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10 March 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Smith

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

“Space travellers are warned to keep away from the area of the planet Asphya and its unremarkable moon Erys. Not the best place to materialise the TARDIS, then – as the Doctor discovers when his ship is raided by the imp-like Drachee, and his companion Flip is carried away…

But the TARDIS isn’t the only stricken vessel in the region. Aboard a nearby space yacht, the Doctor encounters a woman who holds in her head the secret of Erys – a secret suppressed by amnesia, or worse.

Flip, too, is about to learn Erys’ secret. But once you know Erys’ secret, you can never escape.”

* * *
Andrew Smith and Big Finish are rapidly becoming closely associated with one another, and it is easy enough to see why with a play like The Brood of Erys.  It has a colourful cast with some pleasingly odd voices, a solid pace and ending which sets up things to come, a story which is at once nice and evocative of past stories whilst also being firmly grounded in ‘the now’, and lots of action set pieces which place the companion in the centre of things: DWM would have had a field day drawing Flip plummeting through space back when they used to paint previews of the monthly releases.

Despite all this though, the adventure lacked a certain spark for me.  It’s certainly a world away from the heights of The First Sontarans and the imagination of Vengeance of the Stones, Smith’s contributions to The Lost Stories and Destiny of the Doctors ranges respectively.  Perhaps oddly, given his first script for Big Finish was set in E-Space, this feels more like Full Circle than any of his post-TV scripts have so far.  Now, that’s not a bad thing at all: Full Circle is not a bad story or script at all, and if you ever get the chance to read Smith’s novelisation of it, then I recommend you do so: it’s lovingly written and oozes imagination, wonder at even getting to write it, and genuine enthusiasm.  I had that feeling when listening to The First Sontarans, too, but there was something about The Brood of Erys which missed the spot for me.  Perhaps it’s because a lot of it felt very... familiar.  Not just to other scripts Smith has written, but in general.  It doesn’t break any new ground, and whilst not every Doctor Who script has to of course, it would have been nice to see it done so here all the same.  It feels like there is a better story hidden in there somewhere.

It feels like I am being rather down on The Brood of Erys and I do not wish to be.  There are other stories out there which deserve that sort of derision, and this story most definitely is not one.  Let’s focus on positives instead, namely the leads.  Colin Baker is forever brilliant as The Doctor (twelve times now they’ve cast the lead role - well, thirteen if we want to throw in John Hurt, and seeing how great he was, I reckon we should– and twelve/thirteen times now they’ve got it so very, very right) and here is no exception.  He sounds like he’s having fun throughout, which in turn makes for a more enjoyable listen, even if the material isn’t the greatest he’s ever had.  Likewise, Lisa Greenwood as Flip is strong.  As a companion, I don’t think she’s ever going to make a real dent for me as Flip is a bit too... generic to really do much.  Greenwood, however, is a different story.  As with Baker, you get the sense that she really wants to be there, acting and playing along.  It makes a real difference and helps Flip stand a bit stronger.  She is a far better actor than her character, though.

All the signs are pointing to an end of an era though, not just for the trilogy but in a wider sense, so it’ll be interesting to see what the third main range release of 2014 has in store for The Sixth Doctor and Flip, and whilst this was definitely better than the rather tedious Antidote to Oblivion, which committed the cardinal sin for any Doctor Who story in that it was really rather boring, I hope that it ends with a tale a little less serviceable than The Brood of Erys was at times.  All that said though, a script by Andrew Smith is always well worth listening to, so I do genuinely look forward to what he comes up with next.



Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th March 2014

After last month’s slightly disappointing Antidote to Oblivion, The Sixth Doctor triliogy picks up with the rather enjoyable The Brood Of Erys.

Andrew Smith is a familiar name to Doctor Who fans having penned the first part of the E-Space Trilogy Full Circle. In The Brood of Erys, Smith deals with some very interesting science fiction ideas but the story towards the end does tend to delve somewhat into sentimentality.

The story deals with the concept of a sentient planet, breeding its own offspring to not only protect it but to follow it’s every command. This is very interesting and is one of the plot lines which keep your attention throughout. The story builds up its mysteries rather strongly throughout the first three episodes but it is only in the last half of episode four that it turns into more of a dysfunctional family drama. I will not give away what happens but for me it was too much of a sudden change of direction in what had been a fascinating and rather dark story.

The cast is one of the strongest aspects of this release with Colin Baker charging full steam ahead in a superb performance as The Doctor. Despite my misgivings about the sentimental ending of the story, Baker brings great subtlety to the dialogue. He truly is a masterful actor, and he has made his Doctor something very special over the years at Big Finish.

Lisa Greenwood gets a lot more to do as Flip in this story, and Greenwood goes for it with gusto. Flip is certainly one of the best foils The Sixth Doctor has had and it remains to be seen if the character’s recklessness in dangerous situations will have dire consequences in the future.

 With a brilliant supporting cast that includes Nicola Sian, better known to us as Clara’s mother and Brian Shelley as Erys, this play has a lot of great talent throughout.

At times comical and serious The Brood of Erys is a very interesting slice of Doctor Who and worth checking out.



26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

A close encounter with a stray missile leads the Doctor to materialise his TARDIS on a planet that hangs in the dark at the edge of the known universe. A planet so dark that it exists in near-permanent night. A planet that enjoys just a single day’s light once every thousand years…

Exactly what happens on the planet in its rare daylight hours – that’s what a geographical survey headed by Senior Tutor Bengel is stationed here to establish. They, the Doctor and Leela are about to discover that when daylight comes, the White Ghosts rise…

* * *
At the conclusion of last month’s The King of Sontar, The Doctor and Leela had reached a crisis in their relationship. Shocked by her actions, The Doctor felt that it may be time he and Leela were to go their separate ways. Thankfully this does not happen and their adventures continue in this second release for the third season of The Fourth Doctor Adventures.

White Ghosts is that classic of Doctor Who scenarios; the base under siege story, and while there are lovely ideas throughout, it feels let down by its slightly rushed ending.

The main character in this particular story to me is more Leela than The Doctor. The falling out between The Doctor and Leela in The King of Sontar is resolved rather quickly, which is disappointing as I would’ve liked to have seen it continue a bit longer in future stories. Thankfully though the ramifications are not so quickly swept under the carpet and it does inform our two main characters throughout the story.

I like how writer Alan Barnes continues to show the development of Leela, as she has now taught herself to read and uses a book - in this case, one of English fairy tales to make comparisons between it and the events around her. It makes for some lovely metaphors when Leela assesses the danger of the situation the characters in the story are in.

Leela is at the centre of an inspired moment in the story, where we get to see inside her head as she goes into battle. The moment feels like it is from a Companion Chronicle but it helps the scene not only from an audio drama point of view but lets us more inside the character of Leela. It is a stand out moment and one I hope Big Finish use again in future stories.

The cast is very good, especially guest star Virginia Hey (of Farscape fame) putting in an excellent performance as Senior Tutor Bengal. Tom Baker is still as delightfully eccentric as The Doctor and there are some nice supporting characters played by Bethan Walker, James Joyce and Gbemisola Ikumelo respectively.

I like the idea of the Time Lords still using The Doctor to do their dirty work and his dilemma at the end of the story echoes Leela’s previous actions in The King of Sontar. This may prove to be one of the season’s running plot arcs and I hope we see it reappear again.

The story does have an excellent build up but the ending feels rushed especially with the sudden addition of another antagonist from out of nowhere. It makes sense as a creepy addition to the story, but with the constraints of two episodes it feels tacked on somewhat.

I put this down less to the writing but more to the constraints of the two part format, as this story could’ve used at least one more episode to make that conclusion more believable.

White Ghosts is still an entertaining story with some excellent development for our two heroes.

26 February 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Ian Potter

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th February 2014

After travelling with the Doctor through time and space, Ian Chesterton is back in his own time. But the mystery of how he and Barbara Wright disappeared in the year 1963 has alerted the authorities – and both are suspected of being enemy agents in the Cold War.

Ian protests his innocence. He has a story to tell about travelling through time and space.

And one adventure in particular – a visit to the city of Hisk…

* * *
A Companion Chronicle with William Russell is always going to be worth my attention but this time around I found the experience to be an underwhelming affair.

At first The Sleeping City feels like it is going to be an exclusively two hand piece performed by William Russell and guest star John Banks. Sadly it only turns out to be a framework for the main story narrated by Russell.

The strongest part of the audio is the framework element as I found the idea of Ian and Barbara being interrogated about their disappearance and the whereabouts of Susan to be far more interesting than the actual story. The audio then cuts at certain moments for the two main characters to comment upon what is happening, and once again these exchanges are by far the most interesting thing about it.

That is not to say main story is bad, not at all, The Sleeping City has some intriguing ideas and is certainly a nice piece of nostalgia for lovers of the Hartnell era. William Russell gives a very good reading but I found the tale personally not very engaging.

The Sleeping City is an intriguing premise but it ultimately feels let down by its ending. Understated though it is, it plays with the notion that John Banks' character Gerrard knows a lot more than he is letting on but the reveal is still a little disappointing.

It does have its moments but overall The Sleeping City is not one of the strongest stories in the Companion Chronicles range.

17 February 2014
 Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs, Alan Barnes & Matt Fitton

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: February 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 17th February 2014

When the Doctor defeated the Dalek Time Controller and its Time Lord ally, the timelines shifted and events changed... but the danger is far from over. And new threats to the continued safety of the universe are emerging.

Molly O'Sullivan carried on with her life as a nursing assistant in World War One. She probably thought she would never see the Doctor in his 'Tardy-box' again...

From the Dalek occupied planet Nixyce VII through Earth's history and to the very edge of the universe, the Doctor's footprints across eternity are being tracked by foes old and new. But when did it all begin and when will it end? Living his life through the complexities of time travel, the Doctor can never be quite sure if he's experiencing his life in the most helpful order. The only certainty appears to be the advance of the powers of evil and the oncoming threat of a fight to the death against forces that would destroy everything the Doctor holds dear.

* * *

This really is a great period for The Eighth Doctor. After the huge success of the first award winning Dark Eyes, Paul McGann returned to the role of The Doctor in the extremely well-received Night of the Doctor. His brief but perfect performance got many fans unfamiliar with his portrayal very curious. 

Who was this mysterious Doctor who had previously had only one television adventure? And just who were those companions he listed off before turning into John Hurt?

Interest in The Eighth Doctor was at an all time high and Big Finish must have been leaping for joy, for not only being made cannon but I’m sure an increased interest in their excellent output by new listeners.

So it makes me doubly happy to say that the joyous wave for Paul McGann gets even higher with the release of Dark Eyes 2, a brilliant collection of stories that continues to push The Eighth Doctor into new and exciting territory.

Following a non-linear narrative told over 4 parts, Dark Eyes 2 excels in great storytelling and excellent characterisation. Knowledge of the previous Dark Eyes is essential as in some aspects of the main narrative it explicitly harks back to that story. 

But Dark Eyes 2 thankfully does not bog itself down too much in continuity as these linked stories are cracking tales in their own right.

Nicholas Briggs, who held sole writing duties on the first Dark Eyes only takes the first part whilst handing over writing duties of the rest to Alan Barnes and Matt Fitton

I shall not to go too much in depth into the storyline as there is so much to enjoy here and far too many surprises. What I can talk about is the fascinating story thread of the character of The Doctor.

The writers have really taken on board the direction of The Eighth Doctor as being the reluctant warrior. Whilst his previous incarnation had been the grand manipulator who had made difficult choices for the greater good, The Eighth Doctor makes them out of reluctance. He has seen so much death, the aftermath of which was explored in the first Dark Eyes, and he just wants to help make a difference to the universe without having to sacrifice anymore of those he cares about. It is a fascinating direction for a character that started out as a more romantic type. In light of what happens to the character in Night of the Doctor, the course taken here in Dark Eyes 2 is perfectly in line with The Eighth’s Doctor’s eventual fate. 

The performances from the main cast are excellent. Paul McGann is fantastic once again in the role and he really develops his performance throughout the stories.

Ruth Bradley makes a very welcome return as Molly O’ Sullivan joined by the excellent Nicola Walker as Liv Chenka, a character first seen in Nicholas Briggs' sublime Robophobia. Both characters are brilliant foils for the Doctor in different ways, and both have their own different experiences of The Doctor in the Dark Eyes 2 which creates some excellent dramatic tension and a unique perspective throughout. Nicholas Briggs steps behind the microphone not only as The Daleks but the delightfully devious Dalek Time Controller making a return appearance after the dramatic conclusion to the first Dark Eyes.

In a series of stories with returning characters, one of the sheer highlights is Alex Macqueen returning as the Master, a role he made completely his own in the excellent UNIT: Dominion.

It is difficult to find any fault with Dark Eyes 2, as a lot of steps have been taken to ensure this has all the quality of its predecessor but pushing it in new and tantalizing directions. 

With a superb cliff-hanger to conclude it, this reviewer cannot wait for Dark Eyes 3.

31 January 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £12.99 (CD) / £9.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 31st January 2014

The search for the final segment of the Key to Time takes the Doctor and the First Romana to Ancient Rome. The Time Lady is appalled when her companion prefers to watch the latest Plautus comedy rather than complete their mission, and is even less delighted to meet the playwright himself.

But all is not what it seems, either onstage or behind the scenes…

In the far, far future, the Second Romana is destined to have her own encounter with a legacy of Rome, but Stoyn has been waiting. And his actions will set Romana on a collision course with her own past.

Quadrigger Stoyn wants his final revenge on the Doctor, and only Romana stands in his way.

Both of her.

* * *

The Stoyn trilogy comes to a close in the first Companion Chronicle of the year, and despite great ambition the story doesn’t feel quite as strong a finale as perhaps it could’ve been.

Luna Romana was originally written to have included Mary Tamm, but in light of Tamm’s recent passing, the story was rewritten. Tamm’s part is taken by Juliet Landau who portrays a future incarnation of Romana who first appeared in the spin off series Gallifrey VI. Landau proceeds to tell her side of the story as a recollection of her time as the first Romana during the events of the Key to Time.

Landau’s performance is certainly lovely but not as full of gusto as Lalla Ward when she takes over narration during the second episode. Indeed Lalla’s narration is perhaps the strongest part of this release and although Landau does a fine job, you really do begin to miss Mary Tamm’s presence. It would have been lovely to see a more authentic comparison between both incarnations of the character would’ve been fascinating but sadly of course this was not to be.

The Stoyn trilogy has been of a mixed run of stories for me personally. I found overall The Beginning by Marc Platt to be the strongest of the trilogy. The character is still played wonderfully by Terry Molloy but he does seem an odd choice of antagonist for a run of stories set to celebrate the 50th anniversary. Indeed the character’s resolution is rather horrible considering that the poor man was taken out of time by the criminal actions of the Doctor. 

Four episodes seems rather too much for this story as there are moments which can be quite easily written off as padding. This is a shame as there are some great ideas in the story but I personally think that it would’ve benefitted as a two parter, with the narrative intercutting between both Romanas throughout.

Whatever the story‘s faults, what cannot be overlooked are the very touching moments when it pays tribute to the first Romana and the legacy of Mary Tamm. Her contribution to the character and her contribution to Big Finish before her were tremendous and it is good to see it recognised here, and Juliet Landau delivers the closing lines with real compassion.

Luna Romana is an interesting but not entirely satisfying conclusion to an unusual trilogy of stories. 

20 January 2014
 Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Philip Martin

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 20th January 2014

Future Britain is bankrupt, its corporate owners facing financial ruin. Fortunately, the Universal Monetary Fund, and its slimy representative Sil, are willing to give its President a multi-billion credit bail-out... but terms and conditions apply, and Sil's proposed austerity measures go far beyond mere benefit cuts.

Responding to a distress call, the Doctor and his companion Flip land in a London whose pacified population has been driven largely underground. But the horrors down there in the dark are as nothing to the horrors that await them at ConCorp HQ, where a young biochemist in Sil's employ is working on a permanent solution to the nation's terminal unprofitability.

Because in the final account, Sil plans to make a killing...

* * *

Written as a direct sequel to Mindwarp, Antidote to Oblivion has a lot more in common with Philip Martin’s first entry for Doctor Who, Vengeance on Varos, and that is both its strongest and weakest point.

Like Varos, Antidote to Oblivion has a strong political message this time, focused rather bluntly on the economy and financial crisis. I say bluntly as the story is so obvious with what it is discussing you can almost see it being pointed out by red flashing headlights throughout. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it allows for a very enjoyable run of black humour even if the plans of the Government become somewhat ludicrously insane towards the end. I assume what Martin is getting at is that desperation can make even the most moral of people commit the most monstrous acts. 

Whatever issues I had with the story I cannot say entirely the same for the main cast.

Colin Baker plays the Doctor fantastically and his interaction with Sil really brings out the very best of the Sixth Doctor’s character.

As for Sil, played wonderfully once again by Nabil Shaban, he lifts the whole piece up. Shaban’s delightfully slimy and villainous performance is the real highlight of the whole story. 

Lisa Greenwood returns as Flip and despite a spirited performance she is let down somewhat by the material. At times she is reduced to generic companion dialogue throughout the script but Greenwood is so charming in the role that you can overlook it. Flip is certainly one of the best companions Big Finish have created and I want to see much more from her, especially as she was so good in her first run of stories in 2012.

Despite some great performances from the supporting cast, their material is not as interesting as when the action shifts back to the main characters. That isn’t to say the material they work with is bad, on the contrary it is interesting but because Sil’s presence is so huge in the story that whenever he isn’t around I found my interest waning.

Antidote to Oblivion is not a bad story, but it feels at times that Philip Martin is treading on much too familiar ground. If you like Martin’s previous Doctor Who stories then you will not be disappointed. I was just hoping for something more.

17 January 2014

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2014

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 17th January 2014

Dowcra base. The third Elite Sontaran Assassination Squad closes in on its target. A dozen trained killers, but even they will be unable to bring down the invincible Strang…

Manipulated by the Time Lords, the TARDIS also arrives on Dowcra. And the Doctor is set to encounter the greatest Sontaran ever cloned...

* * *

As we begin a new Big Finish year, we start off with a brand new season of adventures for the Fourth Doctor and Leela. 

After the excellent second season in which we sadly got to hear the lovely Mary Tamm as Romana one last time, Louise Jameson returns as Leela. 

With an excellent script by John Dorney, The King of Sontar plunges us directly into a battle zone and does not slow down in a story full of action, humour and with a rather unexpected ending.

Since making their Big Finish debut in Heroes of Sontar, the Sontarans are quickly becoming a favourite monster in the company’s output. The casting of seasoned television Sontaran Dan Starkey as Strang is a brilliant move as his performance is a definite highlight of this release.  Similar in vocal patterns to Commander Strax, Strang possesses a more fanatical personality and he is certainly no one’s comic relief. He is a superb antagonist who works very well with Tom Baker’s Doctor. 

The supporting cast is headed up by the great David Collings who puts in a lovely performance as Rosato the scientist in a terrible moral dilemma which makes for some interesting exchanges with the Doctor. If The Pirate Planet taught us anything, it's that The Fourth Doctor knows how to put forward a case of moral outrage and this part of his personality comes out again throughout this story.

In fact morality is a running theme throughout The King of Sontar.

In the story there are characters that completely lack morality or have distorted and polarising views of what is right and wrong. The culmination of this occurs in the rather surprising final scene between the Doctor and Leela.

Big Finish have said that the theme of the first Fourth Doctor season was the Doctor educating Leela in an almost Pygmalion fashion. Rather than simply keeping the relationship the same as that of their television years, Big Finish have been keen to develop this relationship between the Doctor and companion and The King of Sontar is a great example of this. 

The Doctor and Leela come to a crossroads bringing out some excellent performances from both Baker and Jameson. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out in the rest of the season.

Strong and defining moments such as this do not usually occur until much later in a season’s run but the fact that Big Finish has pulled this out so early is another example of how much they have done to develop the characters.  It is a real standout moment from the tone of the previous Fourth Doctor releases and a great shift in direction for future stories.

The King of Sontar is a fantastic opening story for the new season which promises great developments to come.

30 November 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th November 2013

“London. The end of November, 1963. A time of change. The old guard are being swept away by the white heat of technology. Political scandals are the talk of the town. Britain tries to maintain its international role; fanatics assassinate charismatic politicians and Group Captain Ian Gilmore is trying to get his fledgling Counter-Measures unit off the ground.

When his life is saved by a familiar umbrella-bearing figure, he knows something terrible is going on.  Whilst Rachel investigates an enigmatic millionaire and Allison goes undercover in an extremist organisation, Gilmore discovers a sinister plot with roots a century old.

The Doctor and Ace are back in town. A new dawn is coming. It's time for everyone… to see the Light.”

* * *

This must have been a difficult play to be created, make no mistake.  It has to meet six very important criteria, namely:

 

To satisfy and not isolate anyone who hasn’t listened to Counter-measures.

To satisfy anyone who has listened to Counter-measures and not make them feel that the series or its concepts have been diluted by their inclusion in a Doctor Who release.

To satisfy the fans of Remembrance of the Daleks who are looking forward to the various characters’ reunion after all these years.

To satisfy the fans of John Dorney, one of the most popular writers and performers which Big Finish have to offer.

To satisfy the fans of the 1963 trilogy (though ‘trilogy’ is a strong word when it’s the year and nothing more which link up the stories).

And, finally, to stand up to closer-than-usual scrutiny, being as this is the release for November 2013, Doctor Who’s fiftieth birthday month.

 

Quite a challenge.  I wouldn’t have blamed anyone for turning it down; nor would I have blamed it if it had been a release which missed the mark: quite frankly, it’d be nigh-on impossible to write without the pressure of November 2013 on the back, however right or wrong that may be.

     Thankfully, none of that happens, and 1963: The Assassination Games is a very strong release indeed, easily ticking all of the above boxes with little fuss.  The opening episode is essentially an episode of Counter-measures, with the team going about their business whilst two people they never thought they’d see again (the Doctor and Ace) pop up from time to time to nudge them on their way.  It’s a lovely set-up, and in many ways I wish that the rest of the story had followed suit: I rather like the idea of a Doctor-lite story featuring characters from a spin-off range, and the Seventh Doctor feels particularly suited to that sort of behind-the-scenes approach.

     That’s not to say that the rest of the story disappoints though– far from it.  Over the course of its four episodes, it slowly works its way from Counter-measures territory to Doctor Who terrain, finished up in an episode which feels like it’s jumped fresh out of Season 25, with stunts, bike chases, and a big evil from ancient times.  Throw into that brilliant performances from all the leads, Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred particularly channeling their old performances well, and you have a very satisfying story which sates the desires of the (not necessarily exclusive, but you never know) fan bases of both series.

     The very best thing this story could do is persuade fans to listen to Counter-measures, and help it gain a wider audience: it would be nice to see it run to another couple of series at the very least as there is a lot of potential in there.

     The 1963 trilogy has given Big Finish some of its strongest stories for a while, with some very memorable characters, situations and performances.  When people look back on November 2013, many will recall sitting in cinemas with 3-D glasses and bathing in the wonder of The Day of the Doctor, but for us lucky few, we’ll also remember listening to The Common Men being The Beatles, Samantha Bérat giving us a heartfelt performances for a frankly bizarre character, and Chunky Gilmore being reunited with his most-trusted Doctor at long last.

     Thank you, Big Finish, and Happy Birthday, Doctor Who.

 

 

31 October 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 31st October 2013

“November 1963, and the Soviet space programme reigns supreme. Having sent the first animals, then the first men beyond Earth's atmosphere, now they're sending a manned capsule into orbit around the Moon.

Just as Vostok Seven passes over into the dark side, however, its life support system fails. Only the intervention of the Sixth Doctor and Peri, adopting the identities of scientists from Moscow University, means that contact with the capsule is regained.

But something has happened to the cosmonaut on board. She appears to have lost her memory, and developed extreme claustrophobia. Maybe she’s not quite as human as she used to be…”

* * *

The year is 2013 here at the time of writing this, but it stubbornly remains 1963 in the land of Big Finish now, with this, the second of their 1963 Main Range trilogy, taking us to Russia, Earth and far beyond…

 

     Whereas Fanfare from the Common Men was nostalgic for the birth of The Beatles and the explosion of the huge cultural shift they were at the epicentre of, The Space Race is focussed instead on... well, on the space race.  Ahem.  It takes us far away from the cosy nostalgia of England, screaming fans and musical genius to Kazakhstan, espionage and scientific genius.  It all feels a bit more serious, a bit less cosy, a lot more dangerous, cloaking a landscape in which women and men aspire towards being the first to visit the Moon and beyond, to stake their claim upon the wider universe... if they can stop betraying and killing one another first.  At the heart of this tale of great aspiration is the petty mechanics of politics, and humanity’s shamefully cruel streak.  It makes a nice contrast and reminds you of both the best and worst that mankind has to offer simultaneously.

  

   It also manages to take a potentially really, really silly plot device, and make it both sad and terrifying, which is exactly what Doctor Who is so very good at.  It comes as no surprise to me that Jonathan Morris pulls it off so well here whilst writing an article in the 50th Anniversary celebratory edition of Doctor Who Magazine about the show’s quirks and central facets.  He knows his subject back to front, and plays it out somewhat beautifully.

 

     His script is well supported, too, by a great cast.  It almost goes without saying that Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker are both brilliant (but I’m going to say it here anyway, and hope it doesn’t come across as too sycophantic), but I was most impressed by Samantha Béart, who is so key to the story and walks the lines in just the right way.  That said, I loved her as Random in the final radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and, more recently before financial woes led to it being cancelled, the stage show of that same series, so it’s not such a surprise that she impressed me here, too.  It would be great to hear more of her in the future, so touch wood.

 

     It didn’t all work for me, I’ll be honest.  There’s a potential love interest for Peri, which is wrapped up rather clumsily, or rather not really at all: it just sort of stops without any consequence, which was a pity.  That said, it’d be hard to deal with that strand without annoying the continuity purists, so perhaps Morris was wise.  I know that there are still people out there, baying for poor Nev Fountain’s blood after writing the frankly marvellous The Kingmaker, which just goes to show that some people are wrong.

 

 

     What 1963: The Space Race really shows though is that Big Finish have chosen a good theme to work with, one with lots of potential and drama.  1963 was an important year for the world, not just for Who fans, and I’m intrigued to see how Big Finish wrap things up next month.

 

 

25 October 2013
 Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 25th October 2013

November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors…

It's the day that Bob Dovie's life is ripped apart…

It's also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart…

From suburban England through war-torn alien landscapes and into a deadly, artificial dimension, all these Doctors and their companions must struggle against the power of an unfathomable, alien technology.

From the very beginning, it is clear that the Master is somehow involved. By the end, for the Doctors, there may only be darkness.

* * *

So here it is at last! The Light at the End is Big Finish’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of our favourite television show and was it worth the wait? The answer is a resounding YES!

The Light at the End is everything you could have hoped for from an anniversary story; multiple Doctors, many companions and a truly exciting story which celebrates the past fifty years with unashamed joy.

Unlike previous releases, Zagreus and The Four Doctors, we get to see all the Doctors interacting with each other throughout the whole story. 

As with past multi Doctor stories there are the inevitable moments such as criticism of taste in fashion , differences of opinion on TARDIS decor and some squabbling. Writer Nicholas Briggs chooses to pair Doctors together before everyone eventually gets together for the final part of the story. This makes for some rather interesting team ups, especially when the Fourth and Eighth Doctor get together. Tom Baker and Paul McGann make a wonderful pairing and they play off each other to great comic effect. Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy also make a brilliant pairing that is somewhat reminiscent of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee from The Three Doctors, which creates some more wonderful moments.

One of the biggest surprises about the story is that all the classic Doctors make an appearance and I do mean all of them. How this is achieved I wouldn’t dream of spoiling by telling you but Big Finish must be commended for taking on such a risky and delicate matter and achieving a lovely tribute to those wonderful actors no longer with us.

The Light at the End surely must feature the largest cast of guest stars in any single Big Finish release. The cast includes many Companions of the past from Carole Ann Ford to the very welcome return of India Fisher and many more lovely surprises. Wisely, unlike other anniversary specials of the past, Briggs uses them in small but wonderful moments and little flashes of memory - it pulls at the fans’ heart strings and no one outstays their welcome.

The Companions themselves have a really great part to play but ultimately this is a story about The Doctor. That is not to say the companions are wasted; they play a really important part in the story and Ace’s descriptions of each of the Doctor’s incarnations is worth the purchase price itself.

The cast are on exceptional form and an extraordinary script makes this a top notch audio drama.

Briggs must be singled out for great praise. The Light at the End in the hands of a lesser writer could have been a mess. The temptation of an anniversary story is to succumb to all our fan dreams and fill the story with so many references, characters and monsters that the story is crushed under its own weight (I’m looking at you Dimensions in Time!). I take my hat off to Briggs for not only creating a superb script which serves all the Doctors and their legacy but for writing a cracking story in its own right. 

Having The Master as the sole antagonist is a smart move on Brigg’s part, especially as he has been such an important part of The Doctor’s history. This choice of foe gives the story a clear sense of direction and enhances the impact of its message. We are reminded throughout just how important The Doctor is and the impact that he has on those around him and the Universe as a whole is inescapable.

Just as we are reminded that The Doctor has impacted on the lives of those he meets in his stories, so too are we reminded of the importance he has had to us as listeners. We wouldn’t be listening to this story if hehad not had an impact on us at some point in our lives. This is something that Briggs understands completely, as he is one of us; a true fan. He doesn’t just love the show, he truly understands what makes it important and it is this understanding that really shines through.

The Light at the End really is a wonderful tribute to the power of Doctor Who and its legacy and this is one release you really cannot be without.

Here’s to the next 50 years...

27 September 2013
 Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd September 2013

If you remember the Sixties, they say, then you can’t have been there.

The Doctor remembers the Sixties. That’s why he’s taking Nyssa on a trip back to November 1963. Back to where it all began. Back to the birth of the biggest band in the history of British music. Back to see those cheeky lads from Liverpool...

Mark, James and Korky. The Common Men. The boys who made the Sixties swing with songs like Oh, Won’t You Please Love Me?, Just Count To Three and Who Is That Man.

The Doctor remembers the Sixties. And there’s something very wrong with the Sixties, if the Beatles no longer exist…

* * *

So, it’s 2013, the year of the big 5-0. Ever since the series came back to our screens in 2005 and did exactly what Doctor Who, Paul McGann’s solo (so far) televised adventure, didn’t do, people have been counting down the days until November 23rd 2013 reached us, in which time we’ve had a whole host of new Doctors and more Big Finish than you can shake a stick at. (Please don’t shake sticks at Big Finish; they’re rather lovely.)

Now we’re in 2013 at long last, it’s time for the celebrations to begin and the nostalgia to kick in, and kick in big time.  We’ve had stamps, postcards, jigsaws, a host of e-books, Dalek toys and William Hartnell popping up in The Name of the Doctor (though what he’s doing wearing his ‘Earth’ clothes before he’s ever reached Totter’s Lane is a mystery) amongst many other kisses to the past.  Big Finish meanwhile have given us more than anyone else, with their forthcoming anniversary special The Light at the End, the Destiny of the Doctor range of stories which link past and present, and now this trilogy of stories under the 1963 umbrella, and what better way to start it than Eddie Robson does here?

We’re back to the first year of the show, centring a play round a throwaway reference to a band name-checked in the very first episode.  It could all fall flat and feel either forced or, worse, corny, but it doesn’t because Robson is too good a writer to let that happen.

The basic premise, that someone or something has removed The Beatles from time and replaced them with a similar but ultimately lesser band, is a good one, and it allows the play to let rip with some incredible music (the musical suite extras on the first disc are nine minutes of pure loveliness), some nice Beatles humour (a character named Sadie here, the Doctor mentioning All You Need Is Love there, a riff on John Lennon’s famous comment to the Queen et al. to rattle her jewellery) and a really enthusiastic performance from Peter Davison in the lead role.

Never one to give anything less than his all, even when the scripts don’t deserve such effort, Davison is on fire throughout here, rushing from scene to scene with a tangible energy and zeal, whilst Sarah Sutton is equally enthused, playing Nyssa with just the right level of alien bewilderment and a seriousness that hides a wry sense of humour.  The guest cast is similarly strong, Mitch Benn being especially impressive as Not-John-Lennon-Definitely-Not-Please-Don’t-Sue, or Mark as he’s known to his friends.

Where the play really succeeds though is in the script, which is tight and clever, with enough clues to keep you guessing and enough answers to keep you wanting to find out even more as the play unfolds. The ending is neat, too, and doesn’t leave you feeling cheated: we’ve not got ourselves a hexachromite gas situation here, nor is there a Myrka in sight, thank goodness.

Robson successfully hits that fine balance between kissing the past and striding towards the future, and certainly kicks off this latest trilogy in a fine way.  If the other two can match this play’s sense of joy, celebration and innovative energy, then we’ll be in for a treat these coming months. Let’s just hope the Companion Chronicles’ forthcoming celebratory trilogy has as impressive a beginning as 1963 has.

13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

'These creatures have ravaged half the cosmos. They're experts at this kind of thing. Nothing can stand in their way.'

The Doctor and Romana find themselves in the Proxima System, where enigmatic Conglomerate CEO Cuthbert has been conducting his infamous 'experiment'. An experiment which might accidentally rip the universe apart.

Meanwhile, living conditions on Proxima Major have become harsh and hostile. Climate change has turned the landscape into a freezing wasteland and an alien power has condemned much of the population to life inside internment camps. For those still clinging to their freedom, the struggle for survival is now beyond desperate and outsiders such as the Doctor and Romana are only seen as a threat.

What is Cuthbert really up to in the Proxima System, and just how does he expect the dreaded Daleks to fit into his plan?

* * *

The mysterious and scheming Cuthbert returns in the first of a two part finale for the second series of The Fourth Doctor Adventures

The problem with any two part story is that it is difficult to review without having the story as a whole, but The Dalek Contract is a fun and intriguing set up for next month’s concluding story.

The Daleks are used well, working as Cuthbert’s hired hands but it is almost certain that they have their own agenda at hand.

The cast is on excellent form with Tom Baker providing a fine balance of madness and profound insight. It is worth noting that this story was one of the earliest recorded and you can hear that he has found his Doctor again after a slight shaky start. 

It is coming closer to the last adventure that we will have with Mary Tamm’s Romana which will be very sad indeed. Tamm is excellent in this as her incarnation of Romana finally gets to meet the Daleks. Her interaction with Baker in the opening scenes is wonderful and shows what a great partnership they made as Doctor and companion.  

The highlight of the cast is of course David Warner who returns as Cuthbert, a man who seems more concerned with brown sauce being on his chips instead of worrying whether the Daleks have more nefarious machinations than just being his hired security force.

The supporting cast is on excellent form too with Toby Hadoke returning as Cuthbert’s rather toady right hand man Mr Dorrick and a great performance from Dominic Mafham as Chidak who shares a lovely scene with the Doctor about the importance of hope against the Daleks.

Whatever the Dalek’s insidious plans are and Cuthbert’s true nature, The Dalek Contract is certainly a very good set up for what is to come next month.

13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Barnard & Paul Morris

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

At the Doctor's request, Sergeant Benton is investigating ghosts and missing people in Kettering, while undercover as a local councillor

And that's how he comes to meet Margery Phipps.

An alien incursion in the town hall leads them on a journey to a terrible future – where Margery discovers how she changed a world, and the life of a whole civilisation hangs in the balance…

* * *

As The Companion Chronicles begins the journey towards its final season, this current one concludes with the debut of John Levene returning to reprise his role as UNIT member Sergeant Benton. Quite why it has taken so long to get a Benton story for the Chronicles is baffling as he is one of the most memorable characters from the UNIT years of the show.

Making their debut for Big Finish too are writers Simon Barnard and Paul Morris who are better known for supernatural comedy adventure series The Scarifyers. Based on their credentials it is no surprise that Council of War has some very funny moments with some very clever in-jokes.

The structure of the story is told seamlessly well between both Benton’s perspective and the character of Margery Phipps played exceptionally well by Sinead Keenan. Keenan’s performance is one of the best things about Council of War and her portrayal of Margery is utterly charming.

What about John Levene? Even though he sounds nothing like he did all those years ago, Levene still puts in a very good performance. Full of energy and character, he makes a nice addition to the range and I do hope that before The Companion Chronicles comes to an end we will get to see more of him.

The story feels a little like a Third Doctor adventure to begin with but this very much becomes Benton’s show. 

Barnard and Morris cast him as a James Bond like character, but one very unsure of himself out of uniform. It gives Benton an interesting vulnerability as he thinks the undercover work is more suited to Mike Yates rather than himself. He is just a soldier and the story does give Benton a chance to be just that towards its conclusion.

Margery Phipps is an interesting character, cast as a women’s rights campaigner stuck like a fish out of water in a council of seasoned male politicians. She is an idealist and both she and Benton make an odd but well fitted pairing. 

The story has a rather barmy premise, but it is great fun and the cast has a jolly good time playing up to all of the madness going about. Its conclusion does suggest that we might see more of these characters in a further adventure and with the final season of The Companion Chronicles just a month away, let us hope that this is the case.

Council of War is an entertaining if not perfect Companion Chronicle but a great debut at Big Finish for John Levene and a new writing team.

13 July 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: June 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 13th July 2013

Twenty-five years ago, with Richter's Syndrome running rampant throughout the galaxy, the brilliant biochemist Nyssa, formerly of Traken, bade a painful farewell to her young family... and set off into the space, in search of a cure for this deadly disease.

She never returned.

Now, her grown-up son continues her work on the penal colony of Valderon, still desperate to make the breakthrough that eluded his presumed-dead mother.

So when the TARDIS lands on Valderon, bringing the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa to its fortress prison, the scene is set for a painful reunion... but not only for Nyssa. The Doctor's past is about to catch up with him too...

* * *

This season of Fifth Doctor stories has focused primarily on the companions and for its closing chapter we have a very emotional and dramatic story about Nyssa. 

The great problem when trying to write a review of Prisoners of Fate is that there are so many revelations and surprises that to go into too much detail would be to spoil your enjoyment terribly. The great plot threads surrounding Nyssa that began in way back in Cobwebs finally come to their dramatic conclusion. 

This story feels very much like an extended version of a finale in the recent television episodes.

There is high emotion, paradoxes and great universal danger. Amidst all this Prisoners of Fate is a very personal story for Nyssa and her lost family, more specifically her son Adric. Their relationship and destiny are at the real heart of this story and it never feels over shadowed by the paradoxical nature of it all.

Jonathan Morris is a highly gifted writer, who not only knows his Doctor but can add such wonderful new things to the already existing mythology which enrich it further for long time fans. He offers tantalizing glimpses of the Doctor’s past and future, all of which is essential to one of the great plot twists in the story.

The entire cast is on incredibly fine form and Sarah Sutton’s performance is just wonderful. The story has a wide range of emotions for Nyssa which Sutton carries off beautifully. It is certainly the highlight of an already impressive audio adventure.

Prisoners of Fate certainly sets up the future for this TARDIS team on audio and it will be very interesting to see what happens next.

Do your best to avoid any spoilers and enjoy a brilliant conclusion to a highly enjoyable trilogy.

30 May 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th May 2013

The TARDIS lands in the city of Tromesis on Earth – but it’s a world far from the one that the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe recognize.

The buildings are ruined, the streets deserted. And against the devastation they see a ghostly mirror image of another place – the city as it was before disaster hit.

People vanish here, and huge metal birds attack from the sky.

Can the Doctor find the future, in a place that doesn’t have one?

* * *

In the latest Companion Chronicle from Big Finish, Frazer Hines once again plays both Jamie and The Second Doctor. This is an impersonation he has become famous for and with good reason as it is rather uncanny. At the beginning of the play, it feels more like a full cast audio drama in parts as Hines plays The Second Doctor as if Patrick Troughton is playing directly opposite Jamie. In fact the recent Companion Chronicles that Hines has been a part of seems to be specifically tailored to allow him to do this impression. It is always fun to hear but I wouldn’t like to see the impersonation overshadow the brilliant work he does as Jamie McCrimmon.

Despite some nice input from Wendy Padbury this is very much Hines’ show. He carries not only the narrative duties but the whole story is told from Jamie’s point of view. You feel somewhat sorry for Padbury because as wonderful it is to hear her once again as a younger Zoe, you begin to get the feeling she was called in simply so Hines didn’t get a sore throat playing two main characters and some supporting roles.

The Apocalypse Mirror has, at its heart, a very interesting and rather conceptual idea, but to reveal too much would be to spoil the revelations. This is a particularly idea-driven story and it is a refreshing change to the standard good versus evil-driven plot.

Eddie Robson has written an interesting story which is an excellent showcase for Frazer Hines, but it suffers somewhat from the lack of material for his co-star. Fortunately Hines’ energetic performance makes for an enjoyable listen.

30 May 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th May 2013

On their mission to explore the Mariana Trench at the very bottom of the ocean, the deepest and most inhospitable place on Earth, the crew of the deep sea vehicle Erebus make an unusual and startling discovery.

A battered blue police box.

As the Doctor, Romana and K9 join them on their journey, the submariners soon discover that the TARDIS is not the only unusual find lurking on the sea floor.

Super-intelligent squid, long-lost submarines and their miraculous occupants are only the start of their troubles. The Goblins are coming. And they won't let anyone out alive.

* * *

In sharp contrast to his season opening story, The Auntie Matter, Jonathan Morris takes us into the depths as The Fourth Doctor, Romana and K-9 descend to the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Phantoms of the Deep is a thoroughly creepy play dripping with both atmosphere and tension. At its core this is a base under siege story, which Doctor Who has done many times before. The uniqueness of the location gives the story strong appeal and Morris doesn’t disappoint as he utilises the deep ocean floor and all its weirdness to pepper the play with memorable moments.

The main cast really are excellent here - especially Tom Baker who is his usual witty and mad self, but with that edge of seriousness when events take a dramatically dangerous turn.

Once again Mary Tamm is wonderful as Romana but if I had to pick the real star in this story, it is K-9. Since this season began K-9 has been stuck on the sidelines but now finally gets to do something important. I don’t think enough credit is given to John Leeson as an actor, because even though he may just be voicing a robot dog, it is very difficult to get an audience to invest in a character that could quite easily become cartoonish. Leeson’s performance is a master class in subtly and understatement. He generates real warmth with his portrayal of K-9 and when the robot dog is taken over by a murderous outside intelligence in this story, Leeson’s execution is genuinely unnerving. 

The play is an excellent showcase for the leads but not so much for the supporting characters. Given a four part adventure, there would have been more time for Morris to develop them, but the constraints of a two part story does affect the plot. It is difficult for me to believe one character’s willingness to sacrifice their life, especially when their reason for doing so comes completely out of nowhere.

Having said that, the cast do brilliantly with the material and the strongest of which is Alice Krige as Dr Patricia Sawyer. Her performance is rather understated but within lies an unspoken strength, which, given more time to breathe would have been very interesting to develop.

The other star of Phantoms of the Deep is the superb sound design of Jamie Robertson. One of the greatest additions to recent Big Finish releases, his work on this play’s underwater atmosphere really is a highlight of an already excellent production.

Phantoms of the Deep is a very fine play, and despite some weaknesses in supporting characterisation, the whole product makes for a highly entertaining Fourth Doctor Adventure.

30 May 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Paul Magrs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th May 2013

The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Tegan, Turlough and Nyssa to the University of Frodsham, close to where the warrior queen Æthelfrid fought a desperate and bloody rearguard action against the savage Danes. Over a thousand years later, in 1983, battle is still being raged, with student activists taking on savage funding cuts… and disrupting a conference about Æthelfrid convened by history professor John Bleak.

Meanwhile, over in the Physics Department, Dr Philippa Stone is working night and day on a top-secret project – but can her theoretical time machine really be the solution to the university's problems?

Present and past are about to collide – and the results, as the TARDIS crew is about to discover, will be far from academic!

* * *

This season of Fifth Doctor adventures has put the companion at centre stage of the story. Last month’s Eldrad Must Die concentrated on Turlough and in The Lady of Mercia we have a very Tegan-centric story.

I must admit that I am not Tegan’s biggest fan. On television I found the character to be rather annoying, but recently in the audio adventures I have warmed to her a lot more. This, I think, is down to the writing which has done the character more justice. Paul Magrs has written a tale which plays both to the character’s strengths and weaknesses. 

The Lady of Mercia is essentially a historical story framed within a science fiction context. The time machine built in the University laboratory is merely a device to propel some of our characters into the main story in the dark ages whilst sending another back to the future. Despite the implausibility (he says reviewing a Doctor Who story) that a university scientist could invent a time machine in 1983, it acts as a neat little device to move the story along. 

Magrs has taken what we know of the Dark Age Queen Æthelfrid and created an intriguing story that adds a few twists to the facts. He plays upon a familiar trope with the classic series’ historical stories where a member of the TARDIS crew ends up impersonating a figure from history. In this case it is central to Tegan’s progression through the story. How she reacts to being cajoled by Æthelfrid into impersonating her daughter to help her keep face with the people of Mercia is great fun.

It is rather touching to see Tegan get so into her role that she starts looking upon Æthelfrid as a mother figure and dangerously adopts the Queen’s battles as her own. Janet Fielding’s performance is fantastic throughout and we see how Tegan’s impatient nature gets her into very serious trouble especially in the climactic scene in York Minster. The scene is one of impending disaster and the main cast do an excellent job of making us feel that it could all go horribly wrong at any second.

The supporting cast is tremendous, the highlight being Rachel Atkins who’s no-nonsense portrayal as Æthelfrid is both witty and incredibly powerful. The other members of the cast do have some fun sub plots to play with, such as student protests and illicit student / lecturer affairs - one of which Turlough is amusedly caught in the middle of. They are lovely moments of comedy in amongst the grand and tense historical drama being played out.

The Lady of Mercia is a very entertaining adventure and a great chapter in this latest trilogy for The Fifth Doctor.

12 March 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Steve Lyons

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th March 2013

The TARDIS has landed in a futuristic space casino, where the Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie find fun, games… and monsters everywhere. There are vicious robot dogs, snake-headed gangsters from the Sidewinder Syndicate and a mysterious masked woman called Hope.

In this place, time travellers are to be tracked down and arrested. Yet, as events spiral out of control, time may be Polly's only ally…

* * *

After last month’s reflective and very dark The Flames of Cadiz, we get a little light relief with House of Cards the first of this year’s Companion Chronicles to feature The Second Doctor. 

Despite Jamie’s involvement, this is very much Polly’s story and Anneke Wills has great fun taking centre stage. Usually when Frazer Hines is involved in a Companion Chronicle, his quite brilliant Patrick Troughton impression is never far behind. But this time there is a distinct absence of it, perhaps as to not overshadow Polly’s story, as, in fact, nearly all of The Doctor’s interactions in House of Cards take place with her.

Steve Lyons has written a great little time travel story and has fun in creating a rather ghoulish Casino and it’s unique inhabitants, where snake eyes are not just on the dice. The plot is neatly constructed and has the feel of a Steven Moffat “timey wimey” scenario. It's a nice example of how the new series bleeds into versions of the old one and vice versa.

When I reviewed last year’s Companion Chronicle by the same author, The Selachian Gambit, I was disappointed at how the use of Polly and Anneke Wills were a little wasted, the character being reduced to making the tea at one point. I’m happy that Lyons has written a story which showcases Polly’s strengths and it is a cracker.

House of Cards is good, old fashioned, fun Doctor Who adventure and well worth your attention.

12 March 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th March 2013

Welcome to Tantane Spaceport – where the tribes of Business and Economy have been at war for all of four hundred years...

Welcome to Tantane Spaceport – where a terrible creature called the Wailer prowls the corridors around the Control Tower, looking to eat the unwary...

Welcome to Tantane Spaceport – where there is one Arrival: a battered blue Police Box containing the time-travelling Doctor and his companion, Mel...

Welcome to Tantane Spaceport – where there are no Departures. Ever.

* * *

Spaceport Fear has an intriguing premise and its opening episode does generate a certain amount of atmosphere, but unfortunately the whole play doesn’t really come together at the end.

In the behind the scenes interviews, we are told that Spaceport Fear was a quick replacement for a story that fell through. Unfortunately it shows, as elements of this play either plod along or feel very rushed. For instance, the peculiar speech of the inhabitants of the Spaceport, such as airport terminology becoming part of everyday slang is never picked up by The Doctor or Mel. They just seem to accept that these two tribes are called Economy and Business without as much as an audible raised eyebrow. This is a shame as it is this rather fun language that provides many of the play’s laughs and it would have been nice for The Doctor to have made some comment on it.

Overall once the central villain of the piece is revealed, a lot of the tension so marvellously set up in the first episode loses some of its momentum. I for one wanted to know how this civilisation and its warring factions came to be and how they existed for over 500 years rather than what was lurking outside the spaceport.

One thing that cannot be faulted is the cast, as Bonnie Langford continues to impress as Mel and guest star Ronald Pickup brings a delightful sinister glee as Elder Bones. The supporting cast is fantastic with Big Finish regular Beth Chalmers doing an excellent job of playing two completely different roles so well you don’t even notice.

Colin Baker’s Doctor is “in a state of transition” as the actor himself chooses to describe the character in the behind the scenes extras. He is not as mellow but not as rude, but one cannot feel, and to which Baker makes very clear, that we are all tired of a brash Sixth Doctor. Yes he does have some withering put downs but the development of the character of the Big Finish team and Baker’s performance has redefined this Doctor and the occasional glimpse of what came before is fine, but I prefer to move on.

Spaceport Fear is a very good idea and with more time to develop, this could have been a very strong play. Sadly it is just an average one.

12 March 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 12th March 2013

Sheridan Moorkurk has just been elected president of Earth... but the harsh realities of who really runs the planet are just beginning to dawn on her. And what's more, she's starting to hear voices.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Romana encounter a mass of aliens heading to Earth... Aliens who have already made the mistake of upsetting the infamous Cuthbert, all-powerful CEO of The Conglomerate, by destroying one of his space platforms.

Will the Doctor and Romana be able to avert inter-species war that will destroy all life on Earth?

* * *

After last month’s The Auntie Matter, The Fourth Doctor and Romana are back in a story which promises to have dire consequences for the rest of this season.

Unusually for this series, The Sands Of Life is three-part release of a story that will be continued in March’s War Against The Laan. The Fourth Doctor Adventures have until this point been two part stories but The Sands Of Life has so much to set up that the third part is very welcome. It also allows some breathing room for the characters as the disadvantage with a two part story is that things can get a little rushed.

The story is intriguing and the cast is fantastic too. Tom Baker is firing on all cylinders now and seems so comfortable back in the role of The Fourth Doctor that you know if someone tries to take it away from him, he will go down fighting. Suitably mad and serious at the same time, and his reaction to a comment about badgers is priceless.

After the last story, it is lovely to hear Mary Tamm’s Romana working more closely with Baker’s Doctor. Even though they do get separated by circumstances, it is nice to hear the two characters working together and even teasing one another. It is yet another sad reminder that this is one of the last times we will hear the pairing on audio due to Mary Tamm’s recent passing, but it is something to be treasured.

It is really lovely to hear John Leeson back as K9, and this time alongside his first master. Baker seems to relish the reunion too and their conversations flow as if they never were apart.

Baker has found another sparring partner in the character of Cuthbert wonderfully played by Big Finish regular David Warner. The character is a wonderful play on a tycoon that has power over and beyond government and to see him pout in his place somewhat by Baker’s Doctor is a joy.

An excellent supporting cast compromises Toby Hadoke and Hayley Atwell as Mr Dorrick and President Moorkurk.

If there can be any criticism about this release it is some of the sound design, especially in the temporal effects created by the Laan. Some of the warping sounds used to create this effect can go on for quite a while and drag a little when you’re really anxious to hear just what is going to happen next in the story.

Nicholas Briggs has put together a very mysterious little tale with more intrigue to come in the next story. The problem with a story in two parts is that it is difficult to judge the whole story until you hear the complete product. If this release is anything to go by, I am looking forward to the next release already.

11 February 2013

Manufacturer: AudioGO

Written By: Terry Nation

RRP: £13.25 (CD) / £6.79 (Download)

Release Date: 1st November 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 11th February 2013

On Skaro, the home world of the Daleks, the Doctor encounters the militaristic Movellans - who have come to Skaro on a secret mission - whilst his companion Romana falls into the hands of the Daleks themselves.

It soon becomes apparent that the Daleks have returned to their abandoned home city with a crucial objective, one which they hope will give them the advantage in a strategic war. When the Doctor realises what the Daleks are up to, he is compelled to intervene.

But he has not bargained for the Movellans having a few secrets of their own, and soon he, Romana and the human refugee Tyssan are wondering who exactly they can trust.

Moreover, will they be able to avert the Daleks from their self-proclaimed destiny?

* * *

AudioGO continues its Doctor Who range by issuing this audio soundtrack for Lalla Ward’s debut story as Romana. The first story to take place after the epic Key to Time season and the one that sees the return to the series of the creator of The Daleks, Davros.

It is difficult for me to review this release as I must admit Destiny Of The Daleks is not one of my favourite Tom Baker stories. It is certainly not the weakest of Terry Nation’s Dalek stories but this is where The Daleks began to be over shadowed by the continuing presence of Davros, such is the shadow cast by him in the excellent Genesis Of The Daleks.

It doesn’t help that Davros has been recast and whilst giving it his all, David Gooderson cannot quite match the tour de force that was Michael Wisher

Previous audio soundtrack releases have been fantastic, due to the fact that they provided a way for fans to experience Doctor Who stories that have been lost in the visual format. Destiny Of The Daleks did not suffer the same fate so I find this release to be somewhat unusual. 

If there are any benefits to listening to the soundtrack it is that a lot of the humour that Douglas Adams peppered the script with becomes more obvious, and, (lets be honest), the rather ridiculous looking Movellans gain a bit more weight as characters when we cannot see them.

Destiny Of The Daleks is not a bad story and it is rather fun in places with some intriguing ideas, and the narration by Lalla Ward is lovely and very well placed throughout. 

What makes this release more interesting are the inclusion of the original TV camera scripts which can be viewed as Colour PDF files and a nice interview with Lalla Ward where she speaks rather movingly about Mary Tamm and Douglas Adams.

The Destiny Of The Daleks soundtrack is not an unwelcome release but if you like this story and wish to experience it in another format then this is certainly for you.

11 February 2013

Manufacturer: AudioGO

Written By: Terrance Dicks

RRP: £13.25 (CD) / £12.29 (Download)

Release Date: 1st January 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 11th February 2013

Stepping out of the TARDIS into Victorian London, Leela and the Doctor are confronted by menacing, diabolical horrors shrouded within the swirling London fog - a man's death cry, an attack by Chinese Tong hatchet men, giant rats roaming the sewers, young women mysteriously disappearing...

The hideously deformed Magnus Greel, conducting a desperate search for the lost Time Cabinet, is the instigator of all this evil. Posing as the Chinese god, Weng-Chiang, Greel uses the crafty Chang, and the midget manikin, Mr Sin, to achieve his terrifying objectives.

The Doctor must use all his skill, energy and intelligence to escape the talons of Weng-Chiang.

* * *

The Talons of Weng-Chiang is considered and in my opinion rightly so, to be one of the great classics of Doctor Who. A perfect mash of Sherlock Holmes, Fu-Manchu and classic pulp adventure, it remains a master stroke in the show’s history and one of the crowning achievements of writer Robert Holmes.

AudioGO have released an audio book version of Terrance Dicks' novelisation of the story and like its television counterpart it is rather wonderful.

Terrance Dicks’ novelisation is excellent as he retains enough of Holmes’ original dialogue whilst crafting the narrative into an exciting and tantalising adventure. If Dicks had been writing in the 1930s, he would’ve made an excellent pulp writer as this story moves along at a cracking pace and never gets dull. It helps that the original story was so strong to begin with but that doesn’t diminish the great skill it takes to translate a great story from the screen to the page.

Christopher Benjamin is the perfect narrator for this adventure, as he tackles each role with gusto especially when returning to the part of Henry Gordon Jago which he originated. Benjamin’s work on the Big Finish spin off series Jago and Litefoot has prepared him well for the task, as at times it almost seems like Jago himself is relating his own adventure to a captive audience. He captures Tom Baker’s Doctor’s snappish nature rather well and his interpretation of Magnus Greel is a brilliant evocation of Michael Spicer’s original performance. He is also able to play Li H’sen Chang in a way that is reflective of John Bennett’s performance but not as an obvious racial stereotype.

The sound design and music is sublime as it is rather evocative of Dudley Simpson and the sound of a screeching giant rat makes the whole sequence in the sewer far more unnerving than the rather laughable rat puppet on television ever could.

This audio book version of Doctor Who And The Talons Of Weng-Chiang is an excellent production and one that this reviewer will quite happily listen to again in the future.

11 February 2013

Manufacturer: AudioGO

Written By: Nigel Robinson

RRP: £10.20 (CD) / £6.79 (Download)

Release Date: 1st January 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 11th February 2013

Shoreditch, London, 1963. The Beatles have beaten John Smith and the Common Men to No. 1 and satellites are being launched in outer space. Back down on Earth, strange goings-on are occurring: The normally placid teenagers of Coal Hill are running riot and a master thief is stealing highly specialised equipment. Schoolgirl Susan Foreman just wants an easy life for herself and her grandfather, the mysterious Doctor.

She wants to be liked and accepted by Cedric and all the other pupils at Coal Hill School. But there’s trouble in in the streets and bombsites around Totter’s Lane. The teenagers are becoming dangerous… Their mission: to hunt down anyone different, or alien…

Susan’s quiet life is about to spiral out of control. Having inadvertently started drawing attention to herself she finds herself drawn into a desperate situation. Suddenly, the chase is on and she and her grandfather are now the hunted…

* * *

This year marks the 50th anniversary year of Doctor Who and already the BBC are beginning to get the celebratory merchandise underway. AudioGO have recruited Big Finish to produce Destiny of the Doctor, an eleven part inter-connected series of dramatised readings.

Kicking off things we have a First Doctor adventure, set before he and Susan encountered Ian or Barbara in An Unearthly Child. You think this would be a chance to really explore some of the First Doctor’s distant past before he landed on Earth in 1963, but Hunters of Earth seems to be retreading very familiar ground. We have Susan at Coal Hill School as the mysterious new pupil who knows far too much about science. We even have a teacher who takes an interest in Susan’s odd behaviour, even going so far to follow her home to Totter’s Lane.

For anyone who has seen An Unearthly Child, this will seem too familiar, and considering the conclusion of the story doesn’t really feel logical. Why would The Doctor stay there if he has aroused suspicion only for someone else to follow the exact same path a short time later?  

Despite some nice little nods to current Who such as Magpie Electricals, the story seems to tread too much familiar ground and if you know your Quatermass even more so. If there are any linking plot threads with further releases, they are difficult to see here unless you count Susan’s ominous premonition at the conclusion.

You can tell that Big Finish have had a hand in producing this release as it could easily have been a part of their Companion Chronicles range - such is the similarity of the format. There is some excellent music and sound design, including a good narrative performance by Carole Ann Ford and supporting cast member Tam Williams, but it is ultimately the story that lets the whole thing down.

Hunters of Earth is not a bad release, just not a strong one and a slightly disappointing start to the series.

30 January 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th January 2013

With Evelyn gone, the Doctor sets course for his destiny... in the form of his first meeting with Miss Melanie Bush, a computer programmer from the village of Pease Pottage, currently busy rehearsing with the local Amateur Dramatic Society – and blissfully unaware that her future is on its way, in his TARDIS.

Make that two TARDISes. Because at that very moment, a slightly younger Doctor is flying into Pease Pottage, too – returning his future companion Melanie Bush to her rightful place and time, after they were flung together during the course of his Time Lord trial.

Time travel is a complicated business – the iguanadon terrorising Pease Pottage being a case in point. But how much more complicated could things possibly become, if the wrong Doctor were to bump into the wrong Mel?

* * *

For the first release in the main range this year, Big Finish has given us two Sixth Doctor's for the price of one. As if that wasn’t enough we have two versions of Melanie Bush who is once again played by Bonnie Langford, returning to Big Finish after a lengthy absence.

Melanie Bush is an intriguing character in the Doctor Who universe and her first meeting with The Doctor has never been documented. River Song is not the only companion that The Doctor has met out of sequence. He first encounters Mel during the events of The Trial of a Time Lord, long after she has been travelling with him for some time in his future.

Endeavouring to solve the anomaly of Mel’s arrival in The Doctor’s life, Big Finish has chosen to turn it into a rather mind bogglingly paradox story.

To enjoy The Wrong Doctor’s fully you really need to sit down and listen to it carefully. Writer Matt Fitton wisely throws in little lines, odd nicknames and different coloured coats to help a listener keep up with which Doctor and Mel is which. Get distracted even for a second and you may find yourself rewinding to the last place you were at to fathom just what is going on.

This is not to the discredit of the play at all as Fitton does a very good job of juggling the different characters and the rather bizarre situations that follow. In a story that contains Women of the W.I., rampaging Dinosaurs and Alien bureaucrats, the narrative with our main characters can sometimes get drowned out.

Colin Baker does a tremendous job of playing two versions of his Doctor at different points in the character’s timeline. He adopts the rather arrogant and pompous attitude more commonly associated with the younger Sixth Doctor to easily differentiate between the two.

I was never a fan of Mel on the television and I put that down more to the writing than Bonnie Langford’s performance which is why she is such a joy to listen to in this play. Fitton does a great job of balancing an older and younger Mel throughout the story especially in the very touching climax.

The conclusion of The Wrong Doctors allows us to see the impact that Mel would have on The Doctor’s life and personality. In the Big Finish universe, The Sixth Doctor’s personality was softening with Peri and Evelyn but Mel would serve as that incarnation’s last companion. She is incredibly important to his life and her chirpy personality would be an excellent temperance to his brashness and this play is a great reminder of that.

Bolstered by an excellent supporting cast The Wrong Doctors is a demanding but fun listen.

19 January 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Marc Platt

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 19th January 2013

The TARDIS materializes in Spain in the late sixteenth century. The country is at war with England – and the travellers find themselves on the wrong side of the battle lines.

When Ian and his new friend Esteban are captured by the Inquisition, the Doctor, Susan and Barbara plan to rescue them.

But these are dark days in human history. And heretics face certain death...

* * *

It makes sense that the first release from Big Finish for the Fiftieth anniversary year would be a First Doctor story. What makes The Flames of Cadiz an extra special release is that it is a four part adventure which is magnificently performed by two of the original TARDIS crew.

The Flames of Cadiz deals with the perils of time travel and interference in the course of history. It is also a study of opposing sides. In the story we have Catholics against Protestants and the warring factions of Spain and England. Both of the opposing sides are not shown to be positive as one is just as ruthless and fanatical as the other. Platt uses our heroes to examine this in relation to time travel when The Doctor accuses Ian and Barbara of sabotaging the timeline to provide a positive outcome for their country in the upcoming battle with the Spanish Armada.

Marc Platt has crafted a story which very much echoes the historical stories of Doctor Who’s early years whilst being both entertaining and thought provoking. Platt knows The First Doctor well, having written many incarnations of the character in different media. He gets the grumpiness and the distrust between him and his companions spot on. The Doctor is flawed, making mistakes and getting things wrong, setting off a catastrophic set of events into motion out of anger. It harks back to those early years when we didn’t know just who The Doctor was and what he wanted.

William Russell and Carole Ann Ford deliver excellent performances as Ian and Susan, both picking up the narrative parts of their story with ease but for me it is Russell who is the star of the show. I have said in past reviews that we are lucky to have William Russell continuing to play Ian Chesterton and as we head into this Anniversary year I stand by this even more so.

The story is a little long and it could quite easily have been edited down into two parts but the thoughtful pace and the comic and reflective moments would have been a casualty.

The Flames of Cadiz is well worth your time and a lovely example of that era fifty years ago.

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