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1 July 2016

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writers: Matt Fitton & Andrew Smith

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: June 2016

Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online

2.1 Power Cell by Matt Fitton

"Osgood and Captain Josh Carter are sent to investigate the disappearance of a UNIT scientist.

Meanwhile, alien technology has fallen into the hands of Lyme Industries, and Kate Stewart can't persuade the company’s CEO, Felicity Lyme, to give it back.

But UNIT find themselves fighting a third battle when innocent people start to die. Who are the mysterious assassins? And what does Felicity Lyme want with top secret alien technology?"

UNIT is back! Jemma Redgrave and Ingrid Oliver return to their roles of Kate Stewart and Osgood for a second outing with Big Finish. UNIT: Extinction was the skilled storyteller’s first venture into the world of modern Doctor Who created in 2005 and such was its success the team have returned for a second outing in a proper, full-fledged drama featuring the popular characters seen in only a handful of onscreen stories. It is such a joy to have more adventures with these individuals because it allows for more time to be dedicated to them alone, for instance, more scenes that they dominate instead of the Doctor, which aids their personal growth and builds that connection with the audience still further. As an example, the story opens with Osgood at a pub quiz, something which there simply would not be time for during a television episode that needs to grab the audience’s attention immediately and to engage them enough to quell the impulse to change the channel.

Osgood and Kate Stewart are the leading stars of the series and hopefully draw in new listeners to the wonders of Big Finish audio adventures. Ingrid Oliver’s Osgood has become a popular choice for cosplay fans but she is far more than a clothes horse and is a wonderfully rounded character; her likeable nature without question and she even uses a cloister bell message alert tone. Similarly, Kate Stewart maintains an approachable connection to her inferiors, despite her seniority, much like her father did. Jemma Redgrave is very respectful of the legacy passed down to her by her character's onscreen father, the sadly missed Doctor Who legend Nicholas Courtney. This story also draws an element from the UNIT era of Third Doctor Jon Pertwee which the Brigadier played such a key role in.

Writer Matt Fitton creates a tale which shines an investigatory light on Whitehall figures in a similar way that the Third Doctor's era provided scathing critiques on those Governmental types, such as Chinn in The Claws of Axos or Walker the Parliamentary Private Secretary in The Sea Devils. The timing of this subject matter also seems appropriate given the current political turmoil in Westminster, with Kate Stewart stating categorically, “I don't trust the Government” and seemingly capturing the mood of a nation. In the UK we fear the intrusion of public companies, siphoning off our most valuable resources for the sake of profit margins, the privatisation of the NHS for example, is a constant concern these days. For UNIT it is their alien technology which they place the highest value upon and so must be recovered from the hands of the unknown but wonderfully intriguing Miss Lyme, expertly played by Alice Krige. These competing ideologies, supposedly in partnership and on the same side but yet the potential selling off of those shared secrets, adds further to the developing intrigue.

However this story is not only a satirical perspective on the Government, as the first part draws to a close with an action sequence of unidentified, but clearly alien, creatures attacking Osgood in her own flat. Things are developing quickly and the adventure has only just begun…

2.2 Death In Geneva by Andrew Smith

"With few people left to trust, and with assassins on their tail, Kate and Osgood race to UNIT Command in Geneva. Will General Avary be able to help them?

But when death follows UNIT all the way from the English countryside to the snowy slopes of the Alps, Captain Carter finds himself in a race against time.

As the body count rises, Kate struggles to separate friend from foe, danger circles Osgood ever closer, and, high in the mountains, Josh comes face to face with the enemy..."

In a move borrowed from Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart himself, Kate and Osgood head to Geneva to gain support from UNIT Central Command. Unlike the television production of the 1970’s the limitless scope of Big Finish allows listeners to follow the action to Geneva. Unfortunately, the danger follows too and even in Switzerland not everyone can be trusted. Slowly the UNIT team begin to unravel events and learn more about the mysterious Tengobushi as the bodies start piling up and innocent people are now being caught in the crossfire.

This episode starts with a bang and maintains that pace throughout, gripping the audience with numerous twists and turns along the way as Kate and Osgood come under seemingly constant attack. Continuing the work of Matt Fitton, Andrew Smith picks up the momentum created by the introductory first episode, skilfully teasing out more information for the developing plot. Although the Kate Stewart and Osgood pairing receive the bulk of the attention - and rightly so - they are in reality two thirds of a trio which also includes James Joyce as Captain Josh Carter. Admittedly Carter has a curiously convenient knack for turning up at the most opportune moment, which happens a lot in this four part story, but when under threat from lightning fast alien ninja warriors UNIT need a military leader and Joyce is perfect in his role - one which will be vital in the next episode…

2.3 The Battle Of The Tower by Andrew Smith

"The threat is now clear, and Kate Stewart retreats to UNIT HQ with her most trusted colleagues. She has no choice but to place the Black Archive into lockdown, and the Tower of London is where UNIT will make its stand.

While the capital sleeps, an alien horde is gathering, ready to rise from the shadows to attack Earth’s greatest defence force inside its own stronghold.

The Tower is infiltrated, and UNIT must hold the line. At any cost. Lock and load..."

The action packed pace of Death in Geneva continues as UNIT retreat to the stronghold of the Tower of London - first identified as a UNIT base in The Christmas Invasion. This episode also allows a period of downtime to expand on the plot as UNIT attempt to identify and understand the alien trinket which has drawn the Tengobushi to London so they can recover it. Osgood and Kate Stewart are able to investigate the artefact, postulating why the Tengobushi want it back so badly and revealing crucial plot points required for the story’s final resolution to the audience.

Like an episode of Game of Thrones, these early parts of the episode provide material that adds depth and detail to the story that would be quickly skirted over in a Doctor Who television episode, limited by a finite running time.

Other nice story touches include the revelation that the Yeoman warders are in fact members of UNIT capable of reporting to Kate Stewart. There are also lovely references for fans of the televised output such as name checking Malcolm who appeared in Planet of the Dead and the Ravens needing batteries as mentioned in The Day of the Doctor.  When the Tengobushi do reach the Tower and begin their attack, the action comes thick and fast, the accompanying soundscape headed by director Ken Bentley aiding in the dynamism that builds nicely for a spectacular conclusion… 

2.4 Ice Station Alpha by Matt Fitton

"Caught between human greed and an unstoppable alien power, Kate Stewart leads her closest allies on one final, desperate mission. This could be the very last chance for the human race.

But the UNIT team has been declared rogue, and ruthless military forces are in pursuit as they race across the globe. Kate calls Lieutenant Sam Bishop to their aid, while Josh and Osgood head out across the frozen Antarctic plains to try and prevent a disaster no-one else knows is coming."

In the concluding part we return to the original themes outlined at the very beginning, casting a scathing comment on the spurious methods of big business, plus raising doubts about the true motives of those individuals supposedly working to protect us. The tale also raises an interesting argument regarding UNIT’s own use of alien technologies and the dangers of allowing unregulated individuals equal free-reign. However whilst the small-minded humans argue amongst themselves a much more substantial power is closing in on the eye of the storm in Antartica…

This second adventure with Kate Stewart and Osgood is another triumph; superbly combining intelligent plotting from writers Matt Fitton and Andrew Smith with explosive action in a journey across planet Earth - the likes of which would be difficult to do justice to on a television budget. In a refreshing move, the lines between good and evil are masterfully blurred to deliver an excellent adventure which grips and thrills the listener throughout.

this CD via Amazon.co.uk!

23 June 2016

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2016

Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online

"When the TARDIS lands in Brighton the Doctor and Romana have the chance to spend some time at the seaside. But with it being too early for the opening of the Pavilion, they have to look elsewhere for their entertainment - perhaps Madame Tissot's travelling waxworks, recently arrived in town?

But they're not the only ones interested in her Exposition. When an unusual thief commits an unusual theft, the time travellers are on the case.

What exactly is the sinister secret of Goole's Gallery? Is Tissot's heading for a meltdown? And what does it all have to do with the head of Marie Antoinette?"

Continuing the fifth series of Fourth Doctor adventures with Big Finish is the penultimate tale Gallery of Ghouls featuring the iconic Tom Baker in the lead role and his companion Romana played by Lalla Ward. Writer Alan Barnes skilfully manages to deliver a story in keeping with the comedic tone synonymous with Douglas Adams’ era as script editor of Doctor Who’s television output during Season 17. For example, early exchanges between the two leads regarding the randomiser and seagulls potentially being agents of the Black Guardian are delightfully played as both actors still retain their chemistry after all these years.

The Doctor and Romana find themselves with time to kill whilst waiting for the Brighton Pavillion to open but fortunately there are not one, but two waxworks in town to pass the next 18 years. The tale includes mysterious waxworks, automatons, an android and an amorphous creature in a mixed menagerie which muddies the storytelling a tad. Similarly it is tricky for the casual listener to decipher whether this is intended as a historically accurate retelling of the rise of Madame Tussaud’s with a number of conflicting references and the backstory of Madam Tissot. However putting these quibbles aside, the strength in the adventure is found in the perfectly balanced cast.

The wonderful Celia Imrie, a talented actress well-versed in both comedy and drama and already known in the Doctor Who universe as Miss Kizlet in The Bells of St John, plays Madame Tissot a French artist who skilfully creates wax representations of significant historical moments and figures. Her French accent brings back memories of popular BBC comedy ‘Allo Allo’. This is by no means a criticism as that style complements the comedic nature of the story, helping to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining romp. Imrie is ably supported by Stephen Critchlow as Tissot’s lovable and faithful ‘Mummy’s Boy’ son Noni and fellow experienced actor Nickolas Grace playing the enigmatic Mr Goole. All of whom firmly enter the spirit of the piece, not concerned with a threat to planet Earth from a malevolent force but possessing a lighter tone, despite some grim ingredients.

It is an interesting premise to consider a time when travelling waxworks, depicting violent and gruesome scenes from history would pass for entertainment, but it is still a genre which continues to this day with the Dungeon franchises in London, York, Dublin, Amsterdam and even San Francisco. Yet despite the internal analysis of why human beings would be entertained by such grotesque fare, plenty of humour is found within Alan Barnes’ witty script and it is so expertly delivered by a great guest cast that one cannot fail but thoroughly enjoy the story.

this CD via Amazon.co.uk!

17 June 2016

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: James Goss

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2016

Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online

Donna Noble has never been lucky in love.

So when, one day, her Prince does come, she is thrilled to have the wedding of all weddings to look forward to. Though the Doctor isn’t holding his breath for an invitation. And her future mother-in-law is certainly not amused.

But on the big day itself, Donna finds her castle under siege from the darkest of forces, marching at the head of a skeleton army.

When it looks like even the Doctor can’t save the day, what will Queen Donna do to save her people from Death itself?"

Concluding the trio of new adventures for the Tenth Doctor and Donna on Big Finish is a refreshingly original story from skilled writer James Goss, which offers intrigue, grim revelations and an unexpected resolution. On a darker level it exposes how a public blindly following the instruction of it's masters can have devastating consequences; some times their intentions may be, no pun intended, noble, but the price of peace is occasionally a very costly one indeed. Goss’ intelligent script is supported with some particularly strong imagery, easy for the listener to envisage, with a fairytale castle under siege from an army of skeletons and the familiar hooded figure of Death stalking the Earth.

As is so often the case in the life of Donna Noble when things suddenly seem to be going her way, disaster strikes. Although an unlikely Queen, Donna’s experience in times of crisis means that she is very capable and cool under pressure, taking charge of the situation and saving lives. Despite her brashness, Donna is a companion to be dismissed at your peril and possessing inscrutable morals, touched on so briefly in the television universe during Planet Of The Ood. However the additional breadth of storytelling facilitated by these new Big Finish adventures has allowed such subtlety to be explored further to the undoubted benefit of the character and something which Catherine Tate is clearly enjoying and thriving upon.

The performances from the whole cast are superb with the six central characters all expertly well rounded, such as Alice Krige as the deliciously facetious and sharp-tongued Queen Mum and Blake Ritson’s well meaning but lovably spineless Rudolph, adding to the strength of the unfolding drama. David Tennant in particular enjoys lovely dialogue, explaining that the Doctor is never ready when one of his companions decides to leave, nor does he ever get a chance to lick his wounds. The Tenth Doctor’s persona of fast talking bravado conceals the heartbreak of losing Rose Tyler, for instance, a departure which still hangs a heavy burden on his travels, but in this brief and rarest of moments the Time Lord’s vulnerability is fully exposed.

Donna’s ingenuity in cheating Death is wonderfully wicked, finding a way to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, a classic Doctor Who scenario, with a style that is almost the antithesis of the show itself but in keeping with the uniqueness of this particular tale. The Doctor also gets an opportunity to show off his brilliance too and certain character’s attitudes are put in their place, crowning off a fantastic story that brings to a close these newly released Tenth Doctor Adventures.

With offerings of a consistently high standard produced by Big Finish, let’s hope that more stories featuring this brilliantly engaging Doctor and companion duo are to continue for many more years to come. This trio of new Tenth Doctor Adventures has been an unquestionable triumph and long may they continue with originality such as Death And The Queen.

16 June 2016

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Jenny T. Colgan

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2016

Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online

Calibris. The spaceport planet where anything goes. Where anyone who doesn't want to be found can be lost, and where everything has its price. Where betentacled gangster Gully holds sway at the smugglers’ tavern, Vagabond’s Reach.

The alien Vacintians are trying to impose some order on the chaos. Soon the Doctor and Donna discover why. An illegal weapon is loose on the streets. A weapon that destroys lives… Slowly and agonisingly.

The Time Reaver."

If Technophobia was an attempt to recapture the atmosphere of 2008’s Series 4, Time Reaver steps out of the television set and into the Big Finish universe renowned for the limitless scope for storytelling. Set on a bustling intergalactic transport terminus, this story’s location would have proved tricky for a television production team to realise effectively, as would the key villain Gully and all his tentacles. Instead, through the excellent medium of audio storytelling and the assistance of a single image of the tentacled creature in question on the cover, the listener can fully immerse themselves into the fast paced action.

The plot of the story centres on the presence on the planet Calibris of a dangerous and valuable weapon, the Time Reaver. It has the ability to extend time potentially indefinitely, allowing people to savour precious moments for longer but sadly can also be used to provide agonising torture. Once again the realisation of a poor soul enduring this torment works incredibly well on audio, taking the listener into the mind of the subject and sharing the experience. It reminded me of a specific episode of American medical drama ER which guest starred Cynthia Nixon as a mother who had suffered a devastating stroke and the viewer witnessed the ‘locked in’ syndrome she was subsequently experiencing. Both are harrowing journeys and an excellent method of telling the story.

Gully is also very successful on audio, the rasping sliminess of a voice which shares similar tones to that of 1980’s villain Sil who first appeared in Vengeance on Varos, enhancing the skin-crawlingly grotesque creature. The bureaucratic Vacintians are however a bit bland and generic but Terry Molloy’s Officer Rone adds a relatable character despite those restrictions. Another triumph is Sabrina Bartlett as Cora, who sounds much younger than her years and delivers the story’s powerful emotional dimension.

Although a largely grim tale, Time Reaver’s extravagant setting helps elevate a simplistic story to the darkly atmospheric tale which tears through at a swift pace whilst taking the listener on a deeply emotional journey, feeling for the key characters affected by the Time Reaver and also those forced to endure it’s devastating power.

10 June 2016

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2016

Reviewed by: Bedwyr Gullidge for Doctor Who Online

When the Doctor and Donna visit London’s Technology Museum for a glimpse into the future, things don’t go to plan.

The most brilliant IT brain in the country can’t use her computer. More worrying, the exhibits are attacking the visitors, while outside, people seem to be losing control of the technology that runs their lives.

Is it all down to simple human stupidity, or is something more sinister going on?

Beneath the streets, the Koggnossenti are waiting. For all of London to fall prey to technophobia..."

The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble are back! It might not be on our television screens but we are treated to the next best thing, a trio of wonderful Big Finish audio adventures.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate slip effortlessly back into their roles, Tate in particular sounds a lot more comfortable as Donna now released of the burden to perform for the camera. Tennant's Tenth Doctor is full of energy and listeners are reintroduced to Donna the ‘super temp’ through another temp, Bex, with the two bonding immediately through shared experiences of agency work. Our favourite Noble of Chiswick becomes a driving force in the tale with her humanity, bravery and deduction skills eventually proving critical to the resolution. This story fits comfortably into the 2008 series with writer Matt Fitton neatly recapturing the feel and atmosphere of that era of televised offerings with an interesting variation on an ‘invasion Earth’ scenario.

Set a couple of years into our future, technology has continued to develop with the M-Pad from Meadow Digital the latest product to hit the high street. However, the M-Pad has not come from the traditional technological innovators of Silicon Valley or Japan but instead from London and the mind of IT whizz Jill Meadows. Without the restrictions of a television production budget the story could quite easily have been replicated in Tokyo for example but clichés are avoided with the head of the company being female. In a modern world that revolves around technology, all designed to make our lives easier, this story ponders what would happen, not if technology turned against us, but if we became unable to use it.

What initially appears to be a traditional ‘ghost in the machine’ or ‘robot uprising’ storyline actually unravels to explore that far more intriguing concept. Instead of turning human technology against it's inventors, the villains of the piece erase our ability to use items which have become essential to our lives and suddenly our surroundings become a lot more terrifying. As paranoia and fear spread, it seems that the Koggnossenti can emerge unchallenged from their base in the London Underground prepared to enslave a human race made intellectually redundant.

Technophobia reunites a popular Doctor and companion combination with a refreshing Earth-based story, parodying a popular fruit-based brand and shining a light on our technology obsessed society in an enjoyable story which sets a high standard for these new adventures for the Tenth Doctor.

12 September 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mike Tucker

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

The Doctor and Mel land in what appears to be an orbiting warehouse, a delivery facility with a dangerously erratic computer.

Whilst Mel is helping with repairs, the Doctor begins to realise that not everything in the warehouse is as it seems. Why do no goods ever seem to leave the shelves? Why are the staff so obsessed with the stocktake? And who is the mysterious Supervisor?

On the planet below, the Doctor discovers that the computer might be the least of their problems – and that they should be more concerned with the spacestation's mould and vermin...

* * *
So, here’s my confession about Season 24: I was lucky.  I was lucky, because I watched it at exactly the right time, at the age of around ten-years-old when the stories from that season were being repeated on the satellite station UK Gold (yes, yes, I’m that young).  As a ten-year-old child, I absolutely loved those stories: bright, colourful, silly but with some great ideas, light in parts and sad at others, I thought it was great, and whilst I was not blind to the jolt to Season 25 being abrupt in tone and look, I honestly did not care. The stories made more sense than most of The Trial Of A Time Lord did to me, McCoy was arresting in the lead role, and I could relate to Mel in the same way I failed to with some other companions in the 1980s: she just wanted to be there and have fun.  She didn’t want to secretly kill the Doctor; she wasn’t part of a grander scheme; she lacked a tragic death in the family. She was just fun, and so was the Seventh Doctor, and at that time in my life, as a child, it was exactly what I wanted to see.

Now, as an adult, with greater critical faculties (or so some would argue), I can see the weaknesses of Season 24, and sure, I can understand why people were so aghast at the time (to an extent: Doctor Who is, so far as I’m concerned, a children’s TV show and always will be) but I still like that fresh, comic book feel and tone, despite its failings, and so I was dead excited when I started listening to The Warehouse, this month’s Big Finish offering from Mike Tucker.

Set in… well, a warehouse and using everyday language such as points, loyalty cards and aisles with a ting of cultism and religiosity, the set-up is perfectly in keeping with the on-screen adventures of the Seventh Doctor and Mel. Perhaps it’s the fact Tucker was there at the time which lends proceedings an air of genuine authenticity, or maybe it’s just a rollicking good script, but this could have been done at the time with few, if any, changes.

Where it would sadly have been changed is in the characterisation of Mel as she actually gets a lot to do that doesn’t resort to her getting captured, screaming or requiring rescuing. It did tickle me, though, to listen to the extras for this tale, and how everyone seems to be enthusing that Mel never gets to do much computer programming in these plays… straight after We are the Daleks and after stories such as The Juggernauts in the past, which made a great song and dance about her skills in this field!

Sadly, there is also an enormous sense of déjà-vu about proceedings as the set-up is incredibly similar to another Mel outing from Big Finish, the play Spaceport Fear: substitute an airport becoming the basis for a society for a warehouse doing that instead, and you have a pair so alike it’s a wonder no-one cries “Snap!” or that neither the Doctor nor Mel remark upon it, let alone the script editors at Big Finish. I think the type of story being told is a far better fit here with the specific Doctor/Companion pairing, but even so, it’s a pity in that it rather suggests that the well may be running dry.

It also diminishes this play’s status as the only one in this trilogy with wholly original elements, sandwiched as it is twixt Daleks and Sontarans.

It doesn’t stop this being highly enjoyable though, and it manages to make the sound of someone sipping water truly repugnant, which is an unusual achievement in its own right but a commendable one, too!

I know people are often mean to you, Season 24, but I love you all the same. It’s good to have you back.

12 September 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th September 2014

The year is 1987, and Britain is divided. In Bradford, strikers are picketing and clashing with the police. In the City of London, stockbrokers are drinking champagne and politicians are courting the super-rich. The mysterious media mogul Alek Zenos, head of the Zenos Corporation, is offering Britain an economic miracle. His partners wish to invest – and their terms are too good to refuse.

While the Doctor investigates Warfleet, a new computer game craze that is sweeping the nation, Mel goes undercover to find out the truth about Zenos’s partners.

The Daleks have a new paradigm. They intend to conquer the universe using economic power. The power of the free market!

* * *
The Seventh Doctor and Mel are back! Hurrah! If that’s not cause for celebration, then I don’t know what is. Often sadly poorly written for on screen, Mel has enjoyed a fantastic revamp akin to the Sixth Doctor’s here in the audio world. Bonnie Langford, forever brilliant whatever she is handed, has really stepped up to this and has continually proven how good she is and, indeed, how good Mel as a character is: enthusiastic and optimistic, someone smart and genuinely just wanting to have a good time.  I like that.  I like that in the end, she is someone who just enjoys travelling and exploring, and so she fits in wonderfully with those early, carefree days of the Seventh Doctor. Again, a lot of Season 24 never translates as well on-screen as it arguably should do, but in much the same way that Series 4 was so exhilarating to watch as it was all about the Doctor and his friend, Donna Noble, just having fun, so it should have been with the Doctor and his friend Mel, and so it has been at times thanks to Big Finish.

Of course, the Seventh Doctor’s era is well known for its sudden lurch from being light and more like a children’s show than we’d arguably ever had before, to something darker and more complex.  Whereas no attempt was really made to bridge that gap on TV, again some plays have tried to do it, and We Are the Daleks falls neatly in that slot. We have a recognizably human background (London), some nice iconography (a giant Dalek-shaped building), intelligent use of the current companion (Mel, the computer programmer, actually gets to do some computer programming!), and the slight reinvention of an old foe (the Daleks themselves) as well as a smattering of political commentary going on. It’s a neat-enough fit with the era of Doctor Who in which we find it, then, and provides some nice retroactive continuity creation to smooth over some elements of Remembrance Of The Daleks along the way.

(In addition to this, having recently criticized some of the CD covers for being very generic or lacking in risks, this one is pleasingly different and eye-catching and easily my favourite piece of work from Tom Webster for quite some time now.)

There is a lot to like in Jonathan Morris’s script, and the character of Celia Dunthorpe is superb: chillingly realistic and despite the awful things she says and does, you can see her justification and reasoning behind it all.  It makes what could be a simple caricature all the more effective and resonant.

Sadly though, despite all of these good points, there is something not quite 'there' with this play. On paper it all works, but in execution, I could never quite warm to it.

Was it the similarities to past Dalek stories? (We have a part where the Doctor explicitly compares a situation to the Dalek Civil War from The Evil Of The Daleks, and right on cue the Daleks start parroting dialogue from that tale.)

Was it the subplot with a computer game, that was very obvious from the off and felt very convenient to the plot than a natural off-shoot? (Maybe, though it does let Mel do something that her character excels at.)

Was it the sense that this sort of iconography, use of the Daleks in unfamiliar situations and liberal taking of continuity has been done before several times over now, and more often that not with the Seventh Doctor? I think perhaps that’s just it: this story is far from generic and has some great parts, but as a whole it’s in no way as fresh as perhaps it ought to be, and is perhaps a bit Remembrance-lite in parts? Last month’s play, The Secret History, had parts so shockingly like The Name Of The Doctor that I was surprised BBC Wales let it pass, but managed to feel different all the same. Perhaps it’s the use of the Seventh Doctor: he gets this sort of tale a lot, so similarities are all too easy to spot.

I know, whatever else, that many people will really enjoy We Are the Daleks, and I can’t blame them for that - there’s a lot to like.  For me though, its parts shine brighter than the whole piece.

26 August 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The Doctor reveals to Leela that they’re heading for the planet Telos. And K9 has new masters...

On Telos, in the past, the Second Doctor and Jamie are exploring the ‘tomb of the Cybermen’.

Meanwhile, the Cyber-Controller and Cyber-Planner consolidate their plans. Spare parts from Krelos are being used to construct a mighty Cyber army. The Doctor must be captured.

Out of control, the TARDIS tumbles down a chasm and the Doctor and Leela find themselves caught up in full-scale planetary invasion.”

There is a school of thought that says that big is better, and you can see that in work here: an adventure with the Cybermen! Ah, but let’s go one further: bring in an old companion! But we can do more: make it a sequel to a past adventure! Brilliant. But: no, let’s go further: we can set it during the past adventure! And let’s not just do any old story, no! Let’s set it during a much-loved classic: The Tomb of the Cybermen!

On paper, it probably sells: the Fourth Doctor and Leela meeting Jamie on Telos is a scenario which is going to get a certain type of fan tingling with anticipation, and it’s no great leap to put both Nicholas Briggs and David Richardson in that category seeing as they’ve gone ahead and made this tale.

It’s not the first time that this approach has been taken. We had The Five Companions by Eddie Robson taking place within another story, and it worked really well: it was a neat fit that took advantage of a period within the existing story when it could logically have taken place without too great a pinch of salt.  So, we have previous, and a successful example at that.  You can see why they felt confident enough to go down that road again.  Indeed, we’ve had mixed-up Doctor/Companion tales very recently, too, and sequels to popular stories in the past time and again.  How does it fare here, though?

First things first: the ‘fit’ between new tale and old tale is pretty sloppy, and I’m being generous here.  We get Frazer Hines doing his Troughton impression to try and help gel things, but… well, it sounds good in small doses, but often it just sounds like Frazer Hines pretending to be Patrick Troughton, so the effect is not as seamless as everyone seems to think it is if the Extras to this play are anything to go by.  The fit in with the plot of Tomb itself can conceivably work I suppose, but only at a push and certainly not as smoothly as Robson managed before.  This feels far more like someone desperately trying to squeeze something in than something that clicks; like someone pushing the incorrect part of the jigsaw into the wrong hole. You can make it fit, but it’s a clumsy mess.

Second up: Jamie in a Fourth Doctor story. Now, Jamie seems to continually bump into the ‘wrong’ Doctor whilst facing the Cybermen, so this feels less novel and more old and worn than it should do.  Sadly, again it’s a clumsy fit.  Quite simply, there is no need whatsoever for this tale to take place during Tomb beyond it being set on Telos, which it could be at any time.  It’s been done purely to try and shift CDs and with no regard to the story itself.  We’re looking at quantity over quality with regards to elements here.

Thirdly, the story. Again, it’s pretty poor. Cybermen are nasty to K-9, things happen, technobabble, reset, the end.  It’s dull at best, predictable at worst, and sadly as jaded and boring as the inclusion of Jamie and the notion of setting it within another story.  I understand that Big Finish tend to keep things as they are and the risks are normally minimal and then repeated– the four-by-four format was successful once and so we have it once a year now; a Northern companion worked well, so they’ve been aping Lucie Miller ever since; the false-departure for Charley worked well, so let’s do it again (and again and again…) with Hex! Heck, even the covers tend to stick to a type nowadays and take few risks– but this is about as boring an execution of old tricks that we’ve seen.

We need more, especially after a story in which nothing much happens whatsoever, but what we get here, though it has more incident than Krelos, shows less flair or innovation.  Not a good sign.

More than anything else, this feels like a huge disappointment after how strong this series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures has been.  We’ve had sparks and new things, and then… this.  A story so keen on continuity, it forgets to do anything interesting whatsoever. I really wish Big Finish would stop doing this; it’s utterly without point, and I can’t see who it appeals to.  Certainly not this listener.  I’m only giving it two out of ten because the Cybermen voices are at least pretty good. That’s overly kind of me, though.

 “You will be like us,” say the Cybermen. If that entails being anything like this play, then that is a threat indeed.

26 August 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“There are dark skies on Krelos… and something gigantic is descending.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Leela set off for some fishing in the mountain pools of Krelos. K9 has interfaced with the TARDIS and has reactivated the architectural configuration from the days of the Doctor’s second incarnation. In passing, the Doctor notes it could do with a good clean. And there’s a familiar piece of material snagged on the console.

Far up the mountain, an aged explorer is in trouble. Will the Doctor and Leela be able to save him and his planet? And what is it that K9 has discovered in the TARDIS?”

The Doctor gets up to an awful lot of things when we’re not looking.  We know this from various sources: the Doctor himself, glimpses of downtime in stories such as Midnight, The Romans, Army of Ghosts and Turn Left (it all goes to pot there, but to start with at least, Donna and the Doctor are just having fun exploring an alien market), companions reciting stories not seen on screen (Rose in Boom Town, for example), and the nagging sense that it can’t all be continual peril for the Doctor and his friends, or you wouldn’t go travelling, would you? There are definitely times when the Doctor and his entourage take a break and simply have a good time.

Why, then, have we not seen this in full before? The argument will no doubt be that if nothing much happens, then it’s not going to be the most exciting of tales, but as if that were a gauntlet thrown on the table, Big Finish have decided to try and prove us wrong and The Fate of Krelos is the result.

What happens in this story, then? Well, Leela and the Doctor wander around the TARDIS for a bit and decide to go fishing whilst K-9 is on the blink. They meet the locals and have a jolly.  And that’s it.

It’s a strange tale in that the format actively fights against the story being told.  We need a cliffhanger midway through the tale, one at the end, and a healthy dose of leading-into-the-final-play-this-series-style plot for Return to Telos to work properly. Because Nicholas Briggs, the story’s author, wants to tell a tale where the Doctor and Leela just relax instead of rush around, there is an inherent wrestle between these necessities and Briggs’s desires. So, K-9 is not how he should be but everyone ignores it uncharacteristically because that would kickstart a story.  Likewise, we get a truly horrendous and cringeworthy bit of info-dumping early on where Leela learns about Jamie purely so that she will know who he is come the final play this series. It’s a scene that exists purely to push things forward and stands out all the more than it usually would, such is the lax pace and absence of event surrounding it all.

Things suddenly whirl into action right at the end, again because it is needed by the demands of both Doctor Who as a series and The Fate of Krelos’s position in the running order of this season of adventures. Maybe placed somewhere else other than the penultimate adventure, a tale like this one could have worked, but as it is, we have what would struggle to fit a standard twenty-three-minute-long episode stretched beyond breaking point.

In spite of all this though,I cannot help but admire Briggs for giving this a shot in the first place. Does it work? Not really, but as a one-off experiment, it is at least worthy of merit. The use of Michael Cochrane in the guest cast is a nice touch, too, giving The Fourth Doctor Adventures a sense of continuity with its past (he was brilliant as Colonel Spindleton in the first series) in much the same way that repeated appearances of Bernard Horsfall and his ilk used to do on screen.

Telos beckons now, so hopefully this is but a blip in what has been the best series of adventures for the Fourth Doctor from Big Finish so far. At least Leela knows who Jamie is now… 

26 August 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes, Matt Fitton, Simon Barnard and Paul Morris

RRP: £40.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: August 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“A very special story which at last provides a heroic exit for Colin Baker's much-loved Time Lord. Four hour-long episodes, connected by the presence of the Valeyard, the entity that exists between the Doctor's twelth and final incarnations.”

If you’re looking for a success story with regards to Big Finish, then the Sixth Doctor is it. On TV, he was trapped at a time when there was chaos behind the scenes and whilst very few have anything bad to say about Colin Baker, who gave it his all regardless of what he was given (whatever people say about The Twin Dilemma, Baker himself is magnificent in it through and through), it’s arguable that poor Sixie, as he’s affectionately known, deserved better. The books which followed gave it a good shot, as did the comics, but it was the creation of Big Finish and getting Baker himself back into the driving seat that really worked wonders. Hearing him get his teeth into some fantastic scripts, and then being paired with Evelyn and Frobisher as well as Peri and Mel, thrust him back into the limelight and created a massive reappraisal for that most criticized of incarnations.  It was long overdue and much deserved, so it seems fitting that it’s Big Finish who are telling the story of Sixie’s demise.

Well, telling one version of it, anyway.  The novelisation of Time and the Rani threw some tumultuous buffeting our way (… no, me neither), Gary Russell had a go in Spiral Scratch and then we have Time’s Champion as well, bobbing around in the background.  The good thing, then, is that if people aren’t too keen on this version of The End of Colin, we have others to dip into, even those with tumultuous buffeting. (Whatever happened to the seatbelts seen in Timelash? There’s a story for another day…)

Big Finish’s approach to Sixie’s end (stop laughing at the back) is to give us four, hour-long stories (give or take. The final play clocks in at under sixty minutes whilst the first is closer to seventy-minutes-long). They’re set in various places in The Doctor’s life and have one link beyond the Sixth Doctor himself: the Valeyard. Considering what he was set up to be, it’s amazing really that nothing more was ever done with him on screen, so it makes sense to explore that here instead and it’s fitting that it’s the Sixth Doctor once more doing battle with him.

Sadly though, whilst all this looks good on paper, it doesn’t entirely translate well when listened to. The main issue really is one of connectivity.  This release is called ‘The Last Adventure’, so it’s not unfair to have an expectation that everything is going to slot together neatly, but no. Only the final play can in any terms be labeled a ‘last’ adventure, and it only really fits in with one other play in the release, leaving one wondering why they bothered listening to the other two.  As one-offs, they’d be fine, but as a build-up to the final hour, they fall massively short as they don’t actually build much.

Let’s look at the plays themselves in their own rights though.  We begin with The End of the Line by Simon Barnard and Paul Morris, a ghostly tale of mysterious trains and even more mysterious deaths. The mixture of trains, abandoned stations and Colin Baker cannot help but bring to mind In Memory Alone, the third story in the Stranger series, Bill Baggs’s straight-to-video series which found its lead writer and plot visionary in… Nicholas Briggs! You do wonder if the inclusion of this tale here is a nod to the roots of Briggs’s working relationship with Baker, but I am probably reading too much into things.

The story itself is fine, but nothing new.  We’ve had ghost stories in this manner in the past and the twists are, again, nothing Big Finish haven’t done before.  It’s not to say that the play is bad per se, just a bit… underwhelming.  We’ve been here before and will do again.  Likewise, one of the big selling points for this tale is something the Sixth Doctor specifically, and arguably uniquely (sorry, Clara), has experience of: the introduction of a new companion some way into their friendship.  wap Mel for Constance, and hey presto.

Again, I imagine that the parallels here between Constance and Mel both getting introduced in ‘final’ stories for the Sixth Doctor are intended, but whereas Mel came with a fully kitted-out character, Constance here is the ultimate definition of generic.  Miranda Raison is a fine actor, but she is given nothing to go with here. Her character is blander than any of the support and you wonder just why they bothered.  I imagine someone at Big Finish said “Hey! Now here’s a good idea!” and then went ahead and commissioned this without actually working out what her character is. I hope so at least, or her forthcoming trilogy is going to be painful.

Second up, we have Alan Barnes in the writing seat and The Red House. Reuniting the Doctor with Charley, it’s a tale of werewolves, scientists and afflicted villagers. It feels similar to The Doomwood Curse in that respect, with a clash of science fiction and folktale trappings, but whilst The End of the Line felt overly recognizable, Barnes’s script here feels fresh and fits in with Charley perfectly, maybe because of the familiarities. (If you’re the sort of fan who is kept awake at night by the thorny issue of continuity and placements, then fret not: we get a very clumsy introduction where Charley reels off a list of previous adventures and where this one falls. It’s painful, but is going to satisfy a certain type of fan, so it’s probably best to have it in here than not!)

This play actually ties in to what’s to come, and as such has more merit in this box set than others. It also uses Charley and her relationship with this particular incarnation of the Doctor intelligently, and at over an hour doesn’t outstay its welcome, telling a decent story in its own rights whilst also moving pieces forward in anticipation of the finale.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Stage Fright by Matt Fitton, which reunites the Sixth Doctor with Jago and Litefoot whilst Flip is in tow.  It’s not a bad story in itself, but what Red House gets right, this gets wrong.  It barely touches upon the final installment at all, and lovely though it is to have Jago and Litefoot present and correct, there is no reason for it whatsoever other than it being a selling point for the box set. Flip, meanwhile, seems to be here purely to give us contrasts between the time period and our own (“Oh! It’s just like The X Factor! Star Wars! Other-Franchise-That-Is-Popular!”) and little else. She’s also responsible for a dénouement which makes the oft-criticized schmaltz of Fear Her look subtle.  Surely Peri, being an American in a time of colonialism and the Empire, would have been a better/more interesting fit, especially now we know that she carries on travelling with Sixie after the events of Trial? It feels like a wasted opportunity.  Indeed, the exclusion of Peri from proceedings, given how integral she was to the Sixth Doctor’s era on screen and indeed Trial of a Time Lord, feels like a massive oversight, and makes this whole set seem more a celebration of Big Finish and its various creations than representative of the Sixth Doctor’s tenure, really.

This is very apparent in the final story of this set, Nicholas Briggs’s entry, The Brink of Death, in which Mel is mostly ignored in favour of this set’s Not-Lucie-Miller-Companion, Genesta the plucky Time Lord. Ever since Lucie was a hit, Big Finish have been trying to ape her success (again, see Flip), and this is but the latest effort. No spoilers here, but it doesn’t work and she has ‘Disposable’ written all over her from the word ‘go’, and I wish they’d stop doing it.  It’s getting tedious now.

There is an attempt to use her fate to compare attitudes to death and life between the Doctor and Valeyard, but nothing really comes of it. For all the talk of the two Time Lords being Yin and Yang/one and the same, you never get the impression that they are actually the same person. You’d think there would be an attempt to show the Sixth Doctor being tempted down that path but it never materializes.

So, with Mel put to one side and a substitute companion in place, this play harkens back to The Red House and works its way towards the end.  We know from the very off that the end is approaching, so much of this is painted as a race against time: or would be, if time wasn’t continually extended and frozen all over the place, ruining any sense of pace.  No matter though, what about the plot itself?

Well, it’s reliant on two things: the Doctor having no real sense of curiosity (“Oh! So that explains that thing that happened ages ago that I probably should have looked into but didn’t because Reasons”) and the Valeyard being nigh-on omnipotent.  A big point is made time and again of the Valeyard thwarting all of the Doctor’s plans because he knows exactly what he did before and what he’s thinking, which only makes the ending– the Doctor does something that all logic and story suggests the Valeyard should see coming but, erm, doesn’t because it’s the end of the story– all the sillier and frustrating.  It’s lazy and, more importantly, at odds with everything we’ve been told so far, so what, I wonder, was the point of it all.  It certainly makes little more sense than tumultuous buffeting: arguably, that makes a smidgeon more sense than what we get here.

The end is here though, and Time And The Rani approaches. The plot of this dovetails neatly into that story (sort of. It’s never explicitly stated that it’s the Rani firing beams at the TARDIS here, but it surely has to be, or else she’d die on Lykertya or at the very least not look like Kate O’Mara).  Colin, of course, gets some final words.  Well, several.  He has a brilliant last line when talking with the Valeyard, but sadly then waffles on for a whole other scene and gets a line that is in no way as memorable or satisfying. It’s a shame that they sacrifice less for more, but that is perhaps indicative of this set overall. We could have got a series of episodes that builds up to the final end, but instead we get an advertisement for Big Finish Productions.

Final thoughts then? Tricky.  It’s an ending for sure, and the final episode isn’t awful, just illogical.  What’s most trying with this release is that you can easily see where things perhaps should have gone: a set leading to a finale, rather than a finale with almost no build-up. A set absent of Peri and largely ignoring Mel in favour of Big Finish’s own creations.  An introduction to a new assistant, but one without any characteristics whatsoever. A set that doesn’t know when to stop or, really, start.

The Sixth Doctor is surely still Big Finish’s success story, and Colin Baker still a star, but for such a flagship release, we should have got something far better than this. This is in no way the best this incarnation has to offer or even close to the best Big Finish and Baker have given us. Call this a last adventure if you will, but I’m hoping for far better to come. 

26 August 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Steven and Vicki to the Italian city of Ravenna in the year 540 – besieged by the army of the celebrated Byzantine general Belisarius. Caught up in the fighting, Steven ends up on a boat bound for Constantinople, the heart of the Roman Empire.

Rescuing Steven, however, is the least of the Doctor's problems – because he shouldn't be mixed up in this particular adventure at all. Someone has sabotaged his own personal timeline, putting him in the place of his First incarnation... but who, and why? The truth is about to be revealed – but at what cost to all of the Doctors, and to the whole future history of the planet Earth?”

It’s been a bumpy old ride, but finally here we are: The Secret History, the final story in Big Finish’s latest trilogy. We’ve had the more-Fourth-than-Third-Doctor story The Defectors and then, sadly for us all, Last of the Cybermen, which is about as awful a play as we’ve ever been given by Big Finish, even if it did try to explain away the photograph-roundel-walls in the TARDIS. (I begrudgingly give it a nod for that.)  This has been a pretty lackluster trilogy so far then, but thankfully they’ve gone and saved the best ‘til last.

For a start, this feels just like a First Doctor story. Put William Hartnell in the title role instead of Peter Davison and it would feel just right in the way the other two plays would not have done.  Eddie Robson has easily written the most successful play for this different-Doctors remit, no question about it.

It perhaps also helps that Steven and Vicki, the two companions in this tale, fit in perfectly with the story being told, too, and gel with the Fifth Doctor in a way that makes you long for this troop to have further adventures. Peter Davison, Peter Purves and Maureen O’Brien are all class acts and they milk Robson’s brilliant script for all it’s worth.

The story itself takes place in the year 540 CE: Ravenna is under the control of the general Belisarius, Steven has been whisked off to fight, and someone is in the shadows, manipulating the Doctor’s personal history and timeline… but who? And why?

The question of who is a thorny one, really. It should be a big secret, and indeed if you simply downloaded the story and seen the cast list as put on the Big Finish website, it would be. However, if you get the CD, then there is a whacking great spoiler on the cover, clearly showing you the name of the actor playing the antagonist, a character that actor is associated with. Added to that is the CD artwork which decides to place an image representing the antagonist in the centre of it all: why that and not, say, a generic roman soldier or even Belisarius? It seems odd that Big Finish have gone to great lengths to hide the identity of the Doctor’s foe and then place them smack-bang in the middle of the cover.  It’s a pity as it would have been a nice surprise otherwise.  Instead, having seen the cover and then received the CD, I met the revelation of the baddie with a shrug instead of the shock I should have felt.

Just in case you haven’t put two and two together though or been spoilt, I’ll refrain from naming them here. Suffice to say that they fit perfectly though, with both the story and the notion of incorrect Doctors across this trilogy. The actor in question works brilliantly with Davison, and again, you would gladly see more of them in the future if possible. It’s also a welcome return to their character; a nice continuation of their story which adds some genuine sadness to proceedings. Yes, they’re doing the wrong thing, but you can see why and it is heartbreaking in many ways, as is the implication that they’ve tried to carry out this plan time and time again, forever caught in a loop of revenge and upset and rage.

The use of this character proves a smart one for this, the 200th ‘main range’ release from Big Finish, as it ties in with one of their other most successful runs: a celebration, and rightly so, of some of the company’s most popular outputs.  It’s nice to see Big Finish approach this milestone with some subtly and restraint as it’s not something they’ve been doing as of late, and as such it makes for one of the most satisfying releases from the company for a long while.

Two hundred releases though: an impressive milestone.  Not every release is a gem, and there is a strong argument to be made that quality has suffered as of late due to the vast quantity of output, but the importance, and indeed at times genuine brilliance, of Big Finish is not something to be sniffed at. The world(s) of Doctor Who, and indeed my own world, would be far poorer without them.

Just think of three things they’ve given us off the top of your head: the Eighth Doctor’s adventures through time and space, the Sixth Doctor and Frobisher, the Companion Chronicles.  Impressive, and one can easily pluck out three more: Dalek Empire, Charlotte Pollard, the magnificent Jago and Litefoot series. And more still: Melanie Bush and the Sixth Doctor and Adric all being given stories arguably far better, and certainly far better received, than they had on screen. And then there is the array of brilliant writers: Eddie Robson and Joseph Lidster and Rob Shearman and Uma McCormack and Jacqueline Rayner and Andrew Smith and John Dorney and… and…

And one could go on.  This has not been an especially good run of stories, but The Secret History itself is a fantastic play that richly deserves the full marks it’s been afforded below.

The not-so-secret history of Doctor Who will sing highly of Big Finish in years to come, and rightly so.  Here’s to more adventures… 

23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“Jo Grant is shocked to find most of her colleagues are missing. Then she discovers that the Doctor has inexplicably changed.

But there’s no time to worry about it, as she and her misplaced Time Lord friend are whisked to the mysterious Delphin Isle on a matter of national security. There, they encounter a disturbingly odd form of local hospitality and learn of a highly classified incident that took place during the Cold War.

Why exactly have they been brought here? And what is the truth concerning the bodies in the harbour and the vast project being undertaken beneath a cloak of secrecy?”


Big Finish love stories! So they keep telling us with every advert going, but they also love a good old novelty hook to drum up a bit of publicity.  The Defectors kickstarts a trilogy already unofficially known as the “Locum Doctors Trilogy”, the sort of fan-pleasing label that will only ever crop up in reference books and threads on forums where people scoff at those who know them merely as ‘those three stories with the wrong Doctors’.

Bah! Pity those fools! I bet they’ve never had a sleepless night over the incorrect theme tune on the CD release of The Invasion of E-Space either.

The idea behind this run-up of stories leading into Big Finish’s 200th release is simple: we get companions from the Doctor’s past mixed with Doctors later on chronologically-speaking— so, the Seventh Doctor is here paired with Jo Grant whilst the Sixth Doctor will next month be paired with Jamie and Zoe. (Again. What? No, the novelty hasn’t worn off, sssh you.)  The trilogy will round off with the Fifth Doctor and Vicki and Steven, the latter of whom is the only pairing that really made me go “Ah! Yes, that could be fun!”

Whether that is the case remains to be seen, but with The Defectors, I was left slightly… confused.  A stutter start theme tune and UNIT does not automatically mean that a story is going to have a Third Doctor flavour, and that is certainly the case here.  Jo Grant may be present, and Mike Yates may be on hand complete with Greyhound insignia via a crackly radio line, but the story, in which the Doctor and Jo are taken to a mysterious village where people don’t quite act right, and the military are clearly hiding something alien, feels far more like a Fourth Doctor adventure than anything Pertwee ever came across.

It made me question what the point really was of the novelty of having the Seventh Doctor interacting with Jo, beyond it being just that: a novelty.  Certainly the script doesn’t feel very Pertwee-esque, despite the cast, and beyond one moment where the Doctor being the ‘wrong’ Doctor nudges the plot along slightly, there doesn’t seem much call for it plot-wise, either.  Not even the ending justifies it, where you think for one moment that the Seventh Doctor’s difference in approach to his predecessor may wind up being key to the conclusion, but then Jo steps forward and acts in a way that doesn’t feel particularly true to Jo at all.

I never once bought the comparisons being made between the Third and Seventh personas of our favourite Time Lord either. (Well, I say favourite. You may have a hankering for Coordinator Vansell, I couldn’t say.) There is a lot of talk about how certain and sure the Third Doctor was and how he’d have a plan and know all the answers… but that’s not really true.  In fact, that’s almost exactly how the Seventh Doctor is: the great schemer and planner who watches as carefully managed schemes unfold.  It makes me wonder if that will be a key part of the revelations further down the line, so for now I’ll simply leave a question mark over proceedings.

The play itself is fine with a touch of healthy paranoia here and some nice action from Jo there (before the aforementioned ending), who reminds us always that she was a cut above the generic screaming assistant.  In some ways, it feels a lot like a dry-run for Nicholas Briggs’s own take on The Prisoner (coming soon from Big Finish productions, fact fans) which, again, doesn’t feel very Third Doctor-y.  Briggs sets up a lot of intrigue in the opening couple of episodes though, the first one being especially strong in that regard, but without the Seventh Doctor being there, I doubt that The Defectors would really warrant much attention.

It also feels a bit sloppy at times, too.  If you want to be picky, then the theme tune is wrong as it has the stutter start dropped for Season 10 onwards, and it rather trips up over itself near the end, when the baddies-with-a-hint-of-Cyberman-about-them start talking with the exact same vocoder effect as the Cybermen themselves, leading me to wonder whether next month’s foes had already been taken before Briggs could write his script.

If you wish to be political about this, then there is also a bit of heteronormative eyebrow-raising to be had when men wearing make-up is noted as a strange and comment-worthy (shaming, almost) thing, which didn’t feel especially in keeping with the Doctor’s live and let live ethos.  I suspect he’ll start mocking ladies for not shaving their legs next.

As the start to a new trilogy, The Defectors didn’t so much whet the appetite as leave me hungry, but hopefully hindsight will be kind to it.  Hopefully, I’ll reach that milestone 200th release and go “Ah! Looking back now, that all made a lot more sense!”  We shall see.  In its own right though, there’s nothing much to see here.


23 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matt Fitton

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


“The Death-Match is under new management. The Hunt Master's Champion has been installed. All regular players are welcomed back to the Pursuit Lounge to observe the contest in luxurious surroundings. Privacy is assured. For this reason we ask our elite guests to abide by the strict security protocols. Please note, the house has no limits.

In the Gallery, your combatants can be observed on the orbiting Quarry Station. A purpose-built environment filled with deadly traps and hidden dangers. Prizes are offered for every kill, with bonuses for rogue elements. Only an elite hunter can survive the End-Game. Do you have a worthy champion? Kill or be killed: the only rule of the Death-Match..."


Ah, the Master.  You don’t see him for an age, then he turns up all over the shop: in Dark Eyes 4 first, and then in last month’s Fourth Doctor Adventure, Requiem for the Rocket Men, before turning up again to face the Fourth Doctor and Leela once more. (This is no great surprising given the cliffhanger ending to Requiem, nor the fact that pre-publicity told us that this was to be the case, but still.)

Written by Big Finish stalwart Matt Fitton, Death Match starts off in the middle of a great fight and then switches to a rather grumpy Fourth Doctor, kicking things in the TARDIS and generally causing K-9 grief, when Marshall, Leela’s trainee-to-be and potential love interest, contacts them: Leela is missing, and the Master is responsible.

Given that last month’s release had the Master actually kill the Doctor and feel rather muted by it all (granted, that wasn’t really the Doctor, but the Master was not aware of this at the time), it was always going to be tricky to follow up the threat levels, and Fitton wisely decides instead to zone in on Leela and Marshall: their reunion, their relationship, their future.  The fact that Leela was kidnapped is quickly skipped over (really, it serves as little more than a decent cliffhanger for Requiem and a good way to include her in the action here without doing an Arc of Infinity-style false-ending with co-incidental reunion later on) and we soon shift our focus to the main attraction: the titular death match.

For reasons unknown and sinister, the Master has decided to mussel his way into control of these death matches, where people are made to fight one another in arenas to the death for glory, gambling purposes, and above all survival.  It takes a leaf from cult classic Battle Royale and also The Hunger Games (which in turn very much took its inspiration from cult classic Battle Royale… that film/novel has a lot of weight behind it) and focuses not so much on the fighting but the human element behind it, which proves to be a good move, allowing Louise Jameson to continue the sterling work she put in throughout Requiem and build on that here, culminating in one of the most satisfying Leela tales that Big Finish have given us so far, and one of Jameson’s finest hours.

Returning as Marshall and the Master respectively, Damian Lynch and Geoffrey Beevers both give it there all, too, though Marshall is a bit too nudge-nudge-wink-wink towards Leela throughout the play to ever really warm our hearts or convince us that this is a love for all time, growing a bit tiresome with his innuendo-laden patter instead.

There are some especially fiery scenes between Beevers and Tom Baker though, with the latter spitting out his lines with as much gusto as he gives nowadays. (He’s more muted than he ever was on TV and even at his most furious sounds more ticked off that apoplectic, but still.) The Master also gets to indulge in some enjoyable flirting with Susan Brown’s Kastrella, and some aurally nasty killing, which makes the Tissue Compression Eliminator genuinely horrifying beyond concept for once: there’s no doll Logopolitans or CSO scientists in lunchboxes here.

The story arguably never quite lives up to its foundations but the final scene lets Jameson, and Leela alike, shine and that’s no bad thing.

What is a bad thing is that the scripts overrun massively, with the first episode clocking in at a whopping 38 minutes’ length and the second only shaving two minutes off of that.  I’ve praised the other stories in this series for really working in the two-episode-long format for the first time since the Fourth Doctor joined the Big Finish fold really, so it was a shame to see that good work undone here, especially when despite the additional length, it still feels strangely… lacking.  Maybe it needed the confidence to be a full four-part adventure, or maybe a good editing down, but as it stands, an extended length and an underwhelming set of death matches (especially notable seeing as that’s what the play is titled) leads to a release that never quite gets to where it arguably ought to be, given its cast, characters, good points and scenarios.

A disappointment then, but far from the worst that Big Finish, and The Fourth Doctor Adventures as a range, have ever given us.


1 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“A Great Darkness is spreading over E-Space. Entropy increases. In search of a last exit to anywhere, the TARDIS arrives on the power-less planet of Apollyon, where the scientist Pallister guards the only way out – a mysterious portal. But the portal needs power to open, and the only power Pallister can draw on is the energy contained within the molecular bonds of all living tissue...

The Doctor, Nyssa, Tegan and Turlough soon learn that neither Pallister nor his ally, the space pirate Captain Branarack, will stop at murder to ensure their escape. But they're not the only menace on Apollyon. The Sandmen are coming – creatures that live on the life force; that live on death.

Death is the only way out into N-Space. Death, or sacrifice.

But whose death?

Whose sacrifice?”


All good things must come to an end (sometimes; if your name is Hex then god only knows) and so the stories featuring Older/Young/Old-ish Again Nyssa come to an end in this, The Entropy Plague by Jonathan Morris.  In many ways, this feels like not so much a conclusion to the E-Space trilogy which we’ve been experiencing across these past few plays, but a sequel and finale to everything post-Morris’s own Prisoners of Fate.  Nyssa has a family to get back to, and being stuck in E-Space is only hastening the inevitable, despite how much the Doctor would like her to stay.

In keeping with the rest of this trilogy, the story has strong nods to its positional equivalent in Season 18’s original foray into E-Space: Mistfall shared its writer, Marshmen and, erm, Mistfall with Full Circle; Equilibrium and State of Decay have their castles and regal cast; and here in The Entropy Plague, we have Warriors’ Gate’s thresholds and setting as well, this one being set on the other side of the world to Steve Gallagher’s original concept-heavy tale.

Whilst Equilibrium managed to feel very Bidmeadian in its concepts, music and execution, this time we are firmly in Eric Saward’s home ground.  You know how Ressurection of the Daleks has the ethos of ‘Life is Crap and then you Die’? This play makes that look positively life-affirming and comedic.

We start with the Doctor telling Nyssa’s son, Adric, that he will never, ever see his mother ever again, and then we flashback to a point where Tegan is still kidnapped by space pirates (clearly everyone on board forgot how successful space pirates had been on the last attempt) and the TARDIS is crashing (what else?) down on the planet Apollyon.  Devoid of power and borrowing liberally from the sound effects bank (Cloister Bell? Check.  Dwindly-light sound from Death to the Daleks? Present), things are looking dark and bleak for our heroes, which only sets the tone for what is to come across the next 100-odd minutes.

Apollyon is a dying world, the people are celebrating the end of all things, and the only way out— a CVE leading to N-Space— is probably what’s going to kill everyone else, unless entropy does first.  Morris decides to make entropy more of a tangible threat than a few starts being blotted out ala Logopolis though, and so we get the Sandmen, the nipple-tastic monsters which grace the CD cover, who rather nightmarishly are the living embodiment of an old folk tale… or would be if they were nightmarish.  Instead, they mostly growl about dust a lot.  It’s a rare dropping of the ball by Morris, who usually milks his good ideas for all they’re worth, but this monster-of-the-week feels increasingly functional and not much beyond tokenistic.

In fact, The Entropy Plague is a rare case of Morris dropping the ball altogether, and giving us something that is just unremittingly bleak across its duration.  I understand that the collapse of an entire universe is no laughing matter, but there is no glimmer of happiness across the play.  We get pointless sacrifice, torture, threatened executions, families torn apart, separation and selfishness instead, and that’s nearly all in the opening episode.  By the time I reached the point where one of the guest cast is mercilessly put to death only to get a slight reprieve before killing themselves horribly and pointlessly, I found myself having to Google images of kittens to fully recall that not everything in this world is utterly horrendous.

No-one seems happy here.  The Doctor seems quite happy to let a universe die to escape, channelling Hartnell’s incarnation in many ways; Turlough sounds pained as situations confer to make him have to act selfishly; Tegan is placed in danger of death more often than one can count; and Nyssa seems to know that she is never going to see her family again even before the title music has properly faded and the first scene kicked in.

The story is at least open about Nyssa’s fate from the very off (until Big Finish perform a massive u-turn on it in a couple of years’ time, one suspects) and such a scenario warrants a certain gravity, but this goes beyond that, to the point where her departure feels almost by-the-bye in this world of utterly nasty things and occurrences and, despite an attempt at sweetening things with a monologue at the end, you’re left in no doubt that nobody is happy, no-one at all.  And why would they be in a world where everything is bloody awful?

Doctor Who is many things and has many faces, but it has rarely if ever been as grim and so utterly devoid of pleasure as this.  For me, Doctor Who is and always will be a children’s show.  I think there is room for more adult pursuits in these plays and comics and books and suchlike, but if the goalposts are shifted so far as to become unrecognizable as is the case here, and you lose any appeal to children whatsoever, then you can count me out.

There will be many, no doubt, who warm to this nihilistic take on the show and its truly adult no-kids-allowed vision, but I am not among them; it left me thoroughly cold and just wanting it to end from around three episodes in.  It takes more than just a TARDIS to make Doctor Who the show it is; I only hope that’s remembered in the future. 

1 April 2015

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: John Dorney

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2015

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

“The Asteroid - notorious hideaway of the piratical Rocket Men. Hewn out of rock, surrounded by force-fields and hidden in the depths of the Fairhead Cluster, their base is undetectable, unescapable and impregnable.

In need of allies, the Master has arranged to meet with Shandar, King of the Rocket Men. But the mercenaries have captured themselves a very special prisoner - his oldest enemy, the Doctor.

What cunning scheme is the Doctor planning? How does it connect with Shandar's new robotic pet? And just what has happened to Leela? The Master will have to work the answers out if he wants to leave the asteroid... alive…"


The Rocket Men were arguably one of the greatest successes to come from The Companion Chronicles.  Nasty, beautifully 1960s-ish in their style and approach, and the central antagonists in two of the range’s best and best-loved releases, it was perhaps only a matter of time before they made the transition to another range and another Doctor.  Whether this needed to happen is another question altogether, but happen it has and John Dorney’s Requiem for the Rocket Men is the result.

The third story in this series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, it carries on the tradition set down so far this year by being perfect for the two-episode format and the regular cast.  Leela, K-9 and the Doctor alike are all served well by Dorney’s script and scenarios, and the addition of the Master turns out to be a really smart move, showing the Rocket Men to be smaller players than they perceive themselves to be and remnants of an era that has past them by.  Indeed, one of the cleverest things about this play is how they reflect the change in Doctor, and era they’re aiming for, by making the titular Rocket Men feel very… retro now; outdated and outpaced in this new world of robot dogs and rival Time Lords and female savages.  It’s no wonder they need the Master to give them a hand, and no wonder he treats them with such patronizing contempt.

Just as Dorney subverts his own creations, so he also plays with the traditional Master/Doctor set up by having the Master stumble into one of the Doctor’s plans and adventures rather than the other way around which is the norm.  It could be a gimmick in the wrong hands or so post-modern it hurts, but here in Dorney’s capable hands it’s a lot of fun and never once feels out of place in the story being told.

Another good thing is the fact it isn’t slavishly trying to recreate the Fourth Doctor’s era, something else in common with the plays so far this series. (Speaking of changes, the pedants in us will probably be interested to note that the font on the back of the CD has changed for this release, the sort of heinous crime that usually generates half a dozen protests on the forums and threat of a boycott or alternative cover. Let’s hope they didn’t look at the spines for the first series of Early Adventures, eh?)

I’ve noted before that I have found this quest for authenticity to be a foolish one; one which has stunted the growth of the series or stories, so I am glad to see it gone at last.  It also makes the ability to mix ‘traditional’ stories with character development less of a messy fit.  We get more depth of character for the Master in this story than we ever had on screen during Doctor Who’s original run, and Leela gets to grow stronger and braver here than she was ever allowed to.  One of The Fourth Doctor Adventures’s strengths is the interplay between the Doctor and Leela, far wittier and cosier than we ever saw on screen, and the final scenes of this play give us a warmth and pleasure and— dare I say it? — closure we were robbed of in Invasion of Time.  It’s nice to see that addressed here.

It’s hard to fully judge the story in its own right as it leads directly and explicitly onto Death Match, next month’s release in this series (which isn’t a spoiler as such as it was advertised by Big Finish themselves in publicity for the series, though I will admit that I missed it somehow, which made the ending far more surprising than it perhaps should have been!) but in its own right it’s another damn good play from John Dorney and another good release for this series.  I hope next month proves to be every bit as strong.

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