The Early Adventures: The Fifth Traveller (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
The Fifth Traveller (Credit: Big Finish / Tom Webster)

Written by Philip Lawrence

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Cast: William Russell (Ian/The Doctor), Maureen O'Brien (Vicki/Narrator) Jemma Powell(Barbara/Fula), James Joyce (Jospa), Kate Byers (Sharna), Elliot Cowan (Gark) and Orlando James (Krube)

Big Finish Productions – Released October 2016

This reviewer is still something of a newcomer to Big Finish’s Early Adventures range. The premise of producing something closer to a full cast audio drama, but still with narration so that the finished story resembles the soundtrack to a missing television adventure is enjoyable one and on the basis of this release there is just a much potential for new adventures for the first two Doctors as with the popular Companion Chronicles range.

It is quite difficult to review this particular story without straying into what might be considered as spoiler territory but this reviewer will attempt to avoid giving away too much.

At the centre of this story is the Fifth Traveller of the title. Jospa is a potential new companion, who is enjoyably brought to life by James Joyce. Joyce is a clearly versatile actor who has made a number of previous Big Finish appearances and is already established as a series regular in both the Charlotte Pollard and UNIT – The New Series spin-offs. Jospa is introduced as already being a member of the TARDIS crew having apparently joined during a previous unseen adventure set on 31st Century Earth, he is a young man of a similar age to Vicki. However, there are clues for attentive listeners which sign post the mystery at the heart of this story which become more obvious during the third and fourth episodes. Whilst the resulting revelations may not come as a complete surprise, they still make for an exciting listen as the story builds to its climax.

The other regular cast are on great form with elder statesmanWilliam Russell doing a sterling job voicing both the Doctor and Ian and Maureen O’Brien managing a wonderfully youthful Vicki who shares some excellent scenes with Jospa, whilst also providing the story’s narration. They are given excellent support in her second Big Finish appearance in the role of Barbara by Jemma Powell, who portrayed Jacqueline Hill in An Adventure in Space and Time. This reviewer had not experienced the “new” Barbara before but was pleased that she fitted in well and seemed to very much embody the charst acter rather than attempting to overly impersonate Hill’s original portrayal. The remaining cast, Kate Byers, Elliot Cowan, and Orland James were an excellent ensemble and as ever with this series and many of the Companion Chronicles before it, benefitted from clear direction from Lisa Bowerman. The sound design and music by Toby Hrycek-Robinson felt very much in keeping with the television series of 1965.

Overall, this is an excellent contribution to Big Finish’s expansion of the adventures of the First Doctor. This reviewer is writing on the fiftieth anniversary of William Hartnell’s final regular appearance in the part he loved and one cannot help but reflect that it is a fitting tribute that his portrayal is still inspiring such great storytelling so many years later. Long may it continue.


This story is available to buy now directly from Big Finish and will be on general release from November 30th 2016.


Class Season One - Episode 3 - NightvisitingBookmark and Share

Saturday, 29 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Class - Series 1 (Credit: BBC/Todd Antony)

Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Jordan Renzo and Katherine Kelly, with Kobna Holdbrook-Smith and Anastasia Hille.

Written By: Patrick Ness, Directed By: Edward Bazalgette
Released Online (BBC Three) - Saturday 29th October 2016

This review contains spoilers


After last week's launch episodes, not to mention an audience-grabbing deployment of Peter Capaldi, this is where Class might start to settle down into its own spin-off rhythms and Academy routines. But 'Nightvisiting' avoids a number of telefantasy pitfalls; for one thing, the lead characters are not instantaneously bonded together as an alien-fighting team. And even if this scenario begins to solidify across the episode, Class still has its trump card of Miss Quill - a perpetual outsider played with insistent relish by Katherine Kelly - to disrupt any easy sense of teambuilding. For another thing, this story avoids focusing on a 'character of the week', despite seeming at first as if it may belong to Tanya in the same way that 'Coach with the Dragon Tattoo' made Ram its central figure. Instead, both Quill and Tanya are forced to confront powerful memories.


We open with what amounts to a pop-video-style montage, a four-minute warning of what Tanya has lost from her life, as we see key moments in her relationship with her Dad before flashing forward to his sudden death, and then to the second anniversary of their family's loss. As a pre-credits sequence this really packs a punch; Patrick Ness is right to emphasise all these happy family events so as to really underscore and stress Tanya's grief, and her desire to believe that her Dad may have returned. It feels somewhat akin to the most unusual episode of Russell T. Davies's Cucumber, albeit boiled down to a single sequence and given a fantastical edge.


Of course, the 'nightvisiting' idea that's explored in this episode has a long and venerable history in both folklore and genre fiction, but even so the folk motif drawn on via April's hobby gives things a fresh new dimension. Even more impressive, though, are the visuals, where this week's alien presence has a Krynoid-like or Zygon-like organic feel, combined with an 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' pod-people vibe. The monstrous aspects of 'Nightvisiting' are handled expertly via Ed Bazalgette's direction, especially when Tanya's Dad, Jasper, is framed at the extreme right-hand edge of the screen in order to mask the unpleasant reality of exactly what's feeding into his shocking appearance. All the trunk and tendril imagery is also utilised very well in outside scenes of alien invasion, making this a highly unusual and distinctive alien attack in relation to the Whoniverse's norms.


Although it could be suggested that this is an even more character-driven and emotional story than what's come before in Class, it balances character development and its action storyline very effectively. There's also space for a number of subplots to occupy the ensemble cast, as Matteusz takes on a larger role after his displacement from episode 2, allowing his budding relationship with Charlie to be touchingly explored, as well as Ram and April's friendship deepening, perhaps into something new. One aspect of the show's format -- that Miss Quill can only defend her charge rather than proactively fighting -- looks as though it may be in danger of becoming repetitive and limiting rather quickly, though. It is only referenced briefly here, but for such a compelling character to be so restricted seems narratively awkward at best. It's a neat device for making a conflicted "freedom fighter" a more Doctor-ish presence, having to rely on ingenuity and intellect rather than resorting to violence, but thus far in the series it seems just to have inhibited Quill. I hope that Ness can find creative ways to vary, qualify and bend the rules he's set for himself in future adventures.


There is some limited tension as we ponder whether beloved relatives may have been restored to those suffering bereavement and loss. Given the genres that Class is registered within, however, there's no real doubt or hesitation over where the story is headed (and likewise, the visual reveals rather quickly indicate a less than pleasant alien force at work). But with so much else going on in the episode, this is less of a weakness than may otherwise be supposed, and the real tension lies in whether Miss Quill or Tanya will give into temptation.


After three episodes, and being almost half way through series one already, it's interesting to ponder what makes this a "YA" rendering of the Doctor Who template. Yes, the lead characters are mostly of school age; yes, relationships and sexuality are a major part of the mix; yes, there's more gore and telefantasy horror than the parent show and its family-friendly prohibitions can muster. Having said that, "YA" may itself be difficult to pin down, and Class makes a strong case for not really worrying about such definitions, along with ignoring the TV industry's preoccupation with audience demographics. The persuasiveness of Patrick Ness's vision of Coal Hill Academy is that its persistent probings of loss carry an emotional realism that easily transcends age categories. Such loss also afflicts human and non-human characters alike: there's no superheroic position outside the sadnesses that make life worth living, and even the Doctor can't always be there to help. There is a basic, underlying melancholy to Class that is more than merely adult or grown-up. This is television where emotional realism and emotional intelligence intertwine in its very roots and branches. Roll on next week, then, and an episode that looks set to revisit and expand upon another core part of the mythology that Patrick Ness is wholeheartedly, sensitively unfolding.

FILTER: - Class - BBC

Short Trips - Rulebook (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 28 October 2016 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
Rulebook (Credit: Big Finish / Anthony Lamb)

Producer & Script Editor: Ian Atkins

Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs

Written By: Tony Jones

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

Cast: Nicola Bryant (Narrator)

After helping save Beadledom 3, and it’s inhabitants the Ellani from an invasion by the Valtor, a cybernetic race, the Doctor and Peri find themselves on Beadledom 3 caught up in a mind boggling loop of continuous red tape, forms to complete, rules, then more rules and cheerfully mindless local authorities to contend with. The Ellani are a race whose society is totally dependent on the rules, they literally have rules for everything. Our two heroes are separated from the TARDIS, and as the story progresses, it looks less and less likely that they will be reunited….

We have all had jobs, or found ourselves in situations where we have been stuck in some awfully pathetic and petty internal issue where one department is quoting one rule at you and another doing the same, and there you are, feeling very frustrated and caught in the middle, exasperated, and not knowing which way to turn. That is the basis of Rulebook. You feel for the Doctor and Peri, especially when the rules are manipulated in the Ellani’s favour when it suits them in order to settle a local dispute.

Toby Jones brilliantly paints a picture of a society that knows nothing of spontaneity. The listener can really relate to the Doctor and Peri’s plight, and share their frustration. Of course, scratch the surface, and the story is a satire on our own world today, somewhere where risk has been removed, and if something goes wrong – well it is always someone else’s fault – the rules say so.

Nicola Bryantis a true joy to listen to, you can really feel the frustration in her voice when she is voicing the straight talking American Peri. Counter this with the monotonously calm and cheerful Ellani, and the contrast is perfect. I also thought that it was great to hear a new adventure with this Doctor and companion pairing. Although Big Finish have done the Fifth Doctor and Peri proud, I still feel the pairing as being a tad underused on television. When I think of the character of Peri, I always put her in the TARDIS with Colin Bakers doctor. I loved a chance to hark back to an era on television that seemed wrongly abrupt.

Rulebook is an easy listen, from a brilliant new writer, the story is available now from Big Finish.

FILTER: - Audio - Fifth Doctor

Class Season One - Episode 2 - The Coach With The Dragon TattooBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Ep2 - The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo - Ram (FADY ELSAYED) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, with Ben Peel and Nigel Betts.

Written By: Patrick Ness,
Directed By: Edward Bazalgette
Released Online (BBC Three)  - 22nd October 2016

This review contains spoilers


Not long having bonded together, the quintet of would-be heroes, drafted in by a mysterious and anonymous Caretaker, are faced with a new challenge. A spate of brutal killings have occurred on the premises of Coal Hill Academy. The P.E coach - or 'teacher' depending on what parlance one opts for - is looking like a red-handed suspect as he takes packages of raw meat out for the consumption of a mysterious entity. Ram is still struggling to make use of his new leg that belongs to a world far away from Earth, and is feeling painfully self-conscious as he cannot kick a football to save his life. However other talents and virtues of this youngster soon will come to the fore..


First off, the actual title of the episode has very little to do with Stieg Larsson's famous trilogy, although there are both murders and some detective work featured at times. Instead the 'tattoo' is literally the focus of the episode, as it concerns one of a pair of dragons being somehow trapped on the skin of a staff member at Coal Hill. This boldness in playing with such a well-liked series of books/films is to be admired, nonetheless.

There is plenty to enjoy, although the episode is a touch uneven, and only really gets going about a third of the way in. A number of flashbacks and sudden edits do make things feel slightly overcooked, but eventually the direction matches the opportunities Ness has laid out in his second straight script for the maiden season. Perhaps Ed Bazalgette was opting for a different type of storytelling method, but sadly this goes down as his least successful spell in the director's chair to date.

Dialogue is mostly on the nose for these 45 minutes of (online premier) hi-jinks, and is inevitably allowed the luxury of less exposition and introduction. The portal that allows any manner of creature from time and space is christened with such a funny - but ribald title - that I alas cannot repeat it on this particular site. Trust me: it is amusing. 

Tanya stands out after two episodes as a character with much potential. She mainly intrigues in that she is less pious and upset at the death and chaos around her. Perhaps her outward empathy is that bit less developed, despite her many intellectual gifts. The script for this episode allows actor Vivian Oparah to show more of her innate abilities, and why she was chosen over others for the role; some of whom may have had more experience. 

Miss Quill is once again a very enjoyable component of proceedings. She is blatantly amoral in attitude, but also a lifeform that needs companionship. Her obsession that something is up with the sinister and creepy Ofsted inspector eventually proves a justified hunch, but does lead to her losing control and causing consternation for boss Mr Armitage. Eventually, she uses the most direct method to try and get a romantic partner, but is rewarded with a robotic lack of interest and then a near-death experience. Regardless, the succession of dramas are likely still considerably preferable to her experiences as a freedom fighter on her home world.

As for Charlie and April, who had such a wonderful overlapping arc in the Series premier, there is far less screen time than I personally was expecting. It almost feels like a deliberate focus away from them, at least until the final clash with the villain and the reflections on the ordeal the team have just been through. There are suggestions that whilst Charlie might certainly prefer men on a romantic level, he can have at least an emotional, deep platonic connection with women too. This is of course precedented in the wider Who universe with Captain Jack, Ianto and other characters over the years.

Class - Ep2 - The Coach With The Dragon Tattoo - The Inspector (JAMI REID-QUARRELL) (Credit: BBC/Simon Ridgeway)

A number of one-off supporting player bite the dust in conclusive fashion, most memorably the Ofsted inspector played by Jami Reid-Quarrell (who has graced prime time Saturday nights before in the parent show - most notably as Colony Sarff). However it is perhaps regrettable we lose Nigel Betts as Mr Armitage so soon into this brand new show, although he did have a good innings when taking into account the Doctor Who episodes that featured him in 2014.

As for the actual villain, I must say I was left a touch cold. He is undoubtedly a reprehensible and selfish character, but the lack of sufficient backstory and a rather overly taciturn demeanor from Ben Peel make him slightly forgettable. Consequently, there is less to care about when Raj's quick thinking condemns the wrongdoer to either a horrible demise, or even potentially a 'living death' as a chair, or whichever object the dragon so chooses to enable a reunion with its mate. After all, the laws of physics in the dimension the beasts originate from are kept very much a mystery and stem from an excellent central premise for the series itself.

The story ultimately manages to make its focus on Raj, and his struggle with the incredible turn of events he has had to process in double-quick time, fully pay off.  The final scenes with the young would-be athlete being consoled by his dad - whilst the surreal and alien events may not fully register with a rather conservative and religious individual - do work on several letters and feature delicate performances. Aaron Neil in particular as Varun is very authentic and engaging, in his supporting role.

This episode overall works sufficiently in doing the tried and tested 'monster of the week' formula and is watchable enough in one or two sittings, depending on the inclination of the viewer. It also allows the principle cast to stand on their own merits and draw us into their characters' highs and lows. The first salvo of the double bill is clearly the stronger script and production, but Class has delivered two works that have more than respectable marks. The remaining episodes are now expected to at least provide the same easy-watch diversions, and a succession of twists to excite the intellect and heart in equal measure.


Class Season One - Episode 1 - For Tonight, We Might DieBookmark and Share

Saturday, 22 October 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Class - Series 1 (Credit: BBC/Todd Antony)

Starring: Greg Austin, Fady Elsayed, Sophie Hopkins, Vivian Oparah, Katherine Kelly, with Peter Capaldi as The Doctor.

Written By: Patrick Ness
Directed By: Edward Bazalgette

Released Online (BBC Three)  - 22nd October 2016 

This review contains spoilers


Coal Hill School has now become an academy, and it is some time since popular teacher Clara Oswald became missing, presumed dead. Life at the educational establishment goes on though, and a quartet of remarkable youngsters are attending the academy: Charlie, April, Ram and Tanya. One of these is an aloof and unpredictable young man, another a self-conscious but kind and loyal young lady, another a promising athlete with something of a chip on his shoulder, and the last a brilliant student who has skipped a year and who tells things exactly the way they are.

'The way things are' ..become somewhat surreal, however. A student has suddenly gone missing, and a new teacher - Miss Quill - has joined Coal Hill and acts in the most awkward and unnatural of ways. A shadow creature is beginning to stalk students, and before long a legion of otherworldly beings are stampeding the premises, despite a carefully arrange prom by April.

Could this be grounds for the return of Coal Hill's rather eccentric Caretaker??



Class (Credit: BBC)2016 will go down in Doctor Who lore as something of a 'gap year'. The first one of these was back in 2009, which featured a number of specials. Since then, other years have been rather light in terms of having new material with the Doctor on TV. Currently, fans are eagerly awaiting Series 10 to materialise onscreen in the spring of 2017. In the meantime, there will be the customary Christmas special.

There now is also this particular edition to the wider Who mythos, and somewhat appropriately it is set  in the school that was the workplace of the first two human companions of the Doctor - Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright -  before they were whisked away on the most incredible of journeys.


Other spin-offs have been part of early evening or prime time TV once modern Doctor Who fully got under way. Torchwood was most deliberately intertwined with the main Who universe, despite its very different target audience. Class falls between the parent show, and Torchwood, in that the 'young adult' is the intended demographic. There is some gore now and again, and sexuality and relationships are given much emphasis - unsurprising, with the show set in an academy, with teenagers on the verge of adulthood.

Many fans will have been made aware by press that the Twelfth Doctor would pop up immediately in this maiden run of the new show. However, as it turns out he is used sparingly enough to allow the main protagonists to have their crucial limelight. Having the Doctor teased as being shown in a flash back to explain Quill and Charlie being on Earth in the first place is a wise move, before the eventual crisis point where he pops up in the nick of time to quell the threat posed by the Shadow Kin. Capaldi manages to make the most of his limited screen time and continues to act in the vein of a traditionally open and friendly Doctor, as he did for much of the 2015 TV run.

Some of these new characters that viewers will follow in coming weeks are more engaging than others, owing both to the script and to the actual actor. Miss Quill (Katherine Kelly), and April (Sophie Hopkins) definitely stand out best for me, although there is a lot of potential for Charlie (Greg Austin) as well, given his back story. Tanya and Ram do have their moments but sometimes can feel stilted. Fady Elsayed has a substantial enough resume already, but can't overcome the 'jock' clichés enough for him to be particularly remarkable in this first installment. Vivian Oparah shows some of her acting inexperience at times, but still convinces more than not, and should grow into the role under the solid production team involved with the show.


Patrick Ness' script is reliable and confident in getting a suitably energetic adventure across, but also affording some good work into making us connect with the characters, and that includes some of the relatives of the students. Ness also wants to keep one guessing, which is always an asset of TV drama. One or two other academy students had the potential to end up as main characters, but are killed off by the Shadow Kin in resounding fashion. And the violence does mean this is not really a show for 'under-12s', with Rachel's gory death, and Ram's horrific leg injury really pushing the envelope. 11829519-low-.jpg

The direction and music - from Ed Bazalgette and Blair Mowat, are similarly assured. Some scenes flash by in heartbeat, but the overall feel of the episode is just coherent enough, that the fast pace is manageable.  This season opener has many moments of literal light and shade to explore and the production makes the most of the opportunities afforded. Obviously, the budget is not in the same stratosphere as Doctor Who, and some of the effects with the Shadow Kin or the unearthly dimensions that April or Charlie can see in their mind's eye do require a little tolerance on a given viewer, used to more seamless CGI.

Class stands up as a show with a steady foundation and a lot of good will both in front of and behind the camera. It may currently not appear to offer anything truly pioneering, given the likes of Buffy, Misfits and many late afternoon teenage dramas, that have graced TV screens. But it is still a justifiable addition to the Doctor Who canon and has plenty of room to grow into something truly distinct and memorable.



Doom Coalition 3Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 20 October 2016 - Reviewed by Ben Breen
Doom Coalition: 3 (Credit: Big Finish)
Paul McGann (The Doctor), Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka), Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair), Alex Kingston (River Song), Jeremy Clyde (George), Ian Puleston-Davies (Angus Selwyn), Richard Hope (Phillip Cook/Kal), Anna Acton (Kate Drury), John Shrapnel (Thomas Cromwell), Kasia Koleczek (Apolena), Glen McCready (Solvers/Abbot), Emma D'Inverno (Rosalia), Tim McMullan (Octavian), Janie Dee (Risolva), Robert Bathurst (Padrac), John Heffernan (The Imposter) and Nicholas Woodeson (The Clocksmith). Other parts portrayed by the cast.

Big finish Productions

The Doom Coalition series, which follows on from the acclaimed Dark Eyes box sets, is a very promising sequel saga.  The third installment has a large amount to live up to after the events of Doom Coalition 1 and 2.  In order to help the reviewing process, I won’t go into the more intricate plot details, partially to not make this review longer than it needs to be, but also to allow for those listening to the story to experience their own responses to the unfolding events.

3.1. Absent Friends

Mobile Phones are commonplace today, but twenty years ago they were still technically considered as a new innovation.  The opening of this story transports us to a time and place where a phone mast is considered an eyesore by residents of a small English village.  Living with the recent entrance of a mobile communications company into their midst, The promise of a free phone seems far too good to be true, an observation this reviewer made as soon as it was brought to the table.

Landing in the aforementioned small village, using debit cards (an unfamiliar technology to them), with a pin number that is actually a Doctor Who TV Easter egg, Liv and Helen are booked into a pub and The Doctor goes off to tinker with the Tardis.  As Helen goes on what would seem like a reckless journey that has the potential to rip holes in space and time, the mast is revealed to be causing problems of its own and they most certainly have far-reaching consequences.

This story’s relatively calm opening is supplemented by a suspenseful plot, along with some suitably awkward moments that contrast this to what might be expected.  This was a very much appreciated introduction, with an ending that might just leave you scratching your head.


3.2. The Eighth Piece

This story’s intro, after the structure of 3.1 Absent Friends, might come as a bit of a shock.  However, as the three simultaneous missions of The Doctor, Liv and Helen to uncover pieces of an ancient device begin to conjoin, the implications of what happened in the previous box set also begin to make a part of a greater whole.  Alex Kingston returns in an appearance that is not entirely surprising but is definitely a welcome re-entry into the series, with references to the prior events meaning that to fully grasp what’s going on, it is best you check out Doom Coalition 1 and 2.


3.3. The Doomsday Chronometer

The introduction to this episode actually takes place part way through the second story, 3.2 The Eighth Piece.  Confusing?  That’s how the rest of the story builds itself, around multifaceted plotlines that all converge to be part of a greater whole, much like the titular Doomsday Chronometer.  With the discovery of clues and hints pointing to pieces of the device, so to come references to other times in The Doctor’s and River Song’s lives, as documented in the television show.  This particular episode might seem convoluted, but eventually, it coalesces into an easier to understand line that works its way smoothly into the final part of this box set. Moreover, we see an appearance from a crucial figure we have not seen thus far in Doom Coalition 3, but whose return was, I think, inevitable.


3.4. The Crucible of Souls

The occasionally comedic overtones this concluding story provides are overshadowed by the high stakes situation.  If I say any more than that this review would surely double in length to accommodate the necessary plot summaries and character profiling.  Suffice it to say, it was very much worth the wait.

Doom Coalition 3 was definitely worth waiting for, with a cast who deliver their lines with great emphasis on their characterisation, a score that fits directly into the production and a plot that whilst it might be confusing is still understandable.  With the end of Doom Coalition 3, realisation dawns on the fact that all we as fans have to do now is wait for the conclusion of the saga.  Personally,  I am excited at the prospect of the final four stories and the potential they have to be at least as good as, if not better than Dark Eyes 4, the final box set in the preceding series.


This title was released in September 2016. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until October 31st 2016, and on general sale after this date

GUIDE: DoomCoalition3 - FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Eighth Doctor