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26 September 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: September 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


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

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

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

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

Pity The Silurian Candidate.

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

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

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

But...

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

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

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

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



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26 August 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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17 July 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: John Dorney

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: July 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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27 March 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Matthew J. Elliott

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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24 March 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: David Llewellyn

RRP: £9.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2017

Reviewed by: Dan Peters for Doctor Who Online


"Everyone’s a little worried about St Helen’s Hospital. In many ways it is a miracle of the modern NHS. It has plenty to offer its patients. The problem is that a lot of them keep dying of natural causes in the night. And no-one can find the bodies.

People are beginning to notice. Questions are being asked. And there are rumours – the strange whispering figures seen at the end of the corridors, the electrical buzzing, the screams.

Also, Rhys Williams has come to visit his mother. Brenda’s had her hip done and is looking forward to a bit of rest and regular crumble. Rhys and his mam are in for a night they’ll never forget."

Last year the double dozen Torchwood stories that Big Finish realised were met with great acclaim, with some even stating this is the best form of the spin-off yet.

Torchwood is back and we’re all ready. The new audio series starts this month with ‘Visiting Hours’, when a hospital’s dodgy menu is the least of a visitor’s worries...

It’s often the case that secondary characters get largely overshadowed in television series, even one of the calibre of Torchwood. The structure of these releases, focusing on individuals, allows for personalities and backgrounds to be effectively fleshed out. Although Rhys is more than a spare part throughout the TV episodes, it’s clear that other half Gwen wears the trousers in the relationship.

Here, the attention is pointed at Rhys (played by Kai Owen) and he’s given an opportunity to shine. It would have been easy for writer David Llewellyn to have him acting the clown, blundering his way through proceedings, but after his brushes with previous alien incursions, Rhys has learnt quite a bit. 

Torchwood, like Doctor Who, seems to flourish in circumstances where the extra-terrestrial meets the mundane. For all its spaceships, aliens and megalomaniacs bent on invasion, the ‘brand’ (especially since its reboot) is very strongly grounded. It cleverly  focuses on individuals and their everyday lives. Most of this tale is set within the walls of a Hospital. With Rhys visiting his mam, but it’s not long before things turn eerie.

The brilliant Nerys Hughes returns as (the comparatively less fanged-up) Brenda from ‘Torchwood: Something Borrowed’. She portrays the older mother vibe perfectly. Nerys and Kai have a believable ‘’mam’ and son relationship. Essentially this story is about family, exploring  how far people will go in protecting them.

Ironically, stars of ITV2’s Plebs, Karl Theobald and Ryan Sampson, play foreboding henchmen, pursuing our heroes. Uniquely, they have strong motives for their actions over and above that of their ‘employers’ After the climax of last year’s series, which brought to an end the villainous committee’s escapades, mutterings of a similarly mysterious force suggests a running plot. 

The one element of the story that for me unfortunately let it down, was that the plot’s resolution didn’t do it’s lead up justice. It felt a bit like a sonic screwdriver solution, and would have really benefited from a little more time to establish.

On the whole, this is an excellent release, which rattles along at pace. It expands the background of a much loved character, containing some heart-warming moments, against an eerie impending threat.

The writers seem to be keen to push the boundaries and dynamics further at this point in it’s audio run. Next month’s release: ’The Dollhouse’ centres itself around the institute’s branch of female fighters in LA.



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21 February 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Cavan Scott & Mark Wright

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


"The TARDIS has landed in a war zone. The Doctor, Romana and K9 find themselves traipsing through an inhospitable battlefield. Strange lights flicker in the sky, and stranger creatures lurk in the darkness.

When rescued from an attack by a Sontaran tank, the time-travellers discover they’re facing a far more dangerous foe than the battle-hungry clones. This terrifying fight has been going on longer than anyone can remember… and shows no signs of stopping.

With the TARDIS missing and their luck running thin, the Doctor and his friends’ only hope of survival is to uncover the truth about what is happening on this planet. If they can discover the secret of the eternal battle they might just survive… but it might just mean the end of them all."

One of the aspects I have disliked intensely about the series since its return is its treatment of classic villains. The Cybermen have effectively become that “pathetic bunch of tin soldiers” that the Fourth Doctor chastised them about being so long, long ago. I was not particularly enamoured on the re-design of the Silurians or their overall return, either. Even the Daleks had a wobble in Victory Of The Daleks but the least said about that the better. 

I have a sense of trepidation about the Ice Warriors returning in the new series too as I felt the one monster threat in Cold Blood served them well but once they are an army? Who knows!

And then there are the Sontarans. One of my favourite villains from the classic series reduced to comedy foils time after time again. I didn’t mind Strax the first time around but the law of diminishing returns meant that the comedy wore thin and it just made me yearn for that particular race to return to their strangely honourable and war mongering selves of old. 

So in all honesty going into this one my hopes weren’t high. Could these be the Sontarans that waged a brutal war with the Rutans or will they reflect the more comedic variety of recent times?

Well the honest answer is neither really, here they are something a little different. Writers Mark Wright and Cavan Scott have been very clever in this story. In the midst of a very bleak environment, combatting an endless and futile war, they manage to humanise the Sontarans without weakening them from the original approach to this race in the seventies. 

Big Finish always manage to revisit a classic foe and put a different spin on them. The narrative tactic they adopt is to split up our TARDIS team, on this occasion the Fourth Doctor, Romana II and K-9, and pair them with two different Sontaran warriors who both are unusually open in reflecting on their respective roles in the ongoing battles. 

Which brings us to Dan Starkey. Dan of course is famous for playing the aforementioned Strax, the Paternoster Gang member who provides nearly all the light relief in the stories he has featured in. Here, with the exception of some vocal work by John Banks, Dan provides nearly all the Sontaran voices and in some scenes is actually talking to himself! Quite the feat!

Between them they manage to inject an impressive sense of pathos as we uncover what the Sontaran sense of honour truly means to them and it doesn’t necessarily translate to dying in battle as recent serials would have us believe. This race does not fear their ultimate end, but neither are they actively seeking it out. 

And what of the regulars? Well you would never expect nor receive less than a top notch performance from Lalla Ward and John Leeson and their on screen chemistry is easily replicated once again here. Tom Baker's’ love for doing these audios again shines through and he seems to be having enormous fun throughout, without going overboard. He gets the tone just right and is a shining beacon in what is, at times, a very bleak tale.

I am a big fan of what Jamie Robertson has done with the score of this one.  I adore the music of Season 18, and here he recaptures some of those synth infused moments perfectly. Interestingly The Beast of Kravenos was also set supposedly in Season 18 but the same approach to the music would have felt distinctly out of place in the Victorian setting. Here it is applied with careful consideration to enhance the right moments. 

Tales with a zombie theme have been done to death (ridiculously obvious gag) but here they are given an interesting spin. But although key to the story, as is the futility of war, these are merely the backdrop for the characterisation and interaction between the Sontarans, the humans (who are perhaps underserved within the relatively short running time) and the TARDIS team.

So essentially a character piece on a long established race, but one which has managed to make it so that, arguably the most one-dimensional of all the Doctor Who adversaries, can now be appreciated through new ears. 



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16 February 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Phil Mulryne

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


"London, 1864 - where any gentleman befitting the title ‘gentleman’ belongs to a gentlemen’s club: The Reform, The Athenaeum, The Carlton, The Garrick… and, of course, The Contingency. Newly established in St James’, The Contingency has quickly become the most exclusive enclave in town. A refuge for men of politics, men of science, men of letters. A place to escape. A place to think. A place to be free.

The first rule of the Contingency is to behave like a gentleman. The second is to pay no heed to its oddly identical servants. Or to the horror in its cellars. Or to the existence of the secret gallery on its upper floor… Rules that the Doctor, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan are all about to break."

I grew up during the era of the crowded Tardis. Admittedly I was only age 5 but I have distinctly clear memories of a beleaguered Doctor trying to keep relative peace in his time machine with an ever growing bunch of stowaways and orphans joining him for adventures...with the added factor this eclectic bunch weren’t always necessarily happy to be there! Viewing the DVD range more recently you really appreciate what a job he had on his hands at times and one wonders why he continued to journey with them all, on occasions. At times the Fifth Doctor almost adopted the role of headmaster - something which he outright claims in this story!

However, despite the family style friction, this era of the show always gives me a warm fuzzy glow and saw a return to the episodic nature of the black and white days where stories sometimes bled into each other and references were made to previous adventures. Looking back through much more mature and critical eyes you can see where stories were creaking under the pressure of trying to cater for all these different principal characters, and there was an over-reliance on somewhat one-dimensional specific character tropes.

You might be concerned from the opening scenes that this tale veers between paying homage to this era or possibly regurgitating old material. The key protagonists are easily identifiable with their TV portrayals. Adric is somewhat annoying and antagonistic of Tegan, in this case regarding the primitive nature of a cassette player (which is a crucial item in the denouement). Check. Tegan is irascible and talks about Heathrow nonstop, as well as making generic references to flying. Check. Nyssa is...well Nyssa. Pragmatic and pleasant. Check. And of course Peter Davison effortlessly injects his usual breathless energy that always made his incarnation a hero in the truest form. Check. (Thank goodness!)

All four tend to bring out the argumentative side in each other, through constant chiding and witty barbs which too often on TV appeared somewhat childish at times. However, here writer Phil Mulryne has captured the flavour of the interaction of Season 19, but is more effective with the playful banter. This interplay immediately aids in casting the listener back to that time where Doctor Who was arguably more like a soap opera until its 2005 return, but without grating on your nerves.

What of the story itself? Well it’s a bit of a curio. Centred on the titular Contingency Club; an exclusive club in Victorian London where the gentlemen of the upper social strata gather to think, talk and, of course, drink. The clubs' popularity is such that membership is swelling and their restrictive policy for new members make it more appealingly exclusive. This club is the place to be.

The Tardis team, via unorthodox means, visit the club and, very early on, it becomes patently evident that something VERY strange is going on. The members of the club refuse to acknowledge that Tegan and Nyssa are women! The valets are all called Edward and are identical! Plus absolutely no one comments on the foursomes’ strange garments or their presence there at all.

And if all that wasn’t bizarre enough we have the mysterious club owner Mr Peabody and his even more mysterious benefactor, The Red Queen, who has an insidious reason for the club existing in the first place - all centred around a seemingly futile game.

There is some good comedy to be had in this one especially around the plurality of the ‘Edwards’! And surely “we’ll break our necks on the pavements of Pall Mall” might be one of the strangest cliff hanger statements ever! Ultimately this boils down to a gothic mystery in a Victorian Steampunk environment. Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton and Janet Fielding all effortlessly slip back into their roles and, unlike on TV, they are all served pretty well without any of them really being side-lined. But it’s Peter Davison whose star shines the brightest as he drives the narrative and perfectly recaptures every trait that made him a success. Sardonic wit, bravery, vulnerability and going full tilt in every scene. It’s all here!

Arguably the story is a little light weight in places but is a genuine attempt at something different, captures the TARDIS crew perfectly from the early eighties, and is a fun romp from start to finish.  Highly recommended. Want to listen? Join the club. 



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6 February 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2017

Reviewed by: Steve Bartle for Doctor Who Online


"A stunning new star act is wowing the audiences of the New Regency Theatre. The modern mechanical marvel of canny canine charisma - the automated dog that can answer any question - the incomparable - the unbeatable - K9!

The Doctor and Romana have returned to Victorian London and been reunited with their old friends Professor George Litefoot and Henry Gordon Jago. However this is not merely a social visit. A terrifying crime spree is sweeping the capital, and the burglaries of 'The Knave' defy all logic.

Something impossibly dangerous is taking place amid the fog. Only the time travellers and their friends can stop it... but can they be sure they're all on the same side?

Cards on the table from the outset. I absolutely love Season 18; the complete shift in tone, the morose Doctor, the much discussed ‘funereal’ atmosphere that permeates throughout the season and the steady build to the demise of that most celebrated of Doctors. Plus I love the humour. Yes humour in Season 18! It is subtle for sure but a blessed relief after the over the top slapstick of the previous season which frequently flew wide of the mark with the notable exception of that wonderful escapade in Paris.

So I was somewhat surprised to hear this story supposedly takes place around Season 18, or perhaps just before JNT [1980's Producer, John Nathan-Turner] was handed the keys to the kingdom according to Director Nicholas Briggs on the CD extras. It definitely does not belong in Tom’s final season, his Doctor is far too jovial and having way too much fun for that. Nor does it belong in Season 17. Sure the Tardis team is the Fourth Doctor, Romana 2 and K-9 but with the exception of K9 becoming a comedic turn for Jagos’ New Regency Theatre there is none of the silliness of that season either. 

The plot is very simplistic but this is not a negative by any stretch. Not only is there danger roaming the street as a brutal murder by a savage creature has occurred but that cunningly criminal conniving cove The Knave is managing to obtain his quarry from inside locked rooms! There is a threat to defeat and a puzzle to solve. Doctor Holmes from Baker St is on the case!

For me this could be a direct sequel to The Talons of Weng-Chiang and the tone sits comfortably in that late Hinchcliffe and Holmes era albeit with different regulars. There are gothic undertones, body horror (the soundtrack conjuring up more imaginative pictures than television could ever be able to match) and a strong Jekyll and Hyde influence. There are also early hours visits to mortuary’s, travelling in black cabs, and trips to the theatre and opium dens. All that is missing is the great Li H’sen Chang himself!!

However the story stands on its own two feet perfectly well. To listen to the Doctor team with Jago and Litefoot is like lightening in a bottle has been captured once again. It is incredible to think that 40 years have passed since these gentleman helped create a classic and yet here are Messrs Baker, Benjamin and Baxter recreating the same repartee and genuine affection that ensured this ensemble captured our hearts so long ago. Justin Richards replicates Jago and Lightfoots language so perfectly and the interplay between them and the Tardis team further cements the lasting legacy of this greatest of Holmesian double acts. It is perhaps the fact that these two interact so well with the Fourth Doctor that leads me to feel Lalla Ward's Romana is a little side-lined in this tale. However her aloof and intellectual portrayal of the Time Lady gives an interesting contrast for Jago and Litefoot to interact with compared to the savage turned ladylike Eliza Doolittle character of Leela. 

John Leeson is superb as always as K-9 and the idea of him as one of Jagos acts is funny even if some of the gags fall a little flat. And the ‘electric current’ joke is so dreadful you have to laugh anyway.  The cast certainly do! The overall comedy however is a resounding success with laugh out loads moments such as a reference to K-9 and the butcher’s boy, Romana reading next week’s papers or Jago requesting a stiff drink at the end of the tale. Wonderful. 

The story is effectively two distinct parts with a whodunit style thriller framing the first instalment and a lengthy game of cat and mouse forming the second. For me the first half works better and there is much more of an aura of threat and mystery. The reveal of the Knave is not remotely surprising and the denouement of the whole story feels quite abrupt and a little anti-climactic- with effectively all the main cast sat around talking about it for a bit before we cut to the incidental sting. 

However these aspects cannot detract from a story which is such romping good fun. Tom Baker is absolutely throwing everything into this and his enjoyment of Big Finish shines through. To team him again with Jago and Litefoot is an absolute joy and everything you enjoyed about them the first time around is present once more. 

As Henry Gordon Jago himself might say; A delightful and disturbing dish of delectable drama for you to devour. 



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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.



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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.



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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.

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