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16 July 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Chris Champman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"It's London, 1828, and the father-and-son team of Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel are masterminding a dangerous project - the digging of the Thames Tunnel. There's just one problem...

The Brunels' tunnel is haunted. Every night, a spectral blue lady walks the excavation.

Now, the 22-year-old Isambard, eager to step out of his famous father's shadow, finds himself dealing with not only the supposed supernatural, but a second unexpected guest - a colourful trespasser who calls himself 'The Doctor'.

Isambard would like to know a great deal more about this strange man and his mysterious blue box..."

After a couple of major lows for the monthly range, I was a little nervous stepping into this play. Big Finish and historicals usually make for good bedfellows, but the sour taste left by The Lure Of The Nomad especially made me a little wary. Please (I thought to myself, going in), please, not another one like that.

The first thing to note is the cover: it’s beautiful. The wider space for the play covers’ imagery is a welcome thing, finally ditching the awkward black bars, and the new logo? It looks superb here, really catching the eye and wowing the viewer. It all makes for a far, far nicer and more consistent ‘Who identity’ and level of design than we’ve had before and I can’t say I’ll be mourning the loss of the old any time soon. A very good move / insistence by whoever is in charge of branding.

Iron Bright is by Chris Chapman, rapidly becoming a regular contributor to Big Finish’s monthly outings. So far, he’s given us The Memory Bank, a very solid one-episode-long story that I have found myself returning to since the first listen (always a good sign), and The Middle, which I thought had some very strong ideas but perhaps didn’t quite do them justice: very enjoyable overall all the same, mind.

Iron Bright probably falls into the same category, but that’s not to slight it. Big Finish were canny when they released the first episode as a free download for newsletter subscribers as it’s a lot of fun: ghosts and history, the Doctor and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Colin Baker giving one of his best performances for a while all make for thirty minutes of drama which whizz by. The second two episodes are not quite as strong though.

When people see ‘Sixth Doctor + Historical’, the go-to story is normally The Mark Of The Rani, and this has some similarities in that the historical figures are, at times, sidelined in favour of alien goings-on. I feel, though, that this story shares most of its DNA with Timelash.

Remember how H.G. Wells is treated less as a figure of historical importance and more as a substitute companion, and historical period settings are largely ditched in favour of alien landscapes? That’s how Brunel is treated here, and indeed how the middle of this story feels a lot of the time.

When we return to Earth, I felt the story picked up a bit and I perhaps wish we’d been given a straight historical, or one with greater earthly grounding. I don’t feel the Doctor’s meeting with Brunel is wasted, in the same way his meeting with George Stephenson in Rani is not, and perhaps it was a silly and false expectation on my part to think we’d be getting something more ghostly and less... well, traditional Doctor Who.

After all this, the final episode then arrives and things really kick up a gear in quality again. The pocket emptying scene in particular is wonderful (even if Baker does note in the extras that he’s apparently hiding a key prop from the story’s opening in the process: surely a job for a script editor and not the lead actor?), and I want to stress again that the story is never bad.  Far from it.

One thing Iron Bright really has going for it is a truly excellent supporting cast. There is not one flat performance in there; everyone gives a wonderful turn. It’s one of the best ensembles we’ve had, with Catherine Bailey and Imogen Church being particularly impressive, and all credit must go to John Ainsworth for sorting it out. That said, Colin Baker’s remark that Becky Wright should return as a companion made me shake a little: surely no more companions for him? Baker and McGann between them seem to be having a competition to see who can collect the most, like a Gallifreyan game of Pokémon.

(In addition, Wright’s character, Flo, really did sound like the lost child of Flip and Ellie from Jago and Litefoot crossed with some of the backstory of Gwen from The Unquiet Dead, so I’m not sure it would be the wisest move.)

By the time Iron Bright finished, it had won me round again. This doesn’t wash away the bad taste left by recent plays, but it goes a long way to helping.

One thing is utterly apparent, mind: keep an eye on Chris Chapman. I truly believe he is one or two scripts away from writing something utterly superb for Doctor Who and I cannot wait to hear it. The Middle and Iron Bright may not quite hit all the marks, but my word do they show a promise and verve that makes me very, very excited to see his name next to a play again before too long.

 



22 May 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"For thousands of years, it has drifted through space, unimpeded, forgotten, seemingly lifeless. Now, finally, it has been discovered.

Responding to a distress call from the mysterious hulk, the Doctor and his companion, space pilot Mathew Sharpe, walk into a desperate situation. The multi-tentacled semibionic Makara were tasked with renovating the abandoned craft, but now they’ve begun murdering their employers.

The Doctor soon realises that the Makara have been programmed to kill, but by whom, and for what reason? Finding out the truth will mean uncovering a secret that threatens the entire Universe."

The following review contains massive spoilers for this play from the very start. Please read NO FURTHER if you do not want twists and character / plot developments ruined. I cannot stress enough how from the off YOU WILL BE SPOILED should you choose to read any further.

Heard the one about the spaceship that’s about to crash with a sole occupant left behind, sending out a distress signal which is picked up at the last possible minute by a man in a Police Box, who materialises on board to save the otherwise doomed pilot? What’s that? You have and it featured the Eighth Doctor? How about you listen to it featuring the Sixth Doctor for Big Finish instead.

You like the Sixth Doctor you say? Then have you heard the one where we are introduced to his new companion after he’s been travelling with them for some time? You can pick or choose Mel or Constance here. Or perhaps the one where the Sixth Doctor has a brand new companion in spin-off media? (Hello, Grant or Flip or Evelyn or Frobisher, and so on and so forth.) 

No? Then maybe the Big Finish play where we are introduced to a new companion that turns out to be solely for this tale, as they’re secretly a baddie? Again, you can pick The Fifth Traveller or this one: it’s your call.

You catch my drift, I’m sure. The Lure Of The Nomad, written by Matthew J Elliott, is Big Finish’s 238th main range release and boy does it feel like it. Uninspired and riffing off past glories, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone genuinely read the script without a feeling of déjà vu hanging around. I simply cannot believe the CD extras where they express surprise at the ending. From the moment the story was announced with tiny fanfare for the supposed new companion, and no image of said companion on the cover art, I would have had money on them either dying or turning out to be a wrong’un by the end of the play had I been able to get decent odds anywhere, so when the twist comes that Mathew Sharpe is not the man we thought he was, it was less a surprise and more a case of “Well, obviously, yes. Can we hurry this up now please?” It’s a pity but not something that shocked me, and if anything that’s the saddest part of all.

Nicholas Briggs kicks off the play by announcing with funereal gravitas that you’re listening to a Big Finish production, but he needn’t have bothered. By the time we have references to Quarks, the very first Dalek serial and a joke about carrot juice and exercise bikes riffing on Terror Of The Vervoids, I could have guessed. Later nods to Terileptils, Harry Sullivan and Stattenheim remote controls only add to this sense of it being business as usual, where characters cannot go five minutes without making a nod to past adventures and winking unsubtly at the audience.

Done well, these sorts of kisses to the past can be fine and not derail the action, but done with the sledgehammer regularity as is the case here, they are not. Indeed, the one to Harry is the worst offender. It stems after Mathew makes a reference to the boxer John L. Sullivan, which makes no sense for the character. We’ve already had much said about how far into the future he is from and so he is unfamiliar with cultural touchstones such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, so why would he then be able to namecheck a boxer dead since 1918CE?

I know this is a minor point, but it’s symptomatic of a script littered with clumsy dialogue. The opening scene is painfully bad with its on-the-nose exposition, for example: nobody in the world speaks how the two characters here do. It’s the sort of ham-fisted “Let us set up the backstory” chatter we mocked The Space Museum for many moons ago now, and it’s sad to see we haven’t moved on yet. Elsewhere, we’ve more than the usual quota of ‘say what you see’ descriptive lines and the conclusion features a self-sacrifice so out of the blue and out of character that it’s insulting to suggest it happens for any reason other than to wrap up the plot.

(Sadly, these are familiar issues with Elliot’s writing, similar and in some cases identical to ones in his last main range play, The Silurian Candidate, and also present in Backtrack, which he wrote for The Tenth Doctor Chronicles, which makes me suggest this clumsiness of his isn’t moving anywhere any time soon.)

The Lure Of The Nomad is not a good play. There are good aspects, but good aspects do not a good play make. For what it’s worth though, these good aspects include an amusing joke about the plural of ‘octopus’ and nice performances by Matthew Holness and Anna Barry in the guest cast. The final scene is relatively underplayed and memorable, too. It’s for these reasons and these alone that it gets 2 out of 10.

Three very good main range plays followed by two of the worst in recent memory? I really hope things pick up again soon. The Lure Of The Nomad is as forgettable as it gets.

 



2 May 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Scott Handcock

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Daniel Hopkins thought he knew what he was letting himself in for when he joined the top-secret UNIT organisation as its latest Medical Officer.

Racing about the countryside, chasing strange lights in the sky? Check. Defending the realm against extraterrestrial incursion? Check. Frequent ear-bashings from UNIT’s UK CO, the famously no-nonsense Lt-Col Lewis Price? Check. Close encounters of the First, Second and even Third kind? Check, check, check.

But he had no idea what alien beings were really like. Until the day of the Fallen Kestrel. Until the day he met the Doctor."

The start of this year has been a joy when it comes to writing these reviews.  The main range has been well and truly riding high and each month has presented us with something funny, something well-constructed and something downright enjoyable.  It is far more fun to write a review praising something to high heavens than to write one explaining why a certain release has utterly failed to grip you.

But all good things must come to an end perhaps.

I want to state here that I have enjoyed Scott Handcock’s work elsewhere. His direction of The War Master was very strong, for example, as it was in The Worlds of Big Finish (a much underrated release) and a lot of Gallifrey. His first outing as a writer for the ‘main range’ of Big Finish plays, World Apart, was a triumph of character study and understatement. Handcock is a very capable and strong writer, producer and director, of that there is no doubt in my mind at all. It just wasn’t to be, here.

The play starts as follows: the Doctor lands on Earth, drawn there by a signal of extra-terrestrial origin. He is not alone though. UNIT are also on the scene, but this is a UNIT the likes of which the Doctor has not encountered before. Gone are Lethbridge-Stewart, Bell, Yates, Benton and the rest. In their stead is a far colder and harder military outfit headed by one Lieutenant-Colonel Lewis Price. Sometimes, it’s the lack of familiarity on your home soil that can be the biggest threat of them all…

There is a problem here. The problem is quite a big one because it goes on to undermine and underline everything that comes next. The problem is that this new version of UNIT are fully aware of who the Doctor is and his past with UNIT: and they still treat him as an alien hostile, threatening him with execution, giving him orders and acting as if he could be a traitor to the Earth and an enemy of humanity. Which makes no sense whatsoever. If they just thought he was another alien wandering around with significant intelligence, then so be it, but the Doctor? He of heroism and daring do? He who helped UNIT so often?

It doesn’t work and renders these soldiers utterly inept and stupid, thus making a huge aspect of the story just a bit… well, silly. UNIT has moved on, yes, but they know the Doctor of old and all he has done, so to try and make him out to be a threat to the planet just doesn’t wash or hang together at all.

This isn’t helped by the aforementioned Lieutenant-Colonel, who is as drab and one-note a character as the range has ever seen. There is no nuance or depth; no subtlety or, crucially, believability. He shouts, he snarls, and when the plot needs to wrap up he has a slight change of heart for no explicable reason. Everything about this character is painfully dull. It is utterly flat and this extends elsewhere sadly. The plot feels overfamiliar: aliens fall to Earth, humans experiment upon them. Aha, though! There is a twist!

Because of course there is, because you expect there to be, because nothing here feels new or exciting or fresh at all. It feels like we’ve been down this path many, many times. Misguided humans, the power of love, the Doctor poised against the authorities, a token ‘good’ character who is on the Doctor’s side against their commander’s wishes.

The same goes for the Morden Clinic and those who work there. They never convince as real people. They’re plot devices and twists. They’re there to try and make you think the story is going one way when in fact it’s going quite another: only you never believe it’s going just one way, because that sense of familiarity from the off means you never expect to be surprised.

In the end, it all makes for a rather boring play.  I don’t think I ever once failed to see what was round the corner, and even if I could not spot the specific incident about to unfold, I was certain that a twist or incident was incoming because it’s that sort of Big Finish play. The plot would be competent at least, but the UNIT element in the wider world of Doctor Who means it stumbles on that front as well. 

Across the past three releases, I’ve talked about how exciting and fresh the plays have felt; how new and interesting. This feels like a massive leap back, into predictability and stale writing; into characters poorly executed and an absence of shock. Lewis Price is the worst of them all, but he is by no means alone.

Perhaps this is just a blip; a small hiccough and no more. I hope so. Because as it is, this has been as disappointing a release from Big Finish as I think I’ve ever heard.



22 March 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: David Llewellyn

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"You are cordially invited to Argentia, the galaxy’s most exclusive tax haven, to attend the funeral of mining magnate Carlo Mazzini. The memorial service will be followed by music, light refreshments, and murder!

Carlo’s heirs have come to say their final goodbyes (and find out how much they’ve inherited) but when a masked killer begins picking them off one by one, Argentia goes into lock-down, closed off behind its own temporal displacement field.

Can the Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Adric apprehend the murderer before Argentia – and everyone on board - is forever cut off from the rest of the Universe?"

Back in the dim and distant country that was September 2014, I reviewed the play Mask of Tragedy for DWO and sung the praises of Samuel West’s turn as Aristophanes in it. He nailed the comedy perfectly, and the extras showed him to be genuinely passionate about Doctor Who and infectiously enthusiastic.

Flash forward to March 2018 (present day at the time of writing) and Big Finish have just released Serpent In The Silver Mask. Who is that actor putting in a genuinely excellent comic turn with multiple characters, all of whom have a degree of humour and gravity where required injected into them? Take another bow, Samuel West! In the extras for this play, director Barnaby Edwards rightly sings West’s praises and I think it’s worth just stressing again how good he is here. Truly, you’ll not find a better guest performance in a Big Finish play across the board; this equals the very best of them, perhaps even besting his turn in I Went To A Marvellous Party.

(I’ll get a grumble out of the way now: the extras. Long-time readers of these reviews will know it’s a bugbear of mine that the extended extras for subscribers do not surface for weeks after the plays’ releases, and that’s especially irksome here when the extras we get on the CD/original download feel heavily edited. You can tell they’re curtailed, with some edits coming in almost mid-sentence, and that’s a real shame.)

What of Serpent In The Silver Mask elsewhere though?

The play starts with our heroes landing on Argentia where the Doctor is on the hunt for the materials to build a new sonic screwdriver. Before too long, they’ve had their tongues swabbed and they’ve gatecrashed a funeral, but it appears that there’s a murderer on the loose... cue a Sherlock / Christie-style romp with robots and prisons and dolls, oh my!

David Llewellyn is in the writing seat this time around and he’s clearly had the same memo as the other writers in this latest trilogy of Fifth Doctor / Adric / Nyssa / Tegan plays: listen to the DVD commentary for Earthshock and write them like that and not how the characters were on screen. It does mean you’re not going to come away from this play, or indeed any of the others in this trilogy, feeling you’ve experienced an ‘authentic’ era-accurate story. This sort of thing really bugs some fans and kills the mood for them, but for me personally it does not factor in at all when the scripts themselves are as strong as the past three have been. Are these the companions we used to watch on screen or the Fifth Doctor who saved the world in the early 1980s? Not even close at times but, crucially, does it matter at all? Mileage will vary.

For my money though, I’d say Llewellyn has crafted an exemplary script with a central mystery that genuinely surprised me. I was so sure I had worked out “whodunnit” but, pleasingly, I was wrong. I had the means but not the right antagonist: and what better treat for a fan of the genre to be close but outfoxed? I think I had as much fun trying to work it all out as the Doctor does. Indeed, the Doctor is having a lot of fun here, whether conversing with a robot or playing detective, and it’s a joy.

I’ve already celebrated West and the script, so it’s time again to heap praise on Edwards’s direction and the regulars’ performances. I want to highlight Janet Fielding here as this play gives Tegan a lot to do, but frankly Matthew Waterhouse is brilliant, Peter Davison hilarious, and Sarah Sutton making every scene count. This is an exciting time to be a fan of the Davison era. We had Jenny Colgan give us an incredibly good outing for Turlough in Gardens Of The Dead. Time In Office was my favourite main range release in 2017 by some distance, and this original trio of companions just goes from strength to strength in the main range.

Does all this praise feel repetitive to you? It would be understandable if so as I’ve done that time and again this trilogy, because this trilogy is by a leap - a bound - and a mile, the very best succession of releases in the main range we, as fans, have had the pleasure to receive for years, now.

Guy Adams’s stint as script editor for these plays has injected verve and spark in what was increasingly becoming a range of average releases, and his role in teasing out the best we’ve had for ages cannot be understated.

Three high hitters worthy of full marks? Yes, I really think these plays deserve that accolade, and that gives me more pleasure to write and share online than I can readily articulate. As the Doctor herself put it: “Oh, brilliant!"

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16 February 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"This is a city of ghosts and no-one knows them better than Leanne. Twice a night she leads tourists to visit the most haunted sites - the Hanging Yard, the Witch Pool, the Screaming House, and, of course, the Catacombs.

Leanne’s realised the ghosts of the city are real. Something’s lurking in the Catacombs - an ancient force that has been growing in the darkness for centuries. Sabaoth is returning and they must be stopped before they devour the world. Leanne knows this, because a ghost told her."

I don't know who it was that made everyone decide the Fifth Doctor should be funny and find himself in comedies, but I suspect it was Steven Moffat. When Time Crash aired, that mix of old and new Who felt utterly new and alien. In many ways, so did the Fifth Doctor. He cracks gags here and seems a bit peeved off. He has far more in common with the Sixth Doctor than the Fifth Doctor we originally saw on our screens, but that's okay. It's not as if the Sixth Doctor we've had from Big Finish is much like the one on screen at times.

It cemented the Fifth Doctor's fate though, and his comedy efforts in audio have been on the up ever since. It feels especially ironic given John Nathan-Turrner's firm stamping out of humour during his era, but it's a welcome shift as Peter Davison has taken to it like a duck to water.


Ghost Walk is written by James Goss. Goss and Doctor Who are two things which compliment each other perfectly. His list of successes with Who and its assorted spin-offs is quite frankly alarming: City of Death and The Pirate Planet; The Art of Death and Dead AirThe Scorchies and Asking for a FriendWorld Enough and Time and Mask of Tragedy. All this, and no mention of The Blood Cell or What She Does Next Will Astound You or The Sky Man. And there’s far more on top of all this. That's one hell of a hit rate!


Ghost Walk is the latest triumph for Goss: because I'm not going to play it coy and keep you in suspense until the end. This is another brilliant story by a brilliant writer.


As alluded to earlier, it's a funny play. It's also far more than just funny though; it's a play about ghosts and ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances, and it's one that tries to scare you.


Horror and the Fifth Doctor? Other unfamiliar bedfellows. Just as the Fifth Doctor of new is unlike the Fifth Doctor of old, so this story feels pretty alien to the original series, something remarked upon in the extras. This is completely true. Ghost Walk, with its talk of fixed points and e-mails, its time travel-heavy twists and turns, its humour, and its pre-credits teaser is straight out of the series post-2005, but you know what? That's no bad thing. This is the play that proves that so.


Last month, Kingdom of Lies kickstarted this new trilogy of Fifth Doctor plays and I mentioned there that Adric and Matthew Waterhouse were especially well suited to comedy, and that's the case here again. His comments on quantum states and Australia had me snorting, and the Fifth Doctor patiently waiting for the end of the world is beautifully observed, too. Tegan and her, at times, fractious relationship with everyone else is written for with deft skill, too, but when the drama really needs it, Janet Fielding gives us one hell of a performance. The same is true for Sarah Sutton as Nyssa. Nyssa has a far straighter role in this play than the other TARDIS companions, but it works well. It has echoes of The Curse of Peladon and Jo and the King about it, something cemented by Sacha Dhawan sounding eerily like David Troughton at times. It works though, despite the brevity of time in which to develop any relationship.


I've got this far and not mentioned Fenella Woolgar as Leanne yet, which is remarkable as she is front and centre of much of the play and carries a lot of the plot with seeming effortlessness. The support from John Banks as rival ghost walk host Louie is great as well, Goss once again showing a great ear for comedy and naturalistic relationships and patter with his dialogue.


Another thing to note is the sound design, which feels pleasingly ambitious with wide stereo swoops as people move from left to right, and some nice effects as time goes all awry later on. Barnaby Edwards' direction is perfect throughout, too. I noted last month that he really gets comedy and that assertion is only strengthened here.


I honestly don't think a foot is put wrong in Ghost Walk. I have often observed that Big Finish continually use the same writers over and over and over and over again with predictably diminishing returns, even when they're great writers. Goss seems to be immune to this though. I suspect it's because he is so busy elsewhere, too.  That palate cleansing works wonders.


Whatever the case may be, Ghost Walk is as good as they're saying and these two plays mark the most astonishing highs which the main range has reached in years, and that's not an exaggeration. For a range which felt deflated and tired, this is no small achievement. Long may it continue.


When I scored Kingdom of Lies, I was unsure whether to award it full points or not. The more you score things at the very top, the more it lessens that score, and the same with the lows. There is no hesitance here at all though. This is one of the easiest 10 out of 10s I've ever given. Sublime!

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23 January 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"On the planet Cicero Prime, the kingdom of Cardenas is divided, with the whole population forced to swear allegiance to either the effete Duke or the fiery, hard-edged Duchess. This is a situation both parties have grown tired of. What use is half a kingdom when, thanks to a carefully engineered murder, you could have it all?

Surely, neither of them would be rash enough to summon the deadly off-world assassin The Scorpion to help with their problem? And surely, this terrifying figure wouldn’t arrive wearing a long cream coat and striped trousers…?"

The 2018 main range of Doctor Who plays kicks off the year with Kingdom of Lies; an outing for the Fifth Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan. 2017 started the year running with this team with The Star Men, but will lightning strike twice? Frankly, yes.

Set in the pseudo-medieval kingdom of Cardenas, the Doctor and his friends land after a timely intervention in the TARDIS from Tegan (when it doubt, whack it and see what happens) and soon find themselves embroiled in a tangled web of assassination, marital troubles, and assumed identities.

It doesn't take long for this story to set out its credentials as a comedy and Nyssa in particular benefits well here. One minute she's simply Nyssa of Traken, the next she's the apparent assistant to the Scorpion, feared assassin and mercenary for hire. Sarah Sutton has a lot of fun with the material, and Barnaby Edwards milks it for every drop of comic potential, giving us a masterclass in how to handle this sort of material.

Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky's first Big Finish outing, The Ravelli Conspiracy, was a bit hit-and-miss, with the actors seemingly uncertain at times in their faith in the material, as evidenced in the extras where Peter Purves and Maureen O'Brien confessed they were not too sure about the script before recording it. You get the impression that wasn't the case this time around as everyone commits to the comedy with full gusto. Matthew Waterhouse is an especial revelation in this case, and I wish we'd had a bit more of Adric in here. Janet Fielding, meanwhile, observes that Tegan takes a bit of a backseat here this time. It's a pity for certain, as the relatively recent Time in Office (my favourite main range release in 2017 by far) shows just how compatible Fielding and Tegan are with comedy.

The test of any comedy really is twofold: will it stand up to repeated plays (untested, but I suspect there's enough going on here to let that be the case) and does it remain entertaining for the duration? Thankfully, Khan and Salinsky realize that having four episodes of comedy on the trot may well test listeners' patience and wear the story's premise thin, so the final episode shifts gears to become a chase of sorts where death is a very real possibility and things feel a lot more dangerous than the lighter tone before then would have you necessarily expect. It's a smart move.

I've mentioned the regular cast, but praise must also go to the guest cast here. Patsy Kensit is clearly enjoying herself, for example. I'd quite forgotten she was in it, but the second she started speaking I found myself unable to shift the song I'm Not Scared from my head: I swear her voice hasn't aged a day since she sang that. Elsewhere, Charlotte Lucas is superb as Miranda. Selfish, rude and egotistical, she is that rare hated character where you boo her not because she is inherently evil, but because she is thoroughly dislikable. She's the sort of person you'd go out of your way to avoid in the workplace, knowing she would find fault in everyone else's attitudes bar her own.

Humour is subjective of course and your mileage will vary, but for my money this is a very bold and genuinely amusing start to the year's Big Finish offerings and all praise must go to the writers, the cast (both regular and guest) and Edwards' direction. I'm fairly hesitant to give anything full marks, especially when the impact of something like this is very much weighted on the first listen. Comedies are rarely as fun the second time around; horror films lack the initial impact; thrillers are devoid of some of their thrill once the twists are there. I'm going to make an exception here though. This one's very fun indeed.



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4 January 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Deep in the heart of nowhere, near a place called Abbey Marston, there’s a caravan site. The perfect place to get away from it all. Close by, there’s a stone circle they used for human sacrifice in olden times. A little further afield, there’s an old RAF research station, where they did hushhush things in the War.

There’s only one rule: the use of radios, cassette recorders and portable televisions is strictly forbidden.

People come here to get away from it all, you see. No-one wants to hear the noise. No-one wants to hear the voices in the static…

No-one wants to hear the ghosts."

You can tell that Big Finish have a lot of good will behind this one. For months now, all we’ve heard about with regards to the ‘Main Range’ is that Static is on its way, and it’s scary, thrilling, chilling and not to be missed. Some are even saying it’s better than The Chimes of Midnight.

You wouldn’t think as whole trilogy of Sixth Doctor, Flip and Constance plays had been released, only this one. Is it any good though? Yes!

The Doctor and his friends land on a creepy campsite, to the disappointment of his companions who both want to go home (is it just me or does that come from seemingly out of nowhere? Even the actors sound a little confused in the extras on this point). The site is creepy, wet and a place where portable televisions, radios and cassette recorders are not allowed. Oh, and ghosts abound. It’s a good set-up milked for all it’s worth by Jonathan Morris, with some good, meaty drama for the guest cast to get into.

As with last month’s The Middle, the opening episode is very strong and arguably the best of the four. The sound design by Joe Kraemer and Josh Arakelian are the real stars of the show here, sweeping hiss and crackle and rain around us after a rather bizarre spoken introduction by Nicholas Briggs letting us know it’s a Big Finish play we’re listening to (or at least, that happened on my download. I can’t speak for the physical releases). The music is less good though, at times being pretty intrusive: you notice it because it doesn’t quite fit.

Now, most soundtracks for Big Finish do not really evoke the eras the stories are set in, sounding like... well, Big Finish soundtracks instead, but that’s fine. The actors don’t sound as they once did either, so you let it pass. Here though, it fails to either evoke the Colin Baker era or be its own Big Finish thing, standing somewhere between the two and falling short at both ends.

That’s okay though because the atmosphere in performance and dialogue is more than enough to make up for it.

I could niggle and point out the fact it’s steeped in cliché, but that’s rather the point at the start and by the time it’s become its own thing, it has carefully let you know its genre and made you comfortable in the surroundings. The final episode arguably is a bit too signposted with its beats and could benefit from a bit more focus on reactions from the supporting cast and regular crew (the Doctor feels especially cold at times and gets away with it, which feels a wasted opportunity), but again, everything else is working hard to make up for it.

This is Jamie Anderson’s finest hour as director, and his casting here is brilliant with every supporting character being perfectly chosen. David Graham is as good as you would expect, but Scott Chambers, Pippa Nixon and Jo Woodcock are all equally impressive and names to watch out for.

It’s a pity that, as is always the case seemingly nowadays, the extended extras for subscribers are (inexplicably) not available from the off as the interviews we do get seem to jump around and Colin Baker especially, is very enthusiastic about the play. It would have been nice to hear his and the other cast’s full thoughts instead of the rather obviously edited highlights.

It’s been a long-term grumble of mine that Big Finish run their writers dry, leading to far lesser productions than the writers would give us otherwise, and I stand by that still. Keep using the same shirt and it’ll run ragged in the end. A play like Static only ups this feeling in my mind. Morris is a brilliant writer and this is a brilliant script, and with a bit less elsewhere, you feel that other writers of his ilk could hit these high spots time and again instead of increasingly fleetingly.

Is it the Chimes of Midnight beater, others are claiming it to be? No, frankly, but then again they’re two very different plays so it’s an utterly silly and redundant comparison.

Static is its own thing, and it’s bloody good. No wonder Big Finish have been celebrating it loudly. It’s worth every shout.



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11 December 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writers: John Dorney, Guy Adams & Matt Fitton

RRP: £35.00 (CD) / £25.00 (Download)

Release Date: November 2017

Reviewed by: Beth Axford for Doctor Who Online


2.1 Infamy of the Zaross by John Dorney

"When Jackie Tyler takes an away day to visit her old friend Marge in Norwich, she finds her holiday immediately interrupted in the worst way possible - an alien invasion! The infamous Zaross have come to take over the Earth. Or have they? After Jackie calls in the Doctor and Rose to deal with the menace, it soon becomes clear that this is a very unusual invasion indeed. The Doctor is about to uncover one of the most heinous crimes in the history of the galaxy. And if he can't stop it an awful lot of people are going to die."

2.2 The Sword of the Chevalier by Guy Adams

"1791 and the Doctor and Rose get to meet one of the most enigmatic, thrilling and important people in history: The Chevalier d’Eon. She used to be known as a spy, but then she used to be known as a lot of things. If there’s one thing the Doctor knows it’s that identity is what you make it. Choose a life for yourself and be proud. Mind you, if the Consortium of the Obsidian Asp get their way, all lives may soon be over..."

2.3 Cold Vengeance by Matt Fitton

"The TARDIS arrives on Coldstar, a vast freezer satellite, packed with supplies to feed a colony world. But there are cracks in the ice, and something scuttles under the floors. Soon, Rose and the Doctor encounter robots, space pirates and... refuse collectors. As Coldstar's tunnels begin to melt, an even greater threat stirs within. An old enemy of the Doctor puts a plan into action - a plan for retribution. Nobody's vengeance is colder than an Ice Warrior's."

Infamy Of The Zaross

John Dorney pulls Doctor Who straight out of 2006 and brings us an absolute nostalgia fest of fun in Infamy Of The Zaross. The long-awaited return of one of the most popular duos in Doctor Who history was always going to be hard to recreate, but he hits the nail on the head perfectly. Light hearted, human and adventure galore, it's exactly the kind of story that made us fall in love with the Tenth Doctor and Rose in the first place!

As well as our beloved pair returning, Doctor Who’s best-loved mother is back to save the day with her daughter. A genius move for this story, Camille Coduri falls right back into her character with ease, bouncing off the rest of the cast brilliantly. She even gets a shining moment in space, making us fall in love with her even more.

And for what is one of the most anticipated returns in Doctor Who history, Billie Piper most certainly delivers. After some worry that she may not be able to pull off her characters iconic voice 12 years later, our minds are put to rest within just a few minutes of the episode. Her and David could have recorded this all those years ago for all we know - it fits that well. And his Doctor doesn’t disappoint either, bringing the enemy down with ease and saving the earth once more.

The story itself features one of the more…stranger alien invasions. Norwich is taken over by the villainous Zaross, and the reason why is even more disturbing. Once the plan is eventually revealed, you can’t help but wonder how such an original, exciting plot hasn’t been written into the show before. The adventure ends with a brilliant moment between Rose Tyler and some family friends, and a speech that resonates with people of all ages. The messages behind the dialogue and plot are key to this episode and is exactly how Doctor Who should be; leaving a warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts.

Overall this story is an exact replication of the 2006 Doctor Who series we all know and love, bringing our favourite characters back to life and creating a memorable adventure for them. There’s even a reference to a certain organisation that crops up a lot in series two… you know the one we mean!

Sword Of The Chevalier

The second part of The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Volume Two kicks off in another iconic British location: Slough. In 1791. The Doctor and Rose meet The Chevalier D’Eon who according to The Doctor, was an ex-spy born male now living their life as a woman, or something. Probably. What’s important is that right now, she’s a woman. ‘She’s amazing!’ Utters Rose, and we agree. Challenging The Doctor to a sword fight, we get a brilliant sense of this historic character and what they stand for, and over the course of the story, they prove that the legends are correct.

David and Billie really come into their own with the witty humour of the script and bring our favourite characters to life with as much vigour as 2006. Their guest star Nikolas Grace absolutely nails the character of The Chevalier and fits in with our TARDIS team, perfectly. It’s fun to hear from a figure in history that many might not know about, and get a bit of a history lesson along the way! Guy Adams has got their characterization spot on as well as creating an exciting, fresh, historical adventure. The psychic paper also gets a fun feature and works against The Doctor's advantage ending in a hilarious mishap that it's hard to believe hasn’t happened before!

The threat of the episode is another fantastic idea; an alien with three heads looking to sell humans off into slavery. It’s a classic invasion plot that is enhanced by the brilliant dialogue and cast, keeping up the strong start we had with Infamy Of The Zaross. It can be hard to engage with an audio drama without visuals to keep you hooked but this story shows that with astounding actors, voicing and sound work, it can be just as exciting as a television adventure.

Overall, The Sword Of The Chevalier holds up the high standards of this terrific boxset so far. It just seems a shame that we only get three adventures! Now, I wonder what awaits next…

Cold Vengeance

Our heroes are thrown in at the cold end in the last adventure of this series, Cold vengeance. Matt Fitton rounds off the stories spectacularly with this fun space adventure, with brilliant characterisation and a tantalising plot. So, how does the Tenth Doctor fare against the Ice warriors?...

The Doctor and Rose find themselves in a giant icy space freezer carrying food for a colony world. Promising Rose a perfect ski slope, it soon becomes apparent that they’ve not quite landed where they’re supposed too. Classic Tenth Doctor. The two get some outstanding scenes in this adventure, and some moments that truly feel iconic for Rose Tyler. The pair are split up for much of the story, bringing out the best in each character as they work to save the ship. This is a massive advantage and gives some brilliant guest characters a chance to shine - most notably Lorna, who could easily be a Doctor Who companion in her own right.

As well as the perfect characterisation, the Ice Warriors get another exciting outing in an unfamiliar setting, making it all the more fun. I don’t know about you, but the whole thing makes me feel a little bit chilly inside! The hiss of their voices is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. They carry out their vengeance unapologetically, and for a moment it leaves you wondering just how The Doctor and Rose are going to get themselves out of this one. In fact, the resolution to the Ice Warriors brutal ways is even more simple than one could imagine, but fits perfectly with the essence of 2006 Doctor Who.

As the theme tune fades out, a warm feeling stirs. Experiencing three new episodes of 2006 era Doctor Who seemed like an impossible dream, but here we are with some of the best of the Tenth Doctor and Rose, yet. It is the minimalism of only 3 stories that makes it so special, and the hard work and effort gone into every episode shines spectacularly. Present day earth, historical England and a space ship full of ice warriors - there’s something for every fan in this boxset!



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11 December 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Chris Chapman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"It’s L/Wren Mrs Constance Clarke’s birthday - and Flip is determined to make it an anniversary to remember.

The futuristic colony of Formicia, where the pampered populace pass their days in endless leisure, seems the perfect place for a ‘Wren Party’. But all is not as it seems. Looking down from the Middle, the skyscraping tower that ascends as far as the colony ceiling, Formicia’s overseers can see that the Doctor doesn’t fit in - and it’s not just his coat that makes him conspicuous...

“The End is the Beginning,” say the propaganda-like posters all over Formicia. Because to be part of this perfect society comes at a price. And the Doctor's already in arrears."

Last time around, I joked that the Gods of co-incidence must have been smiling when Big Finish put out The Behemoth with its head-on tackling of slavery so close to Series 10. This month, we have suits that people wear and a faceless corporation exploiting humanity... ring any bells? I wonder if next month’s much-touted scare-fest spectacular will include a whole bunch of knock knock jokes?

Yes, it seems that someone at the branding department has been hitting snooze on their clock as of late, but pushing that aside, what can be made of The Middle? Thankfully a fair bit of good.

The first thing of note is how well the TARDIS crew of the Doctor, Flip and Constance is working. The two companions have never been as strong as they are here together, and the Sixth Doctor proves to be a nice foil to the excesses of them both. Chris Chapman, the play’s writer, ably uses the comedy potential of Flip and Lisa Greenwood as an actor to good effect, and also makes good use of Constance’s background as a Wren in the plot and its settings.

The script has some good, solid ideas behind it, but does perhaps suffer again from a case of the Co-incidences: the TARDIS crew just so happen to be talking about birthdays when they land on a planet where birthdays play a huge role and Constance just so happens to be approaching a plot-integral age. They then befriend a man who just so happens to be the father of another important regular character and knows a lot about the technology being used because of... reasons. It’s a bit too neat and co-incidental to be glossed over really.

Likewise, just as the story has echoes of Series 10, so too does the play have echoes of other plays surrounding it from Big Finish; the Sixth Doctor in an office block? See World Enough And Time (say, that would make a good TV story title one day...). Memories playing an integral, crucial role in proceedings? See Chapman’s own play, The Memory Box.

Indeed, The Middle feels like its roots are firmly embedded in Chapman’s first Big Finish outing, which is no bad thing as it was a very strong single-episode affair, but also means at times things feel a bit too familiar.

That’s not to take away from the good though, which include a strong guest cast (Mark Heap is especially fun) and a very sturdy opening episode: you can see why Big Finish were giving it away for free as a sampler.

Despite the air of having seen some of it before, the script still feels fresh for the most part, though I wish Colin Baker didn’t have to cry “Nooooo!” as often as he does here as it brings back nasty memories of Slipback.

These are mostly slight niggles though, as The Middle proves to be an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours, just not an overly original one. What it does do though it show Chapman as a writer worth paying attention to, and is a good case for this being one of the Sixth Doctor’s strongest TARDIS teams.

Overall, this one is far from a middling affair.



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23 October 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"Bath, 1756 – and a very dashing gentleman known only as the Doctor is newly arrived in town, accompanied by his lady friends Mrs Clarke and Mrs Ramon. He’s created a stir among the gentlefolk of Georgian high society – and a stir in the heart of merry widow Mrs Theodosia Middlemint, rumour has it.

They are not the only strangers from abroad causing tongues to wag, however. The mysterious Lady Clara, come from Amsterdam in the company of the noble Captain Van Der Meer, has the whole of Bath agog. Who is she, really? What is she, really?

But there’s something terrible beneath the veneer of Georgian gentility. As awful a horror as the Doctor has ever exposed, hidden inside Balsam’s Brassworks. Something that needs to be brought to light, for the sake of all humanity."

It’s typical, isn’t it? You wait years for Doctor Who to tackle, and two takes turn up at once.

The latest to do this is this month’s Sixth Doctor play, The Behemoth. Written by Marc Platt after Colin Baker himself requested a pure historical adventure, it’s undoubtedly unfortunate timing coming so soon after Thin Ice, even though the way the subject is tackled in both plays is very different, as are setting and script, and in fairness to this play, it is suggested in the play’s extras that Platt himself suggested writing a play about this subject, and it’s not another case of Big Finish riding on the coattails of themes or plots used in the new series, which has happened a lot in the past. (The extended extras for subscribers may reveal otherwise but as is more often than not the case, these were not available at launch and if last month in any indication, it may take up to a month for them to be so.)

The Behemoth starts off simply enough. The Doctor lands in Bath in 1756 with his companions in tow: Mrs. Constance Clarke and Mrs. Flip Ramon (still credited as Flip Jackson, despite the play making clear that’s not the case throughout). There is a ball to attend if they can get the tickets, the mysterious Lady Clara to investigate, and a dark secret that runs through the society, which is where the subject of slavery comes up.

Some accept it, some rage against it, some are knee-deep in the trade, and some turn a blind eye towards it. It’s not the only thread running through this story though. We’ve also the oppression of women in society, animal cruelty and class as themes to greater and lesser extents.

It should feel cluttered perhaps, but it’s to Platt’s credit that it works well and gives us a decent snapshot of a time gone by through a modern-day prism. I’m not sure all of the attempts are as successful as others though, it must be said. The tone can sometimes wobble, some beats or lines feel a bit stereotypical, and the blurb of the play makes it sound like an alien menace or mystery is the real evil here which is a bit tactless.

Some of it rings as perhaps a bit heavy-handed with its approach and not all of it hits, but honestly I don’t mind. I think with subjects like this you can afford to be a bit less nuanced and more on the nose, even if perhaps not all of it chimed as strong or true as other parts.

As a white man myself, the owner and undoubted user (even if unintentionally) of great privilege with race and sex even now, the history of our country is depressing and grim and dark at times, and any attempt to highlight that is surely a good thing? Better to learn from it than ignore it, especially right now with the resurgence of far-right politic and emergence of sex scandals against women.

If this all feels a bit preachy and heavy then I make no apologies. I don’t think it would be right to make light of any of it.

Let’s look at some other parts of the play though. Georgina Moon is very good as Mrs. Middlemint (and I am sure I’m not the only one who saw a future Evelyn in her character), the music in the ball scene is especially lovely, and Jamie Anderson does a nice job of directing the play, though his declaration in the extras that the Sixth Doctor and Mel had a prickly relationship is slightly... off. That said, it’s been so long since Peri was in a play that perhaps it’s easy to get mixed up.

If I’ve made it sound all dark and weighty, then that’s wrong of me as parts of it are fun and light and quite funny, not least just who Lady Clara turns out to be and the Doctor’s attempt as an entertainer (the second time that’s happened this year, with The Carrionite Curse also showing him in this situation).

All in all, The Behemoth is an important play even if it’s not always my favourite, and whilst the relatively close proximity to Thin Ice is a shame, it is perhaps indicative of the time we live in and that these stories still cry out to be told.



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28 September 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor's adventures in time and space are over. The Time Lords have recalled him to Gallifrey – but what he faces on his home planet is worse than any trial. Following the disappearance of President Borusa, the High Council condemned him to the highest office - and he can't evade his responsibilities a nanosecond longer...

So all hail the Lord High President! All hail President Doctor!

Rassilon save him. This time, there's really no escape."

Some stories and ideas fit some specific Doctors perfectly. Imagine The Curse of Fenric with the Sixth Doctor for example, or The Rescue with the Tenth: it just doesn't quite gel. Here with Time in Office though, we have the perfect marriage of incarnation and scenario, and full credit to Alan Barnes for suggesting it. You can just about picture the Fourth Doctor doing the job of President and purposely sending it up. The Sixth would be all bluster and indignation, but he would secretly enjoy the comfy seats and pomp more than he cares to admit. The Fifth though? So polite and unable to run away from a job he knows he will hate? It's the best fit.

Eddie Robson knows this, and writes for the Fifth Doctor especially well, and Time in Office is a perfect testimony to that fact. Throw in Leela and Tegan, too, and you've got a recipe for success, and thankfully 'a success' is undoubtedly what the finished product ends up being.

The Doctor's TARDIS is intercepted on the way to Frontios and before long our hero is in front of cameras, unable to escape, and being forced into office very much against his will. Leela is on hand to try and smooth things over, and Tegan is being held prisoner before being offered a position she cannot refuse.

There is something truly wonderful about seeing the Doctor, and more specifically this Doctor, run through diplomatic hoops. The trouble is, the Doctor is not without a past, and this comes to the fore in Part Two especially, which is genuinely funny and smart. The pairing of the Fifth Doctor and Leela (and indeed Peter Davison with Louise Jameson) works really well, and the addition of Tegan (and Janet Fielding) in the mix is the icing on the cake. It's easy to forget sometimes just how good the acting from the regulars is; we're so used to hearing or seeing their performances that it's easy to become blasé about it. Likewise, it's easy to forget at times just how much better served the regulars can be by Big Finish, but this blows those memory lapses out of the water and reminds you time and again just how good they all are.

Fielding especially gets to shine throughout the play with some brilliant comedy that suits both her character and the tone of the story down to a tee, whilst Robson writes to Davison's strengths with practised ease. The only thing which never really works in the play is Tegan’s love of adventure, seeing as we know she leaves soon after this play due to not enjoying things anymore.  That’s always the major problem with Big Finish plays though: they only fit to some extent and often you need wriggle room to make to really work.

Ignore that though. Nearly every facet of this play has an air of confidence and polish about it, from the script (with fan jokes about the number of regenerations a Time Lord can have to knowing comments about how male-centric Gallifrey is (a thread which ran through Doom Coalition to good effect, too)) to the performances to the direction. Indeed, the direction and performances feel the tightest we have had for a while now, and full praise must go to Helen Goldwyn for that.

Perhaps that says a lot though? Perhaps it shows that a shake-up in production team and format works wonders and gives the main range a much-needed kick and breath of fresh air?

Compare this play to nearly all the others this year and it stands out for being pleasingly different and pleasantly fresh-feeling. The story of an element coming to a dusty but well-meaning entity and shaking things up by being different feels symbolic of this play's position in the wider Big Finish pantheon right now.

Yes, this is a play which is for fans only really and takes in a lot of continuity points here and there, and yes, this is a play which still runs with the 4x4 format, albeit it with a new glance. But it's also a play which re-invigorates that format, plays with continuity in a fun and cheeky way, and actually uses the past to good purpose.

This isn't a play which says "oh, go on, let's put the Fifth Doctor with Leela" with no thought beyond. This is a story which does that because it fits perfectly and doesn't feel shoe-horned in by committee like nearly all of the Locum Doctors scripts a while ago did.

In some ways, this makes it all the more frustrating as there isn't really any excuse why it isn't this imaginative and fun every month. There are times when it feels as if the monthly/main range just rests on its laurels a little, and a play like this only shows that up.  A bit more imagination, a bit more daring do, a shake-up of the format... perhaps the future will see this happen and the now tired trilogy formula will get the injection of energy and verve it so desperately needs.

For now though, let us celebrate this Doctor's time in office and not feel too sad that it wasn't longer still.



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26 September 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The year is 2085, and planet Earth remains on the edge of a nuclear precipice. At any moment, either of two vast rival power blocs, to the West and the East, might unleash a torrent of missiles, bringing about the terrible certainty of Mutual Assured Destruction.

But there is another way - or so Professor Ruth Drexler believes. Hence her secret mission deep in Eastern bloc territory, to uncover a hidden city, never before glimpsed by human eyes: the Parliament of the Silurians, the lizard people who ruled the Earth before humankind.

There, she’ll encounter a time-travelling Doctor, who knows the Silurians well. A Doctor on a secret mission of his own."

Once a year, as part of Big Finish's main/monthly range (the name of which seems to differ depending on who you ask), two plays are released at the same time. I always feel a bit sorry for these plays as one inevitably ends up overshadowing the other for various reasons. It may be that one of them is that year's "4x1" release, or the end of an ongoing arc. Here, this month, a standalone by a highly popular writer with a very interesting premise... and this play.

Pity The Silurian Candidate.

The premise is very simple: The Doctor is clearly up to something but not letting on to either Ace or Mel, which worries the former and intrigues the latter. Ace has seen him like this before and knows that it rarely ends well; Mel is not used to this darker persona and is uncertain as to what should be expected. The good ship TARDIS lands on Earth in the future, where a party of two others have also arrived complete with an army of robot guards, and they are there to seek out the same goal: Silurians.

Only the play is not just about all this. Oh no.  It’s also very much a full-blown sequel to Warriors of the Deep and, as the admittedly very good title suggests, a nod and wink to The Manchurian Candidate, complete with dinosaurs, a dodgy French accent from Nicholas Briggs, and an Australian politician that is in no way meant to be a parody of Donald Trump. (Nope. Definitely not. Nuh-huh. Move along.)

The play is very much a story of two halves, with the first rather slow and the second not quite breakneck with its speed but far quicker in comparison, as the stakes grow higher and necessity to act heightens.  There are some good gags in there throughout (the one concerning the Doctor and broken toasters genuinely made me laugh aloud) and a few nice moments of reflection upon the nature of this incarnation of The Doctor.

But...

But as with Matthew J. Elliott’s earlier main range play, Zaltys, there are moments that fail to land as well (though thankfully none as bad as the start of that play mentioning vampires and then vampires co-incidentally turning up) and whole parts where people conveniently spell out the plot to let you catch up, speaking in a way that you only ever get in plays or stories with a relatively small cast. There is a fair whack of “let me say what I see”-style dialogue to compensate for the audio medium, too, which never helps matters, and neither Ace nor Mel feel entirely in character.  Indeed, Ace seems positively grumpy and angry and distrusting of The Doctor throughout, and the CD extras have Sophie Aldred unsure where in Ace’s timeline this play is set, which is slightly concerning as you would think someone would say so the writing and performance can be adjusted. When your lead actors are unsure, something is not right.

(To maintain the usual gripe, once again no extended extras were present with the play upon release, nor had they surfaced a fortnight afterwards.)

It’s not all bad though. As The Silurian Candidate moves along, so too does it improve, and I want to quickly highlight the musical score from Howard Carter which is the best any play has had for a long while now. Points must go to the Silurian voices, too, which are dead ringers for the Pertwee era tones, and it was genuinely interesting to hear Briggs’s rationalization for using these ones as opposed to the Davison-era tones (and I agree with his reasoning) and his efforts to get them just right.  I have an image of him hunched over his ring modulator for over an hour tweaking and speaking in a bid to nail it, which is rather endearing.

In the end, The Silurian Candidate is overall fairly average Doctor Who fare with some moments that elevate it beyond, and music and voice artistry which give it a shine it would otherwise lack.  It does not make for an especially triumphant ending to this latest run of Seventh Doctor/Ace/Mel plays, but it’s not a write-off either, nor is it Who by numbers by any stretch. There are enough glimmers of light in there to merit attention and make me curious to see what Elliott comes up with next, but enough bumps in the road to exercise caution, too.



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26 August 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Ace and Mel to a recently reopened shipyard in Merseyside. It's 1991, the hardest of times - but now they're shipbuilding once again, thanks to the yard's new owners, the Dark Alloy Corporation. A miracle of job creation - but is it too good to be true?

While the Doctor and Ace go in search of an alien assassin at loose in the yard, Stuart Dale, discoverer of the near-magical Dark Alloy material, has an extraordinary proposition to make to his old college friend, Mel.

But who is the Corporation’s mysterious client? Who does she really represent? And what's the secret of the Blood Furnace? Seeking answers, the Doctor and friends are about to find themselves in very deep water…"

After last month's play proved a surprisingly lacking affair despite the ingredients being so promising (great writer plus great TARDIS crew), I was a little hesitant to embark upon this play as it had the same set-up: very good writer (Eddie Robson this time) and the same crew as before. Would lightning strike twice and not in a good way?

Thankfully not. Whilst not perfect, The Blood Furnace is a highly entertaining play and a good way to spend a couple of hours.

The TARDIS lands in Liverpool, 1991, where ships are being built and Stuart Dale, an old flame of Mel's, heads up the operations. Someone has been murdered though and The Doctor suspects more than just humanity is involved, suspicions which very quickly are proven right.  Who is the mysterious manager? Why does Mel's ex- keep getting nosebleeds? And why are computers a no-go thing?

Off the bat, this one is a lot of fun but with a nice edge of realism in it.  Liverpool proves to be a very effective setting as even now Doctor Who struggles much of the time to give us locations that aren't extremely Southern (or Welsh). The colour Liverpudlian accents give proceedings is to the benefit of the tale and makes the script and story all the more notable and, I suspect, memorable because of it, even if nearly all of the cast aren't actually from Liverpool as revealed in the CD extras. (Speaking of which, there are no extended extras for subscribers in tandem with the play's download this month.  Seeing as that's one of the perks for subscribing to the range, this feels a pretty poor show, especially when the gap between the play being released and the extended extras available seems to vary on a whim from no time at all to an entire month or more.)

As is typical of Robson's work, the characters' dialogue flows easily and feels natural, and the whole play has a real heart to it. People don't just die, they die with consequences be it leaving a family behind or a grieving co-worker. This feels very in keeping with the McCoy era and grounds the play whilst giving characters some nice shading. There is an especially lovely moment of this in the final episode where a phone call needs to be made and it's amazingly awkward and painful to listen to, which only adds to the sense of truth across the four episodes.

The regulars all get a fair crack of the whip. Indeed, the rapport between them in Part One almost makes me long for an episode one day where it's just the three of them being terribly happy.

Across the play, the Doctor gets to be at once the smartest man in the room and the most fun; Ace enjoys some computer game fun (which features the best music of the play: authentic, catchy and perfectly suited to the beat-'em-up coin guzzling arcade machines of the period); and Mel catches up on the past whilst looking to the future.

I wonder if every second play in a Mel/Ace/Doctor trilogy will feature Mel being a bit loved up or if it's merely co-incidence? An ex-boyfriend here, a love interest before. Maybe we'll see her future baby next time around.

When the final episode comes and alien plans are revealed and, inevitably, unravelled, some of the momentum is lost but Julie Graham is clearly having fun and relishing the theatrics.  It's by no means bad (it's not, it's good); it's just perhaps a bit more reliant on action and descriptive dialogue of the "Look at those thousands of things that tower above us by eight feet!" ilk, but this is only notable really as it doesn't fall into the trap before then and is handled pretty well.

All in all there is a sense throughout The Blood Furnace that people are enjoying themselves, and this is a solid play in a range that has for a while now felt a little out of steam. More of this calibre is welcomed.



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17 July 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: John Dorney

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The planet Dashrah is a world of exceptional beauty. Historical ruins; colourful skies; swirling sunsets…

Unsurprisingly, it’s a major tourist trap. So if you want to visit Dashrah, first you’ll have to visit Parking, the artificial planetoid that Galactic Heritage built next door. Parking, as its name implies, is a spaceship park. A huge spaceship park. A huge, enormous spaceship park.

When the TARDIS materialises in Parking’s Northern Hemisphere, the Doctor, Ace and Mel envisage a quick teleport trip to the surface of Dashrah. But they’ve reckoned without the superzealous Wardens, and their robotic servitors… the sect of the Free Parkers, who wage war against the Wardens… the spontaneously combusting spaceships… and the terrifying secret that lies at the lowest of Parking’s lower levels."

John Dorney kicks off this second trilogy of adventures for the Seventh Doctor, Mel and Ace.  The first was notable for three things (four if you include Fiesta of the Damned, Guy Adams’s finest hour):

  1. The absence of Glitz: A Life of Crime especially was all about Glitz and Mel… but no Glitz was to be found, which felt awkward at times, especially given the crime/heist nature of the play.
  2. The introduction of Gloria; a sure-to-be returning antagonist, one day (or at least, that's how she was set up).
  3. The brilliant rapport between Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred.

I was excited, then, to see this TRADIS crew return, and with a writer like Dorney in the driving seat, even more enthused.

The High Price of Parking starts with the Doctor promising a place of unrivalled beauty to his two companions, and landing in a car park (or rather a spaceship park) instead, much to their bemusement.  It turns out that this is simply where they are parking the TARDIS before getting a lift to see the famous home of the now-missing Dream Spinners (either a relatively obscure reference to an unmade story from the 1960s or another story arc to keep an eye on: the jury is out so far).

As ever in the Doctor’s world though, trouble is afoot: spaceships are being destroyed and the rebellious Free Parkers are being blamed by the Wardens.  But are the Wardens as innocent as they seem? It looks like one of them is in cahoots with a mysterious woman, and trying to frame the Doctor and his friends for purposes unknown. Cue story.

There are some truly great ideas in this play that are gloriously silly. Car parks the size of continents and inhabitants living there for generations having lost their vehicles? Count me in: it’s a great premise and one that feels perfectly Doctor Who-y.  The trouble is that the rest of the story doesn’t live up to this central premise.  What could be a fun satire is stretched thin and at times feels very familiar, not only to the series as a whole but to Big Finish particularly. We’ve had these sort of stories before in releases such as The Cannibalists and Spaceport Fear and it feels tired here.

A bigger issue with this release though is the direction. Lines and characters and scenarios that could be comedic are often played rather straight or directed flatly, and the cliffhangers are heralded with no punch at all. Listen to the end of Part One: it sounds like McCoy is about to launch into another line or sentence and deliver the final big build up, but instead the episode just sort of… ends and is thoroughly underwhelming. This happens a further two times, and kills the drama dead.  It’s a very rare miss for the usually solid direction of Ken Bentley.

On a more positive note, subscribers will be pleased with this play as it has been released with the exclusive Extended Extras at the same time. For some unknown reason, Big Finish often make subscribers wait anything up to a whole month (and far longer on occasion in the past) before they are available for download, which is far too long as the impetus to listen to them are long gone by the time another play has come around. It’s a pity, too, as the extended length makes for decent interviews, something the edited highlights often lack, coming across as more like PR pieces for how much the actors love working for Big Finish than anything of real substance. These extended cuts must surely be edited at the same time as the condensed versions released on the CDs, seeing as they have had a simultaneous release here and it has been this way with other plays in the past.  Hopefully this long wait is a kink that will be ironed out in the future.

Hopefully, too, the future will be kinder for this TARDIS crew and Dorney. I have full faith that they will both be back to brilliance before too long. As it stands though, this play feels like it could have been a great DWM comic strip or hour-long episode, but at four parts it’s stretched beyond breaking and the lackluster direction does not help paper up some of the cracks.



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27 March 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


"In the Vortex, the TARDIS comes under a form of psychic attack – resulting in the abductions of first Adric, then Tegan. Following their trail, the Doctor and Nyssa arrive under the lurid skies of the planet Zaltys, whose entire population has vanished in strange circumstances. Soon, they discover that Zaltys is now the target of treasure seekers, come to scavenge this so-called Planet of the Dead…

Meanwhile, deep below the planet’s surface, Adric learns the earth-shattering reason why the people of Zaltys disappeared... and why they were wise to do so. And Tegan is, quite literally, in the dark – enduring interrogation by the mysterious Clarimonde. Any friend of the Doctor’s is Clarimonde’s enemy... because theirs is a blood feud!"

It wasn’t until reading Peter Davison's recently released autobiography that I realised he has now been doing Big Finish for over fifteen years. It puts into perspective the challenges faced by the writers of Big Finish to continually come up with new ideas while also staying true to the time the stories are set within the series original run.

Although Davison's tenure with Big Finish is lengthy it wasn’t until 2014 when the original ‘Crowded Tardis’ team of the Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa were reunited once more. In 2017 they are now well into their stride and Zaltys writer Matthew J. Elliott has managed to recapture the sense of relationships that instantly transports you right back to that weekday tea time slot from the early eighties.

All the tropes of that particular era are here and affectionately conveyed. The story opens with a protracted Tardis scene with our four protagonists. Big sister Tegan and little brother Adric are bickering away just as they always did. Tegan is still incessantly going on about getting back to Heathrow and actually goads Adric into showing off his so called superior maths skills and putting them into practice when programming a flight course to her desired destination. The chance to impress naturally appeals to Adrics constant desire to prove his worth to The Doctor, but needles s to say  this goes disastrously wrong leading to the TARDIS crew disappearing one by one. And with that we are off into the heart of the story!

This might be one of the most jam-packed stories Big Finish has ever produced, with so many disparate elements. We have fish people, a wolfman with psychic abilities, and grave robbers - to name a few. And all the while our TARDIS team are encountering these colourful characters, there's the threat of a huge space meteorite heading towards Zaltys that will mean the ultimate destruction of everyone.

Of course Elliot’s real challenge is to serve all the main characters well, a feat the TV series failed at with regularity during this period. As well as getting all their characteristics spot on, Elliott manages to give them all a decent narrative strand too. Nyssa is paired with The Doctor as she frequently was in the original run; Adric forms an uneasy alliance with the custodians of Zaltys in a very similar vein to his questionable allegiances in Four To Doomsday and State Of Decay. Additionally Tegan gets plenty of time in a ventilation shaft. What could be more appropriate than that!!

Special mention should go to Rebecca Roots' portrayal of Sable who brings a deadpan style of delivery that makes you really warm to the character and want to see her on more adventures. Phillip Franks and Niamh Cusack are also effective as the questionable villains of the story.

Elliott also writes Davison's Fifth incarnation extremely well too. I always enjoy the breathless energy that he injects into every story but here we also get the acerbic wit that we know his portrayal was capable of but never truly had the opportunity to show consistently on TV. Perhaps only in Time Crash, so many years later, did we see what his potential for humour truly was.

At certain points in the story you wonder how Elliott is going to tie all these storylines together, as it seems all the strands are running parallel and yet so separate, but manage it he does, and with aplomb. It is almost a shame we don’t get to spend more time with all the fascinating characters that he has created for our enjoyment.

However the real gem of this story for me is some of the interaction between the regulars. There are a couple of standout scenes for me; at one point Tegan questions whether Adric was happier when it was just The Doctor and him onboard the TARDIS and when one thinks back to the opening scenes of The Keeper Of Traken and Logopolis it would be hard to argue that wasn’t the case. Additionally a scene towards the end between The Doctor and Adric which, knowing Adrics ultimate fate, is extremely emotive.

Overall a great showcase for one of my favourite TARDIS teams; once again and a very ambitious story that revels in seemingly pulling together various storyline strands into a satisfying conclusion.



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