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23 October 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Carl Rowens & Martyn Waites

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


Interstitial by Carl Rowens

"When the TARDIS is drawn off-course by temporal disruption, the Doctor and his companions discover a research facility conducting dangerous experiments. But how do you fight the future when time itself is being used as a weapon?"

Feast of Fear by Martyn Waites

"At the height of the Irish famine, a carnival travels the country bringing cheer to all they encounter. But it also brings something else along with them… and it already has the Doctor."

Doctor Who has not been shy of (at times) cribbing from its own past; be it with cast members (here's looking at you, Michael Wisher), titles (The Mutants does have a nice ring about it) or plots (Planet of the Daleks feels very familiar for a reason, after all).

Likewise, Big Finish have certainly never been shy about plundering the past. We've recently had an entire trilogy featuring one-shot character Mags, two outings across two ranges for the same trio of Masters and a Missy, giant maggots pestering Torchwood, and more besides. This trilogy is bookended by a guest star from Big Finish's own original series, and a story with the 1980s Cybermen. Here in the middle, we've two stories with rather familiar beats.

We begin with Interstitial by new writer Carl Rowens. The title conjures up memories of The Time Monster, experiments with time doing likewise, but what we get instead is a fairly generic sci-fi story of differing timelines and the responsibility one has if one can alter events. (That's not a criticism, just an observation.)

The story justifies its two-episode length, not outstaying its welcome and using a small cast well, even if the guest cast are largely familiar tropes with dialogue.

Having joined the TARDIS team in the previous adventure, with hints of a sad ending, Marc is all wide-eyed innocence, a traveller from the past flung into the future, and Rowens gets to toy with his fate at times. I'm not sure how Marc is going to play out yet: confusion and enthusiasm with a dash of bravery are all well and good, but I feel we've seen this before and he will need something more to really grab our affection.

The ending of Interstitial feels rather quick after the gentle pace across the rest of the tale, but all in all this one is not bad. It even manages to take one of my pet hates (people on screen or in audio reading aloud letters whilst writing them) and give it an amusing pay-off when Nyssa signs it off. Hats off to it.

* * * * *

Next up is Feast of Fear by Martyn Waites, another new author. It's always good to see new names in this range, so having two in this release is something to be praised.

Feast of Fear is an odd one though. We sadly begin things with two characters spouting exposition at one another as they run, which made my heart sink and attention wander: there are ways of filling in characters' backgrounds organically and this isn't it.

As for the play itself, you'll be forgiven for thinking you've heard this one before. A circus taken over by a malevolent evil from outer space? I guess any story set around a circus or carnival was going to invoke comparison with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but the way around this is surely to do something radically different? As it stands, it just makes it feel like the well is running dry.

Elsewhere, things feel very in tune with Doctor Who in its post-2005 guise. Love saving the day and people able to break conditioning through memories and friendship? Closing Time and The Rings of Akhaten spring to mind.

This makes the play feel derivative. Heck, even a plot thread about the Doctor unable to stop talking has strong echoes of Tell Me You Love Me from Big Finish's (underrated) Class plays.

In some ways, Feast of Fear feels like the most Chibnall-era play we've had so far, with a (very) lengthy justification by the Doctor before taking any action against the monster and an emphasis time and again on friendships and relationships. Even plundering stories from the past is in keeping, seeing as Chibnall has riffed on Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Green Death on screen rather heavily in two of his tales.

It doesn't make for a wholly successful play here, though, if you know the show's past, and let's be honest, most people listening to these plays do. Big Finish are even doing a prequel to Greatest Show in this very range, so I am left scratching my head at the approach taken here.

This release is a story of two halves in more than one respect, then. It boasts one of the best covers Big Finish have given us for years, throws two new authorial voices into the fray, and stumbles as often as it succeeds.

I think on balance that I am okay with this. This release is not going to get a huge score from me, but at least it's attempting to do something vaguely different, albeit by treading a well-beaten path. Perhaps the future will see more success down this route.


+ Interstitial / Feast of Fear is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

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11 October 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: David Llewellyn

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"63BC. Following the overthrow of Catiline, Cicero and his wife retire to the coastal town of Cumae, safe from the threats of Rome.

But when a stranger and his companions arrive at Cicero’s villa, new dangers lie in wait and Cicero finds himself plunged into a realm of gods and monsters.

His only hope of returning home lies with a man known as the Doctor. But can Cicero trust him?"

Every year, there is one month where Big Finish give us two main range releases at once instead of the usual solo effort. 2019 throws two historical pairings at our feet at the same time: the Doctor and Houdini in Harry Houdini’s War, and the Doctor and Cicero here in Tartarus.

I heard a few cynical rumblings when this play was announced along the lines of it being less a good idea for a Doctor Who play and more a good excuse for an extended advert for Cicero, Big Finish’s original series from 2018.

There is a decent enough Doctor Who story in here to silence the critics, in part because the series has taken elements of mythology and created a story from them before, as is the case here. It doesn’t necessarily feel overfamiliar though, partly because they’ve decided to buck this incarnation’s norms (Resurrection of the Daleks aside) and give Tartarus two episodes over 40 minutes in length each. It benefits this script, giving room for moments to really breathe and lending the tale a pace that’s gentle without being lazy.

I am not saying there isn’t an element of cynicism here, mind, and crossed fingers hoping people will jump from Tartarus to Cicero. Certain plot points clearly take their lead not just from history but from the series, and having the Doctor enthuse about how amazing Cicero is, while not out of character perhaps comes across as a bit too forced, ditto his arguments with him about who should be in charge and early scenes where the Doctor explains concepts from the future to him at a party. It’s the same with Nyssa and Tegan’s reactions to everything, and an observation and plot point about Adric’s death. It feels a tad like someone is trying really hard, and too self-consciously, to write ‘this is how they would react’ rather than creating something truly organic and true to the characters.

The ending of Tartarus points to more to come in, one presumes, a future trilogy. I’m not sure how keen or excited I am for this development, especially as it rather gives away the ending already. That said, I’m guessing the ending, as painted here, isn’t quite what it appears to be: and if it is, it’s almost identical to that which they’ve done before with post-Terminus Nyssa, which will seem a little lazy. Perhaps it will surprise me further down the line. Perhaps.

I do have to wonder. As of late, much of Big Finish’s output across its various ranges feels rather like we’ve seen this before, often riffing on something we have already had or filling blanks no-one really cared about and making a poor job of it. From Emissary of the Daleks to the sixth series of adventures for River Song to the fan fic slog that was Battle Scars, it feels utterly tried. Those are perhaps extreme examples of bad releases, but that weariness seeps in elsewhere more often than not nowadays, and that’s upsetting.

I genuinely hate writing reviews like these; so down and lacking in real joy or spark; I know people pour their heart and soul into writing words. But I also am not about to lie and pretend it’s all sunshine and roses, as it’s not. Every so often, we’ll be blown away by something really special or brilliant from Big Finish; The Master of Callous here, the genuinely touching Still Life there, the fun and atmospheric Krampus two-parter from Ravenous in the centre. It proves that there is life in the old dog yet, and exciting life it is, too. But with such releases few and far between, I do wonder how long it is before the well is truly dry.

Prove me wrong, Big Finish. I reckon, or at least I hope, that you can, because I know you’re brilliant when you really put your mind to it: you have been dozens upon dozens upon dozens of times before. It’s why I’m still going with you, all these years on. But perhaps I’m just tired of the increasing ‘that’ll do’ releases? And if I am, I’m sure I am not alone.

Prove me wrong. Please.


+ Tartarus is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


2 October 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Steve Lyons

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The world is at war, and Harry Houdini wants to fight for his adoptive country. He might get the chance, when an old friend crashes his New York show.

The Doctor is on the trail of a Central Powers spy ring, which has somehow acquired unearthly technology. But he is also keeping a dangerous secret...

Finding himself on the run behind enemy lines, the world’s greatest escape artist has to work out who he can trust – and fast."

Harry Houdini’s War is the final play in the latest Sixth Doctor and Peri trilogy. Despite being pushed as pre-Trial tales, the use of Dominic Glynn’s theme tune arrangement quickly suggests things aren’t all they appear with this play (either that or someone in post-production has dropped the ball), which is either a clever clue or a bit of a twist killer. The jury is undecided.

We start off slightly on the back foot then, and pre-publicity highlighting that Harry Houdini and the Doctor have met before in Smoke and Mirrors (a play that was one of the better parts of the Destiny of the Doctor series from 2013) it may seem a little off-putting: does one need to know that to enjoy this? Thankfully not, and indeed the relationship between the two men is the most enjoyable aspect of this release.

The combination of Houdini and the Doctor is a rather neat one: the illusionist who wowed the world with the person who saves it. As celebrity and Time Lord duos go, it certainly makes for an easier pairing than the ‘Doctor and Churchill’ one which has to skirt around and turn a blind eye to numerous issues and (ironically) politics to really work, and in the case of the two Big Finish series, also decent scripts and a full cast. I just hope Big Finish resist a trilogy with this pair or an ‘enhanced audiobook’ set: there’s a fine line between being intrigued to see more and seeing far too much. Even Houdini couldn’t work his magic on this.

Aside from the Houdini/Doctor partnership, there is some nice colour to this play. Educational titbits and facts concerning Houdini are dropped in neatly in a way that would make Sydney Newman happy, and I rather like the reason that’s given for why the Doctor seems to be fighting for the opposition. All this said, the script itself feels rather flabby at times, which makes the episodes’ running times feel lengthier than they are in actuality. There is also a strange thing in the first two parts where you reach a cliffhanger... and then it goes on for another scene or two before wrapping things up with a far less effective ending.

More bizarrely, the sound design for Harry Houdini’s War lacks the usual polish which Big Finish brings to the party. There is a scene that especially stood out which cuts from people in an aeroplane to people watching the aeroplane, with what is essentially a fading down of an aeroplane sound effect to denote the transition. I can see what they’re going for here, suggesting more of a pull-back shot than a hard cut between scenes, but it’s too subtle, lacking the visual immediacy audio needs to really sell the moment and creating a slower and messier picture in the mind accordingly.

In the end, perhaps that sums the play up: good ideas and nice intentions, but the finished product is lacking. As mentioned before though, there is mileage to be had with Houdini as an occasional guest star in these main range plays, certainly more than some returning elements or partnerships we’ve seen Big Finish delve into in the past. This particular play may not have the magic one wishes, but perhaps an encore can do it justice.


+ Harry Houdini's War is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


10 September 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"On the planet Omnia, a young man leads the Doctor and Peri through the battle-scarred ruins of a city. Among the rubble he shows them proof that their invaders and new masters, thought to be invincible, can be defeated. The proof is the blasted, burnt-out remains of a Dalek.

But this is a Dalek-occupied world like few others. For one thing, there are few Daleks to be seen. And for another, the Daleks have appointed an Omnian, Magister Carmen Rega, to govern the planet as their emissary.

Why are the Daleks not present in force? And can the Doctor and Peri risk helping the Omnians, when the least show of resistance will be met with devastating reprisals from space?"

There was a lot of buzz surrounding Emissary Of The Daleks, the latest play from Andrew Smith, when it was first announced. Rightly so, too, as the premise sounded very promising indeed: a world under Dalek rule which ticks along nicely, just so long as no-one rises up against them. As ideas go, it's a good one. Would you dare risk killing everyone if things are actually okay as-is?

There is a lot of potential there, with the Doctor and Peri in the role of possible antagonists. Do you risk it all just because they're Daleks, or accept the planet is fine right now with them in charge?

 

I was therefore excited to start this play, but that soon slipped into uncertainty and quickly into being unenthused. The trouble is, the premise is never really tapped into. Instead, we have a story we have seen a hundred times before. Daleks invade the planet; a well-meaning but ultimately flawed and foolish leader acts as human / Dalek liaison and does terrible things when trying to "do the right thing"; general population is terrified and live in fear and slavery; and the Doctor saves the day.

 

There was not one plot point or twist that I did not see coming at least two scenes earlier. Two of the cliffhangers involve screaming and what sounds like the death of the regulars… only they're fine. The character development and family relationships are as easy to guess as the plotting.

 

I really wanted to like this play, and there are definitely some good parts. I like the piece of Dalek mythology which Smith gives us, about how each Dalek sucker is as individual as a fingerprint. It ranks up with Trevor Baxendale's assertion in his novel Prisoner of the Daleks that Daleks could kill you quickly, they just choose to do it painfully, as good ideas that will be forever stuck in my mind as canonical now.

 

The story is something you've come across before, time and again, but the plot is at least free of holes, and whilst none of the characters made an impression, the cast have no weak links or performances on show.

 

Perhaps it's unfair to judge this play on what it is not, but what it is is so familiar as to be a bit dull. It may be told competently but I'm not sure you'd be able to call it exciting with any real sincerity.

 

As it stands, Emissary of the Daleks is by no means a disaster, but it's also entirely nonessential and overfamiliar to the brink of being boring. The buzz for the premise may be justified, but any for the execution is not.

 


+ Emissary Of The Daleks is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


16 July 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Roland Moore

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"What if you’d committed a truly dreadful crime but couldn’t remember?

The Doctor takes Peri to the Memory Farm – a state of the art space station where hidden memories can be harvested and analysed. To their surprise, they find the station in lock-down and all its resources dedicated to probing the memories of an elderly man. Garius Moro may, or may not, have been responsible for the deaths of billions of people many years ago, but he simply can’t remember.

The assembled representatives of two opposing factions, each with their own agenda, anxiously wait for the truth to be unlocked from Moro’s mind. But when a memory does eventually surface, everyone is surprised to learn that it is of Peri..."

Following on the heels of the Mags trilogy, we see the return of Peri to the main range after several years’ absence. Rather than follow up the plot threads left hanging from her last, post-Trial trilogy, we are instead treated to a story set earlier in her timeline, though at times it feels even earlier than that.

Roland Moore’s debut story for the Big Finish main range, Memories Of A Tyrant is a bit of an odd beast in that it’s a Sixth Doctor and Peri story that feels entirely geared towards it being a Third Doctor and Jo story, complete with a fight scene, references to The Curse of Peladon and The Green Death, central ethical dilemma, and an old friend of the Doctor who helped free wrongly convicted aliens. It gives the entire play a slightly unusual feel, being simultaneously true to the show but not really true to the era. I wonder if perhaps it started off with a different TARDIS team in mind, or if they just wanted to try something different? Either way, it can be a little jarring at times.

This air of incongruity aside, it also happens to be an unusual play for other reasons. Its central premise is interesting: Garius Moro is a tyrant responsible for the murder of billions and he has finally been captured - or has he? No visual record of Moro exists, and the man captured has no memory of his past life whatsoever. There is, therefore, a question of morality at stake here. Is it right that a man utterly ripped of his memories should suffer a punishment for his actions, actions which he cannot recall committing and finds hard to believe himself capable of? And what if they have the wrong man?

The main issue with this play is that it dodges both these issues entirely, something not down to Moore who addressed this in his original script, but down to director, producer and script editor John Ainsworth, who according to the play’s extras insisted that they go unanswered, to better retain uncertainty. All this does is neuter Memories Of A Tyrant, robbing its exciting meat and bones of weight and making the ending feel unsatisfactory. It goes out of its way to dodge the moral quandary but that just raises more questions than it answers, namely why commission a play such as this if you don’t want to fully engage with its soul?

It’s a pity as overall Memories Of A Tyrant is a fairly enjoyable listen which gives Peri a lot to do, and Colin Baker is clearly having fun pretending to be a convict. Moore has hit upon an interesting issue, has written it as a Third Doctor tale, and has had his answers removed from on high. It makes for one of the strangest releases Big Finish have put out for a while now, and certainly a tricky one to grade.

I would like to try and take a leaf out of its book and cheat my memory. I would like to recall the happy cast and the good ideas this play has, ignoring the era uncertainty and production interference. I will not succeed; the execution looms large in my mind. But trying to do so, at least, feels the done thing.


+ Memories Of A Tyrant is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


25 June 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"A space-time summons brings the TARDIS to the strangest place Mags has yet visited. A haven for the freakiest freaks and the weirdest weirdoes: Camden Lock, London, in the early 1990s.

But there's a reason why former TARDIS traveller Ace has brought the old gang back together. She’s on a mission to rescue an alien being, held prisoner in a massive mansion…

A mission that can’t possibly go wrong. Can it? "

An Alien Werewolf in London is the final story in this trilogy of stories featuring Mags, this time with Ace along for the ride. Believe it or not, that’s about all I can say without straying further into spoiler territory, so brief is the CD blurb. Keeping that in mind, what follows will contain spoilers so you may want to just skip ahead to the score without context or read this after listening.

With that in mind, let’s carry on. Werewolf is a slightly weird release; on the one hand, there is much to praise: it’s a decent enough plot, using time travel and double-bluffing rather well and the title is an amusing enough pun. In short, it’s an entertaining enough play that doesn’t feel like it has ever outstayed its welcome, despite episodes running over the 30 minute marker. The continual pop cultural references don’t really work, mind, not feeling true to the era, and the music utterly swamps everything, relying on only a couple of cues over and over again, an issue I had last month, too. The direction feels a bit off, too, with notable pauses between lines at times that kills the flow dead.

Enemy-wise, we’re back in one of Doctor Who’s favourite territories: vampires. Okay, so they don’t like to be called vampires, but we all know what they are. I suppose there was a certain inevitability about vampires and werewolves coming together in the end, but it’s done fairly well here.

Sadly though, the issue that has plagued this trilogy since the start is here again: just who is Mags beyond “I’m a werewolf and I’d rather not be”? I still don’t know, three plays and a television story in.

I mentioned in previous reviews for this trilogy that Mags was essentially a well-acted plot point back in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, and though the plot point has changed now (from “I am trapped and secretly a werewolf” to “I am a werewolf and I feel trapped”), I do not know her character. She wants a cure and feels like an outsider because she changes but, again, that’s not really a great deal to go on. That’s the sketchy, one-sentence pitch to potential writers.

Alan Barnes, the play’s writer and the outgoing script editor for most of the main range, says that bringing back Mags was always on his “to do” list, but I’m still unsure just why he was. On paper, a werewolf looking for a cure could be fun, but it strikes me as fuel for a spin-off comic book series instead of a great idea for an ongoing companion.

Nothing in this trilogy had persuaded me otherwise. Jessica Martin puts in her best performance as Mags by a mile here in this play, and we end not with a conclusion but a potential continuation of the storyline, only I’m not sure ‘continuation’ is the right word. We haven’t moved anywhere. We end up how we started, only with Mags in the TARDIS instead of on a planet.

In the end, I just feel torn. The opening and closing plays of the trilogy are enjoyable enough; enough to ensure this one gets a healthy score out of 10, despite my niggles with the direction and music, but that one word keeps coming back to me: why?

Why bring Mags back? Just who is this trilogy for: what is the audience Big Finish are aiming for? I’m utterly baffled.

Mags, we hardly knew thee. I’m not sure any of the writers really did, either.


+ An Alien Werewolf In London is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


25 May 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Emma Reeves

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor has returned Mags, formerly of the Psychic Circus, to her native world: Vulpana.

Not the savage Vulpana that Mags was taken from, but Vulpana in an earlier era. The Golden Millennium – when the Four Great Wolf Packs, each devoted to one of the planet’s four moons, oversaw the height of Vulpanan civilisation. A time when the noblest families of the Vulpanan aristocracy found themselves in need of new blood…

A golden age that’s about to come to a violent end!"

I noted at the start of my The Monsters Of Gokroth review that Big Finish seem to be tailoring their output for a very small and specific audience right now, and went on to question exactly what fans were dying to hear more tales about Mags and what stories could be told with her. This month sees the release of The Moons Of Vulpana and it goes some way to answering the latter question, but not always in a positive way. 

By returning to Vulpana, Mags’s home planet, we get a good chance to do some world building and add some background details. This is a welcome development and I could start to see the potential in the character and why some fans may have been clamouring for further adventures.  I’m not of the mindset where I hear a throwaway line and want to see it filled out: we’ve learnt from things like the Star Wars prequels or Big Finish’s own The War Doctor box sets that this is often not a good thing. Still, there are blanks that can be filled here should writers wish to, and so it is here. I hope that the fistful of fans who crave this sort of thing are enjoying the ride.

 

The problem really is not the mindset but the execution here. Yes, we get to visit Vulpana but what we get for those filled-in blanks is nothing original or especially engaging.  We land on a planet with pseudo-medieval trappings and Mags finds herself wooed by two werewolves. Before too long, she has met their haughty mother and their surly, outsider brother who feels isolated and unsure they should be celebrating the past after all, going against the grain of the planet. But despite Mags feeling at home here, perhaps all is not what it seems… to which I found myself saying, “Well, no, of course it isn’t going to be, is it?” because I feel like I have heard this story before. Many, many times. I kept waiting to be surprised, but nothing felt out of the ordinary. Even larger plot points later on lacked the impact they ought to have.

 

Throw in a repetitive musical motif that has outstayed its welcome before the opening episode is through (it makes that fanfare used in Rosa feel positively underused), and you’ve one of the most disappointingly average releases for a while.

 

All of the above elements contribute towards the creation of a play that is competent, but that’s about the most positive thing I can say about it. The script is functional and the performances not bad, but nothing here grabbed me because nothing here is new. I’m not sure it’s a fault with the writing. Emma Reeves has done great work elsewhere, with her Unbound play The Emporium At The End being one of the wittiest and joyful releases Big Finish have done this past decade. It’s not a fault with the acting either. The guest cast fails to shine, mind, but that’s not their fault: they can do only so much. As for Mags, Jessica Martin is really trying her best with what she has. It’s just that the character lacks true dimension and depth and I think the relatively uninspired feel of The Moons Of Vulpana is but a reaction to this.

 

Even this review feels underbaked and brief, but that’s because there is almost nothing to say beyond that which has been stated already. It doesn’t makes me especially hopeful for the conclusion to this trilogy, but you never know. Miracles happen and how blissfully Doctor Who-like it would be to save it all at the eleventh hour. Here’s hoping.

 


+ The Moons Of Vulpana is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


29 April 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The people of Gokroth live in fear of the monsters in the forest. Creatures with scales and fur, teeth and claws. But worse than these, perhaps, is the strange doctor who does unspeakable, unholy work in the high castle on the mountain…

A doctor who’s about to receive a visit from an off-worlder. Mags, formerly of the Psychic Circus. A native of the planet Vulpana… with a monstrous secret of her own."

I do not think it’s unfair to say that Big Finish have decided that their target audience right now is a niche section of fandom. To get anything out of their releases now, you really need to know your onions.

If you don’t know about the plot and cast of The Daleks’ Master Plan, the last Fourth Doctor series will leave you cold. Can’t remember your Gallifreyan history and the timeline of Rassilon both on-screen and in the Big Finish audio pantheon? I’d skip the second volume of Gallifrey: Time War. Unaware of who Susan is? Or the backstory of the Eighth Doctor’s audio companions, or Katarina, or Eric Roberts’ incarnation of the Master? That’s various series and volumes of The First Doctor AdventuresRavenous and The Diary Of River Song that are set to confuse you.

 

And now, just after Kamelion has exited the trilogic spotlight, Mags turns up, she of the Psychic Circus from The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, in a brand new set of adventures. If you aren’t a fan steeped in lore, Doctor Who on audio just isn’t for you right now.

 

The trilogy kicks off with The Monsters Of Gokroth by Matt Fitton (the sort of title destined to be misspelt for the rest of our days). Set on a pseudo-medieval planet plagued by monsters, Gokroth concerns the plight of the villagers beset by said baddies; a scientist mistrusted by the masses who dwells in a castle with her servant; a ne’er-do-well showman who arrives to take care of the monster infestation… for a price; and a werewolf named Mags who is seeking help for her condition, which of late seems to be spiralling out of control.

 

If it looks like Fitton’s script has all the trappings of a classic horror movie or creature feature, that’s because it does and it fully embraces this, much to its strength. The familiarity of archetypes lends Gokroth a playful air and heightens the scares and drama throughout, and it means that it (just about) gets away with the antagonist speaking aloud to themselves and the audience, or otherwise clichéd lines such as Mags worrying aloud about “the monster inside”. (The Seventh Doctor all but quoting Jodie Whittaker’s line about always helping people, however, is less homage and more tired rip-off.)

 

I’d say that this is Fitton’s best script for a long while now, with only Whodunnit? in Series Four of The Diary Of River Song coming close to stealing that crown. Like that script, his one here is a playful sending up of tropes that doesn’t descent into farce and has enough twists and good characters to not outstay its welcome.


The Monsters Of Gokroth is boosted further by solid direction from Samuel Clemens, his first time in the director’s chair for the monthly range, and an extremely strong performance from Victoria Yeates in the guest cast, which only proves yet again that new blood can work wonders for these monthly jaunts.

 

Sylvester McCoy is on good form, too, and Jessica Martin impresses, though the chemistry between the two leads isn’t quite there yet. There are hints and the first few sparks, but expect more to come as the plays go on.

 

This does bring up the thorny subject of Mags though. Martin, as noted already, is very good and it’s nice to have her back in the fold, but one has to question “why?” Of all the characters from the show’s past to return, it feels like a strange decision. Why not Ray from Delta And The Bannermen, for example, or Glitz or any host of other supporting characters from the Seventh Doctor’s past? I am not disputing that Greatest Show isn’t good (it is) or that Mags isn’t a good character in it (she is) or that Martin isn’t a good actor (she is) but does the character have enough going to warrant the solo focus?

 

The answer is uncertain as it stands, mostly because (as Martin herself points out in the play’s extras), Mags doesn’t really have all that much character. She’s an intriguing puzzle bolstered by superb execution in Greatest Show, but here she has to had to start over with regards to writing and approach.

 

You can just about reconcile the Mags here with the Mags there, but only just about, because in the end she is moving from plot point to companion and that brings with it a huge shift in dynamic range and backstory.


Fitton gives us hints of potential, and Martin is clearly excited to be back, but is this goodwill enough? We shall see over the next couple of months. For now, the jury is out but I have my fingers crossed.

 


+ The Monsters Of Gokroth is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

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29 March 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £8.99 (Download) each

Release Date: February 2019

Reviewed by: Chris Swaby for Doctor Who Online


The Perfect Prisoners: Part One

"The Doctor, Ann and K9 are hot on the trail of the Syndicate, and straight into trouble. 

After contending with killer robots and dangerous aliens, the clues lead straight to a machine that can literally make your dreams come true. A device that in the wrong hands could lead to misery for billions.  

But who’s the real villain here? And what exactly is their master plan?"

The Perfect Prisoners: Part Two

"Secrets have been revealed, and the Doctor and his friends at last know who they’re fighting.

An epic journey across space leads them to the true mastermind of the Syndicate conspiracy.

Alliances will shift. Friends will die. Can even the Doctor come out of this alive?"

As this is the finale to the eighth series of “The Fourth Doctor Adventures” it begs the question, can this be enjoyed without having listened to the rest of the series? Well, the answer is yes but it comes with two caveats. Both parts are perfectly enjoyable and easy to follow without listening to the proceeding six stories. However, to get the most out of this finale, I would suggest listening to these first. Added to this, it would be worth checking out “The Daleks’ Master Plan”, why? Because it gives a nice bit of background to this story and well, it’s one of the classics of Who! It may be 12 parts, many of which are sadly still missing but this does not detract from a fantastic serial. 

Part One starts in a pretty lively fashion. We first encounter The Doctor on the run from killer robots whilst trying his best to avert a rocket launch that would mean certain doom for many planets. As usual, not only is he fighting a deadly foe, but also a long standing enemy - a countdown! Meanwhile, the newest addition to the Big Finish roster, WPC Ann Kelso, is chasing down a suspect in true Policewoman style. Here we get a big departure from the usual companion territory, and we experience the first of many shocks and twists that this finale throws up. 


Following the successful stopping of a nefarious plot, a clue is picked up to the existence of the mysterious “Syndicate”, an ever present threat throughout series eight. From here to the end of part one, we stay pretty static on one planet and one building as The Doctor and Ann investigate a media conglomerate on their way to unravelling what The Syndicates’ master plan is. The episode moves along slowly without ever feeling like it is dragging, a hard task to accomplish for a writer but John Dorney manages it flawlessly here. 

 

Towards the end, the story flicks into another gear and the action really ramps up finishing with a huge twist at the end, setting it up nicely for the next part. Again, even without being invested in the series as a whole, the reveal still manages to shock and leaves you instantly wanting to get straight on to the next part. I was intending to listen to it over consecutive nights but as soon as part one finished I couldn’t stop myself from playing the next part, which is always the sign of a good cliffhanger.

 

Whereas Part One kicked off with an all action set piece, Part Two goes the other way and is a lot more understated, which given the huge reveal makes sense. In this part we get a far wider scope in terms of location, moving from one to another as The Doctor works to piece together the fall out from the cliffhanger, whilst also trying to stop The Syndicate’s plan from coming to fruition. On the whole this has more action than the former part, but it is evenly spaced between some great dialogue scenes, with one near the end being a particular highlight of the finale. 


The ending has plenty of twists and turns. At one point you really feel like the ending is clearly signposted, with one character killing another but it defies expectations and goes in another direction completely. In the dying moments, you really think you can tell what is going to happen but again, the writer throws convention out of the window which left me with a feeling of heartbreak followed by happiness at the final words. This is a true talent for any writer to accomplish and John Dorney nails it perfectly.

 

Both parts are full of well acted, entertaining and engaging characters. Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor is as fun as ever. He comes across fun and banterous to start but by the end of the first part and throughout the second his serious side comes out. That’s not to say its a complete 180 degree turn and the humour stops but he is definitely far more on the silly side to start.

 

Ann Kelso is a tough one to discuss without going all in on spoilers so I will try my best to pass comment without ruining any surprises. I found during the first part it was a bit difficult to really pin down her character, there are some interesting things that she is involved in but does come across as a bit unremarkable for bits of part one. I am pleased to say that although she is hard to pin down character wise at times, there is a lot going on with her and there is much to enjoy from the character throughout. Jane Slavin handles the character well and puts in a great performance given the different things she was required to do.

 

K-9 features heavily in this story and the back and forth with The Doctor is as comedic as ever. At times it can feel like K-9 is used as a bit of an easy “out” to certain situations and I found it to be a bit grating in a few places. The main highlight of the supporting cast is Ronan Vibert as “Zaal” who gives a wonderful performance, whether it be confident, duplicitous, smooth, schemer, manipulator or crazed despot. This is one of the best villains Big Finish has thrown up in a little while and I’m hoping we haven't seen the last of him.

 

There isn’t much to dislike here, the only things I found I didn’t enjoy or out right annoyed me can be boiled down into several things. I really didn’t like the voice acting for the character of “Drarn”, as it is such an over the top performance. It reminded me very much of Alex Maqueen’s Master, which for him works well given the character but here it feels a little out of place. Secondly, I thought was a bit needless that this is a two part story that is then further broken down into four episodes. This means halfway through each part, we get a mini cliffhanger, then the outro music followed immediately by the intro music which just feels jarring, needless and interrupts the flow of the piece. 

 

In my opinion, if you are a fan of the Fourth Doctor and / or “The Daleks’ Master Plan” then you are not going to want to miss this. Even if you have never seen that or have never dived into the Fourth Doctor’s Big Finish run you will still find this an enjoyable story. If you want my advice on the best way to get the most out of this - listen to 8.1 through 8.7, then “The Daleks’ Master Plan” finally finishing up with “The Perfect Prisoners”, you will not regret it!
 


+ The Perfect Prisoners - Part 1 & Part 2 are OUT NOW, priced £8.99 (Download) each.

+ ORDER these titles at Big Finish!


18 March 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Once upon a time, a people of great artistry and great knowledge ruled the planet Mekalion: the Kamille. For a thousand years, they prospered peacefully.

Then came disaster, when their sun set forever. Facing extinction, the Kamille made the Locus, a device to sustain their minds; and fashioned shape-changing machines, to act out their wishes on the physical plane…

Servants they called the Kamelion."

Three releases and four stories in, the latest trilogy from Big Finish ends here with The Kamelion Empire by Jonathan Morris. The play answers questions about just who Kamelion was, explains why no-one mentioned him after The King's Demons on-screen, throws in casual references to The Sensorites and less casual ones to The Invasion Of Time, and takes us straight up to the redecoration of the TARDIS in The Five Doctors. All this with a cast of only five actors.

It's a lot to pack in, which only makes it sadder that this play is curiously lacking. In fact, at times it's almost a bit dull.

I think it was when a cast of Kamelion robots deliver exposition in the form of a Jackanory-style tale that I found myself wondering when something big was going to happen. There are primitive grunts who want to overthrow the Kamelion robots, rival factions of a parliament of sorts vying for control of the titular Kamelion Empire, trips into a dreamlike realm, and a lot of backstory, but despite all this it feels like very little really happens. You could trim an episode off and retain the meat and bones of the story.

It doesn't help that The Kamelion Empire feels isolated from the rest of the trilogy. Tegan has defaulted to disliking Kamelion again, for example, despite the opening play in this trilogy of releases (Devil In The Mist) being entirely about her coming to an understanding with him.  Turlough seems to veer between his feelings on Kamelion depending on the scene. There's also some especially clunky writing where Tegan recalls some family history, by a battlefield, despite Kamelion continually interrupting her and warning her to stop. It all feels rather slapdash. The fact the regular TARDIS crew cast sound utterly unenthused in the play's extras only adds fuel to the fire.

Its biggest failing though is with Kamelion himself. It'll surprise no-one who has heard the other stories in this trilogy, but the play deals yet again with Kamelion being possessed and fighting for some sort of control with an antagonist. That makes all four stories in a row to have this as a central theme. In the end, I think it's this more than anything else which turned me off.

Why should I care when the plays have covered this ground before? Worse still, Morris has to actively change bits of Kamelion's backstory to try and do something new. It shows a proper problem with the character and, once again, its limitations.

The opening story in this trilogy got a carbon copy with its themes regarding Kamelion in the second story. This was followed by a lovely play about 1980s television, but one where you could remove Kamelion entirely and not really change a thing. This final story tries to alter what we do know of the character from his on-screen appearances, but winds up retreading old ground.

There have been good things about this trilogy. Black Thursday / Power Game was a lot of fun. Jon Culshaw was fantastic. The CD cover for this play is lovely and the music apes the 1980s soundtracks well. I've little else to really cheer about though.

In the end, this trilogy is more of an argument in favour of the character being dropped than one in favour of more outings.

What a terrible shame.


+ The Kamelion Empire is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

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18 February 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Roy Gill, John Dorney, Nev Fountain & Jonathan Morris

RRP: £23.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: February 2019

Reviewed by: Chris Swaby for Doctor Who Online


A Spoonful Of Mayhem - By Roy Gill

"In a spot of bother in Victorian London, Missy is forced to take on governess duties.

But she has another scheme in mind, and her charges are simply in the way. She’s going to have to teach the children some rather harsh lessons about getting what you want."

Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated - By John Dorney

"Missy arrives in Tudor England, throwing the plans of another renegade Time Lord into chaos.

King Henry VIII is on the throne, and aliens are stomping through the countryside. Missy just wants to be Queen.

And the Monk? Once he knows who else is on the scene, he’ll be glad just to stay alive…"

The Broken Clock - By Nev Fountain

"Tonight, on Dick Zodiac’s America’s Most Impossible Killers, Detective Joe Lynwood hunts the most impossible killer of his career.

There’s a trail of bodies. Impossible bodies. And Joe has one long night to solve the case.

Luckily, DI Missy Masters from Scotland Yard in England, London, England is here to help…"

The Belly Of The Beast - By Jonathan Morris

"Missy’s scheme nears completion. All she must do is subjugate one little planet and bend the inhabitants to her will. Not too much to ask…

But slaves will keep rebelling. It’s almost as if they don’t want to unearth an ancient artefact to fulfil Missy’s plans for universal domination.

She’ll have to do something about that."

One sentence. A world of possibilities. When these words featured in “The Lie of The Land", it seemed so obvious yet so overlooked, what does The Master do when The Doctor isn’t around? Well, thanks to Big Finish this question has been answered.  

A Spoonful of Mayhem
By Roy Gill

So, to open, Missy is stuck in Victorian England. Punished for a crime she is yet to commit, she is trapped by Mr. Cosmo (her warden) with no TARDIS, no Vortex Manipulator and worst of all? Not being allowed to dispatch anyone who gets in her way. 

On advice from Mr Cosmo, she finds a job. The one you would never expect Missy to take is exactly the job she gains. A nanny. Despite the outfit and umbrella, Mary Poppins she isn’t! Well, she teaches the kids in her charge, but in true Missy fashion, this is a means for her own ends. The kids, as supporting characters are a bit under-realized but perfectly serviceable for the story with a nice bit of conflict thrown in towards the end

Missy’s aims are simple, escape the constraints that have been placed on her. This involves a lot of different steps and missions, which slowly come together in the climax. There is plenty of fun for her to have along the way and Michelle Gomez sounds like she is having a blast reprising this role.

This is a very different Missy we are introduced to in the first episode. She is at her sarcastic and threatening best in the opening scene but if you think that sets the tone for the character in this episode then you may be a bit let down. We get to see a bit of a softer version of Missy, whether this is down to her as a character or the fact she is constrained from being able to seriously hurt others is left pretty ambiguous here.

The story is very well written. It moves along at a good pace without ever feeling padded or that scenes are dragging. There is a good amount of mystery than unravels without ever feeling like there are signposts to how it is going to end, which ties up well with the unpredictable nature of Missy as a character. The only minor quibble that I have is some of the acting of Oliver Clement. There are points when the story reaches the climax and the character is supposed to be scared but you just don’t get that from the vocal performance at all. Added to this, the same character provides narration and although this isn't performed badly, it does take you out of the story and feels a bit unnecessary to the story overall. 

All in all, a very promising start to the box set! 

Divorced, Beheaded, Regenerated
By John Dorney

Sticking with a historical theme, the second episode is set in Tudor England. The Meddling Monk, hiding from The Time War and stuck with a broken TARDIS is attempting to alter existing time-lines in the hope of rescue from his fellow Time Lords. Missy, on the other hand, is also stranded, needing a vital piece to fix her Vortex Manipulator. Each knowing a fellow time traveller is at work nearby, they both have designs on obtaining what they need from the other.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Rufus Hound's incarnation of The Monk in “The Side Of Angels”. I’m glad to say that this episode has redeemed the character somewhat. It still isn't my favourite incarnation but this is a vast improvement. This is entirely down to the dialogue and the way Hound and Gomez bounce off each other. The back and forth at times is a riot and it was a genius move to pair these two together.

The problem this causes for the episode it that, as so much is focused on Missy and the Monk, there isn't much room for an actual threat to be evident. The villains of the piece are the Gramorians, a race of collectors that are looking for significant people throughout the galaxy to vacuum pack for their own personal enjoyment. As such, they barely feature apart from a few brief interludes in the run-up to the climax, and when they do come face to face with Missy and the Monk it ends up being very underwhelming.

Having said that, there was no feeling of disappointment when it finished. The good in this episode far outweighs the bad. Again Missy is far less erratic or psychopathic in this episode and it is nice to see another side of her rather than hitting the same beats that are expected of the character again and again.

A very worthy entry into the series and one I would have no problems sitting through again!

The Broken Clock
By Nev Fountain  

Moving on from the historicals, this episode finds us still on Earth, but back in the present day. Detective Joe Lynwood is facing multiple murders and the toughest and most impossible case of his career to date. Fortunately for him, help is at hand from DI Missy Masters of Scotland Yard…. 

The story is told, mainly in the format of an American true crime T.V show, “Dick Zodiac’s America’s most impossible killers”, so you can expect a lot of narration over the running time. However it isn't as straight forward as it seems and at times the fourth wall is not so much broken as it is smashed, pulverized and turned to dust. 

I found this to be a strange and ambitious entry into the series and unfortunately I don’t think it really works as well as it should have. It takes a while to get going as the first two tracks are told in the format of the aforementioned American T.V style and it really starts to grate after a minute or two. It is so over the top and the initial voice acting from the narrator and cast really starts to jar. I’m aware that this is the angle that they are going for but it just didn’t land for me at all.

The constant interjection of the narrator and how it is linked into the story really feel like it gets in the way of what should be an interesting story and leaves the pacing of the piece a bit all over the place. The pace does pick up a little bit towards the end and once the killer is revealed it does become a lot more interesting, however at this point it all feels too little too late.

Missy is a bit different in this story from the preceding two. The sarcasm and madness are still there but the fun side to her has been toned down and there is not much or her psychopathy on display to make up for that either. This also contributes to the story feeling a bit flat, which is a real shame given the premise promises so much and delivers very little. 

The Belly Of The Beast
By Jonathan Morris 

After three Earthbound stories, finally, we get to see what Missy gets up to when out and about in the rest of the universe. What is it that she is up to? Well surprise, surprise it’s enslavement, subjugation, and scheming. Perfect!

In full control of a planet, she is using the local population to work in the mines in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact. There is just one small problem, they would rather rebel than suffer. The story rattles along and is probably the most action-packed along with the first episode. Each scene takes you forward and there is not much in the way of lengthy dialogue scenes. The end of the episode leaves Missy on a high and a very intriguing prospect if there is to be a second series. 

This story really brings together the feeling of any number of The Master's grand plans and a healthy dash of every quality from Missy that we have seen from Doctor Who and the other parts of this release. Missy really gets to show off her psychopathy, lack of empathy, sarcasm and just how “Bananas” she can be. It is easily the strongest script for Michelle Gomez to show off her wide range of skills and for any fan of Missy, this will tick every box. 

So, would I recommend this release?

Well, if you’re a fan of Missy then it really is a no brainer, there is plenty of the familiar for fans and a fair touch of new stuff to keep it interesting and non repetitive. If your not the biggest fan of Missy then I would still recommend this based on three out of the four episodes, I think there is enough there to be enjoyed story wise even if you are not enticed by the main draw of Missy.

All I can say is, bring on series two!


Missy - Series One is OUT NOW, priced £23.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


18 February 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jamie Anderson & Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


Black Thursday - By Jamie Anderson

"1902. Deep beneath the Welsh village of Abertysswg, men have worked the black seam for generations. Until the day of the disaster. The day that a blue box from the future materialised inside the mine.... and things would never be the same again."

Power Game - By Eddie Robson

"Welcome to the Incredible Power Game, in which three brave Earthlings enter the Void Pit in search of strange gems to help return the alien Hostess to her home dimension. Today's contestants include Graham, Sadia... and Tegan, an air stewardess from Brisbane!"

It's funny how history can impact upon the present in unexpected ways. Despite an audibly older cast, stories which deal with concepts the 1980s run of TV episodes would never have done, and episode running times that often far outrun the original format’s restrictions, give me a Big Finish Peter Davison story which is but two episodes in length and I find myself nodding: “Yes. This feels right.”

The presence of two-episode-long stories in this era's original run lend the format here an air of authenticity that would be absent for, say, Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. Here though, it fits well and whilst I think the ‘pure historical’ label sometimes ascribed to Black Orchid is wildly misleading, its existence lends the opening story in this release, Black Thursday, extra weight.

Written by semi-regular Big Finish director and sometimes-writer Jamie Anderson, Black Thursday takes us to Wales in the early 20th Century where a mining disaster strikes and the TARDIS crew soon find themselves in the middle of it all, helping save lives where they can, comfort the grieving where they cannot, and, naturally, winding up in trouble.

Kamelion and human emotion are the main focus points in this story, leading to a masterclass performance by Jon Culshaw. This is a script which gives us a man having to perform as a robot speaking in a slightly-off Welsh accent that's still recognisably robotic. It's incredibly impressive: to make his accent here authentically Welsh enough while holding back a little but in a way that doesn't distract is one hell of a task but he pulls it off superbly.

Much of the rest of the cast bring a similar level of depth and skill to their performances, too, with Tim Treloar turning in his strongest outing for Big Finish yet and Lizzie Roper giving an equally impressive showing. Add to this the best script Anderson has written so far and you've a recipe for success.

Oddly enough, its weakest element is also its strongest: Kamelion. His plight is heartfelt and understandable and Anderson writes it well with sympathetic strokes, but it undoubtedly feels rather familiar, being yet another case of ‘Kamelion is overwhelmed by another's emotions / mind and changes as a result’. Coming so soon after the exact same plot point being a fairly big hunk of Devil In The Mist, it really does show up limitations with the robot's plot potential, even if it's executed well as is the case here.

That it pops up again in the very next story only further this sense of familiarity, though writer Eddie Robson keeps it on the back burner and lets the rest of his story do the talking.

If Black Thursday was an intelligent and weighty slice of education that effectively grabbed the heartstrings, then Power Game is an intelligent and light slice of adventure that effectively tickles the funnybone.

Set in York in the 1980s, Power Game tells of a television series that mysteriously appears in the middle of scheduled transmissions, much to the bemusement and confusion of the TV schedulers but the joy of a local Science Fiction and Fantasy group. Anyone who has watched television shows such as The Adventure Game or, to a certain extent, Knightmare will recognise this story's use of early computerised effects, contestant interaction and gameplay, and come away smiling. It uses nostalgia well, but better still it doesn't just rely on that to woo the audience but has a strong script with well-realised characters to back it up: Ready Player One this (thank god) is not.

As before, the cast are more than up to matching the high quality with Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson in particular turning in fantastic performances. Match this with a delightfully amusing script (Robson writes for the regular cast brilliantly) and you've one of the most enjoyable hours Big Finish have given us for a while now.

Kamelion may be at once the weak link and focal point / highlight of a good portion of this release (a contradiction I'm still wrapping my head around) but this release of two halves does not waiver in quality.

A story featuring the prominent use of early BBC Micro computer graphics? One about miners? This release has “The Eighties” tattooed upon its chest and it's only a surprise that Big Finish have not gone down this road before.

How utterly delightful that they have done now with such a strong release.


+ Black Thursday / Power Game is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


22 January 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Cavan Scott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2019

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The TARDIS deposits the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and their android ally Kamelion aboard a prison ship. A ship with just one prisoner: Nustanu, last warlord of the Zamglitti – monstrous, mind-bending mimics able to turn themselves into mist.

A ship that's in trouble, and about to make a crash-landing...

On a planet of mists."

With Doctor Who having as many stories under its belt as it does, it’s unsurprising that at times the show wishes to celebrate this. Done well, a brief nod or wink to the past can be amusing and encourage people new to the show to dip into the past. Done badly, it can be off-putting, make the series feel like it is tailor-made for a small audience, and give characters the strange habit of not being able to walk five metres without referencing a former adventure.

Big Finish have historically veered between the two, sometimes in the same scene, and their reputation at times can be of pandering too much to the sort of fan who thinks simply name-checking Vardans makes for a good story, no plot required. The trouble with this attitude is that it means genuinely good nods to the past can perhaps be overshadowed: cue Kamelion.

Kamelion is oft-forgotten, not least by the TV series itself. Almost impossible to operate, superfluous to requirements and absent for months on end, the poor android was pretty much done and dusted as soon as he had set foot upon the good ship TARDIS (I’m using the male pronoun here: if it’s good enough for the character’s new voice artist, Jon Culshaw, then it’s good enough for me). There was potential there though: a shape-shifting companion with the ability to have its mind controlled by outside influences!

The trouble is, the two stories in which he appeared (no, I’m not counting Androzani) show this potential off and so one if left to wonder what else there is to be done with the android. Devil In The Mist by Cavan Scott does not really put those fears to rest, but it does show that there is some exploration to be had with the relationship between bot and human, even if it is largely resolved by the end of things. (It also has a lovely cover, which shows off how gorgeous the android’s design was if nothing else.)

The story starts with a very wary Tegan. Kamelion has links far too close to the Master in her eyes and when he is apparently caught tampering with the ship, her fears appear to be confirmed and she sees red. It’s this fractious relationship between the pair (Tegan angry, Kamelion unable to solve this problem) that forms the crux of the emotional heart of this four-part adventure, and adventure is very much the right word. We’ve crashing spaceships, rivers to cross, a jungle to explore, and secrets to happen upon and the running time does tick on nicely enough. Throw in some space hippos (Scott’s own creations, the Harrigain, who have popped up across media now) and ne’er-do-wells and you’ve something that feels like it’s taken a shot of adrenaline before breakfast.

The regular cast are more than up to the game. Mark Strickson remains thoroughly underrated as Turlough and Janet Fielding is as brilliant as ever. Culshaw, meanwhile, fits into Kamelion’s shoes with utter ease. If anyone has been dipping into the Target audiobook range, they’ll know already how soothing and gorgeous his voice can be on the ears and there’s no change here. He could read the phone book and I’d be content.

I mentioned earlier that not much new is really done with Kamelion though, and I stand by that. There is a nice exploration of companion dynamics (Tegan’s slipped confession that she still feels uneasy around Turlough is beautifully done) but does this story really show the need for Kamelion’s return? I’m not sure it does. (I’m also not sure having one of the story’s cliffhangers revolving around a boat accident is in especially great taste given the tragic death of the android’s original operator. I am 100% sure it’s just a nasty co-incidence but even so, I did wince a little.)

Adventure aside, the script itself passes the time nicely but I can’t say it made much of an impression. Think of this as a blockbuster popcorn movie: the sort you watch with half a mind elsewhere whilst grazing and forget much of the plot hours down the line. That’s not a criticism of the genre at all: sometimes that sort of entertainment is necessary and I’d take it over being bored. I definitely wasn’t clock-watching during this outing, but give me a few months and I am not sure I will be able to regale you with many specifics about it.

Kamelion is now due for a further two stories, and I am more curious than anything else. Will we see the potential hitherto untapped? I do not know, but I am confident that they’ll give it a good go. As a starting block Devil In The Mist is not bad, even if it is not an especially convincing argument for a need for more outings for the character. Perhaps with some of the dramatic tension now eased we’ll see what could have been, with a happier Tegan, a busier TARDIS and a calmer Kamelion.

And if you can’t end a review on a terrible Culture Club joke when talking about a creation from the 1980s, when can you?


+ Devil In The Mist is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


14 January 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: AK Benedict

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor arrives in present day Iceland and receives a frosty reception from Inspector Yrsa Kristjansdottir when he becomes the chief suspect in a murder enquiry. But the Doctor knows that the real killer is of extraterrestrial origin.

Joining forces with Yrsa, the Doctor goes in pursuit of a ruthless alien that is hunting humans for sport. Yrsa unearths a dark conspiracy which reaches back into her own past.

Determined to expose the truth and prevent further deaths, the Doctor and Yrsa soon find themselves running for their lives, prey on the hunting ground."

2018 ends in the snow for Big Finish. The wolves are running, but it’s Colin Baker and not Patrick Troughton taking centre stage for this tale of hunting, police procedure and cover-ups. Plus aliens and robots, because what's Doctor Who without a nasty monster waiting in the wings every so often? Dull, that’s what.

Things get off to a pleasingly disorientating start with a child’s bedtime story interrupted by screaming and pleading and roaring, all before the theme tune kicks in. We’re soon introduced to Inspector Yrsa Kristjansdottir and placed in the middle of a murder investigation that smells of Forbrydelsen, to the point where I kept expecting Sarah Lund to turn up in one of her trademark cosy jumpers. Again, it’s a pleasingly Doctor Who thing where you have something so familiar interrupted by the Doctor and alien activity and that’s exactly what we get. Chuck in a singing printer and unusual wolves, and you have an entertaining start to the adventure.

Despite all this good work though, the play throughout feels like it lacks a certain something. The ingredients for something wonderful are all there and the story continues to throw such things at us, from hidden spaceships to bickering bureaucrats, to car crashes to traitors, but the glue holding all these things together is web-thin. Doctor Who meeting Scandinavian crime drama is a nice idea, in theory, but there is a notable disconnect between these elements in The Hunting Ground, to the extent that it feels like the two genres are fighting for the spotlight and as a result they both feel a tad undercooked.

It’s a shame as, as noted above, there is much to praise in AK Benedict’s script. I enjoyed her crack at the Eleventh Doctor in The Calendar Man, and there is a similar blend of fairytale with normality here, too. Unlike there though, again these two things sometimes work against one another.

I really like the approach taken towards what is often dismissed as supernatural and ‘other’ in this play. People speak of elves and trolls with a shrug, as if they’re nothing out of the ordinary, which is at once unusual and refreshing. It feels like a nice and respectful blend of traditional Icelandic folklore and the show’s existing mythology, but this lack of wonder at the ‘other’ sadly bleeds over to elsewhere.

I can understand the natural extension of the police accepting magic folk so therefore not finding it a great stretch to accept that the Doctor is an alien and that alien activity may be involved with the murder case. I see, too, why this may have crossed the mind of Yrsa Kristjansdottir before, seeing as her father died in similarly unusual circumstances. However, she is then almost roundly unimpressed and surprised as time travel, alien hunters and robots all announce themselves and as such it’s a bit hard for the listener to be enthused or excited.

And then we have the very ending which hints that Yrsa may be about to become a new companion of the Sixth Doctor. I actually let out a small groan at this point as it just feels so ordinary and expected and, again, underwhelming. They’ve tried to pull off the ‘Sixth Doctor and an unexpected companion!’ trick once already in 2018, in the truly terrible release The Lure Of The Nomad, so by now it’s like a bad joke. Whether Yrsa does make it aboard the TARDIS or not seems unclear for now, but the door is open so I suspect it will be but time. I can’t say I am counting down the days.

The Hunting Ground, then...  It’s a strange story with much to praise and celebrate, but it’s also one that feels disjointed and lacking. It’s a bit of a damp end to 2018’s monthly releases from Big Finish, but perhaps you can exaggerate the peaks and troughs here to make a good symbol for how the main range has been this year: some terrific highs and some perilous lows.

I hope that 2019 provides us with a bit more consistency. More monsters and fewer people shrugging off the wonderful. A bit less of the predictable and a bit more of the surprising. We shall see. For now, let’s look at the good here and hope it’s built upon After all, what is a new year if not a chance to reflect upon the good and bad and vow to do better?


+ The Hunting Ground is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


14 January 2019

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Paul Magrs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Oooh la la! It's been a long time coming, but the Doctor is about to be reunited with Iris Wildthyme! They're both in 1920s Paris and everyone's flocking to Iris's salon.

But wait...! What's that noise..? Thud thud thud...! It's the soft, approaching feet of a small and acerbic Art Critic Panda...!"

December 2018 for Big Finish’s main range of Doctor Who plays gives us two Winter treats. With Colin Baker in The Hunting Ground, we’ve snow and isolation and wolves a-running, whereas with Muse of Fire we’ve something with a far lighter, end-of-term feel.

The play gets off to a very good start, bursting in with the full edit of the Sylvester McCoy opening theme tune instead of the truncated version Big Finish usually use. It’s a small thing, but it grabs your attention immediately and suggests an attention to period detail… that is almost immediately kicked to the curb for pandas, nude modelling and a bus bound for Putney Common via the Multiverse.

Yes, Iris Wildthyme is back in all her glory and wild eccentricity and Muse of Fire takes that as its lead. The play is set in Paris in the 1920s, a time of artists and poetry and creativity and - but of course - alien ne’er-do-wells. It’s a fun setting that fits Iris well and also the Doctor, not to mention Panda, whose art criticism is sending waves rippling through the city and perverting the known course of history.

Now, I’ve heard some grumbles about Ms Wildthyme in the past; people claiming she should be confined to spin-off media and her own series instead of lumped in with the good ship TARDIS, irrespective of her roots (discounting the Phoenix Court Iris, that is). These same voices will hold up the charge of silliness, idiosyncratic writing and everything being a bit over the top: to which I say, go for it.

Give me an authorial voice that has purpose and drive (and love him or no, Paul Magrs’ writing certainly does when given freedom as is the case here). Give me over-the-top action (seriously, have people never seen the show?)

And as for silliness? Yes please. I said earlier that this play is lighter, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s lightness with a wink and a breath in its lungs, in a script with depth and heart and weight amid the silliness: and oh! How glorious it is to be silly sometimes. Doctor Who is often at its best when it’s smiling and Muse of Fire is worth grinning over.

I noted depth a moment ago, because this play has it in spades. It’s a sincere and sweet look at artistic integrity and feeling valueless when surrounded by others more successful than yourself. It’s a search for validity in your work and voice, and a sombre warning to not let that make you blind to the love of others who aren’t possessive of an artistic mindset. That it has that weight and also a cybernetic panda is about as Doctor Who as you can possibly get. Plus, Hex gets his kit off, which will get a lot of fan approval from certain quarters.

There are fingers one could point if one was minded to. The disposal of the big bad near the end feels rushed, for example, and the final line feels a bit like there is meant to be a musical swirl or follow-up sentence after it; the end theme tune coming in surprises the listener a little. But frankly, I don’t care.

This is a fun play to listen to and everyone, from Magrs to the cast, to Jamie Anderson directing, all seem to be having a lot of fun. Indeed, McCoy is full of enthusiasm in the extras for this release and that’s lovely to hear. Hopefully it’ll encourage more intelligent nonsense: and I mean that in the most loving way possible. Let’s hope that the flame lit by this muse of fire keeps on burning for a while yet and inspires more of this quality down the line.


+ Muse Of Fire is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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