Pelage Project, State of Emergency

Written By: Paul Finch, Matt Fitton, Ian Potter and Justin Richards
Directed By: Ken Bentley
Producer: David Richardson, Script Editor: John Dorney
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs Big Finish Productions 2012
Remembrance of the Daleks’ is still for many fans of the classic show one of the very best stories ever, and was a highlight of Sylvester McCoy's era. With wonderfully written characters and strong themes it transcended its humble trappings of low budget and throwaway scheduling as an hour and half of compelling action. There had always much potential for a spin-off owing to the strong triumvirate of characters who get caught up in the pitting of wits between the Doctor and two Dalek factions. Firstly there was Group Captain Gilmore – or ‘Chunky’ to those who know him a bit more personally. Then there was Professor Rachel Jensen – who was forthright and sharply witty, and yet clearly was a loyal friend to those she trusted. Lastly there was fresh faced and mellow, but eminently capable Allison Williams.

In an ideal world the Seventh Doctor’s era would have had the relative ratings that Ecclestone, Tennant, Smith and now Capaldi enjoy on Saturday nights; and the demand would have been for further adventures with these three very human characters in a sister show along the lines of 'Torchwood'. Luckily ‘Big Finish’ is the saviour of many a lost cause and these adventures – now in their third season – have been given a chance at long last.

The actual premise of this series concerns the three colleagues being officially united under the banner of ICMG – the ‘Intrusion Countermeasures Group’ - where their role is to try and find the cause of paranormal or alien phenomena occurring in Britain. Only months after their escapades with Davros, Ratcliffe, countless Daleks, and the eerie girl/battle-computer this functions as their first real test. The man with two hearts is not able to help out. They are therefore thrust into making some difficult decisions and must show their ability to adapt to the wider context that is 1960s Britain.

The three core characters of Gilmore, Allison and Rachel are reprised by the original actors: Simon Williams, Karen Gledhill and Pamela Salem. They definitely are having a fun time revisiting these roles and all manage to give a good account of themselves; with perhaps a little leeway being required with Simon and Pamela sounding a little bit older than their actual characters for obvious reasons. They are joined in the regular cast by Hugh Ross as Toby Kinsella, a somewhat unknown quantity in that while he helps the Countermeasures team to function by liaising with the British government, he has some of his own motivations that skirt the edges of immorality. Alastair Mackenzie also features on a recurring basis as Julian St Stephen - Allison's boyfriend of three years. This character is given a strong arc of his own which wrong foots expectations.

The opening episode is a solid enough beginning if somewhat unoriginal and static as a stand-alone piece. An apparent ghost is at work and an eminent German scientist has suddenly vanished. The villain (or misguided antagonist depending on your parameters) is somewhat broadly sketched as a crazed scientist/ Nazi stereotype. The actor’s performance is pretty arch on top of this, reminding me of a similar stereotype from Lucasarts' PC game 'The Fate of Atlantis'. The attempts to fill in a back story with Rachel’s admiration for his work are a good idea but do not quite get the right pay off when the dust settles at the end of the events. Episode Two already has signs of the show hitting its stride. A Czechoslovakian former flame of Gilmore has found a device of terrifying power but also great potential benefit. This artificial intelligence will end up influencing the behaviour of various characters dramatically. Eventually the dilemma hinges on how to contain such a sentient creation. There is quite a bit of important set up for later in the season – especially with Allison’s beau Julian. The villain of this particular piece is rather more effective here and he is described by Professor Jensen as making her ‘skin crawl’. Even his eventual fate is done in a surprising and shocking fashion and will make listeners reconsider one of the main cast in a wholly different light.

The following story has some memorable concepts of genetic augmentation and is quite satirical in many ways. Within the newly built town of Pelage, a dangerous encounter ensues with Ken Temple, a man with a very novel mindset as regards the future prospects for planet Earth and how mankind will have to adapt to survive. Political party funding is to blame for Temple's progress thus far and the Countermeasures team need to find a way to halt total chaos. This third episode has many good aspects but is slightly ruined by a perfunctory ending which seems overly predictable and also vetoes having a good supporting character return in a future story, By now the regulars are quite fluent in their roles and are still being developed organically as one would hope. Also the majestic Stephen Greif (of Blake's 7 fame) turns in a fine performance as Temple. This man has a tenuous grasp on reality but cannot be faulted for lacking pioneering ambition,

The series finale is a riveting tale - full of revelations, action and strong evocation of the time period. The story builds upon the plot device of 'Threshold'- with Rachel having apparently solved the issues that the matter transporter had previously. Events are set during Harold Wilson's elevation to Prime Minister. Pressure is put on the Countermeasures team as Chancellor Callaghan plans to reduce the budget of the Ministry of Defence. Before long creatures from another plane of existence make their presence felt, just as a group led by a senior military figure looks to stage a coup. How many of the closest friends and colleagues of Ian, Rachel and Allison will turn out to prove rogue? I never was left being distracted with this fourth story, which rewarded the work required to get committed to the previous plays. The villains may have some despicable methods but at the same time are believable and credible up to a certain point, and the character of Toby continues to shine brightly as a fine combination of writing and performance.

Overall 'Countermeasures' has good pacing and distinct atmosphere, and the stories are pretty easy to grasp. The show doesn’t force too many characters or require the listener to visualise too much difficult material. The character development and overall portrayal of individuals is very solid. There are lots of themes that resonate and tie in well to the time period the show is meant to be set in. Sometimes the plot doesn't feel too conspicuous either which is always welcome given how formulaic the Doctor Who fictional universe can inevitably be on occasion. Plenty of scope remains to explore how our three heroes really do feel about being back together on a long-term basis; hooks for the listener are not in short supply.

As for the original theme tune it is of the brand that stays in the head, but not really something I would want to play to myself outside of the show itself. Other music is serviceable enough and conjures up atmosphere without being intrusive. The show has started on a solid footing and the brilliance of Ben Aaronovitch’s creations means that it would take something drastic to deliver a noticeably weak story.

Behind the scenes material is also very good as we get a grasp behind the creative process from the individual writers as well as the producers and directors. Quatermass stories had a huge influence on the source Dalek story, and so its ability to inspire these new stories is an obvious place to start. Much strong discussion ensues over various 'chapters'. A generous run time of well over an hour is very welcome and rounds off the box-set package nicely.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Companion - B01A1N9OFM

The Day of the Doctor / The Time of the Doctor - OSTBookmark and Share

Monday, 24 November 2014 - Reviewed by Phillip Serna
The Day of the Doctor (Credit: Silva Screen Records) The Day of the Doctor / The Time of the Doctor
Music by Murray Gold
The BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Conducted by Ben Foster
Silva Screen Records
24 November 2014
Available to order now from Amazon UK
On November 23rd 2013, Doctor Who celebrated its 50th anniversary with a stunning array of events culminating in the global simulcast of the much-anticipated story, The Day of the Doctor. In time for the 51st anniversary, Silva Screen Records has released an impressive 2-disc set of Murray Gold’s scores to The Day of the Doctor and The Time of the Doctor, the swan-song for Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor. Since Doctor Who’s revival in 2005, Murray Gold’s music has grown as synonymous as the TARDIS and the Daleks – becoming as iconic as the experimental, electronic and chamber music from the show’s rich and varied past. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales, the Crouch End Festival Chorus, and conductor/ orchestrator Ben Foster deserve as much praise as Murray Gold for what can only be described as a thoughtful and outstanding entry into the Doctor Who musical canon. The production on this release delivers nothing short of impressive, and on a purely technical level, this release will not disappoint even the most discriminating listener.

Looking backwards as well as forwards, Murray Gold’s score to The Day of the Doctor represents a culmination of the entirety of the revival-era of the show. Surprised by callbacks in the score, in ‘Nice Horse’ the cue opens with woodwind timbres evocative of Geoffrey Burgon as the Zygons are revealed. With greater use of synthetic elements throughout, there are a few calls back to the Radiophonic Workshop era, especially during ‘We are the Doctors’, ‘The Moment has Come’ and the ‘Song for Four’ that closes the story. For aficionados of leitmotivic film scores, Murray Gold delivers a rich thematic world for the Doctor. As war rages over the second city of Arcadia, strains of Gold’s ‘This is Gallifrey: Our Childhood, Our Home’ from Series 3 can be heard punctuating the battle by the low brass. In addition to the thematic material representing the 10th and 11th Doctors, John Hurt’s War Doctor is represented by music associated with Christopher Eccleston’s damaged 9th Doctor. The use of U.N.I.T.’s theme from Series 1 is balanced well against music evocative of political espionage films, filled with electronic elements and suspenseful repetitive string ostinati. The theme for the Moment in ‘Who are You’ and ‘The Moment has Come’ incorporates elements from Rose’s piano theme from Series 1 as well as the novel use of reverse delay on piano and clarinet, a technique that Gold used to great effect in the Series 5 stories The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang. The only unsettling or controversial moment in the score is during the pivotal ‘The Moment has Come’ in which the Doctor struggles whether to deploy the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. Here, the music is filled with Middle-Eastern timbres, scales and microtonality punctuated by the icy timbre of the hammered dulcimer. A musical association between the story’s subtext of genocide and real-world violence is likely not intended, but does resonate beyond the score and the world of the fiction. Perhaps this encapsulates the strength of this score where popular music elements, electronic timbres, symphonic timbres, and non-Western timbres coexist in a series whose messages are primarily inclusiveness and pacifism.

While the cues ‘He Was There’, ‘No More’ and ‘The War Room’ are among the most exciting cues on the release, it is unusual that ‘He Was There’ differs from the transmission version omitting the choral elements - an interesting album variation. The closing ‘Song for Four/ Home’ is interesting in that it represents Murray Gold’s original intentions differing significantly from the transmission version of The Day of the Doctor. I, for one, would have enjoyed hearing both versions on this release, perhaps including the transmission version as bonus tracks on the second disk. The absence of Gold’s arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme that closed The Day of the Doctor, however, is puzzling but understandable if there were licensing issues with Ron Grainer’s theme through his publisher Erle Music/Warner Chappell. It is important to note that the Doctor Who theme, existing in various re-orchestrations by Murray Gold, have not been included in Silva Screen releases of Murray Gold’s scores since Series 5. The omitted opening theme, as realized by Delia Derbyshire, is still available on a variety of recent Silva Screen releases.

Despite these relatively minor criticisms, The Day of the Doctor remains an excellent release, if only slightly imperfect. The Time of the Doctor, however, succeeds a great deal in presenting a very different and cohesive musical narrative - marvelously balanced with the transformation of Gold’s ‘I Am the Doctor’ into a Christmas call-to-arms. The inclusion of sleigh bells, glockenspiel and celeste only enhances this magical Christmas-parable, filled with Ben Foster’s lush and cinematic orchestrations, with a sound mix favouring the low strings. The Time of the Doctor‘s score feels more intimate and personal, mirroring its sensitive and sentimental story. The differences between the constancy of The Time of the Doctor and the bolder experimentalism and scope of The Day of the Doctor makes for a multi-layered experience with its contrast set to 11 – offering many rewards upon repeat listens.

Highly Recommended. Rating 10/11

Dr. Phillip Serna is co-host of the Adventures in Time, Space and Music podcast.

FILTER: - 50th Anniversary - Music

New Adventures with the Tenth Doctor = The Arts In SpaceBookmark and Share

Thursday, 20 November 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Cover A: Art cover by Verity Glass (Credit: Titan Comics)
Revolutions of Terror, Part Three
New Adventures with the Tenth Doctor
Issue 4
Written by Nick Abadzis
Illustrated by Elena Casagrande & Arianna Florean
Released 2014 by Titan Comics
This new multi-part story takes place almost immediately after the end of 'Revolutions of Terror'. Gabriella Gonzalez has joined the Doctor for a one-off trip in the TARDIS; which of course will not turn out to be the case in practice. The Doctor saw something in Gabby’s courage and resourcefulness, and so allows another companion to join him. This despite the deep trauma of losing perfect pal Donna. The destination is a deliberate one as the Doctor wishes to introduce his New Yorker friend to 'Ouloumous' - a considerably more futuristic art gallery than the likes of the Guggenheim. The Time Lord has many acquaintances across the cosmos, and the visit is designed to lead to a reunion with mega-gifted artist Zhe; a being who can sing her works into existence, using the familiar device of block transfer computation (as seen in 1980s Doctor Who). After a comprehensive tour of the museum proper, a visit to Zhe's retreat is in order, and the real adventure and danger begins to show itself. Zhe appears to not be quite her normal self, and there are other beings present who seem to have a chip on their sculptured shoulders.

As with issues 1-3 artwork is consistently impressive and helps convey the story very well. But there is an added hook here as much of the story is told from Gabby’s point of view through the medium of her diary. Many sketches exist to portray her deepest thoughts and impressions concerning this remarkable change to her lifestyle. This serves the story by both making things refreshing, as well as broadening Gabby's character to include aspirations of being a comic illustrator one day in her own right. Well-judged humour abounds, and since the Tenth Doctor is so magnetic and engaging a new person's reaction to his many quirks is always going to be of interest.

Whilst many of us fans may be now quite familiar with the 'new recruit' on the TARDIS, it is worth remembering that as each person is unique, so their ability to adjust and appreciate the sights and sounds of the cosmos will be unique as well. Gabby is a clearly thoughtful and deep-thinking type and documents her perception of the animals, plant life, topography and even the sensations of an alien world's weather system. And somehow just as spellbinding for her is the Doctor's total relaxation at being somewhere so different to Earth. So what could just have been a gimmick ends up being a wonderfully creative way of adding to an already promising character. She has grown quickly in the short span of time since we saw her in the Laundromat, and is now pretty much outside of being subservient to her family - particularly her domineering patriarch.

The story itself regarding sinister beings using Zhe's shape-altering powers is solid but takes a back seat for much of this issue. Presumably this is to allow for more focus on plot and the requisite twists and turns in next month's installment. I regard Nick Abadzis as a man who really tells a story in an engaging manner, and he is clearly taking full advantage of the possibilities offered by the Doctor's vulnerability from the end of Series 4. Exposition is mostly delivered well, although if one were to be fussy there some self-indulgence with one or two sections of the gallery that the Doctor covers in his role of 'tour-guide' which adds little to proceedings. Tennant's on-screen interpretation shines througjh well, and I really can appreciate how carefully Titan have made sure each of the ongoing lines provides the right stories and material for the particular incarnation of the Doctor. Elena Casagrande’s art again impresses and the eeriness of being on a lunar landscape in the dark is perfect for the autumn release date of the comic. And when it comes to the journal written by Gabby, we can enjoy a rather different style of sketching, courtesy of secondary artist Florean’s own brand of illustration. As the icing on the cake there are some good subtle references to Classic Who - in addition to the strong reminder of Logopolis and Castrovalva's hard-sci-fi concepts. So another very enjoyable entry from Titan, and David Tennant fans will be well-catered for.

As with other issues, there are comedic bonus entries. Wardrobe Malfunction by AJ, features the Doctor trying on various costumes inbetween adventures; whilst A Rose by any other name, from Rachael Smith, concerns the iconic first modern day companion and a new spin on well-known Shakespeare text.

FILTER: - Comic - Tenth Doctor

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time TravellerBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 18 November 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
This seventh entry in the Time Trips series of e-books is the work of Joanne Harris, and sees the Third Doctor on the brink of oblivion as he struggles to hold back the deadly radiation he was exposed to on Metebelis Three. The Doctor is the only series regular character to feature, and that is because of his predicament in trying to land back 'home' - i.e. UNIT HQ. After the TARDIS is instead forced down into a Time Paradox ensnared village, with a 'Groundhog Day' style routine questions abound. But soon it is clear that the Doctor must somehow save the day once again - despite his very weak condition.

Although thrown into jeopardy from the very start, the Doctor does gain a 'one-off' assistant in the form of Queen Alice. She must help the Doctor overcome the seemingly deadly Gyre portal, and also mechanical creations with fearsome intentions - including impassive Dolls, Bears and Clowns. There is clearly not much of a breathing space when someone dares to upset the status quo and challenge the mysterious higher being that is apparently looking from above - but then things rarely are straightforward for the alien explorer. If someone were to be successful in reaching the controller of the Gyre and requesting the release of the village, it would appear to be the debonair Third Doctor. But being on death's door, without the help of fellow Time Lord K'anpo Rimpoche to assist him to regenerate, there is more pressure and demands made of him than normal. And there is also the issue of trying to reunite Alice with her beloved daughter. Will there be a happy ending for all concerned?

This is one of the most straightforward but pleasurable reading experiences I have had of any genre in recent times. Description is fulsome without managing to slow the story down, and the regular reminders of the Doctor's terminal condition are all very effective and fit the core themes of the actual story concerned. The Jon Pertwee incarnation is one of the more effortless personas to translate to the written word, but this is still an impressive portrayal. There is a lot of sound psychological insight into someone who might not be so 'all-conquering' in his own mind deep down.

The plot is measured very well and rewards readers for trying to get to the core of the mystery. Characterisation is also well above the average for Doctor Who tie-in novels, almost so much so one wishes this was a full-length work. Whilst perhaps needing readers to have seen 'Planet of Spiders' to have the maximum impact, this is a story that can be read by anyone looking for an engaging and thematically rich diversion.

FILTER: - eBook - Third Doctor - B00N3Q0U4O

Gallifrey VIBookmark and Share

Monday, 17 November 2014 - Reviewed by Damian Christie

Gallifrey VI
Written by Scott Handcock, James Goss and Justin Richards
Produced and directed by Gary Russell
Big Finish Productions, 2013
“The Daleks are now the masters of Gallifrey! The Daleks are the masters of all Gallifreys!”
Cliffhanger to Gallifrey V: Arbitration

In October 2013, just over a month before they blazed their way through Gallifrey’s second capital city Arcadia in Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor (the first time they were seen invading Gallifrey on-screen), the Daleks attempted an earlier conquest of the Time Lord home world – in the sixth and final season of Big Finish’s Doctor Who audio spin-off saga Gallifrey. Indeed, it isn’t just control of Gallifrey Prime that the Daleks in Gallifrey VI are after but, as we discover early in the boxset, the ambition to invade up to 1000 parallel Gallifreys through the Axis, the interdimensional hub that controls truncated, damaged timelines.

Although the metal meanies (voiced effortlessly as ever by Nicholas Briggs) can be pretty much visualised in any of their past forms by the listener, the intention of Gallifrey VI – comprising the chapters Extermination, Renaissance and Ascension – is that they are the modern, Time War-style Daleks that have (with the exception of the candy-coloured monstrosities in Victory of the Daleks) been a mainstay of the modern TV series of Doctor Who. Indeed, this is not only confirmed by director and producer Gary Russell in the CD extras but is plainly evident in the packaging for the boxset and the internal CD sleeves.

As Russell also acknowledges in the CD extras, Gallifrey VI effectively hails the first shots of the Great Time War. The saga is accordingly retconned to fit the hypothesis mooted by former TV producer Russell T Davies about how the conflict originated.1 The boxset also represents another effort by Big Finish to align itself closer to the modern TV series without explicitly using the modern era Doctors and companions (Big Finish is only contracted to use the first eight Doctors and other companions and characters from the classic series in its Doctor Who audio range). Previous Doctor Who boxsets such as UNIT: Dominion and the first volume of Dark Eyes made satirical allusions to the Time War but Gallifrey VI is the closest that Big Finish has come to postulating how the conflict originated. The trilogy is also not afraid to homage (if not outright steal) moments from the classic and modern eras alike, from serials like Genesis of the Daleks and Logopolis to episodes like Dalek and The Stolen Earth.

Given the conclusion to Gallifrey III strongly contradicted the Davies hypothesis – Gallifrey was in ruins, Time Lord civilisation was on the brink of collapse and the principal protagonists had fled the home world to take refuge in the Axis – Russell and his trio of writers – Scott Handcock, James Goss and Justin Richards – credibly wrap up the Gallifrey saga without the stories bordering on fan fiction or “fanwank”2 (a term I don’t often use lightly!). In addition, they also successfully tie up the various story strands left hanging from the first three seasons of Gallifrey, the loose Axis/parallel worlds story arc of Gallifrey IV and the wobbly political shenanigans of Gallifrey V. And all while delivering some entertaining, albeit mixed and intertwined scripts.

As often happens when an episode is preceded by a strong cliffhanger (the impressive visual of Daleks invading via the Axis at the end of Gallifrey V), the first instalment Extermination fails to live up to its promise. It is more of a character piece that focuses on the reactions of Romana (Lalla Ward), Leela (Louise Jameson) and Time Lord operative Narvin (Seán Carlsen) to the Daleks, not an all guns blazing “tour de force”. In fairness, Scott Handcock has said in interviews that he sought not to write a carbon copy of one of Big Finish’s earliest releases The Apocalypse Element (which also featured a Dalek invasion of Gallifrey) but where he falls down is in his portrayal of Romana who gravitates between being a whinging wreck at one point, bemoaning to Narvin that all she wants to do is return to their Gallifrey, and vengeful, spiteful and almost unhinged when she channels the Ninth Doctor’s rage (á la the episode Dalek) and tortures and kills a Dalek mutant:

And that’s where you’ve made your last mistake, Dalek, because I am not Unit 117! I am not your property, I am not your prisoner! I am the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, I am President of the High Council of the Time Lords and I will quite happily end your pathetic little life without a moment’s hesitation!

While the ferocity of Ward’s performance in this scene is outstanding, in story terms, it comes so far out of left field to be credible (even allowing for Romana’s two decades of trauma as a prisoner of war on Etra Prime in The Apocalypse Element, this is the first time it’s ever been referenced in the Gallifrey saga). We always knew Romana was a tough and robust character, so I’m not sure why there’s such a need to emphasise that in this story. Leela and Narvin’s portrayals and performances in Extermination are more constant and believable; Jameson is a delight to hear in one scene as Leela takes a knife to a Dalek gunfight but she does so with the subtlety and consistency that we have come to expect of Leela’s character.

In fact, while Romana’s portrayal greatly improves in the subsequent instalments, Ward nevertheless finds herself outperformed by Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Juliet Landau as the Time Lady’s next incarnation. If Ward’s portrayal of Romana II over the years has been popularly characterised as more relaxed, care-free and playful than Mary Tamm’s cool, intellectual and classy Romana I, then Landau’s Romana III (Trey, for short) is an even more vibrant, mischievous version whose humour, effusiveness and optimism clearly belie the future horrors and traumas that she must have endured. Indeed, James Goss takes a leaf straight out of Steven Moffat’s playbook, with the pair’s initial meeting highly evocative of Amy Pond’s mutual admiration session in the Doctor Who/Red Nose Day shorts Space and Time:

Romana: Hello, me.
Trey: Hello, you. What do you think?
Romana: I’ll get used to it.
Trey: The plan?
Romana: No, my new body.
Trey: Lovely teeth, though.
Romana: Mmmm ... Pearly white!

As a novice to Doctor Who, Landau is confident and superb as Trey (Russell explains in the CD extras that she immersed herself in the character of Romana before recording) and for an American, her English accent is nigh-on flawless (no doubt mastered during her time as English gypsy vampire Drusilla on Buffy!). Landau’s Trey provides an excellent foil for Ward’s Romana and is a worthy successor for the role.3 Indeed, the cheeky cliffhanger to Renaissance (which mimics that of the modern series episode The Stolen Earth) leaves you genuinely wondering if Trey will immediately take charge in the subsequent episode Ascension.

Goss manages the portrayals of Romana and Trey in Renaissance magnificently. Just as it is fascinating to see how the Doctor interacts when he meets his other selves, it is even more absorbing to see how Romana relates and reacts to the enigmatic Trey who appears to have an agenda all her own and even seems to be conspiring against Romana herself! After all, as we’ve seen in the aforementioned UNIT: Dominion and Dark Eyes (and even the classic series’ The Trial of a Time Lord), even a Time Lord’s supposed future incarnations are not above stabbing their former selves in the back! Inevitably, Trey’s influence in the overall story arc proves more pivotal than is immediately evident and it proves difficult to second-guess her.

For the purposes of this review, it is hard to write about the saga’s resolution Ascension without giving away major plot spoilers, even with strong hints that the Time War isn’t so far away. Nevertheless, Justin Richards manages to wrap up the overall story arc in convincing and compelling fashion. In the process, not only do we discover what contributed to Gallifrey’s premature downfall in Gallifrey III but Richards manages to wrap up the arc of a recurring character whose motivations were first hinted at in Gallifrey V but then seemed to evaporate over the course of that season. Although the closing events of Gallifrey III are effectively retconned, Gallifrey VI satisfactorily does this in a way that doesn’t scream “cop-out” and the saga concludes with President Romana back in charge and the principal characters reunited with K9 (again matter of factly voiced by veteran John Leeson) and some of the antagonists of earlier series, such as Valyes (Steven Wickham), Matthias (Stephen Perring) and the oily Castellan Slyne (Peter Sheward).

Naturally, as with long epics like this, there are still some unanswered questions that go unresolved, eg how will former President Matthias react to Romana’s return to office when he and other Time Lords have no memory of his abdication? What happens to Regenerator society on the parallel Gallifrey after the Dalek threat is thwarted and Romana, Leela and Narvin return to the Axis? Do the Regenerators and the Outsiders reconcile, considering they were on the brink of civil war in Gallifrey V: Arbitration? (To some extent, it would have made sense in Extermination if the two factions had reconciled and united against the invading Dalek taskforce but alas this is not even covered.) More to the point, is the Axis closed for good? Or is there still the potential for forces from other Gallifreys to bleed into Gallifrey Prime’s reality? While the saga appears to conclusively end with Gallifrey VI4, perhaps there is still the scope for threats from the other Gallifreys to be explored.

If you’ve followed this series from its beginning back in 2004, then you will definitely get a satisfactory pay-off from the concluding chapters of Gallifrey VI. Barring a couple of hiccoughs in Romana’s characterisation in Extermination, this final trilogy of stories is entertaining and well conceived, thanks to the mostly strong writing and extremely impressive performances of not just the principal but the secondary cast. However, given its serial nature and structure, Gallifrey isn’t a saga you should just enter mid-stream, particularly if you want to better understand the machinations and duplicity of the Time Lords.

“A new dawn!”
“A new beginning!”
“A new start – for the one, true Gallifrey!”
Co-ordinator Narvin, Leela and Lady President Romana, Gallifrey VI: Ascension

  1. Russell T Davies’ hypothesis about the origins of the Great Time War appeared in an article titled Meet the Doctor, printed in the 2005 Doctor Who Annual, published by Panini UK.
  2. Wiktionary defines “fanwank” as “elements added to a television program or similar entertainment that appeal to avid fans but are of little interest to outsiders”. While there are other, less savoury definitions of the word, this is my justification for using the term in the context of this article.
  3. If you haven’t already done so, I recommend you check out Doctor Who Companion Chronicles tale Luna Romana, released in January 2014, in which Juliet Landau is equally impressive as Trey and doubles for the late Mary Tamm’s Romana I.
  4. Gallifrey VI is not the end of the matter, after all. Big Finish will release Gallifrey: Intervention Earth in February 2015, with Juliet Landau and Seán Carlsen returning as President Romana and Co-ordinator Narvin respectively, Sophie Aldred as Ace and Stephen Thorne reprising the role of Time Lord pioneer and nemesis Omega.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - 184435959X

Death in HeavenBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 November 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Death in Heaven Written by Steven Moffat Directed by Rachel Talalay Starring Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Samuel Anderson, Michelle Gomez, Chris Addison, Ingrid Oliver, Jemma Redgrave, Sanjeev Bhaskar Premiere 8 November, BBC One
This review contains plot spoilers.

Although not short on giddy action and a twist or two, this concluding episode to both the Missy/Cybermen double-header and Series 8 proper is fundamentally one about characterisation and interpersonal drama. It is not afraid to take risks, and manages to be distinctly memorable - if not the out-and-out classic that the best of modern Doctor Who has to offer the viewer.

Steven Moffat was emphatic in interviews that he and his team would make good use of the Cybermen on this occasion. The creepiness factor for the silver giants was dialled up very high in 'Dark Water', to the extent that many viewers were left quite upset and some even complained to the BBC. The tone alters somewhat here, and it is arguable that the use of some (re-done) voices for these creatures may take just a little edge away. But since Doctor Who was reborn 9 years ago, I cannot name a more solid outing for the Cybermen than this. They are not shown to be overcome by anything mundane or commonplace, and there is a good sense of poetic justice when cyber-converted-Danny commands his troops to end the crisis once and for all. Moffat believes in having these emotionless aliens as a persistent threat but economical in terms of screen-time, and this approach is pretty succesful.

And after all we have another villain who has plenty to offer, and every scene featuring her is an absolute triumph. I was left rather underwhelmed by Missy's previous cameos in Series 8 and felt the arc was not the most intriguing; now I want to go back to earlier stories to try and pick up on the clues that were set in place. Michelle Gomez is someone I myself have seen little of before, but once again casting an actress better known for comedy really works - much as was the case with Catherine Tate.

The main talking point with the audience is the sheer audacity of re-gendering the Master. Yet somehow this fully fledged appearance of a new and very different incarnation is right up there with all the best debut outings for the Doctor himself. Moffat is prepared to stray close to pantomime - especially evident when she channels 'Mary Poppins' by teleporting into a graveyard and falling gently to the ground with her black umbrella - and yet Gomez is able to convince us that there is something very sinister bubbling away underneath the kookiness and spectacle. But most crucially the inter-personal chemistry between Peter Capaldi and Gomez is unquestionable and leaves the strongest after-impression once the final credits flash on the screen.

And in general 'Death In Heaven' works pretty well, even with flaws like 'telling - not showing' - namely when the Doctor is briefed by UNIT on the global situation. Also the 'President' title given to a reluctant Doctor may be a deliberate nod towards long-term fan-favourite 'The Five Doctors', but somehow ends up falling flat. The choice of killing off Osgood conclusively is perhaps a little disappointing, as she has more facets to her than the rather dour Kate Stewart. And further to that, the way Kate is shown to survive is memorable for the wrong reasons entirely; her late father has been converted to a Cyberman, but then breaks free from Missy's control and catches her in mid-air. I do like the intention behind the Doctor's salute to the former Brigadier regardless.

Another talking point, but one that I myself find amusing is the glaring tease over whether Clara is not only a Time Lady, but in fact the show's lead after all. Maybe more humdrum is her fooling of the Cybermen when facing certain death if she were to say the wrong thing. Jenna Coleman is as reliable as ever though - clearly putting in that extra bit of intensity that is needed for a big finish to a year's worth of episodes. Once Clara gets to interact with Danny, the Doctor and Missy, then it becomes abundantly clear just how much of a personal journey this initially plot-oriented lead character has been through. And as of this date it appears there is still some more of her story to be told.

Danny Pink is given some of the strongest material in the script, building on all the foundations laid in place since the beginning of this season. His guilt over his accidental killing of a small boy is a bold theme to tackle for Doctor Who - but given how topical Britain's military presence abroad is, this is a commendable storytelling decision. It also is notable that we last met Danny when he was showing all sorts of panic, fear and apprehension. Now he feels emptiness but appreciates the sacrifice he (and Clara) need to make.
Although I found the Torchwood episode 'Cyberwoman' to be pretty unwatchable, this particular use of Cyber-conversion is both poignant and disturbing. Samuel Anderson seems to be written out now rather conclusively, but he really has made the most of his character's arc in the last cluster of stories. In the end my overall feelings toward this character are positive.

A further big highlight is Clara's brave pretence to her friend that she she has used Missy's techno-bracelet to have the 'normal' Danny restored to her. This scene of two people talking in an unremarkable cafe setting may seem low-key, but is acutely moving. The added dimension of the Doctor also covering his loss by lying that the Master for once told the truth is brilliant. I really doubt that Doctor Twelve will mellow out too much when he still has so much angst and loneliness to process.

Series 8 has been a sound season when taken as a whole, and there have been mostly winning individual entries. Peter Capaldi has proven virtually all doubters wrong and looks ready to raise his average performance yet higher. As fans of the classic series will attest, an actor with a good number of years under his belt is more than compelling enough. Lastly, the 'Santa' epilogue was amusing enough and brought an utterly hilarious bemused reaction from the Doctor. First Robin Hood, and now this? Let's hope the traditional Christmas episode will make strong use of the North Pole setting..

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