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Roderick Donald

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8 June 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mark Wright & Tim Foley

RRP: £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Two brand new adventures for the Third Doctor, Liz Shaw and Sarah Jane Smith:

7.1 The Unzal Incursion by Mark Wright

Under the supervision of the Doctor, the Brigadier and Dr Liz Shaw, UNIT are getting ready to activate Hotspur: their new, advanced early warning system.

But something goes wrong. Can it be that UNIT has been betrayed from within? Suddenly bases are falling across the globe, and only the Doctor and his friends are able to escape.

Not knowing how far the conspiracy goes, the Doctor, Liz and the Brigadier become fugitives. Their investigations lead them to the Fulcrum military training facility. And something beyond the Earth.

7.2 The Gulf by Tim Foley

The TARDIS lands on an ocean planet where the Doctor and Sarah find themselves stranded on a former rig, which has recently been converted into an artistic retreat.

But art is far from the residents’ minds. A troubled member of their collective has disappeared, and the Doctor senses a sinister psychic presence. The waves are rising. And there’s something in the water."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

We’re thrown back into the 70s this month with two new adventures featuring the Third Doctor, Sarah-Jane, Liz Shaw, and the Brigadier. Taking place in two different eras of the Third Doctor’s time on the show, we’re given two completely different stories here in the seventh volume of The Third Doctor Adventures.

The first story, The Unzal Incursion, written by Mark Wright, is a pacy, bombastic adventure which sees the Doctor, Liz Shaw, and the Brigadier become fugitives who have to go on the run when it seems that UNIT has turned against them. 

This four-part story never really lets up, right from the first minute. It’s an action-packed game of cat and mouse, with the Doctor and his friends always trying to keep ahead of the people that are chasing them, by any means necessary. There are car chases, airplane chases, and even a big Venusian Aikido fight for the Doctor against the villainous Unzal in this rip roaring adventure. It was a thoroughly entertaining ride, and one I’m looking forward to revisiting already.

I must give praise to the acting in this story. Daisy Ashford is brilliant as Liz Shaw and provides a really convincing performance as Liz Shaw, the role her late mother, Caroline John, used to play in the show. I was very impressed with what I heard from her in this boxset and look forward to hearing more from her in the future. 

Jon Culshaw is also utterly fantastic. His impression of the Brigadier is so scarily accurate that I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t actually Nicholas Courtney who was stood behind the microphone. I always knew Culshaw was good with his impressions, but this was something else. A 10 out of 10 performance and impression.

My only criticism of this adventure is that I feel as though the final ‘fight’ between the Doctor and his friends and the Unzal in episode four fell a bit flat. The Unzal were much more intimidating when they were hidden away, rather than when they went all ‘lumbering monster’ and turned up for a scrap at the end.

I was a big fan of the Unzal’s plan, however, and thought it was a nice, clever change from the usual ‘alien invasion of Earth’ trope. The ‘mystery’ that was left dangling at the end was also a really nice touch.

Overall, for the most part, this was a pacy, exciting adventure with fantastic performances from all the cast that was a real joy to listen to. I’m hoping for more adventures with Ashford’s Liz and Culshaw’s Brigadier in the future.

The second story, The Gulf, written by Tim Foley, was in my opinion, the slightly stronger story from this boxset. Featuring Sadie Miller as Sarah Jane, this adventure takes place aboard an old rig out in the midsts of an ocean planet. The rig, which floats just above the water (which is a really cool mental image) is now home to an artist’s retreat which is seemingly being haunted by a maleficent telepathic force.

This base-under-siege-esque adventure was a nervy, atmospheric story that could be quite disturbing at times. You could really feel the claustrophobic sense of isolation here, and the Doctor and his friends being chased through the rig as it slowly falls into the sea was incredibly exciting. 

I was particularly impressed with the performances from the guest cast in this adventure. Everyone was on top form, in particular, Wendy Craig as the famous painter, Marta Malvani. Lucy Goldie also gives a chilling performance as Laurel, the woman who fell into the sea and came back changed. 

The Gulf is Sadie Miller’s second appearance as Sarah Jane Smith following her debut in The Return of the Cybermen earlier this year, and I was once again really impressed, and blown away, by how similar she sounded to Elisabeth Sladen at times! It wasn’t an outright impression, but there were times where it was really uncanny, especially towards the end. I’m looking forwards to hearing more from her in future audios.

It goes without saying that Tim Treloar was absolutely brilliant as the Third Doctor in this boxset. He nailed his impression, as always, and had everything right, down to even the smallest of mannerisms. 

In fact, it was really weird, and obviously really impressive, that every single performance of these much-loved characters was an impression of them given by another actor. I honestly felt as though I’d just tumbled back through time into the 70s and was listening to the original cast act out two brand new audio adventures for me. I did have to keep reminding myself that these people weren’t the real actors, and I guess that just goes to show how brilliant they all were in this boxset.

I also have to give huge praise to the production team too. The sound design in particular was excellent, and really felt as though they’d lifted music straight from the show and placed it into this boxset. This volume was clearly made by people who loved this era of the show, and the adventures available here really feel as though they could slot into their respective seasons quite easily. 

If you’re a fan of this time in the show’s history, or if you just want to sit back and listen to two excellent, atmospheric, pacy stories that will have you gripped throughout, then I highly recommend you giving this volume of The Third Doctor Adventures a listen. It’s a huge success, and I for one can’t wait to see where they go next in volume 8. 

Excellent stuff. 

+ The 3rd Doc. Adventures: Vol. 7 is OUT NOW, priced £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

14 May 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: May 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Three brand new adventures featuring Christopher Eccleston as the Ninth Doctor, written by Nicholas Briggs.

1.1 Sphere of Freedom

On the Sphere of Freedom, the Doctor is about to shut down an evil Immersive Games business empire. He’s assisted by a valiant galley chef called Nova. But his plan spectacularly fails... And who exactly is Audrey?

1.2 Cataclysm

Nova is dislocated in time while the Time Eddies are out of control. Meanwhile, the Doctor is about to face the end of the universe. Or is that just the Battle of Waterloo?

1.3 Food Fight 

The TARDIS is starting to get a little crowded! Audrey finds herself haunted by a ghostly Doctor."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

This isn’t a sentence I ever thought I’d get the opportunity to write, but after 16 years away, Christopher Eccleston is finally back as the Ninth Doctor in Ravagers, a boxset of three brand new episodes courtesy of Big Finish Productions

I’m cutting to the chase here, but it’s absolutely incredible to hear Christopher Eccleston back in the role. I never thought it would happen, but he’s back, and it doesn’t sound like he’s ever been away. Within seconds of the first episode starting, he is, without a doubt, the Doctor again. There’s no adjustment period, no shaky moments, or times where you’re not sure whether he’s fully in the role yet — he’s just the Ninth Doctor, from minute one all the way through to the end. I was instantly transported back to 2005 listening to these adventures, back to being 8 years old curled up on the sofa, watching this mad, mysterious, brilliant man save the universe. It was, in short, an amazing experience listening to this boxset. 

Ravagers, the first of four (and hopefully more) volumes starring the Ninth Doctor, is a series of three inter-connected episodes. Set Pre-Rose, these stories see the Doctor go up against an enormous gaming business empire that is using time itself to provide its rich clients with incredible, yet stupidly dangerous, immersive video game experiences. The Doctor, teaming up with Nova, his companion-of-sorts, must stop the game business empire’s plans, or risk the end of the universe itself.

The first episode, Sphere of Freedom, throws us straight into the action, mid-adventure, with the Doctor and Nova (Camilla Beeput) defeating the games corporation’s plans, until everything goes wrong and Nova is taken by a time-eddy. The Doctor then meets the mysterious Audrey and fills her in on everything that’s happened, giving us an opportunity to see what led to him attempting to stopping the gaming empire in the first place. 

This episode is a hell of a lot of fun, mostly in part to the fantastic chemistry between the Doctor and Audrey (Jayne McKenna), as they banter, snark, and flirt with each other as the Doctor tells her his story. But it’s also fun because we get to listen to him travel to London in 1959 and stop a battle between a Roman legion and British soldiers from breaking out, track time eddy’s, and team up with galley chef Nova in an attempt to bring down the gaming empire on the Sphere of Freedom. It’s a really strong start to the set, provides us with a compelling mystery, and leaves us with a gripping cliffhanger that ensures that you’ll be desperate to listen to more.

The second episode, Cataclysm, is a bit slower than the first episode, but just as entertaining. It’s a lot more timey-wimey than any of the Ninth Doctor’s adventures on television, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. It follows the Doctor as he tries to escape Audrey’s traps, find Nova, and stop the universe from imploding, which has already happened. Sort of. It’s definitely an episode that you’re going to have to pay full attention to, that’s for sure. 

The Doctor and Nova’s dynamic is great, and they bounce off of each other really well throughout the boxset. Nova is very different from Rose, and so is her relationship with the Doctor. Whilst both characters’ main reason for accompanying the Doctor on his travels is to experience a better life, Nova is tougher, snarkier, and far less trusting of the Doctor than Rose is, which is a lot of fun. It’s great that we’ve got a completely different companion for the Doctor in this boxset too, rather than just a simple carbon copy of Rose, which I admit I was worried would be the case when this boxset was first announced. I’m glad to see that I was proven wrong. 

The final episode, Food Fight, is also the episode that wraps up the whole Ravagers arc. The Doctor and Nova, along with all the characters we’ve met along the way unite to launch one final attack on the gaming empire in an attempt to save the universe. If you thought the last episode was a bit timey-wimey, wait until you listen to this one. 

Whilst Food Fight does get a bit complicated at times and does take a lot of concentration to fully keep up with, it wraps up the Ravagers storyline well, and leaves us counting down the days until the next volume of the Ninth Doctor’s adventures is released! 

The monsters of the plays, the titular Ravagers, don’t really make much of an appearance in these episodes. Though they are largely absent from proceedings, their presence is still felt very strongly throughout. 

Whilst the cast are all excellent and give great performances throughout, Eccleston, McKenna, and Beeput in particular, praise must also be given to the team who made all of this happen, in particular scriptwriter and executive producer, Nicholas Briggs. I was so impressed with the three scripts he’s written for this boxset, and he absolutely nails the Ninth Doctor here. This isn’t a Doctor who’s moping about the Time War or upset about being the last of the Time Lords, this is a version of the Ninth Doctor who’s having the time of his life, who’s full of energy, and who’s full of hope. Briggs captures all of that and more in the three brilliant scripts he’s penned for this boxset. A huge round of applause for all involved, both behind the scenes and in front of the microphones.

If I have any criticisms at all, it’s that the timey-wimey does become a bit too much and a bit too confusing to keep up with at times, but that could just be a personal thing. Other than that incredibly minor issue, this is a well-written, brilliantly performed boxset featuring a Christopher Eccleston who you can just tell is having a whale of a time back in the role, and that’s the best thing about it. It’s also so refreshing that the boxset is sort of disconnected from the 2005 series too. It’s set before the events of Rose, before Nine burst back onto our screen, and so the story possibilities are almost endless. 

I can’t quite believe that this boxset is a real thing. I never, ever thought Eccleston would come back to the worlds of Doctor Who, but I am so, so glad that he is. If Ravagers is anything to go by, I really can’t wait to see what Big Finish have up their sleeves next. I know that there are adventures with the Cybermen and the Brigadier yet to come for the Ninth Doctor, and if I wasn’t excited before, I definitely am now. August can’t come soon enough.

There’s only one word to describe this boxset really, isn’t there... and I think everyone knows what it is. You guessed it. Fantastic! 

+ The 9th Doc. Adventures: Ravagers is OUT NOW, priced £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (D/L).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

5 May 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Guy Adams & Sarah Grochala

RRP: £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"5.1  For the Glory of Urth by Guy Adams

The TARDIS has barely landed in an alien sewer when a distant scream sends Susan racing to give aid, and the crew split up.

Trying to reunite, the travellers find themselves in something resembling a monastery led by a man half-way between an Abbot and a warlord. They discover that they are in Urth, a barbaric place clinging on to its former glory.

It's somewhere its populace are never allowed to leave, somewhere keeping many secrets from its people.

And today those secrets will be revealed...

5.2 The Hollow Crown by Sarah Grochala

When the TARDIS lands in Shoreditch, 1601, the Doctor suggests going to see a play at the Globe Theatre and his friends readily agree.

But this is a turbulent time. There is violence in the street, plots against the Queen, and rebellion is in the air. At the centre of it all stands the most famous playwright in British history - William Shakespeare - who is having troubles of his own.

As tensions mount and wheels turn within wheels, the travellers are about to discover if the play really is the thing..."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

I’m going to admit right off the bat that whilst I was always interested in listening to these audio adventures featuring David Bradley’s version of the First Doctor, I just never got round doing so. So listening to The First Doctor Adventures: Volume Five for this review has been my first foray into this version of the First Doctor’s era, and whilst it was a bit of a mixed affair, I will definitely be coming back to listen to more in the future. 

The first of the two stories on this boxset is For the Glory of Urth by Guy Adams, an adventure in a dystopian future where everything is horrible and bleak. The ‘humans’ who are left in this dark, disturbing world despise aliens with a passion, which isn’t good news for the Doctor and his friends. 

Out of the TARDIS team, it’s probably Susan, played by Claudia Grant, who gets the most to do in this story. She becomes a voice of reason in this horrific future world and is eventually sent on a diplomatic mission to improve relations between the humans and the aliens they hate so much. The exploration and focus on Susan’s character in this story was something I was a big fan of, and is something I’m glad to say is a major part of this boxset as a whole. 

I guess my main criticism of this story, however, is just how little else really happens. The Doctor spends most of the adventure locked up and tortured, whilst Ian and Barbara are sent down the sewers along with Brooskin, the weird-looking creature on the cover of the boxset, who’s as odd as it looks. There’s a couple of close shaves with death for the trio, but other than that, they don’t get much to do, which I found to be a little disappointing. I hate to admit it, but I found my attention drifting often during this story too. It’s a real shame because I usually really enjoy stories based in dystopian settings like this. It just didn’t really feel like a First Doctor adventure to me, and I don’t think the pace of the play helped either. 

I must say that I did enjoy the portrayal of Urth’s very own Big Brother, Daddy Dominous, played by Clive Wood, though. His slimy announcements over the tannoy system and bickering with Mummy Martial (Amanda Hurwitz) gave this otherwise bleak tale a bit of a humour and light-heartedness. And Bruddle Medicus (Phil Mulryne), a sadist who loves experimenting on aliens and making them scream, is utterly despicable and is one of those characters that makes you wish horrible things upon them. 

Though this story did miss the mark a bit for me personally, I’m sure that if you’re a fan of Orwellian-type dystopian stories, where themes of hatred and fear of the unknown are examined in great detail, then this should well be a story you’ll enjoy. 

The second story, The Hollow Crown, written by Sarah Grochala, was much more up my street and, in my opinion, was the stronger of the two stories. 

Following on from their trip to the horrible future, the TARDIS team land in the equally horrible past, in London, where the threat of revolution is growing and tensions are high. The TARDIS crew must team up with William Shakespeare himself to ensure that history doesn’t go awry and that the world’s most famous playwright doesn’t lose his head. 

Following on from her star turn in the previous adventure, Susan is once more given a lot to do in this story. Her partnership with Lauren Cornelius’ Jude was one of the strongest parts of the play, and gave Susan an opportunity to explore her rebellious side, much to the displeasure of the rest of the gang. 

Again, this story doesn’t give Ian and Barbara much to do, and the Doctor is once more locked up, but his chats with Nicholas Ashbury’s more weary version of Shakespeare in the Tower of London were yet another highlight of the story. I was also a big fan of the fact that the Doctor’s future meddling, aka marrying and ditching Elizabeth I, affected this Doctor, despite him being centuries away from even doing those things. A little nod to The Shakespeare Code also gave me a geeky little buzz too.

The guest cast in this story were brilliant, in particular Lauren Cornelius as Jude and Wendy Craig as Elizabeth I. Ian Conningham was great as both the villain of the play, Lord Cecil, and as the Earl of Essex, and Liane-Rose Bunch is a lot of fun as the ambitious and power-hungry, Lady Penelope Rich. 

The biggest highlight of this boxset for me is the development of Susan. Carole Ann Ford herself said that all Susan seemed to do in the show was scream at things, but this boxset does much, much more than have Susan be the whiny damsel in distress. The Susan in these stories is headstrong, she dives into action, and she’s more than ready to rebel against her grandfather and her friends if it means doing the right thing. In fact, she’s almost unrecognisable from the Susan in the show at times, and that’s no bad thing. The expansion of Susan’s character is the biggest achievement of this boxset for me, and Claudia Grant is excellent in the role. 

David Bradley, Claudia Grant, Jamie Glover, and Jemma Powell really have made the roles of the original TARDIS team their own, and by the end of this boxset I was completely convinced that they were the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan. Whilst it was a bit of a mixed bag for me, there were still some interesting ideas in here, and great performances from the whole cast, regulars and guests alike. With this boxset ending on an intriguing little cliff-hanger, it’s safe to say that I am definitely up for finding out what happens next! An enjoyable listen for the most part. 

+ The 1st Doc. Adventures: Vol. 5 is OUT NOW, priced £24.99 (CD) | £19.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

23 April 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Robert Valentine, Robert Whitelock & Matt Fitton

RRP: £19.99 (CD) | £16.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Abandoned in the Vortex, the Master’s lost incarnation is about to be thrown a lifeline.

Earth rebuilds in the aftermath of invasion, and power rests with those who innovate. Genius Lila Kreeg makes a deal with the devil to see her dreams fulfilled.

As the Master returns, there are those – like Vienna Salvatori – who wish to hunt him, and those upon whom he wishes vengeance himself...

1. Faustian by Robert Valentine

Drake Enterprises is the most powerful company on Earth. Dr Lila Kreeg is its most valued asset. But her experiments open a doorway which allow an evil back into the universe. The Master can offer Lila the world, so long as she obeys him...

2. Prey by Robert Whitelock

Impossibly glamorous assassin Vienna Salvatori has a new target. Crossing time and space, Vienna takes one final job to free her from this life.

But when the Master is hunted through the slums and ganglands of London, the line is blurred between predator and prey...

3. Vengeance by Matt Fitton

The Daleks are returning. Their plan, long in the making, is complete. Earth will be theirs once more.

But someone stands against them. Someone with his own reasons for revenge – and Vienna and Lila are caught in the crossfire. Because Earth’s greatest hope against the Daleks lies with the Master."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

One thing I love about Big Finish is how they give even the smallest of characters a second life once their time in the show, however brief, is over. The War Doctor and the Jacobi Master are just a couple of great examples of characters who’ve been given a second shot to establish themselves within the worlds of Doctor Who thanks to the Big Finish and their seemingly endless supply of stories.

And now, 25 years after his seemingly one-off appearance in the 1996 TV Movie, Eric Roberts’ Master finally gets an extended run-out in the Whoniverse thanks to this new, 3-episode boxset, Master! 

Despite having made a couple of appearances in previous Big Finish dramas, this is the first time where the Roberts' Master is the real star of the show, and after having listened to this boxset, I’m really struggling to understand why they didn’t think of doing something like this sooner! 

I’m cutting to the chase here, but Roberts is honestly brilliant in this series. He’s almost snake-like, with his silky smooth voice never really fully concealing the real venom within. He’s not one to get angry or lose his head like his other incarnations, but he’s just as dangerous, just as wicked, and just as ready to betray people, even those he claims to like. I was very, very impressed with Roberts performance and would love for him to come back and do some more audio dramas in the hopefully not-so-distant future.

There’s no time-travelling or space-hopping in this boxset, which was a welcome surprise. Every single episode is set in a Cyber-punk-inspired London in the year 2223, or in other words, a London post The Dalek invasion of Earth. The world is rebuilding and mega corporations hold the power now, which is a pretty scary concept in itself. Over three episodes we follow the Master as he builds himself up from nothing to become the most powerful man on the planet, going up against mob bosses, assassins and Daleks along the way. 

The first episode, Faustian written by Robert Valentine, tells the tale of Lila Kreeg, a scientific genius, as she tries to master the art of matter transfer. However, the company she works for, Drake Enterprises, keep trying to shut down her experiments. When her experiments start affecting time as well as space, the Master shows up, and Lila rescues him from the void. 

Faustian is a bit of a slow burner, and we do spend an awful lot of time with Laura Aikman’s Lila, but that’s certainly no bad thing. I was really invested in the character and her experiments, and the Master turning up and brutally making his way to the top with Lila at his side just added to what was already a really engaging story. I have to praise Laura Aikman too, who gives great performances throughout the 3 episodes and makes a great companion-of-sorts to the best villain around. 

The second episode, Prey, written by Robert Whitelock, is a big sci-fi mob movie with robots, assassins, and mutated underground-dwelling humans thrown into the mix for good measure. Vienna Salvatori, a brilliant assassin, is out to kill the Master, and what takes place over the course of this episode is a game of hide-and-seek throughout the slums and backwaters of a future London. 

I know that Vienna Salvatori, played by Chase Masterson, has appeared in Big Finish audio dramas before, however this is my first time meeting the character, and I’ve got to say I was impressed. I really enjoyed her teaming up with the war droid, Artie, and will definitely be checking out the rest of her adventures soon. 

The third episode, Vengeance, written by Matt Fitton, is presumably the one everyone’s been waiting for. The Daleks are back in this sort of sequel to The Dalek Invasion of Earth from 1964, and the only thing between them and world domination is the Master. This is an episode that’s full of backstabbing, betrayals, and plenty of Dalek action, and I really enjoyed it.

I’m always impressed by how Nicholas Briggs manages to make the Daleks he plays so different from each other. The Dalek Litigator is slimy, even for a Dalek, and really reminded me of the Dalek Prime Strategist from the Time Lord Victorious storyline, whilst the Dalek Supreme was paranoid and quick to anger. Though the power battle between the Litigator and the Supreme felt a little too similar to what happened in the Daleks! YouTube series between the Strategist and the Emperor, it was still an interesting element all the same. 

The Master facing off against the Daleks was fun, and the ending definitely leaves it open for more appearances from Eric Roberts’ Master in the future, should Roberts ever want to return of course, which I hope he does. 

Whilst Roberts’ Master may never reach the heights of those who have come before and after him, this boxset leaves us in no doubt that he is the Master. Featuring great performances all round, an interesting Blade Runner-inspired setting, twists, explosions, and plenty of evil Master laughs, this is a boxset everyone should give a listen to, be they fans of the Roberts’ Master or not. If it doesn’t redeem him, at the very least it gives us an interesting and more in-depth take on a fan favourite character. 

+ Master! is OUT NOW, priced £19.99 (CD) | £16.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

19 April 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alfie Shaw

RRP: £8.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Trapped, a haunted monster waits to consume new victims. It needs help. It needs a doctor. Unfortunately, it also needs to kill whoever it meets. Thrust into immediate danger, and on the back-foot, it will take all of the Doctor’s ingenuity to triumph.

Two interlinked adventures. Two Doctors. One foe."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

After months of postponement thanks to the pandemic, Big Finish finally brings the Time Lord Victorious saga to a close with Echoes of Extinction, a multi-doctor story of sorts featuring both Paul McGann and David Tennant.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive going into this audio drama. I haven’t exactly paid that much attention to the Time Lord Victorious saga, mainly because I’m not made of money, so I was unsure as to whether or not I would understand any of what was to come in Echoes of Extinction. I know a little of the Time Lord Victorious story thanks to a couple of the books and comic strips I’ve read, but I was still a little worried that there would be plot points that I wouldn’t understand that would affect my enjoyment of the story. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

In fact, after having listened to this audio drama, other than a couple of references towards the TLV storyline right at the end, I’m struggling to understand why this story was even a part of the TLV in the first place. Other than acting as a little coda to the series, Echoes of Extinction could well have been just a regular release from Big Finish and it wouldn’t have made a single bit of a difference. 

The story itself consists of two half-hour episodes that are interlinked, which is a pretty neat concept and works well. One episode features the Eighth Doctor and the other features the Tenth Doctor, but it’s all one long overarching story. The Tenth Doctor has to clean up the mess the Eighth Doctor made in his episode as they both go up against the same enemy. 

Though there are two Doctor’s present in this story, they don’t directly interact with each other at any point, meaning this isn’t the sort of multi-doctor story we’re used to. 

I for one was pretty pleased that the Doctor’s don’t interact with each other. Over the past few years, I feel as though multi-doctor stories have become less of an event and more of just a thing that seem’s to happen on a regular basis in audio dramas, comics, and novels. The regularity of all these Doctor’s constantly meeting each other just kills the multi-doctor magic, and it becomes less special. Therefore, I have to praise writer Alfie Shaw for resisting the urge to have Eight and Ten meet up and swap sarcastic comments. The story works much better without all the usual, somewhat tedious, multi-doctor shenanigans thrown into the mix.

As for the story itself, it’s actually quite enjoyable. The first episode follows the Eighth Doctor as he lands on a space station manned by a butler droid called Edwards, his owner/captive, Jasmine, and a psychopathic serial killer called the Network. It’s in this episode that we learn who and what the Network is and discover what it actually wants. The episode ends on a cliffhanger, which leads us into Doctor number ten’s episode.

The second part of this story takes place on the planet the space station was orbiting. The Tenth Doctor has to mop up the mess his previous incarnation left behind and bring an end to the Network before it can slaughter the rest of the universe. 

Whilst I did enjoy this story, I do feel a little let down by the villain. In the first episode, the Network is built up to be this complex, psychopathic villain who is struggling with a bit of an identity crisis, however, by the end of the second episode it seems to have just regressed into a shouty monster who wants to kill everyone. Burn Gorman, brings an air of menace to the Network and is unrecognisable in the role. 

I have to further praise Alfie Shaw on how well he’s written both Doctor’s too, in particular the Tenth Doctor. He’s a lot sadder, a lot snappier, and seem’s to have a much shorter fuse than usual, which is definitely in keeping with where he’s at in terms of being the self-appointed Time Lord Victorious. It’s also always great to hear David Tennant back in the role too - so, bonus points for that. 

As always, Paul McGann is great and is brilliantly sarcastic, witty, and clever when going up against the Network as he tries to save Jasmine’s life. I am yet to hear Paul McGann give a performance that’s anything other than brilliant. 

In terms of timelines, from what I could gather, this adventure is set before the Eighth Doctor’s involvement in the Time Lord Victorious storyline (he hasn’t flown into the Dark Times with the Daleks yet, anyway), and it also seems to be set right at the end of the Tenth Doctor’s adventures in the TLV storyline too. I’m sure if you’ve been following TLV closer than I have it’ll wrap things up nicely, with the Doctor seemingly having learned his lesson from his war against the Kotturuh, but if you haven’t, it’s a touching ending to an enjoyable story all the same.

As well as McGann and Tennant, the guest cast is brilliant. Kathryn Drysdale was a great sort-of-companion to Eight, and Inés de Clerq was just the right amount of despicable to get you as annoyed with her as Tennant’s Doctor does. It’s also really weird hearing Arthur Darvill and Mina Anwar playing roles other than Rory Williams and Gita Chandra. Although they don’t really have much to do other than bicker and die, they’re fun additions to the cast all the same.

According to producer Scott Handcock, Echoes of Extinction can be listened to in any order. However, if you’re a more of a fan of linear storylines, I’d recommend listening to the Eighth Doctor’s story first, then the Tenth’s, like I did. It’ll make much more sense that way, but again, it’s entirely up to you. 

Overall, this is an enjoyable story with great performances from the two leads, and takes full advantage of a really interesting concept, that being future Doctor’s having to clean up the mess or finish jobs their past selves set in motion. Whilst I’m still unsure as to why Echoes of Extinction had to be a part of the Time Lord Victorious storyline, it’s still an enjoyable enough story all the same. 

+ TLV: Echoes Of Extinction is OUT NOW, priced £8
.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

16 April 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney & Andrew Smith

RRP: £24.99 (CD) / £19.99 (Download)

Release Date: April 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Time has gone awry. The Doctor is lost, without his TARDIS. But he’s not alone. The Space Security Service agents Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven haven’t always been on his side in the past, but now they are here to help him.

And he’s going to need them - because the oldest foes of all are waiting to strike. Ready to take down their greatest enemy...

1.1 Buying Time by John Dorney

The far future. Anya Kingdom of the Space Security Service is on a mission investigating an SSS ship crashing on a distant jungle planet. Unknown to her superiors, she’s searching for something very specific... but what she finds is completely unexpected. Her old friend, the Doctor. With a completely different face and no idea what he’s doing there.

The Time Lord soon finds himself drawn into a conspiracy involving voracious predators, time travel and a malevolent businessman.

History itself is breaking down. If he makes a mistake, it could mean the end of everything...

1.2 The Wrong Woman by John Dorney

The team’s investigations have taken an unexpected turn - but the signs all still point to Sheldrake. With the clock ticking down to the launch of the time tunnels, the Doctor, Anya and Mark split up... but soon discover how hard it is to fight a foe who can always keep one step ahead of you.

But stopping him is only half the battle. The Doctor says that time can be rewritten - and Anya is searching for redemption. Can she put history back on track? Or is the Doctor’s future never going to be the same again?

1.3 The House of Kingdom by Andrew Smith

The Doctor and his friends are trying to locate a scientist to help them on their quest... but an attack on a space-station alters their plans.

Rescued by Anya's grandfather, Merrick, and taken to Neptune, the Doctor and Mark discover her family history. A story of betrayal and loss.

Will the Kingdoms be reconciled? Or are they destined to continue the mistakes of the past?"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

The Tenth Doctor is back in a new series of adventures in this first volume of Dalek Universe. Paired up with new ‘companions’ Anya Kingdom and Mark Seven, out of time and without his TARDIS, this volume of adventures really does feel like something very different from what we’re used to when the Tenth Doctor is involved. 

Consisting of three episodes, Dalek Universe 1 takes us from the jungle world of Myra to Earth in the 44th century and all the way out to a terraformed Neptune populated by Mechanoids. It really does feel as though Big Finish have literally scooped the Tenth Doctor out of the 21st century and dumped him into the pages of a classic sci-fi comic strip. The Space Security Service, Mechanoids, Varga plants, and the return of a very familiar villain all make this first boxset of the new series feel very 60s inspired. I can just as much imagine William Hartnell’s Doctor having these adventures as I can David Tennant’s.

Those of you who are looking forward to non-stop, wall-to-wall Dalek action, however, will be very disappointed. Though their presence is definitely felt, particularly in the third episode, the Daleks are reduced to nothing more than a ten-second cameo in the middle of the boxset. It’s certainly a bold move from Big Finish, considering the boxset is literally called Dalek Universe, but honestly, I thought it was all the better for it. You know the Daleks are going to turn up at some point, it’s just you’re not sure when, and that’s just going to make their eventual return that much more dramatic and rewarding.

You can tell that this series is going to be a bit more of a slow burner too, and though the stories move on at a decent pace, by the end of the final episode in this boxset, you’ll feel as though things are only just getting started.

The first episode, Buying Time by John Dorney, is the strongest of the set. Pitting the Doctor, Anya Kingdom, and Mark Seven up against invisible monsters in an alien jungle was great fun. The race against time to stop the launch of a time travel device manufactured by Mark Gatiss’ George Sheldrake, a callous, genius businessman, only added to the drama.

The main talking point of Buying Time, however, will be that ending and that cliffhanger. I can guarantee you that you will not see it coming in a million years!

Following on from the shocking cliff-hanger that I won’t spoil, is the second part of Dorney’s story, The Wrong Woman. Without going into too many spoilers, Gemma Whelan as ‘The Newcomer’ is great fun, and I’m sure fans will really enjoy her portrayal of the character that she’s playing. This was a story full of twists, turns, brilliant acting from Tennant, and dinosaurs, and I, for the most part, really enjoyed it.

My only issue with this episode was I feel as though Mark Gatiss’ character was a bit wasted. He seems to have gone from a chilling, uncaring villain in the first episode to just some random businessman who only cares about money. Without a proper villain, I feel as though this episode did fall a bit flat at times, but Tennant and Whelan bouncing off each other certainly did help a lot!

The third episode, The House of Kingdom by Andrew Smith, was a strong end to the boxset, and really did feel like we’d stumbled back into an adventure from the 60s.

Escaping from space pirates in an outer-space transit station, the Doctor, Mark, and Anya are rescued and taken to Neptune, which is in the process of being terraformed with help from the Mechanoids. Soon the gang is mixed up in a conspiracy involving the SSS and a certain dangerous type of plant life from the planet Skaro. Not only does this episode explore Anya Kingdom’s character and background more, but it’s also the episode where the Dalek’s presence felt the strongest, despite them not appearing at all within the story. And that cliffhanger at the end has definitely left me wanting more.

On a personal note, the Tenth Doctor is my favourite Doctor and the one I grew up watching, so it’s always great fun hearing David Tennant back in the role. Set during the 2009 Specials era (I assume — it’s definitely post-Donna), we get a Tenth Doctor who’s a bit more broken than in some of the other appearances he’s made in his Big Finish adventures so far. Lamenting the loss of the Time Lords, Rose, and Donna, you can really feel the Doctor’s vulnerability at times during these adventures, which makes me think that maybe that aspect of his personality will become a larger part of proceedings the further into the series we go. Will we get to explore more of the Time Lord Victorious, perhaps?

This mournful aspect of Ten’s character was particularly apparent during The Wrong Woman, but I don’t want to spoil any of that episode for you, so you’ll have to listen to it to see what I’m alluding to.

And of course, the writers, John Dorney and Andrew Smith have nailed the Tenth Doctor. He’s absolutely the chatty, cheeky, energetic Doctor we all know and love, and I could have quite happily spent much, much longer than the 3 or so hours we get with him here.

As for Jane Slavin as Anya Kingdom and Joe Sims as Mark Seven, they make great companions to the Doctor and are welcome additions to the cast. It isn’t all happy families, however, as the Doctor is still trying to get over Anya betraying him, and a lot of the first couple of episodes is spent exploring that.

Mark the android is also a lot of fun, though I feel as though he didn’t really get much to do in The Wrong Woman other than shoot at the big lumbering baddies, which was a shame.

It’ll be very interesting seeing where this series goes next, especially after the cliff-hanger that ended this first volume. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Tenth Doctor go up against the Daleks, especially considering where he’s at now after losing Donna following his last battle with them, and I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll get to catch up with Gemma Whelan’s character again in future boxsets.

For now, Dalek Universe 1 is a trio of adventures that are not only fun in their own right, but intriguingly sets up what’s to come next. It’s good to have the Tenth Doctor back!

+ Dalek Universe 1 is OUT NOW, priced £2
4.99 (CD) / £19.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

1 April 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Robert Valentine

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2021

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"The Universe is in a state of crisis, facing destruction from the results of a strange spatio-temporal event. And the Doctor is involved in three different incarnations - each caught up in a deadly adventure, scattered across time and space.

The whole of creation is threatened - and someone is hunting the Doctor. The three incarnations of the Doctor must join together to confront their implacable pursuer - but in doing so will they unleash a still greater threat?"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

I remember the launch of Big Finish Production’s Doctor Who plays vividly, listening to Talking ‘Bout My Regeneration while playing Super Mario 64 and being pretty intrigued as I died yet again in the bloody sinking sand. I was treated to The Sirens of Time on CD by my dad and copied it to an audio cassette to listen to in the car while being driven up to Coventry for Battlefield 3, a Doctor Who convention I attended with an old school friend. I couldn’t resist sneaking a quick listen the night before though, just a couple of scenes with Peter Davison. It all felt so exciting: new Who, at last!

It was years later that I had money of my own to spend and I eagerly jumped into the Big Finish fray. Paul McGann became one of my very favourite actors to play the role; writers such as Jacqueline Rayner and Robert Shearman blew me away; Dalek Empire was incredible; and companions like Evelyn and Charley intrigued me. Of course, for every high there were lows that hit rock bottom hard, as anyone who’s endured Dreamtime can attest to. Broadly speaking though, it all felt very fresh and exciting, bursting full of energy and new ideas and monsters and concepts.

Let’s be fair, Big Finish was never going to keep that momentum up, especially not 275 releases into its monthly range, but even so, it’s curious to see how Big Finish has changed with time. Gone is the newness that once was, replaced by releases crammed with old enemies or planets or characters. Gone is the sense of special brevity, replaced by spin-off series all over the place. Gone is the wide pool of writers, increasingly narrowed down to the same people time and again. Frankly, gone is a lot of the magic that made Big Finish so brilliant.

Here we are then with The End of the Beginning, the final play in the monthly range; a play which tries to claw back some of the range’s past glories and does, in part, succeed in doing so.

Robert Valentine has written a play here consciously structured in part like Sirens was all those years ago: a sole Doctor in parts One to Three and then all of them united at the end. Valentine previously wrote The Lovecraft Invasion for the monthly range (very good until they added in some ‘damage control’ scenes, which rank up there with the worst thing Big Finish have ever done to kill a release dead) and so he undoubtedly feels like a slightly odd shout for the man to handle the final outing, though at the same time it’s rather nice that a less familiar voice is handling it. It makes it that bit more unexpected, and of course outside of the inner reaches of fandom Nicholas Briggs wasn’t a huge name when he launched the range with the first play all those years ago. No, Valentine is a fine choice to be ending things with.

We begin with the Fifth Doctor and Turlough in the desert, with what was probably my favourite episode of the bunch. Peter Davison and Mark Strickson give it their all and the guest characters are sketched out well.  Next up it’s time for the Sixth Doctor and Constance Clarke. I wonder if Flip was originally meant to be along for the ride but then they couldn’t secure her for one reason or another? Either way, she is rendered out for the count in a coma and instead our heroes are joined by Calypso Jonze from Valentine’s aforementioned The Lovecraft Invasion. I’m mixed on this. When reviewing that play, I said that I wouldn’t mind seeing Calypso back but I fear I was wrong with that assertion. Here, Calypso felt tired and done; the joke and character beats worn thin. Also, for a release winding up a range of 275 plays, chucking in a character that’s only been in one play and expecting everyone to keep up feels a bit strange and maybe a bit self-indulgent on Valentine’s part. Perhaps it was always the intention to have her in and Flip out but it sticks out for me, and not in an especially good way.

After this, we’re onto the Eighth Doctor and Charley in an adventure set in 1999 (see what they did there?) Do you remember the days when the Eighth Doctor was in the monthly range of plays and not relegated to box sets only? It’s been a while. Big Finish + Vampires mostly makes me think of the Seventh Doctor and the Forge, though I suppose Vampire Science worked well for the Eighth Doctor and this episode is certainly enjoyable enough, largely as India Fisher is, as always, brilliant. Paul McGann meanwhile sounds a bit like he’s stuck in a submarine, his microphone quality feeling decidedly sub-par compared to everybody else’s.  There’s a rather touching scene at the end though between him and Tim Faulkner’s character Highgate, which works really well. Two small performances in a big world that winds up being utterly touching. Ah McGann, there’s a reason you and Fisher were two of my favourites.

Throughout these episodes, we’ve had mysterious artefacts slowly being collected, a teacher from the Doctor’s past, Gostak, popping in, and a sinister character, Vakrass, last of the Death Lords of Keffa, making appearances. Things are all tied up in the final episode and, oh lordy lou, if the twist with Vakrass isn’t one of the best things Big Finish have given us in bloody ages then I don’t know what is. Genuinely, I laughed and felt utterly surprised and there, just for a moment, I was flung back to the very early days.

Gostak of course turns out to not be the wise teacher the Doctors remember but his evil plan (something to do with time), its unravelling (something to do with trickery) and its eventual disposal (something to do with… something) are pretty forgettable.  It’s been 72 hours and I’m genuinely drawing a blank, despite remembering other plot points really clearly.  I’m not sure it needs to be otherwise though, as the highlight here is meant to be the Doctors all joining forces. Valentine handles this well enough, though the companions feel like spare parts. Sylvester McCoy jumps into the fray here briefly, too, and I mean briefly. The play would have been far better served to neither mention his name in the cast list or feature his image on the CD cover, as it simultaneously raises your expectations for him to be in it in a substantial role (he isn’t) and ruins what would have been a rather nice surprise cameo.

We end things with some nod-nod-wink dialogue that has bypassed subtlety completely, being less about the Doctor going off on more adventures and more about Big Finish’s ranges continuing. Colin Baker gets the final word, which is amusingly apt, and that’s that.

How does it fare as a play? It’s okay. Not the best, far from the worst. It gets by though, and everyone seems game. How does it fare as an end to the range? Less well. It’s in a weird halfway house between being a celebration and nothing out of the ordinary. That’s entirely Big Finish’s own fault though. They’ve played around increasingly with multi-Doctor outings to the point where it’s just not special anymore. There is nothing about the various Doctors uniting here that feels celebratory or special. It just feels like more of the same from Big Finish... and that’s a crying shame. It shouldn’t be the case; it should feel special. But it doesn’t, at all.

Maybe that’s in The End of the Beginning’s favour? Maybe by robbing it of an air of being special, it means there’s less pressure to feel the weight of importance and more time to just take it for what it is. Maybe. The jury remains out.

What The End of the Beginning is, is an enjoyable enough way to kill a couple of hours with a couple of nice moments, one brilliantly unexpected character beat, and some questionable elements which totally fail to land. I’ll take it.

While a good title, The End of the Beginning does not really sum up Big Finish: that beginning died a long time ago; things are very different now. In many ways the monthly range is unrecognisable to what it once was, and so it’s set to shift again. What will the future hold? We’ll know before too long.  It won’t be me reviewing it; I’m hanging my hat up here and letting someone else get on with the business of listening to all things Big Finish from now on. I wish them luck though, and hope beyond hope that, a teensy bit of that past magic rears its head once again. Now that would be something worth celebrating.

+ The End Of The Beginning is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

** This was Nick's final review for us at Doctor Who Online and we'd like to take this opportunity to thank him for all his many years of content for us. Nick joined DWO on 23rd September 2013 for his first review for 'Fanfare For The Commen Men', and has provided reviews every month without fail.

He will be sorely missed by us all at DWO, and we would like to wish him well in his future projects. Please do take a minute to check out Nick's blog here!

- Seb 

1 April 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Lloyd (adapted by Nev Fountain)

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"Earth - a small, insignificant planet. Entirely devoid of intelligent life. 

At least, that’s according to the legal documents. The Doctor, Romana, and K9 find themselves at the centre of the most unusual trial. 

An intergalactic corporation wants to bulldoze the planet for a development project. Only a previous court’s preservation document is standing in their way. The Doctor has been summoned as an expert witness. If he can prove Earth contains intelligent life, the whole world will be saved. 

But with a fortune at stake, it was never going to be that simple."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

As a huge Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fan, when I heard that this lost adventure by Hitchhiker’s partial co-writer John Lloyd, featuring one of my favourite classic TARDIS teams, was coming to Big Finish audios, it’s safe to say that I was very excited. Reading this month’s Doctor Who Magazine interview with Lloyd and finding out what was in store just increased my anticipation further, so I went into this play with very high hopes indeed. 

The Doomsday Contract was originally developed by TV comedy producer John Lloyd to be made as part of the show’s seventeenth season back in 1979. However, after being asked to rewrite it one too many times, Lloyd decided to give up on it and go to work on Not the Nine O’Clock News instead. Script editor Douglas Adams passed on the story to Allan Prior, however, his version of the story was also ultimately rejected, and eventually, after a stint spent in development hell, the story was cancelled and forgotten about. Until now, that is. 

Adapted by Nev Fountain, The Doomsday Contract is about the Doctor, Romana, and K-9’s holiday being cut short by a court summons. The case? To prove that the Earth does in fact contain intelligent life. If the Doctor fails, the planet will be bulldozed by an intergalactic corporation in the name of a development project, a plot point that is, of course, very reminiscent of a certain radio series by a certain Douglas Adams

However, in true Doctor Who style, things start to go a bit pear-shaped, and what was originally a simple courtroom drama quickly turns into a lot of running down corridors being chased by killer children, giant slugs, and what seem to be medieval peasants. Yes, you did read all of that correctly. 

As you would most likely expect, this is a very funny story. It is essentially Doctor Who meets Hitchhiker’s and is full of plot points, characters, and ridiculous anecdotes that you would find within the pages of a Douglas Adams novel. You can tell that John Lloyd was going for a Hitchhiker’s vibe with this adventure, and I’m glad to say it absolutely works. 

Although I found the first part of the story to be a little too slow for my liking, things definitely start to pick up a bit when the Children of Pyxis turn up, and never really let up until the court’s final judgement has been passed. 

As discussed in the behind-the-scenes feature (and in Lloyd’s interview with DWM) the Children of Pyxis were one of the elements that had to be dropped from his initial storyline due to the production team being less than keen to depict children with weapons on prime-time television. However, in this new version of the adventure, the juvenile assassins are reinstated as part of the story and make for menacing little baddies. There really isn’t anything creepier than killer children in my eyes. Especially killer children who don’t realise that what they’re doing is wrong. 

I did find it slightly disappointing at how easily dispatched the Children of Pyxis were by the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 though. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘sonic screwdriver saves the day’ trope the modern series seems to have popularised, so it was a bit of a letdown seeing that aspect of the show turn up in this otherwise fantastic audio drama. 

There were a couple of other instances where the characters were given an overly easy get-out-of-jail-free card too. One instance was when Romana and Kovaks (Spencer Banks) were trapped in a wine cellar hiding from killer slugs, and the other was when the Wadifalayeen turned up to kill the Doctor, only for us to find out that they owe him a blood debt from an unseen previous adventure. Whilst these ‘lucky’ coincidences and escapes for the Doctor and his friends did border on overly-convenient, for the most part, they didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story. 

The guest cast for this drama was also excellent. I particularly enjoyed Richard Laing’s snide, almost cheerfully evil villain, Skorpios, and was a big fan of Nicholas Briggs’ Foreman of the Lost Jury. Both characters could easily have been plucked straight from an adventure in the Hitchhikers’ universe and dropped into the world of Doctor Who

Jeany Spark and Julian Wadham were also welcome additions to the cast and definitely played a role in making this story as enjoyable as it was. 

This TARDIS team, consisting of Romana, the Fourth Doctor, and K-9, is, as I said, easily one of my all-time favourites, and I had a great time listening to them bounce off each other once more. The Doctor and K-9’s little jaunt into the Witness Protection Micro-verse was a big highlight for me, whilst Romana’s heist plot was also just as enjoyable.  

Overall, I was very impressed with this story and loved how silly, funny, and downright ridiculous it was at times. Tom Baker is clearly having a lot of fun with the material that he’s been given, and the absurdity and comedy of the story definitely satisfied my Hitchhikers cravings for sure. 

If you are a fan of when Doctor Who is a bit sillier than usual and doesn't take itself too seriously, or if you’re just a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in general, then you won’t be disappointed with this story in the slightest! 

+ The Doomsday Contract is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

25 March 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Gerry Davis (adapted by John Dorney)

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: March 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

"The Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith and Harry Sullivan return to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS. Instead they find peril, disease, and… Cybermen!

These cybernetic monsters have devised a plan to eliminate the greatest threat to their existence. And if the Doctor and his human compatriots do not play their part in this scheme, they are to be destroyed." 

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Written by Gerry Davis, co-creator of the metal monsters from Mondas, and adapted by John Dorney, Return of the Cybermen is the story that never was. Initially intended to be made as part of the show’s 12th season back in 1975, Davis’ script was heavily rewritten by then-script editor, Robert Holmes. The reworked adventure aired as Revenge of the Cybermen in the end, and Davis’ original story was lost in time — until now. 

Thanks to Big Finish, Return of the Cybermen finally gives us a chance to see how Davis’ version of the story could have turned out if it hadn’t been so heavily changed 47 years ago. Bringing back the ever-popular TARDIS crew of the Fourth Doctor, Harry Sullivan, and Sarah-Jane Smith, Return of the Cybermen gives us an interesting and exciting side-step into an alternate Doctor Who universe, where we get a glimpse at what could have been in April 1975.

In short, this audio drama is about the Doctor, Sarah-Jane, and Harry returning to Space Station Nerva in search of the TARDIS. However, a deadly plague has swept throughout the station, killing most of the crew. When Cybermats attack the TARDIS team, the Doctor must face down his old enemies, the Cybermen, and make sure that they don’t get what they want. To smash the space station into an inhabited asteroid that is rich in gold. 

Return of the Cybermen is also significant in the fact that it sees the debut of Sadie Miller as Sarah-Jane Smith and Christopher Naylor as Harry Sullivan. With Elisabeth Sladen and Ian Marter sadly no longer with us, it’s down to Naylor and Miller to make us believe that they are the characters that we know and love already. It’s safe to say that they absolutely succeed in doing that. 

Sadie Miller, Elisabeth Sladen’s real-life daughter, undoubtedly has a tough job here in being asked to recreate the character her mother bought to life so beautifully, but I’m very happy to say that she is more than up to the task. Nicholas Briggs says it best in the behind-the-scenes feature at the end of the play. Whilst Miller may not sound exactly like Elisabeth Sladen, there are definitely moments during the story where the vocal resemblance is almost uncanny. It does take some getting used to, but Sarah-Jane is definitely in there, and that’s all that really matters. 

It’s a shame, however, that for a significant portion of the story, Sarah-Jane is out of action due to falling victim to the Cybermen’s plague. It almost reduces her to a damsel in distress, which is something I would expect more from some of the stories from the 60s, rather than from the mid-70s. 

Christopher Naylor also does an excellent job of capturing the voice and spirit of Harry Sullivan in this piece, and his banter with Sadie Miller’s Sarah-Jane is a joy to listen to. 

And, of course, Tom Baker is, as he always is, on top form, bringing a lighter, perhaps even sillier version of his Doctor to proceedings here. Hearing this TARDIS team back together again after so long was a wonderful experience, and one that I hope happens again in the not-too-distant future. 

The story rattled along at a nice pace, and I never found my attention drifting or waning. The first half of the story is a game of hide-and-seek of sorts, with the Doctor and Harry searching for the Cybermen aboard the station, whilst the latter half of the play is a race against time as everyone tries to thwart the metal monster’s plans. 

A particular highlight for me was the scene in the oxygen tanks, which was claustrophobic, creepy, and had me on the edge of my seat. The Cybermen advancing on the Doctor and Harry in the enclosed space, and the rising panic as they tried to escape was brilliant. And the reveal of the Cyber Leader smashing through the wall and revealing his plan gave me chills. He was menacing and sounded unstoppable, and that’s all down to Nicholas Briggs’ fantastic performance. 

Listening to the behind-the-scenes feature after the play, it was obvious how much of a passion project this release actually was for Briggs, with him acting, script editing, and doing the sound design too. 

I was particularly impressed with the sound design (again, the oxygen tank scene being a highlight), and the music seemed to have been dragged straight from the 1970s. Briggs well and truly knocked it out of the park with this one. 

Return of the Cybermen is an enjoyable, interesting look at what could have been, with great performances from the whole cast, Tom Baker, Sadie Miller, and Christopher Naylor in particular. Briggs’ Cybermen were a menacing presence throughout, and Kellman (Nickolas Grace) was a great villain for the Doctor to come up against. 

I for one would love to see some more alternate takes on classic stories if they’re going to be anything like this one. I’m also hoping for more adventures with the Fourth Doctor, Miller’s Sarah-Jane, and Naylor’s Harry Sullivan in the near future. The sixth series of The Lost Stories is definitely off to a good start! 

+ Return Of The Cybermen is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

12 March 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Kettle

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: February 2021

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Turlough to a high-tech scientific installation on the planet Testament in the distant future. The human race have become intergalactic buccaneers, thanks to their ability to generate vast amounts of power for long-distance travel. Testament is the source of that power – and the Doctor has never quite understood how it works.

But experiments are underway on Testament - experiments with potentially explosive and devastating consequences. And even the Doctor may be too late to stop it.

With politicians and bureaucrats getting in the way, the race is on. Not to stop a disaster - but to save as many people as possible.."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

There’s a line in The Blazing Hour delivered in an off-the-cuff manner: “Trust is for children and acrobats.”  I heard the line, smiled a little, and did that silent laugh you do when hearing something amusing.

Days later I’m reflecting upon it. Why? Because that line is the single best line of dialogue in any Big Finish play for a while now. (The last to stick in my mind before this is the Fifth Doctor talking about The Great British Bake Off in Time Apart: perhaps it’s a Davison thing?)

This line here isn’t trying to pay tribute to a past victory or imitate another writer, or flat-out copy something previously said on screen, all three of which crop up time and again nowadays in these plays. It’s just an original, and memorable line of dialogue.

The rest of James Kettle’s script likewise has an air of freshness to it. Maybe it’s because it’s his first full story for the monthly range, or maybe it’s because Kettle is a relatively new writer to the Big Finish fold, not yet ground to exhaustion by writing dozens of scripts across dozens of ranges. Whatever the case, there’s a sense across The Blazing Hour that Kettle is relishing the opportunity to write for the Doctor and Turlough.

The plot for this one is simple; the Doctor and Turlough land on a scientific installation and are mistaken for tourists, which is good fortune as the Doctor is suspicious of Testament, an incredible source of power in operation here, and sets out to investigate. Before too long, Turlough is in a gift shop, managers are forcing their staff into dangerous and regrettable actions, and politicians are desperate to keep their hands clean and their profits high. The guest cast is very good, with Raj Ghatak and Rakie Ayola putting in memorable performances. You’ll hate them both, their greed and selfishness almost tangible and perfectly thematically suited to the story unfolding. There’s some especially nice, cringey political spin about economic downturns and the adverse productivity of grief from Ayola’s character Violet Hardaker that works really well and makes you root for our heroes.

Speaking of, Turlough in particular gets a meaty role in this one. Mark Strickson is up for the challenge, reminding us once again just how good an actor he really is. People can level whatever pot shots they wish against Doctor Who in the 1980s, but they cast the regulars really well, with the much-maligned Adric shining nowadays on audio and Mel getting a serious reappraisal, too.

The 1980s cast a long shadow over this play as a whole. Corporations running their workers into the ground, greed over sense and underhand political maneuvering feel very much in that era’s wheelhouse. The Fifth Doctor doesn’t ever quite feel true to the TV iteration of him, but that’s true of his plays as a whole, ditto the Fourth and perhaps even Tenth Doctors, too. It’s a wider Big Finish thing than any fault of the script here. Less successful is the self-sacrifice of Violet near the end, which doesn’t quite ring true despite the script trying to explain it away (always a sign that something’s not entirely working, when the script goes out of its way to defend it), and I’m never comfortable about rendering regular cast members disabled only to magically restore it later on (see Turlough here. Much like the Twelfth Doctor’s temporary blindness on screen, it never sits right with me).

Whatever quibbles I may have though are put to rest elsewhere. Whether intentional or not, the first three Big Finish releases in the monthly range of plays were a multi-Doctor story, one featuring the Fifth Doctor, and then one featuring the Sixth. We’ve gone in reverse order here, with the Sixth Doctor last month, the Fifth Doctor this month, and a multi-Doctor story to finish things off.

I’ve said it before, but right now there is a sense of effort and a willingness to shake formulas up in these monthly plays that’s worked well. It is perhaps too little too late for a range at its end that’s been gasping for air for ages now, but it’s welcome all the same, and this play, aptly, is testament to that.

+ The Blazing Hour is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

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8 February 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By:Roland Moore

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: January 2021

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"Sometimes the TARDIS takes the Doctor to where he needs to go...

Answering a distress call from the out-world of Triketha, the Doctor and Constance Clarke discover human colonists battling against an onslaught of giant, malevolent insects. The insects’ sting induces a coma, and it is only a matter of time before all the colonists succumb.

The Doctor is curious as to the origins of the insects, which appeared from nowhere, and offers his assistance to the colony’s governor. But is this the Doctor’s first visit to Triketha, or has he been here before? The Doctor must confront a past that he has no memory of and take responsibility for the consequences of his actions."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

In the interviews for Colony of Fear, it's mentioned that the gestation period for it has been around two years and that Roland Moore's script has taken many twists and many turns along the way. This utterly blindsided me as I had come away from the play feeling it had been rushed into production and needed at least a couple more passes by a script editor.

Yes, sadly all good things must come to an end and so the run of very good Main Range plays stutters to a halt. On paper, it sounds okay: parasitic mind wasps vs. the Sixth Doctor on a jungle planet, trying to defend a colony when a face from his past turns up. In practice, it's lacklustre at best.

You can see this in the characters, who act in a way that serve plot beats but little else. Why else would Tarlos not immediately reveal all to the Doctor once it's clear the Doctor can't remember? Because it's needed for a cliffhanger and then needed to pad out the following episode. Why does the Doctor dismiss the idea of saving the colony so quickly? Because we're near the end of the play. Why does Edwin stop distrusting the Doctor so quickly at the start of Part Four? Because it's the start of Part Four and we need that conflict resolved. And so on.

It's not subtle and it's not especially well done. It feels like it could go all-in on a b-movie vibe: we're one step away from someone crying, "But the wasps, man! The wasps!" It holds back though, and that's to its real disadvantage. Perhaps it should have gone for straight pastiche instead of po-faced cliché? Perhaps that would have helped.

The most notable part of the story comes with the aforementioned Tarlos, a companion of the Second Doctor who was accidentally returned home years before he left and has had to hide out and bide his time: and the Doctor can remember nothing about him, because the Time Lords have wiped his memory.

The play desperately wants you to care why, even introducing a could-be-a-new-companion in the form of Solana to have the Doctor not take aboard as a result of the consequences of taking Tarlos (broken families, broken promises). The trouble is, I didn't care at all. Tarlos just isn't a very interesting or engaging character. He's a vaguely intriguing plot point but not one as exciting as the script wants you to think he is. Perhaps they were angling for a return visit, or a spin-off box set? He warrants neither.

Just as the script overstated his intrigue, so do many of the plot twists overstate their surprise. The shock reveal of what occurs when people go into comas isn't a shock reveal. The surprise of what Edwin sees on his video is not a surprise. This is how things play out from start to finish, and it makes for a dud.

There is a half-decent idea and premise in here with Tarlos but two years' work has not created a half-decent play. Instead, it makes for a slog and the biggest twist and shock was how long it took to arrive at this destination. A shame.

+ Colony Of Fear is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

27 January 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Lizbeth Myles

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"Something haunts the peak of Ben MacDui.

Something with heavy footsteps, striking terror in the hearts of those who sense it. With climbers going missing, retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart visits Scotland to investigate.

But when some old friends join his ascent, he worries that they will make things even more dangerous. As the snows blow in, and mists surround them, the Doctor, Ace and the Brigadier will face the Grey Man of the Mountain..."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

I’ve commented recently that right at the very end of the line the monthly range of Doctor Who plays from Big Finish has kicked up a gear. That continues here with The Grey Man of the Mountain.

I listened to this on a cold day in Edinburgh, snow melting into slush and dangerous ice forming on the pavements, and it couldn’t have been more apt. Lizbeth Myles’s story is set in Scotland where something seems to be stalking those who wish to climb Ben Macdui, Scotland’s second highest mountain. Doctor Who has of course dipped into folklore horror before to good effect, and it’s pulled off again here to similar results.

The first thing to highlight with it all is how good Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred are in this one. It’s their most screen-accurate portrayal in a long time.  Maybe it’s because of the presence of the Brigadier in there, adding to a vague air of ‘authenticity’? I couldn’t say.  All I know is that both of them are channeling the same energy they had back in Season 26 throughout and it works wonders. Speaking of the Brigadier, Jon Culshaw is on duty here and I’d say it’s his strongest performance in the role yet. Culshaw is at his best when doing a proper performance and giving an air of Nicholas Courtney’s original, rather than trying to be slavishly accurate, as I feel is sometimes the case in the Third Doctor range. Here though he’s on fire and his warmth for the role, McCoy and Courtney really comes across. Lucy Goldie as Kirsty is likewise very good and puts in a memorable performance with spark and vibrancy.

Myle’s script is worth celebrating, too. I genuinely laughed aloud at the wink about ‘Science leads’, and the reference to Battlefield’s slightly obscure timeframe is fun as well, both good examples of continuity points that aren’t exclusive to fans and don’t swamp proceedings: other writers please take note. Myles has delivered good things before, with Distant Voices for The Twelfth Doctor Chronicles being perhaps my favourite of her audio work, and I dearly hope she does more for Big Finish.  She has a distinctive narrative voice and this script in particular feels well-researched and fresh. The final episode perhaps isn’t quite as strong as the others, but in any tale with a mystery the revelation is often a bit less impressive than the smoke and mirrors leading up to it, so I wouldn’t mark it down for that and it makes good use of the Brigadier and the Doctor’s relationship with and perception of the character. Likewise, if Thaddeus and Niamh feel familiar in terms of their character and story path, it doesn’t matter so much as the script serves them well and the actors likewise.

It’s Kirsty and Ace who really stand out though. Myles has given us one of the most believable relationships between companion and guest star for a while now.  It feels utterly authentic to Ace’s character, especially the ending between them, and makes for one of the most memorable and true pieces of writing we’ve had for ages.

Less successful perhaps is in some of the production. The music and sound design are both very good, atmospheric and enveloping respectively, but this is definitely a play where the remote recording set-up is more notable than elsewhere thanks to telltale pauses that linger just that fraction of a second too long between sentences in an exchange of dialogue. This is especially the case early on with Ace and Kirsty, which is a real pity. I wish a slight tightening in the edit had happened to make it flow a bit better, because once you notice those fleeting fractions, it’s a wee bit hard to un-notice them.

Try to though, because it’s not the fault of the script. This is a good one, make no mistake. I hope Myles returns to the Big Finish fold before too long as it’s authors like her that make misfires elsewhere feel like softer blows.

+ The Grey Man Of The Mountain is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

11 January 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Chris Chapman

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: December 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"It's 1793 and the Reign of Terror is slicing through the elite of Paris - but not if the Scarlet Pimpernel has anything to do with it! With a very British pluck, and daring bravado, he rescues French aristocrats from Madame Guillotine's embrace. But who hides beneath the Pimpernel’s mask? And isn’t the Scarlet Pimpernel just a fictional character?

At Highmoor House, in England, Peri plays lady of the manor while the Doctor tends to the strange wounds of her ‘husband’, Sir Percy Blakeney. As Peri prepares to host a lavish ball in Sir Percy’s name, French agent Citizen Donat, and a sinister alien force are uninvited guests, both intent on unmasking the Scarlet Pimpernel and putting an end to his heroic escapades, forever!"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

Big Finish’s schedule in 2020 has very much been dictated by what actors have been available and able to record from home, and what has been waiting in the wings. Trilogies were discarded, a deluge of middling-to-poor Tenth Doctor plays were released, and certain writers must surely have sore wrists from all the scripts they’ve been typing. I think the shake-up of the trilogy formula has worked in the monthly range’s favour, and the technical prowess to pull off the remote-recorded plays is nothing short of brilliant. Whatever my feelings on some of the quality of the releases, I will never fault Big Finish’s gritted teeth and determination.

December gives us two releases recorded remotely according to Big Finish’s website, the first of these being Plight of the Pimpernel by Chris Chapman. Set during the Reign of Terror, the Doctor and Peri go undercover and try to work out how the Pimpernel, a fictional character, appears to be all too real and present, and just what gave Sir Percy Blakeney his nasty wound, because it looks like nothing of this Earth.

First things first: Nicola Bryant and Colin Baker are on top form in this play, and the cliffhanger to Part Three is one of the best his Doctor has had for years now. Long-time readers of my reviews for this website (if there are any long-time readers of my reviews) will know that I’ve enjoyed Chapman’s scripts but have often felt they are one draft or script-edit away from being as good as they could be, but I couldn’t lobby that criticism here for the most part.  This is a finely-tuned and fun script which is bolstered by the leading actors really gunning for it, not to mention Jamie Parker and Anthony Howell giving great supporting performances as Sir Percy and Citizen Donat respectively.

The play is nearly let down by the wide array of very bad French accents throughout the play, which may be supposed to be poor at times but just wind up being huge distractions. There are a couple of slightly fudged scenes along the way as well, such as the Doctor and Peri having a long conversation about things they themselves already know just so we the audience can get up to date, and Peri trying to be the Pimpernel and save someone’s life, only the rescued civilian is then killed… and never mentioned again! These are two blips in an otherwise very tight script, easily Chapman’s best.

Where it really succeeds, beyond the central mystery of who, or why, the Pimpernel is being quite a good one, is in how Chapman writes the Sixth Doctor. He, this most literary of Doctors, desperately wants to be the Pimpernel and buys into the strangeness around him, so much so that he turns a blind eye to the niggling issues around it all and the fact that deep down he knows something bad is afoot. It’s a really believable portrayal of this incarnation, showing how well Chapman knows him and enjoys writing for him, and it’s readily apparent in Baker’s acting that he appreciates this, too.

Sometimes, I find that I enjoy a release from Big Finish but cannot recall much about it weeks down the line. This won’t be the case here I am sure as it hasn’t been the case with any of Chapman’s stories.  Years on in some instances, I can still recall performances or beats or plot points, a sure sign that he is doing something very right, even if I’m not always entirely won over by the overall results.  Here with Plight of the Pimpernel we have a play worth remembering and we continue our run of strong monthly plays near the end of the monthly releases as we know them. Viva la Big Finish Revolution!

+ Plight Of The Pimpernel is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

30 November 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Lizzie Hopley, John Dorney, Roland Moore & Jonathan Barnes

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: November 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

"Something is very wrong. The Fifth Doctor is lost in the Time War, heading for an encounter with his oldest and deadliest enemies... the Daleks!"

Echo Chamber by Jonathan Barnes

"It’s the radio talk show where everyone’s free to call in with their opinions. Time to welcome its host – the Doctor!"

Towards Zero by Roland Moore

"The Doctor finds himself in an old country house where he has to solve a very unusual murder – his own!"

Castle Hydra by Lizzie Hopley

"Nearing the end of his journey, the Doctor enters a jail filled with familiar faces. But who are the prisoners and who are the wardens?"

Effect and Cause by John Dorney

"A crash in the vortex leads the Doctor to the source of all his troubles, and to the Daleks. The answers are here. If he can live long enough to find them."

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

After the first part of the Shadow of the Daleks anthology wowed me, I was eager for the second half. Would it hold up: could it hold up? For the most part, the answer is yes. Overall, this is another strong release in a range that has been desperate for one for a long time now.

We start with Echo Chamber by Jonathan Barnes, which is a lot of fun. Big Finish have leaned into commentary on the downsides of social media and whipped-up public hate lately, notably in the sorely underrated and sharp Like by Jacqueline Rayner, and now again here. The Doctor finds himself unexpectedly hosting a radio show where he is encouraged to fuel people’s anger and polemic views, a scenario entirely unsuited to the Fifth Doctor and therefore all the more amusing and uncomfortable: long silences feel like they last forever and the exasperation of the staff is tangible. It’s a good opener and Barnes is clearly having fun taking his swipes as this sort of manufactured outrage.

This is followed by Towards Zero by Roland Moore, the sort of story you can only really tell with a formula like Doctor Who’s, in which the Doctor finds himself trying to solve his own death. It’s a fun premise bolstered by the ensemble cast once again showing their versatility and willingness to really get stuck into the humour and horror of these scripts. It doesn’t feel right to single any of the cast out really as everyone across this set puts in a tremendous performance, but I’d be lying if I said that Dervla Kirwan and Anjli Mohindra weren’t the ones who were still in my mind days later.

Castle Hydra by Lizzie Hopley is next and shows how the single-episode running time can work to a story’s advantage. The Doctor finds himself in a suspicious prison where there is far more to the prisoners than meets the eye, and it’s not just one set of familiar faces which greets him. This is a story with a fairly simple premise, and a faintly familiar one, but at half an hour it doesn’t outstay its welcome as would be the case otherwise. Again, the performances are tight and the writing likewise, Hopley elevating what could be fairly run-of-the-mill characters to higher plains.  It’s the first play to really go hard on the ‘everybody looks and sounds the same’ angle and it deals with it well, leading into the finale without sounding forced.

Speaking of, we wrap things up with John Dorney’s Effect and Cause. It was always going to be tricky to end this run, as what would usually be the two main hooks (the Time War/Daleks and the fact the Doctor keeps meeting the same people time and again) have in fact been background noise for the most part, much to the anthology’s advantage. The fact they’re in focus here makes this the least exciting episode in the run for me, though I suppose it was inevitable.

Really though, what gets me most about using the Time War is that it was completely unnecessary. You could have the Daleks menacing the Time Lords without it being anything to do with the Time War; it’s not like they don’t have previous in everything from Resurrection of the Daleks to The Apocalypse Element. Worse, by making the Fifth Doctor even vaguely aware of the Time War, it makes his (canonical) lack of further investigation into it all the stranger: this is the Doctor who remarked that curiosity had always been his downfall after all.

It’s a habit Big Finish fall into all too often: see also Missy all but being told her entire redemption arc in The Lumiat but ignoring it for the sake of continuity. It’s meant to be a wink to the audience, but it just makes the characters look dumb and when you’re robbing your central characters of intelligence and initiative, albeit retroactively, you have a problem.

So, a poor ending but not enough to drag things down elsewhere. You can see the strain around the edges sometimes in Shadow of the Daleks 2 (having a story set in a radio studio with accompanying studio-bound microphone effects followed by one supposedly set outside but with the same sound levels betrays the recorded-at-home nature of things all too readily) but what they’ve achieved overall is nothing short of impressive and worthy of praise and the ensemble cast have been universally excellent.

The end is here for the main range as we know it, the final curtain dropping, but for two months running, they’ve shown that there is life in the old dog yet.

+ Shadow Of The Daleks 2 is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

29 October 2020

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Kettle, Jonathan Morris, Simon Guerrier & Dan Starkey

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2020

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online

Something is very wrong. The Fifth Doctor is lost in the Time War, heading for an encounter with his oldest and deadliest enemies... the Daleks!

Aimed at the Body by James Kettle

"An encounter with a notorious cricketing legend should be right up the Doctor’s street. But the unexpected appearance of an old enemy is about to send the Doctor on a quest."

Lightspeed by Jonathan Morris

"The trail has led the Doctor to a spaceship in the far future - where he finds himself trapped in the middle of a terrifying revenge plot."

The Bookshop at the End of the World by Simon Guerrier

"It’s very easy to forget yourself and get lost in a bookshop. But in some bookshops more than most..."

Interlude by Dan Starkey

"The play’s the thing! Or is it? The Doctor is roped into a theatrical spectacular - but who is he really performing to?"

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

I’m going to level with you: when I first heard the idea behind this story, I groaned a little. “Classic Doctor + the Time War” sounded like the same tired sandbox thinking that has plagued Doctor Who for a long time now on audio, in print, in comics, and thanks to the Series 12 finale, on screen as well. There was a time when a surprise Kroton in a book or a shock Nimon in a play really were surprising and shocking, whereas nowadays it feels all-too-predictable and, bizarrely, dull: less really is more.

How pleased I was, then, when Shadow of the Daleks 1 turned out to be the best Main Range play Big Finish has released for years now.

It starts off on an odd note, mind. Aimed at the Body was released as a freebie to entice listeners in, but I’m not sure half an hour of walking and vague talk about cricketing etiquette was the best way to go. It’s by no means a bad episode, and author James Kettle has proven himself tenfold with the phenomenal Barrister to the Stars earlier this year in the seventh series of The Diary of River Song, but really not all that much happens. It sets up a few threads for later on and all of the cast are great (more on them later) but it’s a bit of a strange opener.

Things really step up a gear with Lightspeed by Jonathan Morris, which combines intrigue, humour and thrills with a practised ease. A hijacked ship, a countdown, and a cheeky but intelligent conclusion? Count me in. It’s here that you really notice just how brilliant the cast are, too. I want to draw special attention to Dervia Kirwan (who was also exceptional in the recent Class box sets, both of which are well worth your time: more Blair Mowat scripts please?) and Anjli Mohindra, who is continually proving herself to be a versatile actor deserving of great acclaim. But it feels remiss of me to then not note how good Glen McCready and Jamie Parker are, too, not to mention Peter Davison and Nicholas Briggs. Everyone is at the very top of their game here.

This is evident in Simon Guerrier’s The Bookshop at the End of the World. It leans heavily on the amnesia gimmick (which is such a Doctor Who cliché now that when the recent Eighth Doctor Time War series used it twice across its four box sets, I hardly batted an eyelid) but uses poetry, effective performances, atmospheric sound design and well-paced writing to generate tension and heartache that has stayed with me in the days since I listened to it. Would that all stories were this good.  Would that all bookshops were this cosy, too.

We wrap things up with Interlude, Dan Starkey’s best script yet. Much like Mohindra, Starkey has proven himself to be a real gem who is flourishing under Big Finish’s eye (not that either of them wilted on screen). The play-within-a-play trope may be familiar but again, the script gets around this by letting the actors have a lot of fun, with some genuinely clever twists in there and winning performances by everyone.

I finished this release excited for what comes next, and that has not happened for a long, long time. The trailer for the next release is sadly the usual mix of noise and unrelated scenes which Big Finish often put out (do they really entice anyone?) but the promise shown here in this release has whet my appetite.

What an impressive finished result this is. Shadow of the Daleks 1 is a fantastic showcase for Big Finish in Lockdown. A limited cast used in an inventive way, solid sound design, and lots of proper, weighty drama. Sure, you can nitpick if you like: Mohindra’s microphone isn’t quite as good as everyone else’s, and there is a line in Aimed at the Body where the Doctor remarks upon the design of the Daleks which sticks out like a sore thumb. Is it just very bad sound mixing to make that line scream out at you as being dropped in later, or perhaps it’s that the Time War angle was only hit upon later on? Hard to tell. These are small niggles though.

Speaking of smalls things, let’s quickly mention the Daleks. Though present, they hardly feature: shadows indeed and all the better for it. The Time War does not really rear its head either, and again this is to the story’s success.  Perhaps it’ll fall apart a little and fully dive into this in the second half, but I hope not, or if it does embrace this angle, I hope it doesn’t falter. Prove me wrong again, just as you’ve proven me wrong here.

Honestly, this is the most energised I’ve been with a release for ages now. How wonderful to have this treat, just as the range nears its end. I cannot recommend it enough.

+ Shadow Of The Daleks 1 is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download).

+ ORDER this title on Amazon!

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