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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.

19 January 2013

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £10.99 (CD) / £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2013

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 19th January 2013

England in the 1920s.

Whilst K9 is off in the TARDIS leading the Black Guardian on a wild goose chase, the Doctor and Romana are enjoying a leisurely lifestyle as the Lord and Lady of a London townhouse. But trouble never stays away from them for long, and before they know it a chance discovery of alien technology leads them deep into the heart of the English countryside where a malign presence lurks.

As the Doctor dodges deadly butlers and ferocious gamekeepers, Romana is faced with a malevolent Aunt and an even deadlier peril - marriage.

* * *

The first series of Fourth Doctor Adventures were a fun and varied set of stories featuring a brilliant return to the role of The Doctor by Tom Baker with the excellent Louise Jameson reprising her role as Leela.

This new series of adventures finds The Doctor with Romana as played by Mary Tamm, taking place after the epic Key to Time stories - and what better way to kick off things than this rather fun little romp.

As soon as The Auntie Matter begins it becomes clear that the story is heavily influenced by P.G. Wodehouse. Taking inspiration from the Jeeves and Wooster stories, Jonathan Morris has littered the story with Wodehousian tropes, plot devices and even his characters names are directly lifted from the writer’s work. For a Wodehouse fan like me this is an added joy but it requires no prior knowledge to enjoy this story as it is.

Tom Baker gives a rather subdued performance in this story, but not so that you wouldn’t know it was The Fourth Doctor. Over the course of his work for Big Finish it seems Baker has found a way of keeping his more outlandish Doctor performance, which he used in the AudioGo stories, in check. There were moments in the first series where he was clearly finding his way back into the part and he seems now to be rather comfortable back in the role.

It is sad that a fun adventure such as this is marred by sadness as this was one of the last pieces of work recorded by Mary Tamm before her untimely death last year. It is even sadder to write this review as Tamm’s return to Romana is just wonderful. That this series will be the only time we hear her and Baker perform together again is a tragedy as they play off each other and slip back into that sparkling relationship they both had in Season 16. While The Doctor and Romana do not share many moments together in this story, their opening and closing scenes are just perfect. 

The Auntie Matter is bolstered by a fantastic supporting cast that includes Julia McKenzie as the eponymous Auntie and the brilliant Alan Cox as Grenville. Robert Portal is superb as the Bertie Wooster–esque Reggie and Lucy Griffiths puts in a lovely performance as the Doctor’s companion for the story Mabel.

Mary Tamm herself is commemorated by a special segment in the C.D. extras featuring interviews with Producer David Richardson and a very moving tribute by Tom Baker.

Both funny and entertaining The Auntie Matter is a great beginning to a new season of adventures with The Fourth Doctor and Romana and what better way to celebrate the sad passing of Mary Tamm than by reminding ourselves of her incredible talent in a story full of mad joy.

3 December 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: November 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 3rd December 2012

The Doctor is a broken man. His best friend Lucie Miller and his great grandson Alex are both dead, murdered by The Daleks. He attempts to travel to the end of the Universe, desperately looking for one thing: Hope.

Hope does indeed find him, as The Doctor is given a mission by the Time Lords. They have uncovered a terrifying plot to destroy the universe and at the centre of it all is one person.

In the bloody days of the Great War, Voluntary Aid Detachment Nursing Assistant Molly O’Sullivan tends to the wounded and prays for her ailing mistress. Into Molly’s life arrives a very mysterious man and she soon finds herself pursued by strange and terrifying metal monsters and long suppressed secrets from her past. 

The Doctor and Molly are on the run and with The Daleks not far behind, will the Doctor discover the secret of Molly’s unnatural dark eyes... 

In the aftermath of the heartbreaking To the Death, The Eighth Doctor needed time to gather himself together. When we last saw him, he was filled with rage and broken. Big Finish wisely waited for the dust to settle on that adventure before telling us what happens next and as a result we got the wonderful trilogy of Eighth Doctor and Mary Shelly stories. It was the breath of fresh air we all needed as the shock of losing Lucie Miller was still rather raw. 

The time for The Eighth Doctor to return has arrived, and if the crashing of the Big Finish website on the day of its release was anything to go by, it has been greatly anticipated.

So has it been worth the wait? 

Yes. Yes it has.

Dark Eyes is marvellous from beginning to end. A fantastic story comprising a multitude of brilliant performances - this is a very exciting new era for Paul McGann’s Doctor.

Judging from the way he tackles the material, you can tell McGann relished every moment of the experience behind and off the microphone. This can surely be seen in The Eighth Doctor’s new attire on the box-set’s artwork. 

Although no mention of this sartorial change is explicitly mentioned in the play, this dramatic new look fits in with the tone of Dark Eyes. The Eighth Doctor is a shadow of himself; no longer the hopeful Byronic romantic. His usual Victorian clothing gets stained with mud after a mustard gas attack in the trenches of the Great War. Whether a deliberate decision or not, it certainly feels like a metaphorical bookend to that part of the character’s life. The Eighth Doctor is now angry, broody, suspicious and dark tempered. But underneath all that he is a man who is looking for hope.

In fact hope is the theme that runs throughout the core of Dark Eyes. In the face of his most bitter of losses The Doctor needs it more than ever. His hope comes in the form of new companion Molly O’Sullivan, played superbly by Ruth Bradley

Molly is a wonderful character and her no nonsense attitude towards The Doctor is a joy to listen to. The strong Irish accent and little inflections and phrases such as referring to the TARDIS as “Tardy-box” endear you to her almost immediately. Molly though is not simply there for comic relief, as writer, Nicholas Briggs, has given her a wonderful sense of compassion and loyalty, hidden under a tough shell. McGann and Bradley are a great pariring and I sincerely hope that she is not a one story character as the potential for Molly to be a continuing companion is utterly tantalising.

Dark Eyes lets its story build slowly throughout. Despite each episode being self titled, they are not self contained stories operating along one theme, rather they four parts of one epic story. Things get off to a terrific start in The Great War, which introduces us to the players and a mystery amongst the bleak setting of trench warfare. Part Two, Fugitives is a great run around story as Molly and The Doctor are chased constantly by The Daleks as the main mystery of Molly’s past begins to come to the surface. This is explored more in depth in Part Three, The Tangled Web, an incredibly creepy play in which the pieces of the puzzle come together culminating in the dramatic finale X and The Daleks.

So what of The Daleks?

After the events of To the Death it is fitting that the monsters from Skaro are the overwhelming threat dogging The Doctor’s heels in Dark Eyes. Interestingly, Briggs keeps the Daleks at a distance for great portions of the story though they are never far behind The Doctor and Molly. The Daleks here are a force that just keeps coming and they are truly terrifying. If there is one thing that will make you shudder whilst listening to this story it is a moment that comes in Part Three. I will say only one word: Giggling.

One of Briggs' best contributions to the Dalek universe, the Dalek Time Controller, who we last saw in To the Death, is in charge, working alongside Toby Jones’ wonderfully enigmatic Kotris. Both are lurking in the shadows for most of the story, but when they do finally take centre stage in part four it is fantastic to listen to.

Speaking of Toby Jones, Dark Eyes is blessed with an exceptional voice cast.

The two main leads and guest star aside, Peter Egan makes an excellent impression as the newly regenerated Time Lord Starxus, a more devious incarnation than the one previously portrayed by Nickolas Grace. Fantastic support comes from Tim Treloar, Laura Molyneaux, Natalie Burt and a lovely performance by Ian Cullen as Nadeyan. 

There is so much more I could discuss, but to say too much would rob you of the sheer joy of it all. Loyal Big Finish listeners may have had to wait a bit longer to get a hold of this release, but it was certainly worth it.

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