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24 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jason Arnopp

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th December 2011

On the world of Draxine, the continent of Zelonia is in crisis. The city of Garruk is in ruins, completely obliterated by an explosion of monumental proportions. What makes this tragedy more horrific is the fact that it was caused by the hand of the city’s own leader President Harmon, the same man who was found to be the figure head of a sinister death cult.

As if things couldn’t be worse, Garruk’s twin city Stronghaven is in political turmoil. President Karnex has recently been assassinated, and his replacement, Vallan faces a troubled and distrustful populace, particularly since the assassin has just escaped from prison.

The Doctor and Mary Shelley arrive on Zelonia, as a much more frightening chain of events begins to unfold. Something is coming from out of the dark of the ruined city, and it is growing in number and getting closer. Garruk’s dead is rising, and the bones of those who perished are on the march, heading in one direction; the very centre of Stronghaven. 

The Doctor and Mary are caught in the middle as the skeletons Garruk’s dead converge on the outnumbered citizens of Stronghaven. The Doctor realizes there is much more to this affair than the supernatural, but just what terrible truths will he uncover and will everyone survive?

Army of Death is the final play in this trilogy of Eighth Doctor stories is and it is a real gem. The quality of the previous entries has been built upon and this story can proudly hold itself up as one of Big Finish’s best releases of the year. Everything here is crafted expertly. 

The story is very strong, and the plot is so beautifully constructed by Jason Arnopp that not a dull moment goes by throughout its running time. Arnopp has managed to bring a great mixture of thrills, tension and character and this can be seen in the superb performances from the cast.

Paul McGann turns in a stellar performance as the more youthful incarnation of the Eighth Doctor, and you can see the fun he is having as an actor particularly in a very good interrogation scene opposite President Vallan. His Doctor is well served by the writing, as he is courageous, moral, alien and funny. There is a simple joy to see McGann, let go and have some fun with the character.

Then we come to the sublime Julie Cox who once again impresses as Mary Shelley and qucikly becoming another excellent companion for the Eighth Doctor. Even when the characters are separated by events, she is still a delight to listen to as she portrays Mary’s intelligence, compassion and warmth effortlessly. What is wonderful to see is the mutual trust she and the Doctor have with one another. Although she may not always agree with him, she knows that whatever the Doctor decides to do will be the right thing. 

Their relationship goes through some rather surprising developments in this play and it is a credit to Arnopp’s expert handling of them that they do not jar with the overall story, and work to its advantage.

Army of Death is blessed with a very fine supporting cast and no one, no matter how small the role is not left standing on the sidelines. As President Vallan, David Harewood is magnificent, infusing the character with a real humanity as he tries to confront his own growing terror and the reality of his incompetence in the face of the approaching army. He is a man that just wants to do what is right, and his eventual fate is given a much more horrible edge by the brilliance of Harewood’s performance.

Excellent turns come also from, Carolyn Pickles as Lady Meera, Eva Pope as the damaged Nia Brusk, but special mention must go to guest star Mitch Benn.

Playing two roles, Commander Rayner and the aforementioned Karnex, comedian, Benn shows just what a great actor he is. Rayner is a wonderfully to the point solider and his prescence is always welcome but it is with Karnex that Benn has the most fun. Without giving the game away, it must be said that when Karnex is present, it is both creepy and fun. You can hear self-confessed Whovian Benn having the time of his life in the role, and it is one of the many highlights of this release. 

There is very little to criticize here, apart from one or two minor niggles, but if anything predominately negative has to be raised, it is just that the post credit scene is not as strong as the cliff-hanger that comes before. But that is a minor issue compared to the wealth of strong material on show here.

There has been a theme running throughout this trilogy, helping to nurture the ever growing seed of Frankenstein in Mary’s future. The Silver Turk, The Witch from the Well and Army of Death have all dealt with the very nature of death and the control of life. All three warn of the danger and fear of powers mere mortals were not meant to use. This unifying theme has helped to give the trilogy scope and identity, making them all strong stories which complement one another wonderfully.

After the traumatic conclusion to the Eighth Doctor and Lucie adventures, this exploration of the past has proven to be a winning formula for Big Finish. It has given faithful listeners, not just a breather, but an invigorating and excellent run of stories and one the strongest trilogies that Big Finish has ever released.

Highly recommended.

24 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Christopher Bailey and Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th December 2011

Christopher Bailey is a writer well-regarded by Doctor Who fans and Kinda is one of most popular stories in the show’s history. This is extraordinary considering only two of Bailey’s stories reached broadcast, the last being Kinda’s sequel, Snakedance. Bailey did have two other scripts that went under consideration by the BBC that were eventually rejected. The first was May Time and the other, The Children of Seth. The rejection of both stories drove Bailey away from a career in television and back into a life of academia. 

Bailey’s thoughtful and complex stories have stood out to fans and have grown in reputation over the years, even gaining a DVD boxset to those stories alone earlier this year. So it is with high expectations that Big Finish, with Marc Platt’s adaptation, bring to completion Bailey’s missing work to close this season of Fifth Doctor lost stories. 

The story begins when an experiment of Nyssa’s brings up a message on the TARDIS’ temporal scanner. It is simply one word “Idra”. The Doctor is intrigued enough to set a course for the origin of the signal, the Archipelago of Sirius.

Whilst there, Nyssa, Tegan and the Doctor discover a society on the brink of war, as the mighty Autarch is due to announce a new campaign against the enemy of his people: Seth, the Prince of the Dark. It soon becomes clear, that all is not as it seems, for deep in the court lies treachery and something unexpected and sinister building in power. Will the TARDIS crew discover the mystery at the heart of Sirius and just what is on the dreaded Level 14?

The Children of Seth is not an easy listen. This is to the play’s credit, however. The story is complex, and provides many questions and multiple plot strands. This is not a story that you can idly dip in and out of as it requires nothing less than your full attention. The story is not hard to follow at all, but its complexity only serves to enrich the listening experience. Since this play derives from a Christopher Bailey story it is hardly a surprise. Marc Platt is to be commended for bringing Bailey’s ideas to life, and adding his own distinctive touches to the final work.

There are some great performances here, particularly Adrian Lukis as the villain of the piece, Lord Byzan. This is a wonderfully power hungry character, driven to destroy any threat no matter how small from achieving his goals. It is one of the highlights of the play, which includes even more great performances from Honor Blackman as Anahita and Vernon Dobtcheff as Shemur.

However not all the cast is well served by the story. David Warner, who plays the role of Siris, the Autarch, is in very little of the play, and only comes to the foreground toward the end. In the handful of scenes he is in, the character merely becomes a senile leader, completely overwhelmed by the events that are occurring around him. It is a little bit of a waste for an actor of his talent, but for the time he is there, Warner’s presence is a welcome one.

Poor Sarah Sutton is once again, as has been common in this trilogy, relegated to the sidelines, allowing Janet Fielding to come out in front. Tegan is well served by this story, and Fielding’s great performance makes up for the lack of Nyssa. It would be nice to see more of these two companions together in future stories, as the moments when they are together are great fun to listen to. 

It is difficult to review The Children of Seth without giving too much away and I have to say that not everything about the play works, but it is a slow and rewarding play and I believe those rewards will increase on repeated listens.

This trilogy of lost stories has revealed a definite linking theme. These are stories about hierarchies and societies perilously close to collapse from the corruption of morals and ideals from within. Each story presents a leader of people, unaware of the chaos that will soon erupt and when it does it is disastrous for all concerned.  It would have been interesting to see if this story had made it to television, as it is certainly one of the most interesting, surreal and thoughtful Doctor Who lost stories I’ve experienced.

The Children of Seth is certainly not for a casual listener if such a thing exists. It requires much more of you, and although not perfect, it is certainly a recommended conclusion to a thought provoking trilogy.

17 December 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Terrance Dicks

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st December 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 17th December 2011

There are some sequels that are inevitable, and there are those which are completely unexpected, and this new release in The Companion Chronicles is certainly one of the latter.

Jason and Crystal have survived yet another adventure in the TARDIS, and the Doctor has managed to hoodwink both of them into recording a report of it to the Time Lords, something he himself would rather avoid. Together, they both relate what happened. The adventure begins when their former enemy Karl, contacts the Doctor to attend the funeral of Madam Delilah, hostess of the Bar Galactica. But Karl has ulterior motives. He has heard of the legend of Ultima Thule, a legend made more compelling by the words of a dying fellow mercenary. For at Ultima Thule, there is hidden treasure and a very serious threat to the whole of the Universe. The TARDIS crew with Karl in tow seek out the truth behind the legend, and a dark new enemy waits for their arrival, including a few old ones...

When Big Finish decided to make an audio version of The Ultimate Adventure Stage play, it was met with excitement and nervousness. After all, this was a pantomime of Doctor Who, and if that weren’t horrifying enough to some it also had songs. Songs!

The final result however was, I felt, a rather fun and charming piece of Who lore put together and performed really well. It was certainly surprising to hear that a sequel was to be made, so long after the original play was written.

Let’s get the good or bad news out of the way first. There are no songs this time round. What is interesting though, is that, unusually for a Companion Chronicle, the Doctor himself is involved in the action as played by the ever reliable Colin Baker.

The play also has the added appeal of Terrance Dicks returning to the same characters, in his Big Finish debut. It is always fun to see Dicks return to writing Doctor Who, as he always manages to pull something interesting from up his sleeve.

Noel Sullivan and Claire Huckle both reprise their roles as Jason and Crystal and they provide the main focus of the play as it unfolds. It is puzzling that this sequel was done the way it has been, as, with the exception of David Banks, the entire main cast has returned. It might’ve made more sense to have done this play as a full cast audio as opposed to a talking book.

Since Banks is not here reprising Karl, his presence is filled in by both Huckle and Sullivan throughout. One of the guilty pleasures is hearing Sullivan deliver Karl’s cockney lines in Jason’s French accent, particularly since that accent is at times perilously close to ‘Allo ‘Allo quality.

That is not to say that the performances are bad. Far from it, for Huckle and Sullivan are engaging narrators and perform the piece in the spirit it was intended.

As the year draws to a close, it seems that after a run of rather thoughtful Companion Chronicles, Big Finish have decided to have a little bit of fun. The play as a whole is very true to the spirit in which its predecessor was written and even has the fun feel of a Choose your own adventure book, where you’re not quite sure what is going to happen next. Despite this, not everything works.

The sudden appearances of various old monsters from Who lore (ones, it should be mentioned, that are famously associated with Dicks) can be quite jarring, and seem to be of little point other than to be yet another obstacle for the Doctor and his friends to get past. When we do meet the villain of the piece, he is a rather simple creation, and dispatched of in an infuriatingly easy manner.

But this is not a play for fans of deep dark storytelling. This is after all a sequel to The Ultimate Adventure. Cynicism must be kept low or completely switched off. This a universe in Doctor Who, where old enemies pop up out of the blue without a second thought and are dispatched just as quickly; A world where an 80s night club singer and a French aristocrat can travel the far corners of space and time together. It is also a world where one can repeat the phrase “murderous mercenaries” at various times and not feel a little silly.

All in all Beyond the Ultimate Adventure is trying to be nothing more than the fun romp it is and it succeeds at that well enough. It sadly it lacks some of the charm that made The Ultimate Adventure such a fun listen, but if you’re looking for different and just plain camp Doctor Who then this release is recommended.

25 November 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Paul Finch, from a story by Peter Ling and Hazel Adair

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th November 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 25th November 2011

The Fifth Doctor returns in the second of this trilogy of Lost Stories and it is a rather strange but interesting play.

People all over the world are going missing andthe only person who seems to care is journalist Mike Bretherton. After gathering evidence, Mike is ready to break the story of his carreer, but one night he too vanishes, and his story with him. Unlike the others who vanished, Mike has an advantage.

His disappearance does not go unnoticed, especially since he was the old boyfriend of one Tegan Jovanka. Fearful for his safety, she implores the Doctor to go looking for him, and the mystery of it all is more than enough to get him curious. Following the trail the TARDIS lands, on the uninhabited planet of Luparis. At least it was when the Doctor last visited; now it seems to be an exact recreation of Tudor London. The mystery deepens as the Doctor is brought before the powerful Queen Zafira, a determined monarch living in a time of civil unrest amongst her people. The Queen is proud and not shy about doing almost anything  for her and her subjects to survive.

Something is certainly not right with Luparis. There are creatures hiding in the shadows, and treachery and usurpers are afoot amongst the Queen’s court. Will the mystery of Luparis be uncovered and will Doctor escape a fate worse than death: Marriage to the Queen herself?

Hexagora is chockfull of quite frankly bonkers ideas and set pieces. Yet it has the most wonderful underlying story. However it has to be said that while there is a great deal to enjoy here, not everything about the play works.

It can be said that no fault lies in the performances. Everyone works incredibly well here, especially Peter Davison and guest star Jacqueline Pearce. Pearce finds the likability in this self important monarch whose every whim is granted above all things. She is the highlight of the production and there is never a dull moment when she is present.

Toby Hadoke is a great addition to the cast, playing not only a convincing Australian, but probably the only man in the Universe who might just able to put up with Tegan for a lifetime. Hadoke also voices many minor parts throughout, all of which he attacks with great enthusiasm, and I hope he becomes a Big Finish regular, especially after hearing his performance in Robophobia earlier this year.

The rest of the cast do sterling work. Janet Fielding is always a joy to listen to when Tegan gets angry at something or someone and Sarah Sutton, despite not being in the play that much, is very good indeed.

The other guest stars, Richard Mark, Dan Starkey and Sean Brosnan make up a very good cast and everyone excels in their own roles splendidly.

At its heart, Hexagora presents many fascinating ideas, but sadly not all of them are explored as fully as you would hope. As the secret of Luparis slowly reveals itself, you get to see what a brilliant concept the story is. It is highly original and some of the more absurd elements do eventually come together to make sense. But there are many threads left unexplored or just resolved too quickly. 

One of the most obvious is the relationship between Mike and Tegan. It is implied and heavily stated that Tegan’s feelings towards Mike are very strong, and he says just as much about her himself. But we rarely get to see any of it when the two confront one another. It feels like not so much an old love rekindled, but more of an old acquaintance awkwardly revisited.  Particular revelation of Tegan’s past deserved more attention than what is granted here.

Thematically, Hexagora shares many things in common with last month’s story The Elite. I would argue that Hexagora acts as a suitable companion piece to that play. Without giving away spoilers, many of the ideas in The Elite are explored here but inverted, whether intentionally or not.  When listened to together, it is impossible not to draw some comparisons, as the themes of a civilisation surviving by any means necessary run strongly in throughout both productions, but they not fully explored as they are in The Elite.

The final resolution to the whole play feels somewhat rushed, and may leave a listener feeling a little unsatisfied. This is a shame as Hexagora has so much to offer and it is certainly a recommended listen. It is intriguing, exciting and rather fun in some places and very entertaining despite the somewhat flat ending.

24 November 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Rick Briggs

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th November 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th November 2011

Hidden within the grounds of the estate of Tranchard’s Folly, there is an old, overgrown sealed well. When the curious owner of the house, Aleister Portillion, and his excavation team break it open, they unleash a horror that has been trapped for centuries. 

Two teenage twins, Lucern and Finicia barely escape with their lives, rescued by a woman calling herself Mary Shelley and a man known only as The Doctor.

The mystery of the ancient evil only stirs the Doctor’s curiosity, and he embarks on a journey to the past to uncover its origin. It isn’t long before things go terribly wrong, and the Doctor and Mary find themselves separated in Tranchard’s Folly’s past and future.

In the Twenty-First Century, Mary and the twins go in search of an artefact that may hold the key to the horror within the well and in the Seventeenth, amidst a wave of fear and persecution; the Doctor feels the wrath of Master Kincaid, the Witch-Pricker.

As the paths of all converge, it seems that even across centuries and universes, thou shall not suffer a Witch to live.

The Witch From the Well, the second in the new trilogy of Eighth Doctor adventures, is a rather fun story, filled with great concepts and characters. As you may have guessed from the title, there is no shortage of witch related moments, most significantly in the sequences set in the Seventeenth Century.

The Doctor’s quiet and disappointed disgust with the primitive superstitions of the villagers is written well and Paul McGann excels in his delivery.

Many of the plays most interesting scenes are the confrontations between The Doctor and Kincaid, played brilliantly by Simon Rouse. There's usually a danger of treating men of extreme faith with contempt and it is a credit to the writing and Rouse’s performance that Kincaid does not become a raving stereotype. The Doctor and Kincaid are simply men on opposite sides, both striving for a similar goal, the only difference being their beliefs and methods.

There are a great many characters throughout this play all served by terrific performances, particularly Serena Evans as Agnes Bates, the poor innocent herbalist, condemned as all women of her kind were.

Having Mary and the Doctor separated in the past and future, allows for her to stand alone for nearly the whole story. Julie Cox once again, impresses as Mary Shelley and it is nice to see the character be her own person, rather than fall into the trap of simply following the Doctor around and getting forgotten in all the mayhem. The interesting subplot in which Mary comes close to discovering her future is interesting and it is intriguing to see the character wrestle with the temptation of it. It would have been nice to see more of Mary with the Doctor as such a great rapport was set up in The Silver Turk.

This the first full length adventure by Rick Briggs for Big Finish, having previously been the lucky winner of BF’s writer’s opportunity. The result of that contest was The Entropy Composition, an excellent story which was included on The Demons of Red Lodge and Other Stories released last year. 

With The Witch From the Well, Briggs has certainly established himself as a writer to watch, as there is no end of original ideas here. Witches are foremost in the mind of the story, but they are not employed to simply put a Doctor Who spin on a popular myth. What Briggs chooses to focus on is how the persecution of others can destroy not only the persecutors but also those being condemned.

To say how this theme develops further in the play would be to spoil a surprisingly dark motivation for the story’s antagonists. It is a very neat twist, and raises very interesting questions that stay with you long after listening.

Overall, The Witch From the Well is an entertaining and thought provoking adventure that is well worth a listen.

23 November 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th November 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd November 2011

The Doctor is dead. Steven Taylor and Oliver Harper are on the run. Trapped on the planetoid Grace Alone, they arrived to face the fate which had been haunting them since Oliver joined the TARDIS crew in 1960s London. Greeting them were the massacred bodies of the planetoid’s crew, and the perpetrators of the deed; an alien race known as the Vardans. Steven has felt recently, that when travelling with the Doctor he is living on “borrowed time”. Time is very quickly running out, and not everyone will escape it alive.

The First Wave is the conclusion to, and the strongest entry in the Oliver Harper trilogy.

The story itself works nicely for the format. It is not over complicated but it has a wonderfully tense and reflective feel. The theme of the story is most certainly about borrowed time, and how this has become a part of Steven Taylor’s character throughout the trilogy. His reflections on those he has lost when travelling with the Doctor, and cool resignation that he is next in the firing line are played superbly by Peter Purves who carries this play almost single handed with another fantastic interpretation of the First Doctor.

That is not to discredit the performance of Tom Allen as Oliver, who has grown on me throughout the course of the trilogy. There is something unapologetically heroic about Oliver towards the play’s conclusion, and Allen, particularly in the closing scene plays him beautifully.

The inclusion of returning villian, the Vardans, has thankfully not been shoe horned in for nostalgia’s sake. Their presence makes perfect sense and works to the story’s advantage, particularly in the final sequence.

Simon Guerrier’s writing is on top form. The play is written more as a two handed drama, with flashbacks and flash forwards narrated by Purves and Allen. This approach works very well, and the sense of foreboding about the inevitable fate of Oliver is clear and present but not so much that the conclusion lacks an emotional impact.

The closing scene is too good to spoil, suffice to say it is unexpected, original and done very well indeed. 

The only real criticism I could give is that the character of Oliver has gone before he had more time to really flesh out. I could see more stories with Oliver Harper, as the character had begun to grow, and his back story was strong enough to merit more exploration of his character but sadly it seems it was not to be.

With sterling direction by Lisa Bowerman, The First Wave is an excellent conclusion to what has been an intriguing trilogy for the Companion Chronicles.

23 November 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Wright and Cavan Scott

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st October 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23rd November 2011

“The day of my death started normally enough...”

As opening lines go it's rather hard to come up with a more intriguing one, particularly when this Companion Chronicle delivers what its title promises.

UNIT is anticipating the return of the Doctor, and the Brigadier is not happy that he is late. Jo Grant on the other hand, hopes the Doctor has not forgotten her now that he has regained control of the TARDIS, but sure enough the Doctor returns and he is not alone. He has rescued a persecuted Alien refugee, one whose race, the Zoanthrax will not give up the search for her easily.

The Zoanthrax attack UNIT HQ, and as the Doctor lays down ready to die, Jo will demonstrate her loyalty to the man she is prepared to die for. A noble sacrifice; A sacrifice that will occur again, and again and again.

This is a story about the nature of Jo Grant and her feelings toward the Doctor. Jo is someone who completely believes in the Doctor. His presence in the Universe, to her, is far more important than her own life. A strong opening sequence sets this theme in motion brilliantly, but after that the drama starts to become sadly somewhat repetitive. This is ironic considering that the play wears its intent on its sleeve. 

What follows are a series of similar scenarios, all linked by a single character called Rowe who appears in many guises throughout and is integral to the final revelation at the play’s conclusion. Jo sacrifices herself many times, in a variety of even more bizarre life threatening situations. Throughout the listener is dropped dramatically into the each story that the peril becomes sadly redundant. But that seems harsh to judge the play by that since this is more of a character study of Jo than an adventure.

You might think that a character, so ready to die for the Doctor might get a bit tiresome but in the hands of the glorious Katy Manning, Jo Grant remains one of the finest companions in Doctor Who history. Manning’s performance here is the strongest part of the release and well worth checking out for that alone. Nicholas Ashbury is excellent playing the various guises of Rowe throughout, and is particularly brilliant in the story’s conclusion.

But overall, the story doesn’t quite hang together fully with its many threads and scenarios, but nonetheless, The Many Deaths of Jo Grant is a good listen and makes this reviewer want to hear more of Katy Manning in the Chronicles.

23 November 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney, from a story by Barbara Clegg

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st October 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 23nd November 2011

After what was to my mind, was a mixed season of releases, the Lost Stories return, with the Fifth Doctor making an excellent debut in the range.

After the events of Arc of Infinity, Tegan is back in the TARDIS and the Doctor has mixed feelings about it. He decides to take both Tegan and Nyssa to the paradise world of Florana but they wind up under the dome of a battle scarred planet, run by the Elite. The Doctor is intrigued by this place, one in which the people are all young and the old are absent. While the military fights for the glory of the Elite, everyone lives in reverence or fear of the High Priest who lives hidden in the cathedral of power. The situation is about to dangerous for the High Priest knows the Doctor of old, and an old enemy will stir.

The Elite is very good indeed. A gripping and intriguing narrative, coupled with exciting all out action, particularly near the story’s conclusion.  Everything about this release feels like authentic Peter Davison era Who from the characterization, to the suitably Peter Howell-esque musical score.

Peter Davison himself delivers an excellent performance throughout, as do the rest of the main cast with Janet Fielding in particular on good form.

What gives The Elite its hook is the central mystery of the High Priest. I will not spoil it for you, but when his true nature is revealed, it is very satisfying.  Dorney does an excellent job of keeping us guessing right until the revelation, and it is a credit to the rest of the story that it does not get swamped by its magnitude.

In fact The Elite has so much more on offer than a mere plot twist. 

What impresses is the exploration of the abhorrent ideology of eugenics and the examination of the church versus the state. The ugly nature of the Elite is slowly revealed and what disturbs is how much it’s young citizens have such absolute conviction that the elimination of the weaker elements of society should be erased.  It is played with complete conviction by the cast and credit must be given to the actors involved, as it ensures their characters do not become mere soundboards for the Hitler Youth politics the Elite believes in.

The depiction of religion in the play is fascinating.  The acolytes of the High Priest, such as the character of Thane, played like a true zealot by Ryan Sampson, are completely devoted to the ideal of the High Priest as their one true God, even when his divinity comes into question.  Although the Thane character comes close to being worryingly two dimensional towards the end, he best represents the shadowy nature of the religious organization and its suspicion of the military powers. The mutual distrust between the military and the church, and their rightly held belief that one is trying to overthrow the other is explored well and offers some excellent dramatic tension throughout.

The Elite, is a thoughtful, exciting and rich play. The only downside is that some of the characters aren’t as well served by the script as others. Poor Sarah Sutton is relegated to the sidelines and spends most of the time under the spell of the military education, a plot line that is underdeveloped which is sad considering how much strong material is on display. However The Elite is a very strong debut for the Fifth Doctor in the Lost Story range. Highly recommended.

22 October 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st October 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd October 2011

The Eighth Doctor without Lucie Miller?; Surely we all said the same thing when Charley Pollard left the TARDIS and now without Sheridan Smith in sight, how will the Doctor cope? Well he won’t need to as this Doctor has not met both of those well loved companions. This is a younger, less hardened Doctor, and it is with this trip to the past that Big Finish brings Paul McGann back into the main monthly range.

Our story begins in Nineteenth Century Vienna. The Doctor arrives with Mary Shelley, after their meeting in Switzerland, hoping to rendezvous with his other companions, Samson and Gemma.

As soon as they arrive, they hear gossip of a killer on the loose and a mechanical marvel that can play musical instruments, and beat anyone at a game of their choice. Intrigued, the Doctor and Mary venture to the great Viennese Exposition, where Alfred Stahlbaum unveils his marvel, the Silver Turk. But nothing is what it seems with the Turk, as one of the Doctor’s greatest enemies makes an unwelcome return.

It is no secret that the returning foes here are the Cybermen, but more specifically the earliest version of the Mondas monsters. It is familiar territory for writer Marc Platt as he worked with them in the wonderful Spare Parts, and to see him writing them again is one of the joys of this audio. 

Platt has crafted a very simple but gripping story, where every character has a significant part to play. The story does not offer any big or grand ideas, for what we get is a creepy and exciting adventure and it serves as a wonderful introduction to a new companion.

The cast here is first rate. McGann’s younger Doctor, but still possessing a rather dangerous edge, is a welcome change after the trauma the character suffered in his last story with Lucie Miller. Although it is a little anti climatic not to have that storyline continue, the decision to go back to the past I believe was a good move, allowing long devoted listeners a bit of breathing space and an essential reminder of what makes McGann so great in the part.   

Julie Cox, returning as Mary from her appearance in last year’s The Company of Friends, is marvellous. The character’s enthusiasm for the life of travel and a particularly brilliant scene where the frightening nature of the situation she finds herself in threatens to stop her journey in the TARDIS before it has begun is superbly played and I look forward to hearing where the character goes in the following stories.

The supporting cast are all fantastic, with Gareth Armstrong as marionette making Dr Johann Drossel a particular highlight, putting one in mind of Tobias Vaughn for more than one reason.

With Shelley in the story, you cannot escape the obvious references to Frankenstein. The Cyberman known as Gram, becomes a prototype for Shelley’s future Creature, mistreated by its masters and demonised by the Doctor. It is the mark of a good writer if he can generate sympathy for a cybernetic creature that speaks like an ancient computer and Marc Platt pulls it off remarkably well. Gram is a fascinating creation, and it is a credit to the vocal talent of Nicholas Briggs that he injects some humanity into the inhuman creature. Gram is by no means a hero for he is still driven by the Cyberman desire of conquest, but with Briggs’ performance and Platt’s handling of him, you feel a smirk of triumph when he finally gets his own back for his mistreatment, culminating in a rather unexpected but brilliant line of dialogue.

Mention must go to the wonderful sound design and musical score by Jamie Robertson, who is quickly becoming one of Big Finish’s best composers. He is also responsible for one of the biggest surprises of this release, a brand new theme arrangement for the Eighth Doctor. It is very different to hat you have heard before, but after a few listens it fits in rather nicely.

With a new theme tune, new companion and new direction, The Silver Turk is an excellent start for the return of the Eighth Doctor to Big Finish and well worth your time.

22 October 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th September 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd October 2011

Memory is a peculiar thing; it can be both a valuable and dangerous, especially if it is manipulated, and it is this concept that drives this rather excellent Companion Chronicle.

Zoe Heriot, dreams every night of adventures she may or may not have had with the Doctor and Jamie in the TARDIS. Now she is a prisoner of the Company. They are convinced she has travelled in time and they want to know more about the Doctor. But what can Zoe tell them? After all she is renowned for her total recall of even the most insignificant details. If she had travelled with the Doctor, surely she would know about it. The Company have found some evidence to help jog her memory; documents which place Zoe with the Doctor and Jamie in a Russian town in the aftermath of the revolution, where something or someone came out of the night, taking the town’s children. Faced with this evidence, Zoe slowly begins to remember what happened. Or does she?

This is an excellent two hander between Wendy Padbury reprising the role of Zoe and Charlie Hayes, Padbury’s own daughter in the role of Jen, Zoe’s interrogator. Both play the mutual suspicion of one another convincingly, and it is the strength of their performances which draw you into the story.

Padbury is superb playing a much older and hardened Zoe, showing at times how the character seems to have become a being of detached logic and reason. Jen is the counterbalance to this. She is firm but sympathetic, simply wanting to know the whole story, and Hayes does a wonderful job playing her.

This Companion Chronicle is a tale within a tale, so what of the story that both Zoe and Jen relate to one another?

The story itself is creepy but rather at times a pedestrian affair, although with some wonderfully disturbing images such as the Children encased in Alien cobwebs. But what becomes clear as the drama unfolds is that it is not the story that is important, but who is telling it.

Throughout Jen relates the details through the historical documents and archives provided by the company and the gaps are filled by Zoe’s memories as they break through the wipe placed on it by the Time Lords. But all is not as it seems.

To give away the ending of this play would rob it of its excellent shock value, but suffice to say it is revealed brilliantly and will leave you pondering way after the closing music has played.

This is a play without easy resolutions and raises many questions about the accuracy of stories. Should we believe what we are told and does written information hold the truth about everything? Can we ever really know the truth about anything?

This is a very fine addition to The Companion Chronicles and yet another reason why this series is an important part of Big Finish’s output.

22 September 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Morris

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th September 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd September 2011

Fear can get to us all, even the Doctor, and it is this that lies at the heart of this second of Big Finish’s releases for September featuring the Seventh Doctor and quite frankly, it is the best.  

Our story begins with a lost girl; confused and alone at the front door of Blue Fire House, a tumbledown hotel on the very edge of nowhere. She is met by Mr Soames, the elderly caretaker who tells her that she is expected by the Master of the house, and her room is ready. This is news to the girl, as she has no memory of how she got here and who she is.

Gradually, she comes to realize that she is not the first. There are others like her, all without their memories, addressing each other by their room numbers, in place of lost names. If things could not get any worse, the house seems to be haunted, plagued with strange visions and noises and just who is the tall man in the window of the tower room? These people are slowly being drawn together for a dinner date with fear, and something far more ancient is lurking in the shadows.

What is striking about the first episode of this play is that it is virtually Doctor Free. The bulk of the episode is carried brilliantly for much of its length by Amy Pemberton and Miranda Keeling who play No 18 and No 5. This should go down as one of the finest opening episodes in a Big Finish story in its history. It is beautifully atmospheric and played to perfection and when the Doctor finally turns up he gets the best line in the whole play. 

Sylvester McCoy is in fine mode, turning out another strong performance as do the rest of the cast including acting royalty Timothy West as Soames.

The rest of the play repeats a similar plot device to The Doomsday Quatrain, in that the story eventually reveals itself to be a lot more than we have been led to believe. Unlike the former, the revelation works more strongly here. It is not perfect by any means as it does somewhat diminish the wonderful atmosphere set up in the first two episodes; however it magnifies the motivations of the central antagonist, a creature who creates fear to feed off it. 

This brings us to the villain of the piece, The Mi’en Kalarash. Its presence is mostly dealt with off audio, for want of a better phrase but it is eventually given voice by possessing one of the characters. The concept of the Time Lords having their own boogieman is fascinating, and McCoy sells the threat presented by this creature, even if it eventually sounds like a sinister voice overdubbed with a vocoder. 

Overall though, with a strong story, more hints of the mysterious Black TARDIS and the tantalising suggestion of a new companion for McCoy, House of Blue Fire is definitely worth your time.

21 September 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Emma Beeby & Gordon Rennie

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th September 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 21st September 2011

The Doctor meets Nostradamus; already a fascinating idea which forms the central starting point for this second release for the Seventh Doctor in the main Big Finish range.

Florence in the 16th Century. As the city runs about its normal business, the people are in intrigued and puzzled by the prophecies of the local seer Michel de Nostradame, for he has predicted the end of the world; An end that will come, when ships sail in the sky, bringing monsters from the heavens to unleash fire upon the world. So when the doomsday quatrain starts to come true no-one is more surprised than The Doctor, after all he has seen the end of the world, and it certainly shouldn’t be happening now.

Throwing the seventh Doctor together with the famously celebrated and debunked seer Nostradamus, should make for a delicious cocktail of a story, but what we get is something quite unexpected.

We begin with what seems like a standard historical romp, as the Doctor finds himself in Florence and for the first two parts we get a pretty standard run of mill history meets sci-fi run-around. When the big twist in the story comes at the end of part two, it is an intriguing but rather a small let down.

Essentially, what we thought was Florence is really an artificial reality, and from here on in the setting becomes unimportant effectively rendering Nostradamus and his world to mere window dressing for the rest of the story.

The play does deal with some interesting ideas from a result of the twist, and it stops the story from becoming too dull but, without giving too much away, the ideas themselves are strong enough on their own, that the story doesn’t really need Nostradamus in it. Sadly the mixing of both these plot lines have a detrimental effect on one another, as neither is explored in as much depth as you would hope.

The main antagonists of the piece, the crocodilian Crowe are a rather dull villain. Though they have a rather enjoyably nasty way of progressing through their chain of command, they are in effect useless and not much of a threat.

The other alien presence, the highly evolved Poldigon’s, two of which are voiced very well by John Banks and Caroline Keiff, turn out to be as much of a mystery as the Doctor says they are, and quite why they are building planet size facilities to create realities out of raw liquid material for paying clients is anyone’s guess. Again there is a wealth of ideas here, most of which are sadly glossed over or unexplored entirely.

However one of the things there is to enjoy here is a passionate and grand performance from David Schofield as Nostradamus, who finds himself at one point playing companion to Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor. McCoy himself is having a wonderful time here. As Robophobia showed brilliantly, the Seventh Doctor is at his most compelling when he has no familiar companion around him and McCoy puts in a fun performance despite the madness of the plot. It is a pity that not much more was made of the meeting of the Doctor and Nostradamus, as the potential for the butting of ideologies between the two would’ve elevated this story somewhat.

The Doomsday Quatrain is not a bad play, nor is it a strong one - there is enough to enjoy, but one cannot help feeling that the overall story was an opportunity missed.

2 June 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andrew Cartmel

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st May 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 2nd June 2011

The Seventh Doctor is regarded as the most manipulative or Machiavellian of all the Doctor’s incarnations and that was the responsibility of Andrew Cartmel, who was script editor during Doctor Who’s last three seasons before it went off the air in 1989. So with the unproduced season 27 forming the basis of this latest series of Lost Stories, it is only right that Cartmel should be involved. Unfortunately, Crime of the Century isn’t as strong a story as you would hope from the man credited with laying down the legendary “Cartmel Masterplan”.

Our story begins in 1989 with Raine Creevy, daughter of cheeky chappie Marcus Creevy from the previous story Thin Ice. Raine is not only charming but an expert safecracker and Cat burglar. One night while trying to rob from a safe at a very fashionable house party in London, she finds something or rather someone inside it she hadn’t counted on; a strange little man from her distant past.

Meanwhile Ace has found herself in the remote Soviet republic of Kafiristan, where the local tribesmen are engaged in a rebellion against the Russian army. There she finds an old enemy and stories of demons hiding in the mountains.

It isn’t long before Raine and Ace find themselves knee deep in the Doctor’s mysterious plans which seem to have something to do with a high security vault on the Scottish border.

One of the strongest elements of this audio is the performances, particularly from Beth Chalmers as Raine. She is sassy, confident and a wonderful contrast to Ace, played superbly as always by Sophie Aldred. Sylvester McCoy, in an at times reduced role for the Doctor is particularly mysterious and the supporting cast all excel.

What lets this audio down somewhat is that it is not sure what tone it should be. The first three episodes contain some incredibly bleak and dark moments and then shifts rather suddenly into a baffling mix of absurd comedy, mostly from the story’s alien menace the Metatraxi. The questionably comic scene where the Doctor fixes their translators seems ill placed in a story which is laced with death.

The Doctor is once again back to his Machiavellian ways, effortlessly moving the people around him to achieve his aim, but throughout I found myself asking why? There doesn’t seem to be any real sense of peril in this story, more a series of often infuriatingly cryptic events which lead us to the climactic scene in the high security vault where the Doctor finally gets what he is after. There are some great moments. Raine’s introduction as a character is brilliantly achieved. Her first meeting with Ace and their subsequent sizing up of one another promises that sparks will fly in future stories.

Crime of the Century suffers by trying to be a loose sequel to Thin Ice, mostly in a couple of recurring characters and the Soviet connection.

Although the continuity is nice, I would’ve preferred a cleaner break from the previous story. Possessing a really good musical score and sound design, there are moments to enjoy in Crime of the Century and Cartmel does succeed in creating a believable and strong new companion for the Seventh Doctor, but overall I was hoping for just a little bit more.

16 May 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Peter Anghelides

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st May 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th May 2011

What if the search for the Key to Time wasn’t as easy as we once thought? What if the Fourth Doctor and Romana took a few detours along the way? This intriguing idea is a highly appealing factor about this latest Companion Chronicle

Set between The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara, The Doctor and Romana arrive in a small quiet village in Norfolk, following a strong signal that will lead them to the next segment of the Key.

In their search they stumble into the observatory of former US astronaut and recently widowed Lady Millcent Ferril. Lady Ferr il is a woman with her eyes fixed firmly on the stars, who has created rather grotesque metal sculptures in the gardens of her estate and that is not the only thing that is made of metal. The Lady has plans of a maliciously cosmic kind and she quickly realizes that the Doctor and Romana are the only ones who can help put those plans into action, whether they like it or not.

As a two hander between Romana and Lady Ferril, the play’s greatest strength is the point of views given between our heroic protagonist and antagonist. To hear events unfold through the villain of the piece is a lovely idea and Lady Ferril is deliciously evil creation played fantastically by Madeline Potter. To have her as an American character helps with the transition between Romana and Ferril’s grasps of events which can happen quite suddenly and unexpectedly throughout. The Doctor spends some good portions of the story out of sight and the bulk of the narrative falls between the leading ladies. Mary Tamm shines as Romana and her tired slightly annoyed tone at the high jinks of the Doctor are one of the play’s highlights.

As a story, it is quite a strange tale but feels genuinely like it could have slotted itself easily into the Key to Time sequence as writer Peter Anghelides captures the feel and tone of that season very well.

Lady Millcent’s ability to control metal makes for some rather gruesome moments but the main criticism that I have about this release is the rather confusing and disappointing ending. To reveal the nature of my disappointment would spoil play but let us just say that to have the majority of your play told by two people in hindsight and have one remaining after dispatching the other with no clear resolution is very confusing and a real let down. I kept waiting after the closing music to hear if there would be an epilogue but sadly not and I felt that it might mar a listener’s overall enjoyment of the story as a whole.

All in all Ferril’s Folly is a very enjoyable tale, with two excellent performances but it loses marks for its baffling and disappointing ending.

10 May 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Paul Finch

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th April 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th May 2011

The Companion Chronicles have become of late, spring boards for new series such as Jago and Litefoot, or a way to explore concepts only hinted at in previous audios. The Sentinels of the New Dawn is one of these. Conceived as a prequel to the Sixth Doctor lost story Leviathan, it's written by the same writer Brian Finch, using the opportunity to flesh ideas hinted at in Leviathan and offering the tantalising possibility of further stories to come.

The story has Liz Shaw; now back at Cambridge, finding herself caught up in a colleague’s time travelling experiments. Concerned about the potential effect this could have, she calls her old friend the Doctor to have a look for himself. After an accident in the midst of testing her colleague’s machine, the Doctor and Liz are transported to the year 2014, and find themselves guests of the enigmatic Richard Beauregard, the head of a strange and rather sinister political movement called New Dawn. As the ugly truths of New Dawn’s practices are discovered by Liz and the Doctor, they begin to be hunted down by New Dawn’s devoted followers and something far more terrifying...

For an audio intending to expand on ideas touched upon in a previous story, The Sentinels of the New Dawn is a rather 'by the numbers' affair. It does a terrific job of authentically recreating a Third Doctor story with an earth bound adventure filled with numerous chase sequences, Venusian aikido and the Doctor flying a helicopter, but it feels too standard for the Companion Chronicles which have become a great forum to further explore the ideas raised in Doctor Who.

But that is not to say it is a bad story. It is thoroughly engaging and Caroline John gives a marvellous delivery, with great interaction from Duncan Wibsey playing the various supporting characters.

There are some lovely moments such as Liz expressing her regret at leaving the Doctor so soon, though it sadly only comes from hindsight. Exploring this idea more dramatically and allowing the Doctor’s own opinion of Liz’s departure to be heard would have been a rather interesting idea to explore, something very much in keeping with the Chronicles themselves. 

In the end, the play shows itself to be a set up for a greater plot arc in future releases, a bit too readily. Although there are enough ideas in this story to entice listeners to hear more about the New Dawn, this Companion Chronicle, although enjoyable, comes across as merely the stepping stone for something far more intriguing.

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