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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).

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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).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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).

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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).

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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).

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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).

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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).

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22 November 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Steve Lyons

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"It’s time the truth was told. About UNIT. About the Cybermen invasion. About the so-called ‘Doctor’. About what happened all those years ago, at Warlock’s Cross. About the man they keep locked up in a cage, in a secret prison…

It’s time. Because UNIT scientific adviser Elizabeth Klein is going to help ensure the truth is brought to light.

Today’s the day… that UNIT falls."

The Seventh Doctor’s five-release-run in the Main Range from Big Finish continues here with Warlock’s Cross by Steve Lyons; the final play in the ‘New UNIT’ trilogy.

It’s a bit of an odd play for various reasons, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Things kick off with some set up and well-executed exposition (sometimes a rarity in audio). The Doctor himself is sidelined fairly early into proceedings with a nice gag on how he wasn’t really much of a player in the 1990s, and it’s not long before all the main players are established, including the return of Blake Harrison as Daniel Hopkins and Tracey Childs as Klein. They are joined by others along the way, but it’s Colonel McKenna who takes central stage. He is the man in charge now and proves to be as waspish as he predecessors; the moment he name-checks Lewis Price as the best of the best is a nice shorthand for everything you need to know about his character.

By the end of the first episode, we’ve a mystery to solve, a jailbreak, betrayal and uncertainty over some characters’ motivations. It’s a lot to work with, so it’s a surprise then that the episode itself is a bit of a damp squib. Much happens, but not an awful lot of it is all that interesting. The same goes for Part Two, which had me concerned. The previous two entries in this trilogy have failed to land for me and I was very concerned this one was heading the same way.

Thankfully, we have here a Doctor Who story which bucks the trend by actually improving as it goes along and Part Three in particular is enjoyable with some fun concepts. Part Four is perhaps more pedestrian, but Lyons throws us some nice bones here and there with interesting character development for Klein and weighty discussion on what the Doctor did to her by interfering with her past. It helps justify her inclusion in the play, which otherwise would be hard to do, regardless of how good Childs is in the role (and she is: she’s very, very good).

A lot of the issues at the start of the story really boil down to the performances of some of the cast, but a lot of that is down presumably to directorial decision and tics in the script itself.  It’s very similar to the problem with Ashildr back with Series 10 on television. If you write a character as having a tough exterior and being emotionless, the performances given are going to lack warmth and subtlety and so it is here, too. The actors in this cast are very good actors but I would be lying if I said I felt they gave us incredible performances. I don’t feel that’s really something they can be entirely blamed for though, especially when it comes to the character of Hopkins. It’s a decision taken at a higher level, to make him the way he is, and it’s made for a very bland character that you wish had been flagged up as a misstep somewhere down the scripting or script editing road.

Compare Blake Harrison’s performance here to that in The Helliax Rift. I didn’t enjoy that play, but it’s fair to say Harrison had a lot more to go with and his performance is accordingly better for it. Harrison is a good actor, but saddled as he is here with scripts and character development that are lacking, it’s a wonder he does as well as he does.

In the end, the decision to go down the route they did with Hopkins weighs down the New UNIT trilogy, a trilogy which has felt ill-conceived and poorly executed from the start. I can see where they were aiming with it all (UNIT in Battlefield, for example, feels very different to how UNIT was in the Pertwee era or indeed Tennant’s, Smith’s or Capaldi’s) but it lacked the believability to really make it sing, populated by characters who should know better when dealing with the Doctor and stories that feel largely tired.

The 1990s were not the kindest of times to Doctor Who in many ways and perhaps ending the trilogy in this era rubbed off. Warlock’s Cross is by far the best of the three in the loose arc, but I don’t think it’s a play I’ll be returning to any time soon.


+ Warlock's Cross is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

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5 November 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Guy Adams

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor and Ace are locked up. The TARDIS is gone. Things just couldn’t get worse, could they?

Of course they could. Things can always get worse — the new President of the Solar System, Josiah W Dogbolter, didn’t get where he is in life without learning that. That’s why he has a Quantum Possibility Engine. It’s a wonderful machine, creating a wonderful Solar System. And with this wonderful device, he can bring happiness and peace to all.

Possibly.

Either that or tear the universe to shreds, it’s hard to be sure which."

Right now as I write this, Doctor Who on screen is going out of its way to be accessible to new audiences. If you dived in to The Woman Who Fell To Earth having never seen the show before, you’d find your feet soon enough and not feel you’re missing out on anything - fleeting reference to a white-haired Scotsman aside.

On the other side of the fence, Big Finish seem to be increasingly catering for a niche audience; one which is familiar and comfortable with several dozen strings of continuity. Take the Main Range right now; the latest trilogy ends with this play here, The Quantum Possibility Engine by Guy Adams, but that’s not it for the Seventh Doctor. The next release is Warlock’s Cross, a solo outing for this incarnation at a later point in his lifetime and a sequel to the ‘Modern UNIT’ trilogy that’s been running across the year which also sees the return of Klein. Straight after that we dip back in his timeline and also Ace’s (in relation to this month’s play) with Muse of Fire. It’s a tangled web of time and placement at odds with everything else right now.

Even this month’s play is not immune. We have Narvin in it; a popular character from the spin-off series Gallifrey, but a younger Narvin than the one in much of that series, and the main antagonist is Dogbolter from the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. In fairness, both elements are explained away in the script, so no prior knowledge is necessary but it shows a far more insular and fan-focussed approach to the show.

Perhaps appropriately then, this play often feels like a bit of a greatest hits collection at times. The main bulk of Part Two and Part Three for Ace, the Doctor and Narvin will be very familiar to anyone who has read the comic strip The Glorious Dead, watched Forest Of The Dead and to a lesser extent Human Nature, or listened to Big Finish’s own The Crowmarsh Experiment. That’s nothing compared to the ending though, where a great portion of it isn’t so much similar to The Girl Who Died as a direct rip-off. It’s hard to not have a sense of slight fatigue at times thanks to this, all of which makes it surprising that I enjoyed the play as much as I did. In fact, I’d say it’s one of Adams’s best outings so far.

The points about repetition aren’t its only problem, mind. Mel falls into the tired trap of telling someone a load of exposition for no reason at all other than to have this information used against them later on, which always irks me (it’s justified when Dogbolter does similar later on), and I’m not sure I ever once bought the reason Mel didn’t tell the Doctor or Ace about her predicament: that smacks more of needing a cliffhanger ending and arc across a trilogy than anything truthful. But everything else has a real sense of fun about it, so much so that I’m happy to let these niggles pass.

I’d somehow completely missed the fact Narvin was in the play, so that came as a genuine surprise.  His inclusion here makes sense, far more so than it ever did with Dark Eyes years ago now. I must be honest that I was uncertain when he first popped up that it would be an inclusion for the sake of an inclusion as was the case there, but thankfully not. Sean Carlsen is always brilliant value regardless of script and he’s a welcome addition here, too.

The same goes for Toby Longworth, whose Dogbolter is as fun here as he was in The Maltese Penguin, many moons ago when our canonical Doctors numbered but eight. His inclusion feels perfectly suited to the overall comic-y ambience of the play and whilst I think continual cameos and kisses from the past aren’t healthy when done with regularity, I wouldn’t be against more of this type on occasion if handled with equal skill.

Big Finish may be playing hopscotch with the story placement in their release schedule, but plays such as this one leave me smiling. Perfect? By no means, and yet here I am giving it a thumbs up. A patchwork of past glories it may be, but it’s fun and a nice way to pass a couple of hours. In the end, Doctor Who should aspire to be this way, always.


+ The Quantum Possibility Engine is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


25 September 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"The Doctor, Ace and Mel are caught in a forever night. After crossing the threshold, a strange world awaits them.

An army of tortured souls. A lift that leads to an alien landscape. An alien warlord, left for dead, and willing to do anything to prolong his life… it’s all in a day’s work for the Doctor.

But when his companions become victims of the desperate and powerful Arkallax, the Doctor will have to do battle in a psychic environment where he must make a choice. Save his companions… or himself."

When I’m writing these reviews, I try to avoid other people’s. You don’t want to have your ‘voice’ accidentally imitate someone else’s viewpoint and articulation, and you certainly don’t want to start framing your arguments with somebody else’s words, albeit accidentally.

It’s been hard, though, to avoid everyone’s praise for this play and while it did not land for me in the same way Red Planets did, last month, it’s easy to see why it’s getting plenty of nods in the right direction.

The story starts with a battle in space, but before too long, things have been dragged down to Earth with a real bump: an abandoned estate, zombie-esque humans shuffling and moaning that they’re hungry, Northern accents aplenty and a lift that does not go where it should be going, all get thrown into the mix alongside an alien that takes over both the body and vernacular of a local resident, a young couple trapped as the monsters make their way across the land, and, of course, the Doctor, Ace and Mel. Sylvester McCoy especially sounds like he’s enjoying this one, though the extras reveal that Bonnie Langford and Sophie Aldred are in what is termed a “playful” mood during the recording session, which is a lot of fun to listen to.

(As in the norm nowadays, no extended extras were available to listen to upon release or across the days following, which is a real shame but Big Finish don’t appear to be changing this any time soon, sadly. It’s doubly painful this month as The Dalek Occupation Of Winter came out with a set of extended extras simultaneously, the day after The Dispossessed was released. Ah well.)

The opening couple of episodes of the play are very strong, with a nice sense of menace and that wonderfully Doctor Who thing of merging the mundane with the fantastical: a block of flats being attacked by an alien menace. Actually, that sounds a lot like Attack the Block, doesn’t it? Perhaps Jodie Whittaker has been having a word.

Mark Morris has constructed a good setting and nice characters here. None of them entirely likeable and all of them people you root for. That’s so bloody hard to pull off, and I am in awe with how easy he makes it look here. (I also appreciated the return of his running gag about how much sugar the Seventh Doctor takes in his tea.)

It was near the ending that for me things started to feel less spectacular, though never bad or dull. Spoilers will follow, so look away now if you wish to not be ruined…

… still reading? Okay, spoilers begin.

In the end, the big bad is another psychic foe (or rather, a foe with psychic abilities) and though Morris has a neat and novel spin on it, it does rather boil down to the Doctor ensnaring a villain in their own trap and lots of shouting about possession and minds and battling with mental powers.  It just feels beyond over-familiar from Big Finish now to be falling back on this once again and it rather flattens the second half of the play.

I’m also not entirely comfortable with the brain tumour subplot. I understand that Morris is trying to make a point here about how diseases in the past once thought incurable can now be corrected with little fuss, but it comes off as a little trite to have one of our lead supporting characters cured of his with a nod and a lot of laughing about how silly it is to be worrying about them. I wonder if something like terminal cancer would be dealt with which such flippancy? It just felt in rather poor taste for me, though I appreciate the point that was being made.

The Dispossessed ends with Mel going rogue and leading the Doctor, Ace and the TARDIS to the lair of none other than Dogbolter himself, which could be a lot of fun. It’s not the return of Frobisher comic book fans, but it’s close and I’ll take it. The only downside is that this means Guy Adams will be absent from script editing duties. On the strength of his efforts this year, that’s a crying shame and I hope it is not too long before he is persuaded to return to the role.

This does not diminish the good though so let us be grateful for another solid script in this run of Doctor / Mel / Ace adventures. Here's hoping more comes our way soon.


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

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


28 August 2018

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Una McCormack

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2018

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"London, 2017. Except... it isn't. Berlin, 1961. But it isn't that either. Not really. Not in the timeline the Doctor knows. Something is very wrong.

While Ace tries to save the life of a wounded British spy, Mel and the Doctor must get to grips with the modern day socialist Republic of Mokoshia. For Mel it feels strangely familiar and 'right', which makes the Doctor feel even more uneasy.

Soon, a message from a dark and blood-soaked distant future is on its way... But the Doctor will have to act fast to stop this timeline becoming reality.

And with Ace stranded in an alternate 1961, will saving the Earth end her existence?"

They say that bad news comes in waves, but I’ve often found the reverse to also be true. 

After a few months now of plays mostly failing to land for me, Big Finish have suddenly hit a run of very strong offerings: The Barbarians And The Samurai is hands-down the best thing Andrew Smith has written for Big Finish and had me raving about it to friends; Flight into Hull! is a truly fantastic story by Joseph Lidster (I was, I’ll admit, very unsure about wanting to hear anything about the Meta-Crisis Doctor until I saw his name attached to the project, and both outings were very strong); False Coronets by Alice Cavender was a lot of fun; I’ve only dipped into Class so far but what I’ve heard I’ve liked; and then there is this, Red Planets by Una McCormack.

In a word? Superb.

Mel and the Seventh Doctor find themselves on Earth in 2017 - only not quite the Earth it should be: Mel is singing Russian anthems and recalls a history very different to that she should remember and even the Doctor can’t persuade her otherwise. Meanwhile, Ace finds herself in Berlin in the early 1960s but, again, things are all askew. Time and history are at a crucial turning point and it’s going to be up to the two groups to put things right.

“Okay,” people will say. “Parallel timelines. Done this before!” Ah, but rarely with such grace and depth and plausibility. This isn’t just spinning out an idea into a side-story, but creating a believable world. You feel you could spend an entire trilogy exploring the ins and outs of this new history and not get bored, and it is this that makes it a cut above the standard, alternative-history adventure. McCormack goes into just enough detail to make it hold tight but not enough to swamp you with detail and research.

The characters are rich, the performances strong, the different locations (the past! The present! Space!) varied enough to stand tall and carry three very different, but equally engaging storylines. The play also scores points for being true to the era in which it is set, i.e. the Seventh Doctor’s run on TV. Yes, Mel here is still the Mel of Big Finish and not the one often criminally underwritten on-screen (poor Mel, I do love her) but you can picture the BBC sets as you listen to this story and imagine them pulling it off. Credit must go to the sound design for that and also the direction by Jamie Anderson, not to mention the script editing by Guy Adams. (He was also in the driving seat for the excellent Davison trilogy which kickstarted the year, and I see he was in charge for next month’s play, too. This bodes well.)

Red Planets is helped along by sterling performances from the three leads. As long-time fans, we know the anecdotes of old: no glasses and late to the audition, a letter sent whilst working with builders, a chance encounter charming people at a party, lying about being American or lying about Australian air hostesses. We know these tales of old and that knowledge can, at times, make us take for granted how good the casting was; how perfect the fit between role and actor. This play helps us be more appreciative of that. Sophie Aldred in particular, gives us what is, for my money, one of her strongest outings as Ace, yet.

The ending of the play sets things up for stories to come and with a whopping five McCoy plays on the trot, it’s doubly nice that this one is so very good. This play, like those at the start of 2018, reminds me just how brilliant the Main Range can be. There’s an energy about Red Planets; a spring in its step and a confidence in its vision that all make for one of the most enjoyable listens I’ve had from Big Finish this year. In short, plays like this make the yearly subscription worth it.


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

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!


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