Short Trips - Little Doctors (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 30 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Short Trips: Little Doctors (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Philip Lawrence
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Producer: Michael Stevens
Script Editor: Michael Stevens
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery & Nicholas Briggs
Cast: Frazer Hines (Narrator)
Released By Big Finish Productions - February 2015

 “It resembled a suit of armour perched on top of a small tank; its gauntlets were vicious pinchers that crackled with sparks; the head was shaped like a large, overhanging hood, but underneath, covering the dark recess where you would expect to see a face, was a metal grille. This was an Enforcer, and it wasn’t friendly.”

If you’ve been enjoying how Titan’s Fourth Doctor miniseries has cunningly integrated Ancient Greek mythology into its “Gaze of the Medusa” arc, then the second of Big Finish’s Short Trips outings released in 2015, LittleDoctors, is worth a look thanks to its delving straight into the realms of Olympus – albeit a futuristic human colony-turned-homage to the classic city – via the watchful eyes of the iconic deity known as Zeus. As with Dale Smith’s January 2015 title FlywheelRevolution, Philip Lawrence wastes no time in creating an immersive world full of societal depth and compelling characters, detailing the points-based currency system at Olympus’ very core along with the jobs, past-times and fake historical mementos of Zeus’ citizens as if his life depended on this. That said, it’s to his equal credit that he always endeavours to ensure these spouts of background information don’t detract too much attention from the core narrative…when said narrative actually kicks into gear.

Had Lawrence structured his storyline in more of a fast-paced fashion akin to Smith’s approach in the previous release, then listeners would almost certainly have been guaranteed to feel every inch as hooked as this reviewer was with Flywheel. Instead, even by the time of Little Doctors’ halfway point, there’s little sense of precisely where the storyline’s heading – and trust us, that’s a criticism rather than a commendation in this case – beyond the Second Doctor, Zoe and Jamie’s investigation into the causes of the “drab apparel” of the city and its inhabitants, a plotline which produces an interesting message that’s extremely topical in our present terrorism-plagued world, but isn’t developed nearly enough to be especially satisfying as a whole. It’s never a great sign when the writer needlessly pads out a narrative when attempting to fill a mere 30 minutes of airtime compared to the usual 60-80 comprising standard Big Finish releases, and while Lawrence might have simply employed this strategy in order to allow for the necessary world-building at first – which, as we say, thankfully takes a backseat to the central plot once it finally gets moving – there’s a fair deal of patience required here before the relevance of this piece’s title – or even the threat facing our protagonists in the form of the Enforcers as well as a semi-rogue artificial intelligence – becomes clear in absurd fashion.

Whereas Peter Purves’ solitary purpose in Flywheel Revolution was simply to complement Smith’s already superb narrative with a diverse array of robotic and extraterrestrial voices, then, there’s all the more pressure on Frazer Hines to liven up a slow-moving narrative by successfully conveying the humorously logically unhinged set-pieces awaiting the audience in the third act, maintaining his much-acclaimed impression of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor and keeping a straight face when detailing how this cherished incarnation of the Time Lord employs one of his most iconic gadgets from the 1960s to best the army of facsimile versions of himself presently laying siege to the city for reasons too convoluted to outline here. True to form, though, Hines excels in each of these respects, bringing all of the customary energy and underlying wit to proceedings for which he’s become well-known based on his myriad previous contributions to Big Finish’s output under the Doctor Who licence. As with just about any flawed storyline, Hines’ performance isn’t quite enough to render Little Doctors as an unmissable purchase, yet that the 71-year-old Scottish great comes so close in this regard just goes to show how invaluable an asset he must still represent in the eyes of the studio.

In sharp contrast to Flywheel, the same can fortunately be said of the team responsible for orchestrating this disappointingly plotted instalment’s fantastic score, which seamlessly transitions from wonder-filled melodies intended to help portray the sprawling, initially breath-taking nature of Olympus’ scenery to far darker tones when Zoe has to navigate the city’s off-limits recesses in order to barter with the AI responsible for keeping its citizens’ aspirations in check. This reviewer has, in the past, noted that it’s hardly difficult to overlook the work undertaken by the technical experts involved with Big Finish’s audio dramas, but when the musical accompanies to one of their standalone narratives prove as spellbinding as these, it’s all but impossible not for us to take note, especially when the relevant storyline itself fails so greatly to impress – particularly from a structural standpoint – in comparison to this finely honed behind-the-scenes element.

Nevertheless, if asked to decide between wholly endorsing Flywheel or its immediate successor, this reviewer would find it similarly impossible to opt for any choice but the former. Every range must have its peaks and troughs of course, Short Trips undoubtedly included, yet given how sizable an impact Smith’s stunning junkyard-set title made the month before Little Doctors’ release, to witness Lawrence’s follow-up tale take such a notable step backwards in terms of structural and overall storytelling prowess is unpleasantly jarring to say the very least. There’s absolutely reason to take a listen in the form of Hines’ brilliant voice-work as well as the oft-majestic backing soundtrack and no doubt future releases will improve in providing more compelling narratives, but that doesn’t prevent this sophomore outing from representing a missed opportunity to capitalize on its mythological roots with a well-rounded mini-epic rather than the ill-paced vignette we’ve received here instead.

On the bright side, though, the third stop on our journey through 2015’s Short Trips adventures sounds far more entertaining – join us for a trip back to the days of UNIT as the Third Doctor tackles a mystery not dissimilar to that posed in 2009’s Planet of the Dead with the help of playwright Nigel Fairs, Nicholas Courtney’s Brigadier and a certain Ms. Grant…


Short Trips - Flywheel Revolution (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Thursday, 28 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Short Trips: Flywheel Revolution (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Dale Smith
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Starring: Peter Purves (Narrator)
Producer: Michael Stevens
Script Editor: Michael Stevens
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Released By Big Finish Productions - January 2015

“And you, Doctor – you are called “the monster”. The robots are afraid you even exist…”

Somewhere in the depths of outer space lies a nameless planet, and somewhere on that stellar body’s surface lies a desolate wasteland known as the Scrapheap, a seemingly endless junkyard where the time never changes. Sound familiar? On the basis of that premise, listeners who hadn’t read the plot synopsis for FlywheelRevolution – the freshman instalment in Big Finish’s 2015 run of Doctor Who: Short Trips releases – might justifiably expect a tale akin to 2011’s televised Who serial The Wedding of River Song. Quite to the contrary, though, this standalone First Doctor outing from Dale Smith couldn’t stay truer to the era from which William Hartnell’s incarnation derived, paying homage to the 1963-1966 seasons from the outset via key iconography like the An Unearthly Child-esque setting as well as with the point at which time freezes – 23 seconds past 5.15pm – to deliciously nostalgic effect.

Far from simply crafting an ode to the First Doctor’s time aboard the TARDIS, however, Smith deserves credit aplenty for creating a unique, tangible capitalist society-turned-dystopian setting with an endearingly flawed protagonist – namely Frankie, a courageous robot confined to the Scrapheap by intergalactic colonists whose rampant curiosity soon lands him in the Time Lord’s metaphorical crosshairs – which combine to ensure that his allocated 30-minute running time passes faster than a Weeping Angel moves. Better yet, he finds the time to integrate an especially intriguing concept never touched upon in the Hartnell years, as Frankie reveals his robotic cohorts to view the Doctor as a “monster” with little to no regard for the machinery he co-opts in order to escape his latest stint of imprisonment. It’s a notion which works brilliantly in casting a remarkably brasher version of Theta Sigma than his successors in a darker but equally believable new light - somewhat akin to that of the "predator of the Daleks" conceit raised in 2012's Eleventh Doctor blockbuster Asylum of the Daleks, in fact - not to mention allowing the scribe to essentially pitch our usual hero as a makeshift antagonist for the first 15 minutes, thereby lending a truly fresh tone to proceedings that most won’t have anticipated.

Admittedly, without the right voice actor signed up to narrate Flywheel Revolution, all of Smith’s efforts to broaden his listeners’ perspectives on what to expect from First Doctor tales might have been for nought, hence why Peter Purves’ agreement to step up to the podium comes as a wholly welcome relief. Rather than struggling to confidently distinguish the three-strong ensemble of constructs’ individual voices in the absence of his TV character, Steven Taylor, from the storyline – we’re firmly in Foreman, Chesterton and Wright territory here, although only the Doctor himself makes a physical appearance – Purves clearly relishes the opportunity to branch out into a wave of new roles, instantly setting his take on Hartnell’s aged, oft-cold but ultimately compassionate time traveller apart from the far more innocent, frightened tones of Frankie and his comrade Toby as if he’d been voicing each of these key players for years on end. Indeed, if anything, this reviewer left Flywheel behind eager to discover whether Purves had lent his talents to further Short Trips vignettes aside from this one, since judging by his stellar contribution here, Big Finish would be utter fools to let such opportunities past them by.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, this captivating premiere tale’s shortcomings are far and few between, paling when juxtaposed with the myriad strengths of Smith’s occasionally haunting, occasionally effortlessly sweet script as well as Purves’ similarly creditworthy verbal contribution. Were we to ascertain those contributory elements which – as with virtually any work of literature, printed, televised or broadcast over the radio airwaves – hold Flywheel ever so slightly back from the realms of perfection, then there’s an argument that in only having 30 minutes to convey his protagonists’ struggle for liberation from capitalist tyranny, the playwright has to draw limits on the amount of character and setting development he includes. Meanwhile, for all its haunting undertones, the accompanying soundtrack doesn’t exactly inspire the same sense of chilling paranoia during Frankie’s initial encounter one would have hoped for if Smith was aiming to almost fully invert the Doctor’s traditionally calming personality, although given the understandably short-lived nature of this perception-orientated plot thread, this slight technical hiccup can’t be said to in any way represent enough of a deal-breaker to warrant giving the piece a miss.

Indeed, to dwell on such miniscule chinks in the armour of an otherwise impeccable audio drama such as this would be nothing less than a prime example of one missing the forest for the trees, since whenever Flywheel Revolution comes even within inches of making a noteworthy slip-up, its admirably intelligent script, gracefully developed world or accomplished narration can’t help but draw the listener back into the action moments later, to the extent that come the end credits, the vast majority of the audience will have a tough time recalling such insignificant shortcomings anyway. Expect to see further verdicts on last year’s Short Trips releases – as well as those gracing the Big Finish website over the course of 2016 and beyond – in the coming months, but suffice to say that if other contributors to the series’ array of scripts take Smith’s lead in crafting richly detailed, consistently engaging minisodes, then the range has an incredibly bright future ahead. Sure to entertain hard-core followers of Who’s off-screen output and those dipping their feet into show’s aural spin-offs for the first time, this captivating short story is, above all, a magnificent showcase of the programme’s merits all but guaranteed to keep the faith among fans until the still-distant 2016 Christmas Special rears its eyebrows on our screens in five months’ time.

Next up on stage? LittleDoctors, which this reviewer can only assume will see all fourteen incarnations of the titular eternal protagonist – not to mention his big-screen and Unbound alternative selves – portrayed by David Walliams and Matt Lucas, landing one another in an all manner of satirical situations with the help of Tom Baker’s ever-hilarious bookending narration. Or not - only time and Frazer Hines will tell.


The Second Doctor Volume One (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 22 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Second Doctor Volume 01 (Credit: Big Finish / Simon Holub)
Written By: John Pritchard, Ian Atkins, David Bartlett, Rob Nisbet
Starring: Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly), Deborah Watling (Victoria), Wendy Padbury (Zoe), Elliot Chapman (Ben), Robert Whitelock (Curtis)
Producer: Ian Atkins
Script Editor: Jacqueline Rayner
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Released by Big Finish Productions - June 2016

If Big Finish’s latest quartet of Companion Chronicles tales confirm only one long-assumed truth, then it’s how essential a component Jamie McCrimmon was to the sweeping success of the Second Doctor era. More than anything else, The Second Doctor – Volume One serves as a rich four-hour showcase of the psychological, philosophical and emotional depths of Frazer Hines’ occasionally naïve, occasionally ill-tempered but ceaselessly lovable Scotsman, revealing new facets to the character that Doctor Who could never have broached back in the 1960s while simultaneously keeping those endearing elements of his personality completely intact along the way.

For Hines himself, restoring the defining aspects of a construct he first portrayed on-screen over almost half a century ago might well have seemed like enough of a challenge in and of itself, yet far from simply asking this of their leading man this time around, the production team task him with reprising his almost uncanny portrayal of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor throughout the box-set given the original thespian’s tragic absence from our mortal plane these days. It’s an immense relief, then, to assert that far from crumbling under the enhanced pressure, Hines excels all the more at resurrecting the second incarnation of the eternal Time Lord, instantly reminding us of the warmth, madcap wit and unyielding passion for the unknown that made Hartnell’s successor such an undisputed hit with his viewership both at the time of broadcast and, indeed ever since.

Unlike boxsets such as UNIT: Shutdown or the various Doom Coalition releases, though, the four serials comprising Volume One don’t share much in the way of direct connections, their underlying aforementioned character study being the only true element which loosely connects each standalone narrative. With that in mind, join us as we tackle these four stories in three stages, investigating each instalment’s merits and shortcomings in their own right before we deliver an overall verdict on the compilation:

  1. “The Mouthless Dead” – On the basis of this phenomenal opening chapter, one would have forgiven Big Finish if they’d chosen to delay Volume One’s launch by a month to July, since “The Mouthless Dead” presents the audience with a poignant, captivating tribute to the fallen soldiers of the so-called ‘Great’ War. Taking place in 1920s Kent, the narrative depicts the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly’s haunting – both from a literal and dramatic perspective – encounter with ghosts of England’s recent past, enabling writer John Pritchard to delve deep into the consequences of the aforementioned global conflict from an immensely stirring personal perspective as a wandering young lady searches desperately for her allegedly fallen spouse nearby an isolated railway line. In the wrong hands, this could’ve come off as a contrived, borderline insensitive ploy to draw in listeners simply wishing to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, but the cast do Pritchard’s script a world of justice, with Anneke Wills and Elliot Chapman – both of whom reprise their respective roles as if Doctor Who had never left the airwaves – in particular bringing a compelling sincerity to their performances both when it comes to interacting with Jamie despite their qualms with his personality traits and facing the war’s immediate ramifications. Throw in an equally engaging sub-plot surrounding Jamie’s touching attempts to demonstrate his intellectual adequacy despite the rest of the TARDIS team often eclipsing his in this regard, and the result’s without a doubt the finest serial of the four presented here, an unquestionable masterpiece of which everyone involved should be immensely proud.
  2. “The Story of Extinction” – To its substantial credit, for all of its faults, Ian Atkins’ “The Story of Extinction” certainly tries to take a markedly different tact to its predecessors, framing its storyline via an elderly Victoria Waterfield’s distant recollections of a trip she, Jamie and the Doctor took to the planet Amyrndaa at some point between her entry onto the TARDIS in The Evil of the Daleks and her subsequent departure in Fury from the Deep. Yet whilst such inspired storytelling devices are all well and good in terms of shaking up a short story collection’s tonal status quo, they’re normally not enough to wholly redeem a lacklustre narrative, a trend which rings unfortunately true in the case of Volume One’s decent but far from spectacular sophomore effort. For all its delightfully metatextual discussion of the power of words, not least via a completely unexpected form of antagonist along with a series of brief sequences involving Victoria’s attempts – rendered with appropriate compassion by the returning Deborah Watling – to educate her Scottish companion in the ways of the English language, “Extinction” packs a disappointingly mundane core plot, one which comes up so lacking in overall ambition that such compelling contributory elements can scarcely serve as fitting compensation. There’s nothing wrong with opting for a more action-orientated narrative, but when the protagonists of that narrative rarely seem to be any real danger, not least since one of them is already relating the events to us decades later while alive, nor where the antagonists have much of an impact or voice beyond robbing a few voiceless supporting characters of their lives, and well, much of the suspense can’t help but find itself dissipated as an inevitable by-product of that approach.
  3. “The Integral” and “The Edge” – Strange as it might seem, it’s worth taking a look at the second pair of serials forming Volume One in unison. Whereas the first two instalments took place in wholly disparate settings, conveyed completely isolated storylines and featured different sets of companions aside from Mr. McCrimmon, the David Bartlett and Rob Nisbet-penned “The Integral” and “The Edge” not only share their TARDIS crews – with the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe banding together for the entirety of the two hours, albeit with Hines strangely taking on voicing duties for Wendy Padbury’s character in the latter despite Padbury starring in the former – but also fairly similar scientific facilities, complacent quasi-antagonists and moments of Jamie having to once again prove himself from an educational standpoint, to the point where listeners might almost find themselves struggling to differentiate the pair were they to listen from a random track out of the 16-17 clips forming the latter two serials. That’s not to say fans of Jamie or indeed the wider Second Doctor era won’t find elements to like in the boxset’s second half; both tales raise some intriguing concepts – such as mining intelligence from the “secret source of the galaxy’s acumen” or how the eponymous Highlander’s understanding of the supposedly universally adversarial intentions of extra-terrestrial species may well be misplaced – and always ensure that their leading stars at least have a fair number of exchanges with corrupt experimenters, benevolent aliens or each other to keep proceedings interesting, plus "The Edge"'s score constantly impresses whether it's backing a vivid description of a galactic labaratory's beautiful surroundings with whimsical beats or action-led chase sequences with darker, fast-paced melodies. On the whole, however, neither “The Integral” nor “The Edge” would warrant anything close to a hearty endorsement were they released as individual Companion Chronicles titles, making their comprising half of this otherwise largely compelling box-set all the more unfortunate a turn of events.

We’re thus left looking at something of a mixed bag in The Second Doctor Volume One, with the opening hour providing some of Big Finish’s most heartbreaking dramatic content to date, which is saying something given how much of an emotional punch Torchwood: Broken, easily one of the studio’s strongest works to date, packed in the same month as this collection’s debut; its immediate successor employing a largely engaging framing device only for the core narrative it’s framing to come up seriously lacking in terms of its scope or suspense and the two remaining instalments lacking narrative inspiration to the extent that many may struggle to tell them apart. Most devotees of this particular era of Who should find Hines’ stellar work as both Jamie and Troughton’s incarnation - along with the writing team's in-depth character study of the Second Doctor's most faithful ally - compelling enough to see them through and warrant their £15-20 – depending on the format they purchase – but if they’re to be tempted to purchase a second volume, then Pritchard, Atkins et al seriously need to up their game when it comes to ensuring their scripts consistently match the calibre of their cast ensemble.


Fourth Doctor #4 - Gaze of the Medusa (Part Four)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 20 July 2016 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Titan Comics: The Fourth Doctor Adventures #4 (Credit: Titan Comics)
Writers: Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby
Artist: Brian Williamson
Colorist: Hi-Fi
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft's Jimmy Betancourt
Senior Comics Editor: Andrew James
Assistant Editors: Jessica Burton and Amoona Saohin
Designer: Andrew Leung
Released: July 13th, 2016, Titan Comics​

If anyone interested in the fundamental components of fictional texts looks up the term ‘exposition’ on Literary, they’ll find the following definition: “a literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters etc. to the audiences or readers.” Were we in a particularly cynical frame of mind, we’d argue that the page in question should also feature mugshots of Gordon Rennie and Emma Beeby, the writers of Titan Comics’ soon-to-conclude Fourth Doctor miniseries, on the basis of their latest contribution. After the disappointingly uneventful Issue 3 failed to progress the overarching narrative of “Gaze of the Medusa” last month, it’s nothing short of baffling to see the once dynamic duo – both of whom stunned with their first two chapters – opt to once again stall for time until their series finale. Inserting myriad recaps of the events of previous issues such as their antagonists’ backgrounds and Sarah’s stone-cold fate as Tom Baker’s Doctor and Athena wander ancient caverns, the two scribes frequently risk creating a product which seems more akin to a 25-page “Previously…” segment than a fully-fledged entry.

There’s a place for exposition here and there, of course, and true to form, Rennie and Beeby don’t pass up numerous opportunities to take advantage of both the Doctor and Athena’s profound knowledge of the period of history they’ve entered, peppering into their exchanges detail of how the Romans overthrew their final monarchs as well as of how Greece’s theatrical scene underwent major developments over the course of this era. Yet whilst such neat little nods to the past work twofold in enabling readers to gain a sense of these two constructions’ passions and their ever-evolving rapport, when viewed in tandem with the countless instances where our narrative helms cram in references to past events or the background of the setting, they undeniably serve only to fill panels for the sake of filling panels as opposed to justifying their inclusion. Instead of finding ourselves thrust into the concluding stages of this five-part serial’s third act, we’re consequently left to await next month’s final issue with little to no knowledge of how the Doctor will reanimate Sarah after her transformation or how Lady Carstairs plans to use a certain Type 40 time machine to the advantage of her overall machinations. If Beeby and Rennie aren’t careful, this confounding structural strategy could well make Issue 5 pressed for time, unlike its plodding predecessor.

Admittedly, those readers who checked out our review of the third chapter in “Medusa” will well remember us heaping praise onto artist Brian Williamson for alleviating the monotonous pace of Issue 3 with his consistently tonally unpredictable imagery, in particular by making that edition’s two settings of Victorian London and the aforementioned cave network feel as distinct as possible in terms of their respective colour palettes. If only the same credit could be laid at the man’s feet this time around. Through no fault of his own, until the very last panels rear into view, Williamson’s forced to simply depict the Doctor and Athena having conversations with each other in the drab, grim latter setting while encountering next to nothing in the way of notable threats, leaving him unmistakably limited in terms of varying up either the foreground or background elements of his drawings. It’s telling that the one exception, the beautifully mythological final panel, has more of a visual impact than anything which came before, as do the pair of secondary strips drawn by Lee Sullivan, Luis Gurrero as well as Blair Shedd at the issue’s rear.

Speaking of which, in a comic-book text otherwise devoid of real merits, the two “Supremacy of the Cybermen” prologues featured here as bonus supplements end up – against all of the odds – being by far Issue 4’s most compelling content, with one depicting Paul McGann’s evidently Time War-hardened Eighth Doctor on the run from his metallic adversaries – who’re sporting a look ripped straight from the pages of 1990s and early noughties Doctor Who Magazine, incidentally – and the other casting Baker’s incarnation in much the same danger-fraught light, only to reveal how one of the defining elements of the Fourth Doctor era has been turned on its head thanks to the intervention of Telos’ finest with the help of a post-Time War version of President Rassilon. Chances are these tantalising one-page vignettes won’t have any tangible bearing on the main “Supremacy” crossover adventure making its way to shelves this Summer – check out our review of Issue 1 here, by the way – but even so, that they serve as USPs in themselves thanks to their inventively retro artwork along with their inevitable tight pacing only reaffirms the lacklustre nature of the core strip more than anything else.

On the surface, it might seem as if we’re taking a rather harsh approach to critiquing the closing chapters of the “Medusa” arc; in reality, though, given the immense, myriad strengths of the opening two instalments of this initially breath-taking miniseries – not least its rich characterisation of leading and supporting players alike, its compellingly executed quasi-mythological elements and by far its pitch-perfect tonal odes to the supremely gothic days of the Hinchcliffe era – it was all but inevitable that expectations would be high for what came afterwards, thereby putting all the more pressure on Beeby and Rennie to deliver on the potential offered up in Issues 1 and 2. That they’ve failed to achieve this lofty goal doesn’t so much mean that the Fourth Doctor’s first post-DWM comic-strip has started to lack appeal, however, as that its writing team might have struggled to stretch out their tale over five instalments rather than having it form but a two-part tale to kick off an ongoing strip featuring Baker’s wisecracking version of Doctor Who’s titular defender of the cosmos. With that being said, there’s still time for them to at least put Williamson to better artistic use and round proceedings off satisfyingli – join us in August to see if they succeed…


The Shadow In The Glass (Audio Book)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 July 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Shadow in the Glass (Credit: BBC Audio)

Written By: Stephen Cole + Justin Richards
Read By: India Fisher

(Original Novel published in 2001, and Republished in 2015)

Approximate Length: 9 Hours


In the dying days of the Second World War, a UFO crash-lands in Turelhampton; a village in the English county of Dorset. The Royal Air Force has dealt with a possible threat at such a fraught time with seemingly no fuss. But then the village itself is soon evacuated.

Fast forward to the year 2001, and Turelhampton is still under the control of military troops. A sinister mystery is being shrouded from wider society. However a determined TV documentary crew are able to break through and record images of a malevolent ceremony, that crosses into the paranormal. And three-dimensional danger soon reaches the rather headstrong media professionals. Nearby in picturesque Cornwall, journalist Claire Aldwych is determined to uncover just what is going on after witnessing images of the bizarre and disturbing ceremony.

Meanwhile the Doctor, currently without his usual female companion - or 'penguin' Frobisher that can resemble anything and anyone - is drawn to the odd chain of mysterious events. But a beacon of reassuring familiarity resurfaces in the shape of Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart. Alistair is now rather wizened and past his prime days of blood and thunder, but still more than able to match the verbal wits of his many-lived friend and associate.

And their partnership must work at its best in the face of a grave test. The infamous Führer of the Third Reich is set to rise again; threatening the interests of all peace loving and decent natives of the blue-green planet that the Doctor cares so much for...


Shadow is a very enjoyable yarn, and combines a touch of 'old-school' Who with some of the more intense interpersonal drama from the Virgin and BBC book lines. These often experimental tomes paved the way for the more all-round drama of the modern TV show. At times things could easily verge into parody. I do find the end game with more than the one Adolf Hitler thrown into the fray threatens to unravel the core of the storyline. Yet it all manages to work as a whole.

I am a little unsure also if the villains behind the scenes, who are 'imp like' beings, could not have been executed rather better. They function well enough in that they enable the human villains to go about their dastardly schemes. But the best Doctor Who makes use of its monsters in a memorable fashion. These foes are simply fair-to-middling. The titular glass/medium concept is elaborated on very well, however, and ties in some clever minor character stories fluidly. The book is justifiably much longer than the novelisations that TV Doctor Who in written form, and similarly the length of this audio release is never a stumbling block.

Music is used sparingly but effectively, and helps punctuate the mood, as the story keeps moving along to one heart-racing moment of shock and awe, then to another of rather more introspective respite. India Fisher is a respected and well-loved contributor to the Doctor Who audio universe, which has helped the franchise endure. She does remarkably well with the inimitable portrayals of the Sixth Doctor and Brigadier that we have come to know and love so much. Sixie's bluster and buoyancy was a great counterpoint to the very dark Third and 'Fourth' Reich material in the original text by Cole and Richards. Our sole audio performer grasps the need to delicately balance both humour and 'world in peril' high-stakes thriller.

There is a lot of exposition and scene-setting prose for Fisher to convey to the listener, and convey it she does with aplomb. The plot is relatively straightforward, even with all the time travelling and subplots that feature, but in the hands of a less capable narrator there could be room for the audience to be disengaged.


This story could have easily worked, were it made originally as an audio drama spin off by Big Finish with Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney. The enjoyable The Spectre of Lanyon Moor proved the chemistry between the two was up there with all the other leading men of the classic era. Today all of us miss the wonderful Courtney, but he left a terrific legacy as an actor and a person. Today still, his alter-ego soldier commands our attention and emotional investment.

One can quite easily listen to this set of eight CDs over a week or two, interspersing with the best TV material of the Sixth Doctor and the UNIT era to build up the visual cues needed. In any case, the prose, atmosphere and pacing all work well, and this story stands tall on its own.

There are plenty of nods to past UNIT characters, and to the family-like nature of the military organisation when it featured in the main show on a regular basis. My favourite returning solider is Tom Osgood. Though rather bumbling - at least in comparison to the eccentric genius protagonist - he is still determined and technically proficient. Some additional UNIT and military personal of course are added by the authors into proceedings, and are given suitable character development and back-story.

There is also a portion of the story that features the legendary real-life wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who has featured repeatedly in the Moffat era, and also now in ongoing Big Finish audios. What little this redoubtable politician and leader does here works well, but he is still more of a plot device than a proper supporting player. There is no actual meeting of Churchill, with either Hitler or his 'double', which perhaps is a missed opportunity.

There are a number of characters that have their own agenda and are neither wholly altruistic or malicious. This helps remind us that very few who fought in the War - win or lose - were completely without qualities at either end of the spectrum. Ultimately the biggest success of this book/audio is that it provokes some sober reflection on the defence of freedom and equality for all, in the face of cruel and distorted ideologies. And a good ending is always key for a satisfying adventure. Shadow closes in bittersweet fashion, but avoids this vibe from being telegraphed or coming off as just another twist. The finale instead arises organically out of the key themes.

Combining real life history, additional material for the 'short-lived' Sixth Doctor, and revisits to past friends from UNIT, this story has a bit of something for everyone. It never quite hits the heights of the very best of the original novels that feature in Doctor Who's extended universe, but is still a confident form of entertainment.


A Life of Crime (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 15 July 2016 - Reviewed by Richard Brinck-Johnsen
A Life of Crime (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Matt Fitton
Directed by Ken Bentley

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Bonnie Langford (Mel), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Ginny Holder (Gloria/Secretary), Des McAleer (Lefty Lonnigan), Stephen Hagan (Nathan Later), Harry Myers (Atomon/Sperovore Banker/Steward), John Banks (Mayor/Sperovore Auditor/Sperovore Financer)

 Released by Big Finish July 2016 - buy on Amazon UK

The first in the latest trilogy of adventures seeks to answer the question of what happened to Melanie Bush after the Doctor left her on Iceworld with the nefarious criminal Sabalom Glitz or “bilgebag” as Ace still prefers to call him.

Despite not appearing in person, Glitz casts a long shadow over this story having apparently run out on Mel leaving her to pay off his debts to the intergalactic criminal underworld. Whilst for the Doctor and Ace, the events of Dragonfire were years ago, it’s apparently been a much shorter span of time for the girl from Pease Pottage since her “days like crazy paving” came to an end and Bonnie Langford inhabits the role as if she is returning after a short span of time rather than the best part of three decades.

For those of us now used to seeing her as the maternal Carmel Kazemi in EastEnders, it’s a joy that she is able to recreate her younger persona so effortlessly. It is also a joy to hear her reunited with both Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, even though their performances seem more in keeping with season 24 than their later stories. Despite the fact that this story is presumably meant to be set at an indeterminate time after the Doctor and Ace’s audio adventures with Hex and Hector, Ace seems to have regained her somewhat more youthful persona and spends the whole story affectionately calling Mel by her old nickname “Donut”, possibly more often than she ever used it on screen.

Dragonfire is not the only television story referenced by ALifeofCrime which also manages to incorporate references to Time and the Rani and Hell Bent (clearly a favourite at Big Finish Towers) amongst others. Also referenced are the popular television series Hustle and the Sperovores are creatures straight from the pages of Lovecraft.

Aside from the three leads who will remain reunited for the next two Big Finish main range outings at least, the other highlight of this play is Ginny Holder as the enigmatic Gloria who appears to have unfinished business at the end of the story and so will likely return before long.

Overall, whilst very much of a lighter tone to the last month’s pseudo-epic TheTwoMasters, this is an enjoyable tale with Mel once again proving that as a character she still has a lot of potential to be explored. Those who look back with nostalgic fondness towards season 24 despite its faults will find this a rewarding listen.

FILTER: - Big Finish - Audio - Seventh Doctor