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Welcome to the News & Reviews section here at Doctor Who Online! This is where you will find all the latest Doctor Who related news and reviews split up into easy to use sections - each section is colour coded for your convenience. The latest items can be found at the top, and older items follow down the page.

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3 December 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £20.00 (CD) / £20.00 (Download)

Release Date: November 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 3rd December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

So has it been worth the wait? 

Yes. Yes it has.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what of The Daleks?

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

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

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

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

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

8 November 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £8.99 (CD) / £7.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st October 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 8th November 2012

Liz Shaw has been working as The Doctor’s assistant for a while now and in all that time she has noticed something rather sinister. People have been dying in a small number over a period of months but what links them all is that each of them were told of their death before the fact.

Each person received a letter predicting both the time and date of their demise. 

Liz has been documenting all of these strange events and trying to get The Doctor to pay attention. The Time Lord however is more concerned with restoring power to the TARDIS and escaping his exile so Liz takes it upon herself to investigate. 

It seems all the of the dead were part of committees within the Government and without the Doctor to help her, Liz has to rely on the one person with a link to all of them and just might be next for one of those letters. Her mother.

In June of this year Caroline John, known to all Doctor Who fans as Dr Elizabeth “Liz” Shaw passed away. Her character was present in only four of Jon Pertwee’s stories, but her performance as an equal to The Doctor, in intellect and stubbornness, endeared her to many fans. John was a very gifted performer and her recent work with Big Finish showed off her talents even if those stories weren’t always as strong. I’m both happy and sad to say that The Last Post is the best Liz Saw story Big Finish have done. It's just a real tragedy that this was to be the last.

The Last Post is a two-hander piece between Liz and her mother, taking place between letters, telephone calls and meetings for lunch. This structure allows for some fascinating insights into Liz’s personal life and the relationship with her mother is beautifully written.

Caroline John leaves us with a magnificent performance here; touching, witty and showing suitable frustration at The Doctor, John made Liz such a believable character and listening to this story knowing all too well that this is the last time we will hear Liz makes for a strange and moving experience. Giving Liz a family expands the character greatly and grounds her in a way that we have not really seen before. When Liz writes of her regret at missing family gatherings due to work, she comes to life as a person and not just as a third wheel for the Doctor. This is a woman experiencing terrifying situations and wants to rebuild a connection with her family, so when the threat comes too close to home, we really fear for her.

Rowena Cooper is wonderful as Emily Shaw. Emily is a warm and charming personality, both proud and somewhat disappointed with her daughter’s career path into science rather than the arts. It creates an interesting dynamic between the two. When the strange events begin to happen, James Goss smartly writes Emily as being aware of them and of her daughter’s involvement in UNIT. From the start this allows both characters to begin on an even keel and rightly so. Emily is just as intelligent and headstrong as her daughter and this is to the advantage of the play, so much so that the cliff-hanger to part one is quite frankly one of the most tense I have heard from any Big Finish story.

The Last Post takes place between Liz’s adventures with The Doctor and Goss litters the script with clever references. There is a rather cheeky nod to The War Machines and a rather tantalizing final moment between mother and daughter hinting that the characters know what is in store for The Doctor. 

Whether it was intended or not, The Last Post is a lovely tribute to Caroline John’s time with the show and a cracking mystery in its own right. It has rather more emotional resonance in the knowledge of John’s recent passing and it seems only right that her final work for Big Finish is her very best.

From the behind the scenes interview included at the end, we learn that this was planned to be the first of more adventures for Liz and Emily. It is very sad that this will not come to pass but if The Sarah Jane Adventures told us anything, it’s that Liz Shaw is still with us, on the Moonbase working for the betterment of humanity. 

I think The Doctor would be very proud.

8 November 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Rick Briggs

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st October 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 8th November 2012

The Doctor arrives on the planet Cawdor deep within the Drashani Empire almost thirty years after his last visit ended in bloodshed. The Doctor has a promise to keep to a dead man but not everything goes smoothly for him. After the Succession of Blood, power in the Empire has befallen the young Empress Cheni and for five years the Empire enjoyed peace. 

But then the Wrath came.

Led by the feared Lord Tenebris, the Wrath lay waste to the Empire and the Drashani have been at war with them ever since. With Cawdor next in line for conquest, The Doctor must use all his wits of he is keep his promise. But what is the secret of the Wrath’s weapon, The Archeron Pulse and what connection does Tenebris have to the Empire? As the Doctor uncovers the truth it seems that old secrets and betrayals could lead to the Drashani’s ultimate destruction.

The Archeron Pulse is the second part of Big Finish’s closing trilogy for the main Doctor Who range this year; a series of interconnected stories detailing the history of the Drashani Empire. After the brilliant The Burning Prince, I speculated how much of that story would cross into this second chapter and as it turns out quite a lot does. This is a direct sequel to the previous story as without giving too much away, plot threads and characters carry over into this story and its events are explicitly defined by those that took place in The Burning Prince.

Writer Rick Briggs has done a fine job of creating a engaging storyline within the framework of the larger scope that this trilogy of stories is offering. While not as strong as the first story, The Archeron Pulse is still rather enjoyable. 

Colin Baker puts in a fine performance as The Doctor with a nod to the hubristic elements of the character from television. Thankfully he retains enough of the development of the character that has occurred throughout Big Finish to not let it become too much of a throwback. His arrogance does make for some wonderful comic moments and his clashes with Tenebris are some of the audio’s highlights.

Lord Tenebris is an engaging villain played with relish by James Wilby whose character really is the most important component of this adventure. Tenebris is almost certainly a nod to Darth Vader, showing the influences of space operas that have informed this trilogy so far but Briggs makes him enough of an interesting character to avoid him being a direct copy. As the revelations of Tenebris’ past are stripped away rather dramatically at the end of part two, the play shifts gears and what follows is some intriguing exposition that slows the action down somewhat but lays the ground work for the rather downbeat but hopeful finale. 

The supporting cast are fantastic but their stories seem to suffer once Tenebris makes his entrance dominance of the character over the proceedings. The Wrath are a fascinating creation and from the conclusion it seems that we have not heard the last from them.  

The Archeron Pulse is a great story which manages to be enjoyable and not fully suffer under the weight of exposition that is certainly being laid for a dramatic closing chapter.

10 October 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 30th September 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th October 2012

The Houses of Gadarel and Sorsha have been at war for decades.

Each House has a claim to the Imperial Throne of the Drashani Empire. The civilisation that spans galaxies is now soaked in the blood of millions and finally seems to be at an end. The process for peace was near to completion with the union in marriage of Prince Kylo and Princess Aliona. But the marriage was halted when the Princesses’ wedding galley crash landed on the planet Sharnax.

All contact and hope it seemed was lost.

A rescue ship is dispatched to discover the fate of the Princess with representatives from both Houses; the Prince included trying desperately to not let the chance of peace slip away. There are those on both sides however who do not wish for peace, and sabotage is not too far away. 

Arriving on board the rescue ship by accident, The Doctor soon becomes entangled in the games of power and peace with deadly creatures not too far behind. Can The Doctor avert more bloodshed or will the Prince Kylo’s burning desire to be reunited with his love destroy the fates of all?

For the final trilogy in the main range this year, Big Finish have gone and created an epic story. Across three releases, each with a different Doctor, they want to tell the history of one sector of space and its history over time. It is an ambitious undertaking for the last three releases of 2012 but if they live up to the strength of The Burning Prince it just might be the crowning jewel of what has been a very strong year for the Doctor Who main range.

The Burning Prince is a thrilling under siege and whodunit story wrapped up in the fabric of a grand space opera. There is a remarkable amount of world building here woven into the core and background of the play, and it is a testament to John Dorney’s abilities as a writer that he makes all of the threads work and not crumble under its own weight.

The story charges along at break neck speed and even in the quieter moments there is always something exciting going on. It is a very linear plot but this is to the play’s strength making it one of the most enjoyable Big Finish stories this year.

One of the interesting aspects of this trilogy is to remove The Doctor’s companions from him and in The Burning Prince the decision works to the story’s advantage.

As great as it is to hear The Fifth Doctor with his regular companions, on his own here with no one to vouch for him, we get to see what makes The Fifth Doctor work well as a character. He is completely under suspicion but still possesses that remarkable ability to get people on side very quickly. Without the familiar companions the sense of peril is ramped up and you just have no idea who is going to make it out alive. This is a refreshing change from the norm and one I’d like to see repeated.

The ensemble cast is fantastic and it is incredible how many of the characters make an impact despite some of them being killed off a few scenes afterwards. 

Peter Davison is on top form as The Doctor, balancing both moral outrage and a dry sense of humour. He is incredibly funny in a few scenes and I’d love to see more of this in future Fifth Doctor stories as his characterization gets a little more room to develop here through the perspective of strangers.

There are excellent performances by Clive Mantle as Tuvold and George Rainsford as the tortured Prince Kylo. The highlight of the play is Kirsty Besterman as Princess Aliona. To do an in-depth exploration of her character would be revealing too much of the story but rest assured her performance is exceptional, layered and memorable.

The twist in the story is a little obvious if you are listening carefully but the result of it is chilling and rather bleak which is very similar to the latter Fifth Doctor television stories.

It remains to be seen just what elements of this play will either thematically or explicitly run through the rest of the trilogy but if The Burning Prince is anything to go by, it will be very much worth finding out.

10 October 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Cavan Scott & Mark Wright

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th September 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 10th October 2012

In 2015 amongst the Carpathians, a mysterious train is on its way to a secret location. The black TARDIS materializes above it and from its doors emerge Private Sally Morgan and Captain Lysandra Aristedes. These two professional soldiers have a mission to complete and a rendezvous point with the Doctor.

Of course it is not easy. For this train is linked to a dark part of Lysandra’s past; The Forge. Something is aboard the train and as monsters and enemies lurk in the night, Lysandra is going to discover her connection to Project: Nirvana.

The only problem is she cannot remember a thing about it.

As this year’s momentous Seventh Doctor trilogy comes to a close, Big Finish have decided to fill in a few of the tantalising gaps with this Companion.

As the title suggests this story is very explicitly linked to the Forge, the black ops organization that has been very much a part of the plot threads of the most recent main range trilogy. It is only right that its creators Cavan Scott and Mark Wright return to handle more of the organization’s sordid history and it is rather enjoyable.

This is quite clearly Lysandra’s story as Maggie O’ Neill takes the reins for most of the narration with Sally taking over for a small but significant moment. We get an interesting insight into Lysandra’s history in the Forge and her suspicions of working with The Doctor. O’ Neill performs an excellent reading but I do feel we have not heard enough from Sally Morgan.

Amy Pemberton portrays Sally so well that I want to learn much more about her character’s history in her own words. However the beauty of the Companion Chronicles means there are always future releases and Project: Nirvana does a fine job of expanding on the back story of one of the most troubled of The Doctor’s new companions.

The story is a fun one and gives an interesting view of The Seventh Doctor orchestrating military precise operations which for some strange reason seems to fit that Doctor’s character rather well. Speaking of The Doctor, it is very nice to hear Sylvester McCoy included in this release as it gives the story a little boost at the start and near the end. 

The story does feel a little rushed towards the end and the alien threat is dealt with rather swiftly, but this is overshadowed by the amount of good back story revealed here about Lysandra.

I do hope there are more stories from this TARDIS team as Project: Nirvana is not only a nice side step to the main trilogy, but a lovely addition to the mythology of the Forge.

6 October 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Mike Maddox and Alan Barnes

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 30th September 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 6th October 2012

Arriving in a strange and Hellish landscape, Ace, Hex, Sally and Lysandra have come to rescue the man who unwittingly threw them all together in the first place; The Doctor.

But the rescue will not be easy.

Ancient warriors misplaced out of time are lying dead in rivers of blood and from out of the mists emerge horrifyingly familiar vampire-like creatures. The threads are coming together and the Doctor’s companions come to realise that he has been playing a game; a rematch with an evil from the dawn of time. The past and future will come to haunt them as they become pawns in the endless games of Gods and monsters. 

The pieces are set, the Elder Gods are gathering to bear witness as the Doctor and Fenric prepare to play the contest again. But this time winning may be just the same as losing.

Gods and Monsters is a very difficult play to review. Like Black And White before it, there are so many twists and turns that it would be very easy to spoil your enjoyment. 

It requires not only a great deal of knowledge of the character of Hex but of past stories involving The Forge and The Curse of Fenric. A newcomer to Big Finish may find all this to be quite daunting but rest assured such knowledge is essential to your full enjoyment as this play packs a really emotional and shocking payoff.

Gods And Monsters, the conclusion of this year’s Seventh Doctor range and the final culmination of the many plot threads that have been littered throughout the last few years beginning as far back as Project: Twilight. It seems near impossible that Big Finish could have planned all of this so many years ahead but what they have done is taken everything that has come before, added a few twists and made it all make sense. The play however is not completely perfect, and it’s need to wrap everything up as logically and tightly as possible harms it a little.

Gods And Monsters has many factors that make it a worthwhile recommendation, and the brilliant cast is one of them. Sylvester McCoy, having played a rather reduced role in the previous releases, is back and his performance is spectacular. The master manipulator is completely out of his depth as he begins to see the control of events swept completely away from him. It is a great turning of the tables on this most Machiavellian of Doctors and it will be fascinating to see if Big Finish develops this in future releases.

Ace and Hex are both brought brilliantly to life by Sophie Aldred and Phillip Olivier. The character of Hex is one of the great creations of the Big Finish range and here Olivier proves just what a great contribution he has made to bringing the character to life. 

Maggie O’Neill and Amy Pemberton, having established themselves rather strongly amongst the TARDIS team in Black and White, continue their development throughout Gods And Monsters and are given an excellent scene in which to showcase their talents and the characters relationship to one another.

It was always going to be difficult to recast Fenric, especially in the shadow of Dinsdale Landen, but in John Standing, the Elder God has found a wonderfully chilling new persona. 

It would be easy to just do a retread of The Curse of Fenric, particularly with the inclusion of the Haemovores but Maddox and Barnes play enough with your familiarity of that story to present something new and just as twisted. 

With so many different characters and locations, sometimes in completely different universes and time zones, Gods And Monsters does feel at times a little rushed. The story feels like it needs more room to breathe or at least one more episode to allow all the threads to have equal momentum, but judging by the rather shocking ending it seems the story is far from over.

Mike Maddox and Alan Barnes have created a very worthy rematch with the titular God, as well as a satisfying conclusion to this story arc with the tantalising tease of more shocks to come.

27 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Zoe Herriot is still a prisoner. The mysterious Company are determined to break the conditioning that has been placed upon her by the Time Lords. Her integrator, Jen, has more evidence to prove that Zoe travelled in time with that strange man called The Doctor.

Through her questions, Zoe begins to recall a journey to Earth in the past. She remembers attending the funeral of a young woman called Meg, a physicist who died in an experiment gone wrong. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that her experiments have brought forth mysterious creatures into our reality.

As Zoe struggles to recall what happened, it will soon become clear that time is running out for her as The Company are growing impatient for results.

The Uncertainty Principle is a sequel to Simon Guerrier’s play The Memory Cheats, which was itself a sequel to Echoes of Grey. Both the central characters of Zoe and Jen return and it is the continuity that makes this release particularly interesting. The Company’s efforts to break through Zoe’s memory block are ramped up further with the knowledge that her life is now at stake. What made The Memory Cheats such an interesting play seems to be lacking in this release. It seems to be more because of the story that Zoe recalls as opposed to her interaction with Jen.

The main story itself is intriguing but is missing the darkness that the previous instalment had. There is some interesting development of Zoe’s character as her logical attitude is put to the test as she unwittingly falls for a young man called Archie, a character central to the main story. To hear Zoe struggling with emotion, which is almost an alien concept to her, is interesting, but I found the story, at times, to be a little pedestrian.

Where the play is really at its best is the interrogation scenes with Jen, played once again by Wendy Padbury’s daughter Charlie Hayes. Both actors give excellent performances and Guerrier drops some very intriguing character development for Jen as we discover more about her own life.

After the distrust which was central to the previous play, we begin to see these characters find some common ground as the situation with The Company begins to intensify. The conclusion promises more from this ongoing story and it will be fascinating to see where Guerrier takes these two characters next time.

The Uncertainty Principle is a not a strong audio play but it is intriguing enough to warrant a further release in this interesting story arc for Zoe.

27 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st August 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 27th August 2012

Ace and Hex have just suffered severe mental and psychical torture. Caught in one of The Doctor’s schemes they just barely survived the wrath of Elder Gods. Finally escaping into a now black coloured TARDIS they discover that they are not alone. Inside is former Forge operative Lysandra Astrides and soldier Sally Morgan. 

Both of these women have encountered The Doctor and now claim to have been travelling with him for some months. Confused and seemingly thrown together by design, all of them will have to get past their mutual distrust of one another in the search for The Doctor. By a twist of fate the travellers are separated, arriving in the past and future of one man whose story and name will pass into legend as will the name of the monster he vanquishes. Does the true story about Beowulf and Grendel have any clues to The Doctor’s whereabouts and will the missing Time Lord’s carefully laid plans fall apart at the seams?

Black and White is a story that requires prior knowledge of the last couple of years of Seventh Doctor stories. It is here that the various plot threads that have been littered throughout finally begin to come together. Through the use of flashbacks Matt Fitton does an admirable job of reminding us of all these little clues for anyone coming to this fresh. Your enjoyment of the play however will be increased with an awareness of what has gone on before. 

Black and White is a difficult story to review as a more in-depth examination would give away far too much. In keeping with Doctor Who Online’s spoiler-free policy I will not go into too much detail about what happens except to address some key points.

The Black and White TARDIS plot thread is finally given clarity which reveals some rather fascinating revelations about past adventures and the nature of the TARDIS is general. We get hints as to where this trilogy is heading and it is all strongly linked to adventures gone by. Listening to Black and White makes you want to re-listen to all of the last few Seventh Doctor plays just to see how long this whole plotline has been gestating. 

Not all the answers are given here though as I’m sure all will be fully revealed in the final play of the trilogy Gods and Monsters. Black and White certainly ramps up the excitement for that particular release.

In amongst the revelations is the story of Beowulf and the reality of the how the legend came to be. The difficulty with Black and White is to make room for the lead plot exposition but allow its other story to develop and breathe and it is a credit to Matt Fitton that it does. This story about the reality of the legend of Beowulf could easily have been an adventure in its own right, but as will become clear when you listen carefully; it is linked to the bigger plot going on. Black and White is very entertaining and moves along at a cracking pace thanks to excellent direction by Ken Bentley.

The performances from the main cast are fantastic. It is a real joy to hear Maggie O’Neill and Amy Pemberton as their characters from previous stories Project: Destiny and House of Blue Fire now interacting with our familiar TARDIS crew. Philip Olivier and Sophie Aldred work alongside these new team members really well and there is enough distrust and suspicion to keep the character dynamic always interesting. 

The supporting cast is very strong too - the highlight being Stuart Milligan as Garundel, a character who sounds like a camp and bitchy Billy Crystal. Milligan gives a very funny and memorable performance and it certainly does put a unique twist on the Beowulf legend. 

While not always perfect, Black and White is an entertaining and shocking second chapter which sets up a very promising conclusion to this already fascinating trilogy. 

22 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Ian Chesterton once travelled with an extraordinary man. He travelled the universe far and wide and for all the amazing things he saw, he wanted nothing more but to get back home. But now the past is coming back to haunt him as Ian suddenly wakes up in The Chesterton Exhibition located within a mysterious Time Museum dedicated entirely to his past.

The Museum’s curator Pendolin is delighted to find him but he is scared. There is something lurking in the Museum and it wants them both. Whilst on the run Ian’s memories begin to fade and corrupt. Whatever is out there wants Ian’s past and it is very hungry, but can he escape this nightmare and is Pendolin to be trusted?

Ian Chesterton is about to discover just how important the past can mean to his future...

As the Fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who approaches we are incredibly lucky to still have William Russell amongst us. That he is still performing the character of Ian Chesterton after all this time is really quite extraordinary and The Time Museum is a wonderful showcase for his talents.

Presented more as a drama unlike the traditional formula of The Companion Chronicles, Russell gives a magnificent performance. His Ian, though much older, is still the same man that stepped into Totter’s Yard all those years ago.

His co-star Philip Pope who plays Pendolin proves to be an excellent foil to Ian, and Pope gives a very intriguing performance throughout.

The Time Museum is a wonderful examination of one of Doctor Who’s most celebrated and fondly thought of Companions, and continues the development that Big Finish has brought to the character in previous Companion Chronicles. 

In this story Ian Chesterton is a man searching for his identity amongst the painful confusion as his past is being eaten away. The disorientation Ian displays here is beautifully portrayed by Russell as the memories he recounts of adventures past is part of the appeal of this story. There is even a surprising little nod to the Doctor Who and the Daleks target novelisation by David Whittaker, that fans will enjoy picking up on.

This play is a wonderful celebration of the show’s past tinged with a sense of melancholy. Listening to The Time Museum reminds you just how important those early stories were in the development of the show as we know it today. Without Ian and Barbara I don’t think the show would have lasted longer than its allotted thirteen weeks. Nostalgia can sometimes be seen as being over indulgent, but here it never outstays its welcome. The kisses to the past are essential to the plot as Ian desperately tries to cling to his sense of self as he and Pendolin come under threat.

As the big anniversary looms around the corner it is certainly not too early to start celebrating and with The Time Museum, Big Finish has created a perfect birthday present to all devoted Whovians everywhere.

Quite simply this is an essential purchase.

22 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Albert and Peggy Marsden are certainly a very ordinary elderly couple. Living in the North of England in the late 1980s, they go about their day to day business as political upheaval in the East threatens to spill over into Nuclear War.

Albert, following the Government issued leaflet “Protect and Survive” is busy making the preparations to their countryside home should the very worst come to pass. Peggy is expecting their grown up son to be home at any minute, but they are about to get a visit from two very different people. A girl called Ace and a boy called Hex have arrived out of the blue in a strangely white coloured Police Box. 

Taken in by the couple, Ace and Hex begin to see things are very wrong. History is not following its proper course and if that wasn’t bad enough The Doctor has gone missing. Then as the bombs begin to drop on England both companions realise The Doctor will not be there to save them this time.

One of the greatest fears of the 1980s was the potential of any nation armed with nuclear weapons to launch them towards any country it declared an enemy. Nuclear attack was the ultimate in Cold War paranoia and even now it lingers in the memories of those who grew up in that era.

Protect and Survive, the first release in the new series for The Seventh Doctor addresses these fears in an incredibly disturbing way.

Jonathan Morris has clearly drawn on many sources of inspiration for Protect and Survive. Morris uses actual advice issued by the Government to the populace in the event of a nuclear attack. This is given out in a cold and clipped British dialect by the Marsden’s radio. This object not only creates a great deal of tension, but becomes a very important plot device later in the story. This littering of historical details gives the play a disturbing feel of authenticity and for anyone who has ever watched the BBC’s thoroughly bleak Threads it will certainly conjure up many frightening memories.

The first episode is incredibly well written and does an astounding job of balancing human drama amidst the science fiction and apocalyptic elements of the plot. Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier are absolutely brilliant throughout this story but particularly so in this episode. Without The Doctor they are the ones we turn to for familiarity in this incredibly horrifying world. We really get to see what makes Ace and Hex work so well as companions.

The rest of the cast is superb with Peggy and Albert brilliantly played by Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Bennett. Their characterisation very strongly put you in mind of the Bloggses from Raymond Briggs' heartbreaking Where the Wind Blows, quite clearly another source of inspiration for this story. As the characters of Peggy and Albert dramatically change with the development of the plot, the impact is given great gravitas by both actors’ great performances.

These stories were mostly recorded whilst Sylvester McCoy was in New Zealand filming for The Hobbit but The Doctor’s slight absence does not lessen his impact on the story. The Doctor comes in at several key moments and McCoy is of course brilliant, but this is more of a story about Ace and Hex. For all The Doctor’s scheming and planning, this time they definitely do not have him around to explain what is going on. They are left in the frightening position of having to figure it all out for themselves.

There are plot threads here which have been developing throughout the last few Seventh Doctor releases. The most intriguing is appearances of the black and white TARDIS. In McCoy’s solo he has a black TARDIS adventures and a White one whilst travelling with Ace and Hex. With a very surprise ending to this story it looks like this trilogy certainly promises to answer these questions.

Protect and Survive does somewhat lose some of its momentum as the plot verges away from the Nuclear story into one that has hints of interplanetary consequences, but it cannot be denied that this is a very strong opening to what promises to be a new dramatic trilogy for The Seventh Doctor.

21 July 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 30th June 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 21st July 2012

The TARDIS is hit by an errant stream of zygma energy, putting the time ship into peril and sending Nyssa and Turlough into the time stream. They arrive on a desolate snow-bound wasteland where the bodies of aged and withered people are falling out of the air, littering the landscape in a sea of corpses. Amongst this graveyard there is one survivor who is barely alive. This man claims to know who Nyssa and Turlough are and that they will both play an important part in future events.

The Doctor and Tegan, meanwhile, in a desperate search to find their missing friends trace the zygma energy to the ruined countryside of Brisbane in the 51st Century. The Doctor is anxious to find his friends and get away as soon as possible, as this war torn century holds far too many horrors. Through sinister events The Doctor is captured by the cold and ruthless alien scientist Findeker and Tegan comes under the protection of the Earth Free Media, made up of journalists investigating and reporting on the wrong-doings of Earth’s Supreme Alliance.

One of the most important events in the Alliance’s history is about to take place. The Icelandic Alliance has sent a delegation to establish a new trade accord and the Supreme Alliance representative chosen to oversee this affair is the Minister of Justice, Magnus Greel. 

As Tegan and The Doctor will discover to their horror, this historic chain of events could not have come into fruition without the help of Greel’s bride to be; Nyssa of Traken.

The Butcher of Brisbane is quite simply brilliant, which makes it incredibly difficult to review...To spoil one moment of this play is to rob the listener of one of the best Fifth Doctor Big Finish stories ever made. 

Marc Platt has pulled together the tantalising nuggets of information that were littered by Robert Holmes in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and created a more than worthy prequel to that story. How Platt makes each reference work within the confines of this play is extraordinary and Big Finish must be applauded for handing this story to him. 

Bold in its execution and unafraid to address the complex, dark and even sympathetic elements of Magnus Greel - the man, this play works not only as a brilliant time travel thriller but an excellent character study.

The main cast are the best they have ever been with everyone getting an equal amount of time to take centre stage. No one in this story feels like they have no strong contribution to make including the most minor of supporting characters. Sarah Sutton must be singled out from the main cast as she delivers an incredible performance, as Nyssa shows how even a monster can induce some sympathy in others.

Angus Wright as Greel is sensational. To take over from the late and great Michael Spice is no easy feat and Wright makes the character his own by delivering a complex yet quite clearly damaged individual. He plays Greel, like all psychopaths, as a man able to exude charm whilst hiding and sometimes unleashing a dangerous and deluded edge. The Greel in the Butcher of Brisbane is a much more human monster than the ruined creature he is destined to become. Here is a bureaucrat, abusing his position with dirty tricks and slowly giving in to his own paranoia. 

Rupert Frazer is quite brilliant as the cold Sa Yy Findecker, a scientist damaged so much by his own discovery that he becomes a grim foreshadowing of the events of Weng-Chiang . 

With so much reference to the past it was inevitable that the Peking Homunculus Mr Sin would make an appearance. Lacking the visual element of the murderous doll, Big Finish has rendered Mr Sin on audio in a simple yet effective way. By focusing on the porcine component of Sin’s cyborg brain, they bring him to life through the use of a series of grunts and pig like snorts which make the character incredibly creepy and grotesque.

The story is bold in using a cyclical storyline to satisfying yet tragic effect. There is a real sense of doom and foreboding running throughout the play, made more effective given the benefit of hindsight with the familiarity of having see Talons.

For anyone worried how a future version of The Doctor would work when up against a past version of a villain who hasn’t met him yet, I’m happy to say that Marc Platt solves this in a very simple way which does not damage the story's credibility.

Technically the play is superb, as Fool Circle Productions contribute a brilliant sound design and musical score with the play's direction being expertly handled by the great Ken Bentley.

It is difficult to find anything wrong with this release except a personal disappointment towards an only fleeting mention of the infamous Filipino army at Reykjavik, but such a criticism is only a minor thing when there is so much to enjoy here.

The Butcher of Brisbane is a superb closing to this Fifth Doctor season and one of the best Big Finish audios of the year. An essential listen.

24 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st May 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th May 2012

Jamie McCrimmon is trapped. Trapped not only within a four wall cell but within several time streams and not all of them are in the right order. 

His interrogator, and at some points prisoner Moran is interested in The Doctor and his agenda towards the local alien race the Unhelt. Jamie maintains that the Unhelt are harmless and that The Doctor trusts them. But why does Jamie keep switching from prisoner to captor and why do the Unhelt seem to be the enemy he believed they weren’t?

It soon becomes clear that someone is playing a game with Jamie. But it seems that there are two more players than just the highlander and Moran. The mysterious Si is behind it all, informing The Doctor that Jamie is indeed part of a game and it is one that will guarantee his freedom, if he can put the pieces of the puzzle in the right order.

Jamie McCrimmon must now face a test not just of his own resources but of his trust in the Doctor as he may not be right this time around.

Big Finish has recently been experimenting with the format of The Companion Chronicles by releasing them as audio dramas rather than talking books. This can be seen in the recent release Binary and the same format is used here to great effect. The nature of the story allows the pace to be kept at a great momentum in the audio drama format and as a result the story never feels boring.

The Jigsaw War is an intriguing play and certainly not one for a causal listen. This story, with its jumping about in time at an almost disorientating pace, demands your attention. Part of the fun is hearing Jamie trying to figure out his escape route as we hear him in both increasingly desperate and relatively calm situations within the same room. 

Frazer Hines is superb as Jamie especially when he is on the defensive about The Doctor towards Moran. This story is again another opportunity to hear Hines’ uncanny impersonation of Patrick Troughton, this time given full credit as The Doctor and not Jamie impersonating him. When these moments come they are delightful as Hines really acts like the Second Doctor which lends it more authenticity than simply doing a heightened impression of Troughton. It is a joy to listen to.

Hine’s fellow cast member Dominic Mafham is terrific as Moran, particularly as the actor has to play the character at several points in a very disjointed timeline. These moments require many different emotional states which Dafham excels at. He makes for a wonderful straight sparring partner against the rough and ready Scot and the contrast is admirably brought to life by both Hines and Mafham.

Deep within the puzzle of the play are some very interesting questions about The Doctor that Moran raises to Jamie during their interrogations. These mostly concern the off audio Unhelt and The Doctor’s opinion of them. The Unhelt to Jamie and The Doctor are simply subjugated and oppressed by Moran’s people whereas Moran present s a plausible case that they are dangerous and his people’s methods in containing them while admittedly cruel do serve a greater purpose in keeping the peace between the races. It is suggested by Moran that The Doctor simply takes things on face value and sees only a small part of the picture without full possession of the facts. This does cause an interesting moral dilemma for Jamie but it is brushed away somewhat by the far bigger puzzle that is the main story.

When the conclusion comes it is rather abrupt and does not really leave the listener fully satisfied. However, writer Eddie Robson has been rather clever to design the story in such a way that when the story is over, a way is offered to the listener to hear the adventure in the correct chronological order of events. It is a clever twist and adds a great deal of replay value to the listener.

The Jigsaw War is an enjoyable Companion Chronicle despite some of the more intriguing ideas being swamped by the main narrative in whatever order you choose to listen to it. A recommended listen.

24 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st May 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th May 2012

Derbyshire in the year 1979. The Doctor and Leela arrive in the middle of a hunt for a missing girl.

Confronted by suspicious locals and the retired though rather unhinged Colonel Spindelton, the travellers begin to discover that everyone is living in fear of an ancient legend from the time of the Romans. It tells of a great White Worm, living in the Dark Peak Gap surfacing only for the flesh of animals or children.

Since the Derbyshire countryside is rife with trails of mysterious slime and missing people, all evidence suggests that the Worm is much more than a mere legend.

The Doctor begins his investigation of the strange events but he is not the only Time Lord interested in the White Worm. This Time Lord has been waiting and planning for a long time and the Worm is essential to his schemes. The Doctor is about to confront an ancient evil and a very old nemesis. 

Trail of the White Worm is not only a love letter to Bram Stoker and the Hammer Horror influences of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, but the return of The Master to Big Finish.

It is no secret that the character was coming back and the weight of expectation to see Geoffrey Beevers return to the role opposite Tom Baker was huge. The last time these two actors met as their characters was Baker’s penultimate story The Keeper of Traken, so it is a little disappointing that this adventure is not as strong as one would hope.

Having said that when The Master is present Beevers’ performance is sublime; dripping with menace, charm and a gleefully sadistic nature. When The Doctor and The Master finally confront one another it is tantalisingly brief but promises great moments to come in the next story.

Trail of the White Worm is a standalone adventure which concludes as a direct set up for the finale of the first Fourth Doctor season. It is only towards the end of part two that we see the story setting up the next act and this rather hurts it, as, upon reflection, the story begins to feel a little rushed. This is a shame as the concept and ideas on display here are so good.

As soon as The Doctor and Leela arrive we head straight into the adventure, and the marvellously mysterious characters that are set up either have their motivations exposed quickly or are dispatched just as fast. This is more evident in the supporting characters such as the wonderfully mad Colonel Spindelton and the rather enigmatic Demesne Furze. Spindelton’s motivations are explained but his reasoning for siding with The Master seems rather fickle but then again people have done far worse things for the most selfish of excuses. Furze, a character we eventually learn is crucial not only to this story but in helping to spark the beginning of the next one comes perilously close to being merely a plot device by the end. This is in no way a reflection on the cast as everyone is on top form.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson continue the wonderful rapport they have built throughout this season and once again prove that age and time are no barriers to them returning to these classic parts. Michael Cochrane is fantastic as the barking mad Spindelton and Rachel Stirling creates a real sense of mystery in her portrayal as Furze which elevates her character from becoming too much of a device to simply get the story going. 

Trail of the White Worm feels like it should have been a much longer and darker tale than what we have here, but despite its flaws it is still very entertaining, but you cannot escape the feeling that this story is merely a stepping stone to a much larger one.

2 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Barnaby Edwards 

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 2nd May 2012

It is 1926 and in Calcutta, The Doctor and his companions arrive, not to soak up the atmosphere of Imperial India, but to watch a cricket match. Things are never that simple in The Doctor’s life as they are immediately attacked by a rabid man who infects Nyssa with a virus. After the TARDIS and the urgently needed medical supplies end up on a private train, The Doctor and his companions are separated. Helped by a local archaeologist he discovers that there is more to Nyssa’s condition than meets the eye.

All roads seem to be leading deep within the jungle, to a lost land where nature, myth and evil lurk. This is the realm of the fabled Emerald Tiger.

This is the first in the third trilogy of stories featuring The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough. It is pleasing to know that Big Finish has a lot of faith in these releases as The Emerald Tiger is certainly one of the best plays for this TARDIS team since Heroes of Sontar.

For a start the performances from the entire cast are excellent. The main TARDIS crew, especially Peter Davison are on top form and it reminds you just why this is one of the strongest groupings in the main Big Finish range. 

Barnaby Edwards has put together a stellar supporting cast with the wonderful Cherie Lunghi leading the charge as Lady Forster. Lunghi instils in the Lady Forster, a quiet but very strong sense of dignity and resolve in the face of extreme personal danger and in dealing with the tragedy that the character has suffered. It is the strongest performance in the play and I hope that Lunghi’s services are called on again by Big Finish as she has a natural voice for audio.

Central to the story are both the roles of Professor Narayan and the highly intriguing character of Dawon played by the lovely Vineeta Rishi. It would be a horrible thing to spoil the true motivation and nature of their characters (especially Dawon) so I shall refrain from giving too much away. Both actors are very well cast and both characters are our guides into the realm of the Emerald Tiger and the dark secrets that lie within.

Neil Stacy is great as the villainous bounder Major Haggard, who, as The Doctor rightly observes is “a walking embodiment of everything that’s going to bring down the British Raj.” He is dastardly, cold and sometimes rather charming despite the awful deeds he commits. But Haggard is just small fry compared to the real villain of the piece.

Shardul Khan is a wonderful creation; a character hidden in the shadows until the conclusion, his menace is excellently conveyed by the vocal talent of Vincent Ebrahim and his performance is one of the plays many highlights.

From a technical point of view, The Emerald Tiger is brilliant as it offers an incredibly rich sound design by Howard Carter who also provides a suitably beautiful and authentic score. Barnaby Edwards and Carter have worked closely together on the Textbook Stuff audio book series and Carter brings the same quality and skill to Big Finish. Carter’s work gives the play an incredibly epic feel and does much to story the imagination during the many action sequences Edwards has put into the story. 

Edwards had littered The Emerald Tiger with many references to the colonial literature of India under British rule and anything pulp related. There are strong echoes of The Jungle Book, King Solomon’s Mines and even a charming nod to Tarzan. Characters have names such as Forster and Burroughs which are of course all linked strongly to the jungle tale theme. Listeners who are familiar with their literature will enjoy spotting the references whilst being swept along by the story.

The Emerald Tiger is an adventure story steeped in the mythology and magic one associates with India particularly of that period. For the first three parts of the play the pace is kept very high; even expositional conversations feel exciting and there are many classic action set pieces used throughout. From a car crash to a fight for survival on a train, there really is never a fully dull moment in this play.

The only sad thing is that a little of the momentum of the first three parts is lost near the conclusion of the fourth. The play seems to wrap itself up a little too quickly and there is a slight lack of an emotional pay off. This IS merely a minor niggle from me as there is so much to enjoy here.

The Emerald Tiger is a highly enjoyable play and an incredibly strong start in a new trilogy from one of Big Finish’s finest Writer / Directors.

26 April 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Richard Dinnick

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th April 2012

The TARDIS arrives in Siberia near the end of the 19th century as shooting star has falls from the sky. Its arrival heralds a strange illness that effects not only the local population but the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan. The object from the stars brings not only sickness but knowledge so powerful it would be catastrophic in the wrong hands.

With time running out Ian Chesterton must rely on the help of a mysterious wanderer Grigory, a man who believes God has granted him the gift to heal those in need. The stakes are high for Ian as the alien object offers not only answers to save The Doctor but the chance he and Barbara have been waiting for: a way home.

The Wanderer is an interesting Companion Chronicle as it not only a rather good story but a lovely exploration of what it is to be a wanderer who wishes to go home.

The strongest part of this release is the great William Russell, a man with a real gift for narration and character. Whenever I hear a new Ian Chesteron Companion Chronicle I always imagine sitting by the fire with a drink, listening to Ian recount his adventures, such is the quiet brilliance of Russell’s performances. They are special as he is one of the old guard; the original TARDIS team and just listening to him you‘re instantly transported back to that golden era in 1963.

It is not so much a spoiler to reveal Grigory’s true identity as writer, Richard Dinnick piles the clues up to such a degree it would be foolish not to guess this wanderer is the infamous “Mad Monk” Rasputin. In an odd way The Wanderer acts as a sort of origin story for Rasputin, playing with the legend of the man’s supposedly mystical healing powers and gifts of prophecy. Tim Chipping is excellent in the role of Grigory, adding a more troubled and human element to this most vilified of historical figures.

The rest of the story which deals with the alien race responsible for the alien object and the resolution of Rasputin's story are interesting but what really captures your attention is the insight into Ian Chesterton. He is a man who, despite being fascinated by his adventures with The Doctor, is absolutely determined to get home. It is a striking reminder that in recent years, The Doctor’s companions have been so up for adventure it is easy to forget that Ian and Barbara ended up in the TARDIS by accident. They didn’t ask to be wanderers in the fourth dimension; they do not want to be facing death every other day. He wants to be at home, with the familiar and the comforting, such as a pint of beer at the pub or listening to the Test Match Special. Much is made that Ian has Barbara with him, a friendship and someone he loves and values very deeply. Barbara is someone Ian can relate to as they are in this situation together and the outcome at this time is unknown.

Of course we all know that Ian and Barbara will get home but it is fascinating to explore the hope, disappointment and sheer determination that Ian has to get back to his old life.

The Wanderer is an absorbing tale in which, despite its good story and guest star, is more interesting when it focuses on Ian himself.

That said any Companion Chronicle in which William Russell is involved is more than worth your time.

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