Torchwood - Sync (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 26 June 2019 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
Sync (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Lisa McMullin
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Indira Varma (Susie Costello), Annette Badland (Margaret Blaine), Raj Ghatak (Pilot)

Released by Big Finish Productions - May 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“I’m the thrilling demonstration of what happens when you don’t exercise your democratic right!”

How could Margaret Blaine’s return to the worlds of Doctor Who for the first time since 2005 possibly go wrong with a line of dialogue as perfect as that? The Slitheen-turned-politician-turned-Cardiff mayor’s timely demise in “Boom Town” would’ve ruled out the re-introduction of Annette Badland’s delightfully sadistic character in any other narrative continuity, but the timeline-hopping nature of Big Finish’s Torchwood range enables the Who spin-off to continually visit just about any moment in either show’s shared history. Enter Sync, yet another indisputable hit for both franchises which brings together two unashamedly self-obsessed renegades for a fatal road trip quite unlike any other cultural production – to quite simply hilarious effect.

Lisa McMullin (now penning her fourth script after contributions to Gallifrey: Time War 2, The Eighth of March and UNIT Incursions) delivers a relatively straightforward sales pitch this time around compared to many overstuffed audio dramas: take Mayor Blaine, thrust her into the trajectory of a pre-death Susie Costello covertly hunting alien technology, strap a time-bomb to their wrists and watch the gleeful havoc ensue. Indeed, her Big Finish peers should absolutely take heed of her success in implementing such a concise precis, since doing so keeps Sync astutely focused on its central characters and in particular the development of their ruthless psyches. So often we’re prone to write off corrupted antiheroes like Margaret or Susie as doomed loose cannons whose one-dimensional worldviews seal their undoing, yet McMullin digs far deeper into her unlikely protagonists than their TV outings ever managed, deconstructing their joint familial isolation and how these formative personal experiences inevitably influenced their animosity (to say the least) towards wider society in later life.

Admittedly, the risk that always comes with team-up scripts of this accomplished ilk is the two like-minded lead stars feeling indistinguishably of a piece with their respective portrayals, yet that’s scarcely true in Sync’s case. Fresh off her audio appearances in Moving Target and The Torchwood Archive, Indira Varma tangibly channels a resigned bitterness at her Torchwood Three teammates’ timeline-preserving MO, such that you buy Susie's overall disillusionment with humanity, whereas Badland’s carefully-seeded moments of vulnerability deepen her portrayal as they did in “Boom Town”, suggesting her malicious gusto to be more of a necessary front than anything else. It’s saying something when a pair of constructs who made such a compelling impression on-screen – in no small part thanks to Russell T. Davies’ character-driven approach to storytelling for Who and Torchwood alike – can continue to reveal unexpected facets in subsequent off-screen storylines, so credit where credit’s due to the playwright and thespians alike on that front.

At the same time, however, this morally complex instalment deftly balances its psych-studies with plenty of the fatalities, frivolities and, naturally, farts which Susie and Margaret collectively leave in their wake – much to the audible entertainment of Badland and Varma (not to mention the sound team emulating those gaseous exchanges!). Hearing the pair relentlessly squabble over hailing taxis, local politics, the debatable allure of Cardiff’s skyline by night and countless other trivial matters works wonders, keeping their high-stakes race against time grounded and ensuring that Sync never gets too bogged down with emphasising the mortal peril that awaits the pair and the city alike should they fail. Indeed, that Big Finish opted to – whether due to time constraints or creative decisions – exclude Badland from their Slitheen-featuring outing in their The Tenth Doctor Chronicles boxset last year seems a surprising oversight with the hindsight of her splendid work alongside Varma here, to the extent that they’d be fools to repeat the mistake going forward if they can still find ways to integrate the late Mayor into Who storylines.

Perhaps it’s telling of Sync’s myriad scripting and performance strengths, then, that a recurring gripe with these recent Torchwood / Doctor Who returning villain crossovers almost falls entirely under the radar despite its residual presence. For all of McMullin’s truly impressive efforts to keep her first Main Range contribution moving at a feral Slitheen’s pace, only taking detours for the occasional bout of well-timed comic relief and mostly integrating character development seamlessly along the way, there remains the pervasive sense that Raj Ghatak’s succinctly-named Pilot was a structural afterthought. While the weighting of supporting players clearly forms a core part of any playwright’s thought-process, when the play in question places said Pilot fairly centre-stage late on, you can’t help wishing that it’d dedicate more time to portraying them as anything other than a hapless victim in events beyond their control, or at least making a meaningful thematic point if that was the intention of said depiction.

But given the aforementioned minimal prominence which that quibble had in our mind come the end credits (especially compared to last month’s hurriedly-concluded The Green Life), the odds of it affecting your listening experience seem borderline astronomical. Chances are that you’ll instead leave Sync having cackled heartily throughout at its dizzying array of razor-sharp one-liners, having formed a remarkably fresh outlook on its two far-from-B-list rogues and, most importantly, having barely noticed 60 minutes passing all the while. If Lisa McMullin wasn’t already on your writers-to-watch list after her potent Gallifrey offering earlier this year, then trust us – simply give her superb Torchwood debut a go and you’ll join us in counting down the days until her sophomore storyline follows suit.

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – From the moment that David Attenborough discovered plastic debris littering the ocean floor, the clock immediately started clicking on whether Big Finish or Chris Chibnall would snag the rights to base an Auton storyline around this all-too-disturbing subject matter. Well, evidently the former party won out in the bidding war, leaving Rhys Williams with the rather undesirable task of battling the Nestene Consciousness’ countless duplicates on the high seas – sans his wife or any Torchwood colleagues at that. See you back here for our verdict on the next Main Range instalment Sargasso – as well as the sure-to-be apocalyptically eventful God Among Us 3 – in the weeks ahead…

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Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #8 (Titan Comics)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 24 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Thirteenth Doctor - Issue #8 (Credit: Titan)

Writer: Jody Houser
Artist: Rachel Stott
Colourist: Enrica Eren Angiolini

30 Pages

Published by Titan Comics 22nd May 2019 

The latest arc involving alien flesh eaters and a mysterious podcast gets wrapped up in the latest issue of the The Thirteenth Doctor. It wraps the story up in a nice quiet bow.  For a story that was about trekking through various time periods to solve a mystery, it ends in a surprisingly simple way.  The reveal of who is behind the podcast seems pretty obvious, but it doesn't really play it as some extra big threat.  

Overall I would say this story was decent and could be a good read, but it also feels like they just tired of the plot, and wrapped it up quickly to move on.  I'm not sure there was a better way to end the story, but I can't help but feel like the initial reveal that something bigger and more mysterious was going on than a simple threat of alien flesh eaters feels dry and forgettable in the way the story concludes.  

Once again the art has been great, the characters are all there in the writing, but the plot just doesn't seem like it truly came together for Jody Houser this time.  There were solid premises but no real meat to it.  I mean it ended and I had no feelings about it whatsoever. I wouldn't even call it a unsatisfying conclusion, just a totally forgettable one.  

Luckily, a new issue will come and with it a brand new story.  Hopefully the next one will reignite the flame.  

FILTER: - Thireenth Doctor - Titan Comics - Comics

Torchwood: God Among Us Part 2 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 22 June 2019 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
God Among Us - Part 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: Lou Morgan, Ash Darby, Tim Foley and David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness); Tracy-Ann Oberman (Yvonne Hartman); Paul Clayton (Mr. Colchester); Alexandria Riley (Ng); Jonny Green (Tyler Steele), Tom Price (Andy Davidson); Samuel Barnett (Norton Folgate)

Released by Big Finish Productions - February 2019
Order from Amazon UK

For all Captain Jack Harkness’ weekly proclamations that “the 21st century is when everything changes”, one immutable curse seems to dog his Cardiff team throughout every mission, team roster and entertainment medium – they simply can’t catch a break. So it is that Big Finish’s latest Torchwood boxset, God Among Us Part 2, finds his comrades besieged at all sides from new threats, some outrageously supernatural like Season Seven’s titular self-professed deity, others far closer to home for listeners in the form of resonant societal ordeals.

The agency’s ever-intensifying struggle for survival works to our immense benefit once again, though, resulting in another thrilling run of storylines which avoids Part 1’s confounding tonal repetition and – better yet – builds to a truly epic crescendo that’ll have fans pre-ordering Part 3 faster than they can say “bring back Ianto”…

“Flight 405”:

“Everything about this plane feels wrong.”“Wrong is where Torchwood lives…”

Eagle-eared listeners will doubtless have noticed a number of tantalising plot strands bubbling under the surface of Big Finish’s various Torchwood releases so far (across the Main Range, these post-Miracle Day boxsets and the 10th Anniversary Special The Torchwood Archive), arguably the most intriguing of which comes in the form of one Norton Folgate. Part-Torchwood Three recruit, part-Committee conspirator, part-infuriating enigma, Folgate’s various encounters with the likes of Andy Davidson, Jack and their teammates seldom fail to throw more perplexing questions into the mix as to his true agenda.

That God Among Us Part 2 plunges headfirst into the psyche of Samuel Barnett’s fast-beloved rogue agent should come as a welcome relief to many, then, with scribe Lou Morgan’s “Flight 405” kicking off said interrogation in grandiose fashion via a madcap plane heist above Cardiff. As with the most compelling Folgate-centred entries to date (see Outbreak and Goodbye Piccadilly for two prime examples), it’s clear that Morgan recognises the value of balancing the character’s secrets with his sexually-charged banter; her script delicately injects ample mystery surrounding his presence aboard a fast-plummeting airplane, while simultaneously delivering regular riotous hysteria thanks to his heated-at-best interactions with Andy and Yvonne Hartman as they race to avoid citywide destruction.

Maintaining this fine tonal balance of high-stakes (not to mention high-altitude) drama with cathartic comic relief must inevitably present the cast with quite the challenge in terms of how to approach their performances; yet – as always – our accomplished players are more than up to the task at hand. With Alexandria Riley and John Barrowman mainly relegated to the background here, we’ve instead got a divine three-hander in Tracy-Ann Oberman, Tom Price and Samuel Barnett; the former pair simultaneously ground their piece via some supremely awkward romantic tension whilst also offering a perfect counterfoil with their stoic by-the-books determination to Barnett’s relentless energy and gleeful recklessness. Little wonder, then, that Big Finish have just commissioned a six-part Torchwood Soho boxset chronicling Andy and Folgate’s 1950s hijinks, since the plentiful comedic mileage waiting to be gleaned from their dynamic (and potential Yvonne cameos) is still absolutely plain to see.

“Hostile Environment”:

“Can’t anyone see me?”“No, Tyler – no-one sees you.”

As much as Torchwood often thrives with whirlwind sci-fi heist outings such as “Flight 405”, the show (in both its televisual and audio mediums) can equally feel just at home when tackling delicate subject matters which continue to grow in pertinence for its contemporary audience by the day. Just look at how devastatingly impactful “Adrift” proved in its harrowing think-piece on missing children, or the extent to which “Poker Face” blurred the lines between secret agencies and the terrorist cells they’re trying to undo, not to mention the poignant study on personal and professional trauma conducted by God Among Us’ understated season premiere, “Future Pain”.

With all that being said, any listener approaching Ash Darby’s frankly unforgettable range debut should still brace themselves – regardless of whether they’ve experienced the above thought-provoking tales – for a deeply unsettling hour, one which is sure to intentionally test your definition of the term “entertainment” to its very limits. Events might start out ordinarily enough, as the ever-inquisitive (and ever-infuriating) Tyler takes to the streets to uncover the truth behind a new GPS app linked to homeless disappearances, yet that’s merely the plot trigger for a remarkably intricate societal interrogation. Far from simply having her protagonist come to the rescue of the missing souls, Darby forces him – and consequently us – to confront his own prejudices as the ex-journalist becomes similarly destitute, thus witnessing our species’ disturbing willingness to render these circumstantial victims of fate as pariahs simply owing to their insufficient bank balance.

Any potent humanitarian issue of this ilk always makes for challenging listening when placed under the microscope, but for Darby to buckle under the weight of what she’s trying to achieve in a mere hour by rounding off with an optimistic message would’ve seemed disingenuous at best, especially when we see the evidence of the countless lives affected by homelessness just by roaming the high street on a daily basis. Quite to the contrary, though, her script pulls no punches throughout its runtime, prompting Jonny Green’s best performance to date as he gradually deconstructs Tyler’s brazen confidence to reveal his capacity for broken hopelessness, unprecedented endurance and ultimately haunting self-preservation come the heartbreaking denouement. Look out for a similarly stunning turn from newcomer Jessica Hayles as Kirsty, yet another forgotten innocent whose sly charm fast gets under your skin to the extent that her ultimate fate lingers in the memory long after the credits.

“Another Man’s Shoes”:

“Yvonne Hartman speaking…”

What better way to lighten up proceedings after one of Big Finish’s grimmest (yet equally most remarkable) productions in recent years than with a risqué body-swapping caper? Torchwood premises don’t get much more quintessential than that. Sure enough, “Another Man’s Shoes” serves up a delightful antidote to its predecessor’s maudlin themes, largely thanks to scribe Tim Foley letting his players loose with some delightfully wild material.

Tyler and Norton, for instance, find themselves whisked off in each other’s physical vestiges for yet another of the latter’s trademark raucous nights out. Cue a deliciously strained buddy comedy dynamic which Green and Price exploit to glorious effect, their respective takes on Folgate’s rambunctious sexual provocations towards anyone available and Tyler’s initial bewilderment then growing scepticism towards Folgate’s time-travelling motives all the more impressive when you consider that they’re playing each other’s roles for one night only. The situation’s no less ridiculous with Yvonne and Andy either since the former – now inhabiting her sergeant lover’s tightly-strung uniform – must answer for the latter’s recent staged crimes in Aliens Among Us Part 3 via a disciplinary hearing, much to Andy’s palpable horror. It’s of course another gleeful disaster waiting to happen, with Price’s take on Ms. Hartman / Andy as she desperately strives to win her interviewer over a beauty to behold and Oberman no less sensational in her uncharacteristically flustered portrayal of the displaced Andy.

The only main risk which “Another’s Man Shoes” (by its unashamedly jovial and fairly plot-lite nature) faced from the outset was its potential to come off as filler in the grand scheme of God Among Us. Although Foley’s script delivers enough in the way of crudely effective gags and intrigue surrounding the hints of a wider scheme at play with the soul transfers to mostly keep any such reservations out of the listener’s mind, looking back on Part 2 as a whole, we’d wager that the lack of meaningful character development or narrative depth might rob it of a place in the Torchwood Hall of Fame when such shortlists are inevitably drawn up someday. All the same, there’s scarce point in complaining too much right now when everyone involved is clearly having such a riot of a time – the listener included.

“Eye of the Storm”:

“With a hey, a ho, the wind and the rain, and the rain it raineth every day.”

And you thought Aliens Among Us’ season finale, “Herald of the Dawn”, upped the stakes for our heroes to extents that we’d seldom seen from the TV show. Well, if David Llewellyn’s utterly gripping mid-season capper “Eye of the Storm” represents even the slightest mission statement as to the final God Among Us boxset and beyond, then apparently, we’ve barely gotten started. From mounting tidal waves to old enemies’ centuries-spanning conspiracies, from Yvonne’s long-teased past finally surfacing to the titular God choosing a side as apocalypse dawns, Big Finish writers take heed: this is how you tee up the concluding instalments of your season-long narrative in style.

However, as he escalates the odds against Torchwood Three with each epic action sequence, so too does Llewellyn mercifully recognise the value of allowing listeners moments to breathe – even when the chances of Cardiff’s residents ever breathing again look increasingly bleak. Hearing Jacqueline King’s enigmatic God square off with David Warner’s equally (if not more so) mysterious Committee character proves every inch as captivating as any of the city-threatening set-pieces, not only since Llewellyn pays off so many developing strands from Big Finish’s Torchwood storylines, but thanks to the thespians applying such delicate warmth and humour to their otherwise lofty exchanges on human evolution, nihilism and capacity for good or self-destruction, all of which grounds the piece as a whole exponentially.

If, on the other hand, listeners are craving more time in the company of Jack, the newly-resurrected Mr Colchester and Ng after the likes of Andy, Tyler and Yvonne took centre-stage for much of Part 2’s four episodes, then they’ll take comfort in knowing that Llewellyn seems only too keen to please on this front as well. A reckoning of sorts between Jack and Ng in particular – given how the latter hitched Gwen Cooper’s body for much of Aliens Among Us – was always going to be on the cards at some stage, so to hear the prolonged exchange occur now (albeit in the worst timed of circumstances as the trio reckon with a malfunctioning borderline-nuclear power station near Cardiff) will provide much-needed catharsis for Torchwood fans, the outcome setting Ng on an especially promising trajectory for Part 3.

Speaking of what’s on the horizon for God Among Us, one or two hitherto untapped goldmines are still rife for the taking in this month’s climactic boxset. That Orr plays next-to-no role in Part 2, barely even warranting a mention by her teammates until Ng raises the issue with God in “Another Man’s Shoes”, might well rub any of her fandom devotees the wrong way as a rare continuity oversight, while the Norton / Committee timelines could equally benefit from some form of clarification next time around, since both run the risk of becoming convoluted for convolution’s sake if no closure lies around the corner.

All that’s for the future, though; for now, Torchwood: God Among Us Part 2 confidently dispels any reservations which we might’ve otherwise held about this latest audio season’s capacity to match its immediate predecessor, the sheer tonal range of consistently compelling (and oft-provocative) storylines on offer truly ensuring that there’s something to keep just about every listener satisfied. Maybe, just maybe, the Cardiff team’s inability to catch a break after all these years is for the best after all.

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Doctor Who At The BFI - Planet of the Daleks & Q and A with Katy ManningBookmark and Share

Sunday, 16 June 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley



Anyway, that’s enough of that fan...........wallowing! So, on Saturday 15th June, DWN was invited along to the BFI to see this special edition episode of the Pertwee classic, Planet of the Daleks. A story that is now 46 years old and that is showing to promote not only the upcoming series 10 Blu-ray box set but also to show off what the restoration team have managed to do with the original material. So, to the (literal) strains of Roberta Tovey's Who's Who, I entered the auditorium.


I have to confess, I’ve not seen this story since it’s release on DVD some years ago, but it does have a fond place in my heart. Why? Well, it has the Pertwee ‘A-Team’ in it; he and Manning never looked better on the small screen than during series 10. Pertwee himself was at the top of his game, and the show looked great. Yes, you can see the studio walls, but the jungle setting looks sumptuous, and the vicious plants incredibly imaginative. I love this TARDIS set, with its pull out bed, hidden oxygen tanks, and that weird entry threshold thing where you can see the outside....from the inside through the interior doors of the TARDIS. Odd, but very cool.


Being a direct follow on from Frontier In Space, which I always thought was just a long and drawn out trailer for this very story, it does suffer somewhat from Terry Nation’s writing tropes, but it’s still a cracking Dalek story, with some great cliffhangers, and fantastic character actors such as Prentis Hancock, and Bernard Horsefall. There is also David Maloney on directing duties.


As with a lot of the content on these new Blu-ray releases, the special effects have been spruced up somewhat (a feature that you can toggle on and off when watching the Blu-ray at home). Some of the effects are very impressive (the Dalek ship for instance) and some are so well blended in that you don’t notice them until the story has moved on. The standout, however, is, of course, the destruction of the Dalek army in the final episode. When I think back to the original, all I remember is awfully rendered, pathetic looking toy Daleks and bad lava effects. What we have here though is a complete CGI reimagining of the scene that adds real gravitas to the whole thing, and brings the effects bang up to date.


Sadly, upscaling a story like this is not all good. I thought as nice as the picture was, it suffered a bit by being on the big screen (I’m hoping it will look better at home). I also noticed a string on an ascending Dalek, Pertwee’s makeup, and how poor a state the Dalek props were in.


Story-wise, as mentioned earlier, it’s a Nation classic. He knows how to handle his Daleks and his mercenaries. But his female characters not so much. Some of the dialogue had the audience in stitches, especially that classic scene where Jo goes to find the bombs....and please, the less said about her brief 'romance', the better. Obviously, this is a window into a very different era of storytelling, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so harsh.


After the show, there was a quiz, that Katy helped out with, running up and down the auditorium like a blind teenager. There was also a look at some of the newly filmed extras - Keeping Up With The Jones looks absolutely lovely, as do the Behind the Sofa vignettes featuring Manning, John Levene and Richard Franklin - their chemistry together, even now positively sizzles.


We then moved onto the Q and A and I must say that Manning was charming, funny and very engaging. She regaled the audience from how Pertwee started to wear hair rollers to hide his bald spot (which Katy had pointed out to him to his horror), to her heartbreak at leaving the show and moving on all of those years ago.


This reviewer really enjoyed the afternoon, if I had one slightly negative observation....well not so much as an observation, as a feeling in my buttocks - it would be that these showings would be better suited to four-part stories.


Oh! I nearly forgot! Inside scoop! The next Blu-ray box set will be announced Tuesday 18th June. Make your bets now, ladies and gentlemen.


FILTER: - Third Doctor - Season 10 - Blu-ray/DVD

Torchwood - The Green Life (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 12 June 2019 - Reviewed by Thomas Buxton
The Green Life (Credit: Big Finish)
Written By: David Llewellyn
Directed By: Scott Handcock

Featuring: John Barrowman (Captain Jack Harkness); Katy Manning (Josephine Jones); Stewart Bevan (Voice of the Hive)

Released by Big Finish Productions - April 2019
Order from Amazon UK

“This isn’t the 1970s, Ms. Grant. You won’t find me in any one terminal, circuit board or roll of magnetic tape – I am everywhere.”

If there’s one established truth on which we Doctor Who universe aficionados can surely concur, it’s the undying appeal of the franchise’s various crossover outings. Whether these involve multiple Doctors, companions uniting in their own escapades or an overflowing melting pot of the pair as seen in “The Five Doctors” and “Journey's End”, these ever-anticipated ensemble pieces serve dual purposes, stoking our collective nostalgia while offering a worthwhile entry-point for those viewers who’ve yet to explore the past of the five-decade-spanning shared continuity.

Big Finish’s recently-announced plans to square off the Torchwood Three team (alongside their allies and occasional frenemies) against classic Who monsters in a new series of Main Range instalments thus seemed like a recipe for commercial and creative success from the outset. Sure enough, with April’s Gwen Cooper-starring Night of the Fendahl came a thrilling chamber piece which cunningly melded the titular supernatural antagonist’s mythology with #MeToo explorations; fast forward one month later and the results spawned by pairing the indomitable Captain Jack Harkness not only with “The Green Death”’s iconic maggots, but one Jo Jones, are no less delectable…for want of a better term given the subject matter.

Much as Fendahl rekindled its 1977 TV predecessor’s gothic chills and macabre tone for the modern listener, so too does The Green Life stay true to the unmistakable environmentalist undertones found in 1973’s “Death”, not to mention Jo’s own work to save the world as referenced in her Sarah Jane Adventures appearance. Of course, that Ms. Jones (née Grant) remains so dedicated to preserving life in all forms hardly makes her ideal company for Jack as they investigate a resurgent maggot infestation in the pollution-free village of Llanfairfach. Such crossovers wouldn’t prove half as fun without the odd heated confrontation, though, and true to form, writer David Llewellyn exploits this ideological tension of brawn vs. benevolence for all its worth. From exchanges as gloriously bonkers as the pair navigating sewers while Jo hunts for her missing car keys to unexpectedly explosive moments like the ex-Time Agent questioning why the Doctor truly parted ways with Jo in ’73, there’s dramatic and comedic mileage alike gleaned in abundance here.

It equally goes without saying that – beyond fitting neatly into the Torchwood Main Range’s four-part greatest hits tour – Life shares Night of the Fendahl’s painful topicality in 2019 by delving into the realms of environmental exploitation. Yet rather than simply banging the drum of global warming protest alongside those who took to the streets of London recently, Llewellyn takes an unexpectedly nuanced viewpoint of the situation. His depiction of a corporation manipulating society’s healthy foods drive recognises the dangers of us overlooking business malpractice for conservational ends on the one hand, only to simultaneously highlight the challenge that comes with tearing down these systems if it comes at the cost of whole communities’ workplaces and livelihoods. Who would represent the real villain in that situation? No lone audio drama can profess to provide a definitive answer, as with Fendahl’s necessarily open-ended take on Hollywood gender politics, but to leave Life with such (ironically) meaty food for thought certainly odes Llewellyn huge credit.

In case all of these weighty themes sound a tad overbearing for a one-hour Torchwood adventure, worry not; few thespians could provide greater catharsis in such circumstances than John Barrowman with his gung-ho bravado or Katy Manning with her bubbly wit and infectious wonder, a sentiment which holds doubly true with their overdue coupling., Both stars hit it off from the moment that we hit Play, with Manning’s passionate energy imbuing Jo with the same moral righteousness as ever and offering a perfect counter foil to Barrowman’s lovably infuriating take on Jack at his most self-important. Indeed, if Manning’s ever around the Big Finish studios at the same time as another Torchwood recording, then one can hardly imagine James Goss and company resisting the opportunity to pair her with another member of the team in light of Life’s electrifying results.

So will the naysayers find any excuses to pick nits this time around? The only notable blemish in Life’s structural integrity (at least to our minds) lies in its somewhat rushed introduction of Stewart Bevan’s mysterious behind-the-scenes string-puller. Rest assured that we shan’t reveal their identity here so as to preserve the enigmatic nature of his cast-list billing, but even once you’re fully up to speed, Bevan has scarcely received sufficient time to flesh out his character in any great depth, such that the outcome of our heroes’ inevitable stand-off with them fails to land with the dramatic weight that it arguably would’ve in a serial closer to the 150-minute runtime of “Death”. It’s a recurring issue which we’ve raised before in our Torchwood Main Range reviews and might well warrant the range producers’ consideration at some stage going forward, or alternatively necessitate writers like Llewellyn hastening their future scripts’ first acts somewhat to avoid a last-minute race to the finish line.

With that being said, this reviewer’s greatest concern with Life had long been whether pairing the grimmest and, well, campest aspects of the Doctor Who universe was a step too far, even for a string of releases so accomplished as these one-hour standalone Torchwood missions. What an immense relief it is, then, to confirm that any such reservations on other listeners’ parts are entirely unwarranted, since the above-mentioned minor character issues barely leave a scratch on this riotous crossover’s sturdy armour. There’s nostalgia aplenty for long-term Who fans, a formidable introduction to Jo Jones in all her glory for newcomers unfamiliar with her non-Torchwood antics and tonnes to chew on from a societal perspective as well – in short, the Doctor Who crossover’s undying appeal remains alive and kicking!

NEXT TIME ON TORCHWOOD – Just when you thought that the Torchwood team had expended every ounce of their creative juices brainstorming inspired Doctor Who-mashing plot premises, Lisa McMullin proposes yet another match made in heaven (or possibly Hell) for Sync: Suzie Costello and short-lived Cardiff mayor Margaret Blaine. Sparks will fly, towns will boom, and we’d wager that not even the God Among Us can save Wales’ capital city from the devastating carnage that awaits…

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The Tenth Doctor Adventures - Volume Three (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 7 June 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume Three (Credit: Big Finish)

Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, Jacqueline King, Nicholas Briggs
Written by James Goss, Jenny T Colgan, & Roy Gill
Directed by Ken Bentley

Released by Big Finish - May 2019

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return to Big Finish for Tennant's third and Tate's second boxset, and this time they've brought along some supporting characters from Series 4 as well: Wilf and Sylvia! 

The set opens with No Place, seeing all four characters in a haunted house, with the Doctor and Donna pretending to be newlyweds for some haunted house makeover show. Obviously, this is all in order to deal with whatever alien presence is stalking the house. In all honesty, the opener feels half baked, like they got part of an idea and never truly figured out the details...maybe hoping that the joy of hearing Bernard Cribbins as Wilf again would distract us from the fact that the story isn't terribly great.  And while it is great to hear Wilf and Sylvia in on the action, I can't say I even buy the idea that Sylvia would get involved in this plot.  It's nothing against Jacqueline King, she is good in this...but the way the character had always been written is contrary to her getting roped into a Doctor Scheme. She just wouldn't. And in the end, these are the kind of silly details I focus in on when the story itself isn't terribly interesting. 

Luckily the set bounces back with One Mile Down as the Doctor takes Donna to a tourist trap that was once a beautiful underwater city, but in order to make money with tourism they've encased it in a bubble, with the original fish like inhabitants forced into protective helmets, and essentially be treated as lower life forms despite having built the beautiful city everyone has come to see.  It can be a bit ham-fisted with it's social commentary, but that was the Tenth Doctor era I loved so much!  You've got 45 minutes to an hour to explain your premise, introduce your guest characters, build a world and solve it all for the next adventure...if you want to put in a message, well you just need to shove it in and get the point across quickly.  And I enjoyed this episode!

The set closes out with The Creeping Death, which takes place in Smoggy London in 1952. This was an actual thing that got really bad in December 1952, and a number of people got ill or died due to toxins in the air.  In this story, some minuscule alien lifeforms that live in those kinds of toxins have come to Earth and hope to make the smog last forever, and of course, it is up to the Doctor, Donna, and a small group of people to stop them.  This one has a fun atmosphere, and I enjoyed all the guest characters. It is definitely the best outing for this set. 

As the Tenth Doctor is probably my favourite version of the character, and Donna my favourite companion of his, I'd be hard pressed not to just enjoy hearing Tennant and Tate together again (even out of character the two are always a blast to listen to).  I think despite the lame opening effort, they bounce back and make stories that definitely feel like episodes that could've fit into Series 4.  The only thing that could capture the feel of that era better is Murray Gold's music.  Unlike the first set in which Tennant had to sort of find his Doctor voice again, and the second set in which Billie Piper didn't quite feel like the old Rose, this time Tennant and Tate are rock solid in their performances, and it's a fun ride. 

FILTER: - Tenth Doctor - Big Finish - Audio No Place