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15 April 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writ ten By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st March 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 15th April 2011

The Industrial Revolution is not a new subject for Doctor Who or for the Sixth Doctor.

Having encountered luddites in The Mark of the Rani,  the Doctor now gets entangled with all the cogs and machinery in this somewhat disappointing end to the latest Thomas Brewster trilogy.

The story begins with Brewster working at a Brass mill in 19th century Lancashire, left there by the Doctor after his request to return to a more normal life. Unknown to Brewster, the Doctor is not too far away, keeping an eye not just on him, but the mill’s mysterious owner Samuel Belfrage.

After a series of gruesome accidents, it’s not long before there is real trouble at the mill as the nature of Mr Belfrage’s business begins to wreak havoc.

While the play is not a bad one, you cannot help but feel the sense of missed opportunity, particularly with Brewster. John Pickard is as ever charming and rascally as Brewster, but the character is once again simply scheming with the people not on the Doctor’s side, a theme that has occurred throughout this trilogy. Separating Brewster from the Doctor once again, makes you question whether he was actually needed as the story could have worked just as easily without him.

Colin Baker and Maggie Stables continue to show why The Sixth Doctor and Evelyn Smythe are a perfect Doctor and companion team and the supporting cast do give it their all but the story seems a little stretched in places.  

The villains of the piece are almost steampunk in nature and with some excellent sound design and musical score make very effectively creepy antagonists.

There are some interesting ideas about our over dependence on technology as well as an obligatory class issue as Brewster engages the factory workers to strike, which amounts to padding at best.

Ultimately though, it is a story that doesn’t really go anyway, although the intriguing nature of Brewster’s departure leaves an opportunity open for him to return. 

I hope it is a far more interesting affair, as the character does have a great deal of potential to develop further than the artful dodger persona he seems to be stuck as.

Industrial Evolution is not a complete failure but it is certainly not one of Big Finish’s strongest plays.

 

6 March 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mike Maddox

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 28th February 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 6th March 2011

Bringing back an old foe in Doctor Who is always risky, especially if that villain is as iconic as Axos.  With characters like this, simply rehashing old storylines is an easy trap to fall into and one that this adventure seems at times perilously close to.

The sentient parasite is brought back in the latest Sixth Doctor audio and one of the most exciting things about this release is the return of Bernard Holley to the role of Axos, 40 years after playing the role in The Claws of Axos.

The story picks up immediately after the cliff-hanger from The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, where Brewster has hijacked the TARDIS demanding the Doctor take him back to his own time. Of course things don’t go according to plan when they land in the time loop where The Doctor originally trapped Axos many ages ago. Inside the parasite they find a group of astronauts working for Space Tourism billionaire Campbell Irons, intending to revive Axos and use its energy to solve the world’s energy crisis. But of course the newly awakened Axos has other ideas.

What follows is, to put it simply, a slight inversion of The Claws of Axos.

In that story, Axos intended to feed off of Earth’s energy and now the Earth intends to return the favour. Despite an interesting current event twist, it becomes somewhat lost as Axos’ intentions are essentially the same as before though I suppose one can’t ask much more of a space parasite with a large appetite.

What seems to be the focus here are the characters, with the focus shifted onto Brewster yet it all seems a bit of a retread. At end of the previous audio there was potential for a sparky team relationship with The Doctor, Evelyn and Brewster however once again the characters are separated, leaving Brewster to get up to his old tricks. The potential for these characters with such differing personalities working together more is tantalising but to have them separated yet again is somewhat of a let down.

In The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, Thomas was in cahoots with a sentient planet to try and save it from destruction by emulating the heroic nature of the Doctor. Now Brewster, angry and hurt turns his services over to a sentient parasite to punish the Doctor but of course with his own gains in mind. For once I’d like to see Brewster in a non-scheming mode. I know it is a driving force of his character, but it is becoming a little tiresome.

The supporting characters, although serving their parts well, tend to get lost in much of the noise and Campbell Irons, a potentially great villain, seems in the end to be a bit wasted.

Despite this, there are some lovely moments with the Doctor and Evelyn and a rather distressing cliff-hanger to Episode Three however the stand out of this audio is Bernard Holley.  Sounding every bit like he did in 1971, his rich voice really serves well on audio and the impact of Axos, a very strong visual presence in the original television serial, loses none of its impact here, although the same cannot be said of the Axonites. He is so good that he almost dominates the whole adventure.

Despite some flaws there is a lot to like in The Feast of Axos, but like Axos himself, you end up wanting a little bit more.

 

18 February 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Dick Sharples & Terry Nation (Adapted by Simon Guerrier & Nicholas Briggs)

RRP: £25.00

Release Date: 31st December 2010

Reviewed by: Paul Everitt for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 18th February 2011

Big Finish continue their Lost Stories season, with a very special box set dedicated to the second doctor; the great Patrick Troughton.  The box set includes two adventures plus over fifty minutes of bonus material – including interviews and a look behind the scenes. The first adventure sees Earth in a very different light, with a very sinister undertone throughout. The second adventure is rather special in its own right, a lost story involving the mighty Daleks which never saw the light of day...

The first adventure, Prison In Space see’s the Doctor, Jamie and Zoe looking for a little vacation. Even Jamie has become tired of fighting “wee little beasties”.  Promising them a vacation, with perhaps a picnic, the Doctor flies the TARDIS to safe haven – one with plenty of greenery and peace, or so he thinks. 

It’s not long before our heroes find themselves in trouble, arrested for trespassing the soon find that their so called haven is actually run by a mad tyrant – Chairman Babs. Not only do they find themselves arrested, the Doctor and Jamie soon realise that this world is run by women, who see men as inferiors – men are the weakest and are therefore treated like animals, with contempt and disdain. Soon things get even more serious as Jamie and the Doctor are sent to a prison in space, trailed and convicted for their crime – Zoe is left in the hands of the Chairman, forced to choose sides – with the resulting events proving to be explosive and quite unexpected. 

For this adaptation we see the return of Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, reprising their roles as the Doctors companions. It’s great to hear the Scottish accent of Jamie return; Zoe is as bright as ever, in a part which really pushes Zoe to the limits. The sound effects bring back the sense of the sixties incarnation of the show, helping to push the narrative along at a great pace. Big Finish has adapted this lost script brilliantly, bringing back the essence of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor. This could have easily proved to be one of the second Doctor’s best TV adventures...

Moving onto the second adventure included in this box set, The Daleks: The Destroyers, is the adaptation of the unmade US TV Pilot. Big Finish has adapted this script into a gripping space adventure, full of tension and scares. This is definitely one to listen to by yourself in the dark. 

The adventure takes place around Explorer Base 1, a human exploration station – located on the surface of meteorite M5. Newly built and protected by a force wall, the occupants have no reason, to think of anything dangerous, from the swamp lands laying, just past the force wall. However in the darkness lurks a terrible threat – The Daleks. Within the first five minutes of the adventure, the station is ripped apart – all personnel killed in cold blood. 

Enter our three heroes, sent to investigate by the Special Space Security forces. Sarah Kingdom, played brilliantly by Jean Marsh is an intelligent, efficient agent, who has a habit of screaming. Mark Seven the android, with an emotion chip, classic good looks and superhuman strength. Played by Alan Cox, who gives the character life, making great use of the lines to inject some life, into what could have been a dull character. Then we have the leader of the squad, one Jason Corey rugged and intelligent. Jason is played by Chris Porter with an authority, which brings the character to life in your head.  The intrepid trio soon find themselves playing a cat and mouse game with the Daleks, trying to remain hidden – whilst discovering the alien’s master plan.

The narration to the story, drags you into this new world – masterfully read and acted making the hairs on your body tingle with excitement. The story is a lot darker than I had imagined, giving the Daleks a meaner darker look, than I can remember from the sixties. Even though there is a definite darker undertone, Big Finish have still managed to make it sound like an original episode from yester year. The main theme brought flashes of sixties TV flooding back, its catchy American style stays in your head, hours after listening to it. The score sets new standards, becoming at times operatic in substance, making you tense up, feel elation all at the right moments. Even the sound effects help you build a picture of what could have been, allowing you to connect to the main characters. A blinding story, which ends on a cliff-hanger, which I hope is resolved.

Also included is a fifty minute documentary, detailing how Prison In Space happened. A fascinating look into how the original script was found and the process that followed. It’s full of fact and gives us an insight into the love that the team had for Patrick Troughton

This box set prove compelling listening for any fan out there, showcasing what could have been if things were done a little differently.

3 February 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st January 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Young for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 3rd February 2011

Part of Big Finish’s Sixth Doctor range, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster marks the return of the eponymous past companion as part of a fine cast in this funny, referential but somewhat unbalanced adventure...

The story begins when The Doctor (Colin Baker) is called to London by the Metropolitan police to investigate a mysterious gangster known only as...‘The Doctor’! The fun of this premise isn’t so much the mystery of who might be behind this (the title gives you a fairly good guess to begin with) but The Doctors reaction to the situation. Investigating, he at first assumes the gang leader could be a version of himself from a forgotten past or yet-to-occur future. Discovering that ‘The Doctor’ is collecting weapons for some unknown purpose, he wonders if his future self could be capable of something which, to him, seems unthinkable; “doesn’t sound like me” he muses. This timey-wimey conundrum is furthered by the inclusion of DI Patricia Menzies (Anna Hope reprising her role from The Condemned and The Raincloud Man) who, previously a companion to The Doctor, has now encountered him from before he has met her. All the while, she must keep quiet about knowing him in order to secure their time line. As well as some humorous scenes where Menzies feigns amazement over time travel, I laughed out loud when Menzies said she figured all of this out by reading ‘The Time Travellers Wife’ (“well, watched the DVD”). It’s a brilliant piece of referential humour that brings a great sense of fun to the story while also playing with the concept of time travel to great effect.

Moments like this reveal The Crimes of Thomas Brewster as a story driven by its appealing characters. It’s strongest when it allows them to let loose with some great humour and energy. I have always loved Evylne Smyth (Maggie Stables) as a companion – an elderly British History professor travelling with The Doctor just makes sense – and her dialogue and relationship with The Doctor is at its best here.  There are also some brilliant Colin Baker moments that will give you the giggles: The Doctor finds a use for that coat; asserts that he is “not captain Kirk!”; and even lets out a well timed “Geronimo!” 

Gangland goings on are not the only thing the Doctor has to contend with, however. He is also being attacked by Terravores; giant and deadly robotic mosquitoes. To continue with the theme of displaced meetings, they have met The Doctor before; but he has yet to meet them. As the story progressed, and The Doctor got involved with the police and murky underworld of London as supernatural goings on transpired, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a contemporary version of The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This, in my book, is a very good thing and the first two parts of the story have a similar sense of referential fun mixed with genuine threat. I wish the story either embraced its setting of modern London more or had picked another time period as a setting. There are references to iPhones, Twitter and Lady Gaga which make it unmistakably modern, but there is also a large cast of stereotypical cockney gangsters which, while causing some serious titters, seemed out of place. 

In fact, the setting of London was so fun that some of the lustre was lost once the action shifted to a mysterious alien world. The storyline involving the Terravore conflict with ‘The Locus’ – the hive mind of a living planet – is interesting in itself, but feels drafted from another story. While modern London and this alien world are linked – quite literally – in the story, I felt that after leaving London the story never replicated the sparkle present in the first two parts. This is made worse by the late introduction of two needless and little used characters and the absence of Evylne’s lively self in the later sections. Most disappointingly, Thomas Brewster (John Pickard) himself isn’t used to great effect. Again, he is closely linked to the story line but, other than a compelling conversation with The Doctor explaining his actions, he is by no means the heart of the story I was hoping for. I felt more interested in his history and activities in London than the story of the Terravores and Locus.  While consistently entertaining, this story had all the ingredients to be much more. Thankfully, the final minutes suggest we might learn more about Brewster very soon...

 

3 February 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nev Fountain

RRP: £12.99

Release Date: 31st January 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 3rd February 2011

Perpugilliam Brown, or as we all know her: Peri.

Companion to both the Fifth and Sixth Doctor, her importance in Doctor Who history should not be summarized as that annoying American who wore inappropriate clothing in life threatening situations. There is far more to Miss Brown than you would think and we finally get to see who she really is and, incredibly, who she will be in this very complex and rich release from Big Finish.

The second double length release for the Companion Chronicles since The Suffering, you may be forgiven for thinking that to dedicate two CDs to Peri Brown was mere indulgence on Big Finish’s part. You couldn’t be more wrong, because what we have here is a Companion Chronicle that not only pushes the format in a new and interesting way, but for my money is one of the best audio plays Big Finish has ever put out.

The story begins with young Peri, arriving wi th the Fifth Doctor in Los Angeles in 2009, to track down a Piscon by the name of Zarl, intent on causing mischief as only a Fish relative of the Pescatons would do. But the Doctor and Peri are joined unexpectedly in their hunt by a future version of Peri, claiming to work for a government division that protects the Earth from Alien invaders.

So far rather intriguing but what grabs your attention is that the future Peri is not only older, but she is not very likeable. In fact she is so cynical she could give Lauren Bacall a run for her money.

But as with the best of the Big Finish audio plays, not everything is a simple as it seems.

The very nature of the Companion Chronicles is to allow the listener an experience of travelling with the Doctor through the eyes of his companions. It is their perception of him and his actions that make them compelling listening, and here Peri’s perception of the events that unfold are the key to the whole story, but rather incredibly, we get the story not from one Peri, but by future Peri too. This is a simple but brilliant device, as certain heroic events related by the younger Peri, become not so heroic, in fact rather farcical when told by her future self.

Peri, played brilliantly as ever by Nicola Bryant, makes for a very engaging narrator. Shes funny, surprisingly open about her hopes and dreams in life, such as her desire for motherhood, and warm. One of my favourite moments in the play is where she addresses why she is always wearing high heels, referring to them as “Optimism Shoes”, that by wearing them, she hopes the next planet she and the Doctor land one will be a nice one with no danger. It is little moments such as this, which make you fall in love with her character, making the sombre and cynical narration by the future Peri all the more intriguing.

Not only do we get two Peris, we also get two Doctors, with one, unusual for the Companion Chronicles, played by one of the actors himself and not impersonated by the companion.

Colin Baker’s presence in the play as The Sixth Doctor is not there for the sake of it, for he plays a rather important role in events and to say anymore would be a spoiler too far.

This release rather boldly gives us the answer to really happened to Peri after we last saw her in Mindwarp? Did she really go off and marry Brian Blessed? Well we finally get our answer, and it is devastating.

Throughout the play, the madness of the adventure gives way to some heart wrenching moments as we learn of Peri’s fate and it is a credit to writer Nev Fountain that with all the mad comedy and emotional drama going on the tone of the play does not jar, but flows beautifully between the two.

If any criticism could be brought up is that some of the running jokes, particularly those about plastic surgery wear a bit thin early on and some of the supporting characters are merely plot devices, but they are rather small issues when, as a whole, this audio play is a triumph.

 

1 February 2011

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st January 2011

Reviewed by: Matthew Young for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 1st February 2011

Part of the on-going fourth series of Eighth Doctor stories, Prisoner of the Sun marks another great Paul McGann adventure which, although sagging in some sections, is filled with brilliant ideas and sets up a drama-rich dilemma for The Doctor to face...

While all Big Finish dramas help expand the scope of the Doctor Who world, Paul McGann’s recent adventures hold particular appeal to fans. Any story involving The Eighth Doctor allows us to speculate on what direction the ‘lost series’, abandoned following the 1996 TV movie, might have taken. Into its fourth series of Eighth Doctor stories, Big Finish has revealed McGann as a brilliant Doctor. 

The story to Prisoner of the Sun immediately attracts your attention. We find the Doctor a prisoner; having been trapped inside a scientific station, located within a sun, for six years. Assisting a rebel group in their efforts against the sinister ‘Consensus’ – a collection of leaders who, having bought an end to wars in their system, themselves became tyrannical despots – The Doctor has been captured and forced to maintain the base. Having originally being intended as a method of using the sun’s energy as a weapon, the base now needs to be operated in order to stabilise the star and prevent a super-nova that would destroy the two billion lives on nearby planets. 

This provides a brilliant twist to the ‘prisoner’ story line. The Doctor describes himself not as a prisoner of force, but one of responsibility. Perfectly fitting with The Doctor's character, he could escape at any time but instead remains until he can ensure the safety of the planets below. This cleverly shifts the story away from a simple ‘great escape’ focus to more dramatically rich territory. The Mercurials, a mercury-like species hired to guard the base, are a great idea but also are presented as fleshed out characters. The rebels who arrive on the base, however, provide the key drama. Through the majority of the story you are left unclear whether they want to save The Doctor, kill him, or use him for their own ends. 

As The Doctor would be nothing without a companion, he has been provided with an android assistant whose character and appearance he can adapt to his will. In a brilliant scene, The Doctor dictates his preferred personality settings: “why don’t we start off with loyal, eager, earnest...sense of humour.” By doing this, The Doctor in effect ‘creates’ his perfect companion and, while this description could match most past companions, giving the android the voice of Lucie Miller demonstrates that The Doctor has become very attached to the character. Although his choice of voice becomes a story element later on, this is a very clever way to develop the relationship without Lucie being present in the story (having left The Doctor in the previous instalment). It also provides Sheridan Smith with an opportunity to play two very different characters: The Doctors current, sweet android Daphne and his previous, sinister android Sophie. Smith embraces the opportunity and provides some very humorous scenes to those in the know about the real Lucie’s relationship with The Doctor.

Throughout the story, The Doctor is forced to question the very reality of the situation he is in. The drama centres on whether the characters in the story are willing to risk the lives of billions to further their own ends. However, while fun at first, the discussion between The Doctor and Hagan the rebel – during which they each present different theories about nature of their scenario – goes on for too long. While McGann’s Doctor is, by nature, calm and reasoned in his discussion, this is complimented by the performance of Antony Costa which comes across slightly flat in these scenes and detracts from the potential drama.

Still, the story quickly picks up the pace and leads to a very satisfying conclusion. Of particular note is the sound effects used throughout. The use of different alarms in a number of scenes really adds to the tense atmosphere. There is an alarm for various dangerous scenarios and more sound as the situation grows more and more dire. It’s a very simple method, but also very effective. Add to all this a gripping final moment that will have you counting the days till the next release in the series, and this story comes highly recommended.

 

16 January 2011

Manufacturer: BBC Audio / AudioGO

RRP: £13.99

Release Date: 22nd November 2010

Reviewed by: Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 16th January 2011

Doctor Who: The Essential Companion, could be considered as somewhat of an experiment, as New Series Audiobooks go, but it's most definitely an experiment that works, and one which will hopefully pave the way for future series of the show.

What we have here is a narrated retelling of the stories and events that occurred throughout Series 5 of Doctor Who combined with expositional sound clips from the show.

Alex Price, who portrayed the character of Francesco in the Series 5 story, The Vampires of Venice, provides the narration, and offers a warm and engaging link that knits the audiobook together quite seamlessly.

Spread out over two CD's and at a retail price of just £13.99, the product definitely lives up to its name as the essential companion.  Disc One looks at Series 5 through to the end of The Vampires of Venice, and Disc Two neatly covers right through to the end of The Big Bang.

Even if you own the complete series 5 on DVD, this acts as a great accompaniment - and one that enables the listener to experience those 13 episodes in a brand new, and exciting way.

 

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