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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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